For 50 years, the celebrated Irish traditionalists have brought music from their home country to the rest of the globe, playing, among others, the Queen of England and Pope John Paul II. For founder Paddy Moloney, the journey has brought unlimited joy to himself and others. “You don’t have to be Irish to appreciate the music. It reaches your soul,” he tells AARP while preparing for the start of the band’s month-long U.S. tour, which ends on St. Patrick’s Day at New York’s Carnegie Hall. “When we play China or Italy, they wouldn’t understand a word I’ll be saying, but the music speaks for itself.”
For Moloney, finding these vibrant musicians was a wonderful way to celebrate the golden anniversary. “Once I heard their voices and the kind of music they were producing, I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s wonderful. Things are on their way back,’ ” he says. “I’m not too happy with where it’s gone with popular music.”
Moloney, who plays tin whistle, uilleann pipes, accordion and bodhrán, wanted to look forward for the 50th anniversary, but it was vital to also acknowledge how far the Chieftains had traveled. Voice of Ages, which was coproduced by Oscar- and Grammy-winner T Bone Burnett, is anchored by an 11-minute Chieftains-only musical reunion that includes two other founding members, Sean Potts and Michael Turbridy, both of whom are in their 80s.
Members have flowed in and out, while Moloney has stayed the constant. He admits there have been struggles. One of the roughest patches emotionally was after the death of harpist Derek Bell. For a year after his 2002 passing, Moloney left Bell’s empty chair on stage.
“You know, it’s not an easy job on the road. It’s tough, tough, tough,” says Moloney. At 74 and after a few million miles of travel, he’s learned how to take care of himself on tour. “The younger gang with us can stay up all night and have a few drinks at an Irish pub,” he says. “But the old guys stay clear of that.”
Despite the dozens of artists with whom the Chieftains have recorded, one has eluded them: Bob Dylan. “I haven’t been able to pin him down,” Moloney says, even though he came close to joining them on their 1998 album, Long Journey Home.
When asked if he’d like to record with Lady Gaga, Moloney impishly answers, “If she plays her cards right.”
She just may get her chance. Moloney is already thinking ahead to the Chieftains’ 60th anniversary, when he’ll be 84.
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