The Chieftains Biography

The original Chieftains line-up - Paddy Moloney (1 August 1938, Donnycarney, Dublin, Eire; uillean pipes, tin whistle), Seán Potts (b. 1930; tin whistle), Michael Tubridy (b. 1935, Kilrush, Clare, Eire; flute, concertina, tin whistle) and Martin Fay (b. 1938, Dublin, Eire; fiddle) - met in the late 50s as members of Ceoltóirí Cualann, a folk orchestra led by Seán Ó Ríada. Teaming up with bodhrán player Dave Fallon, the quartet’s first album on the Claddagh label, The Chieftains, released in 1963, introduced their skilled interpretations of traditional Celtic tunes. However, they chose to remain semi-professional, and further recordings were sporadic. Despite their low-key approach, the Chieftains became established as leading exponents of Irish music. Newcomers Seán Keane (b. 12 July 1946; fiddle), Peadar Mercier (b. 1914, Eire; bodhrán, bones) and Derek Bell (b. 21 October 1935, Belfast, Northern Ireland, d. 17 October 2002, Phoenix, Arizona, USA; harp, oboe, tiompán) augmented the line-up which, by The Chieftains 4, had become a popular attraction in Britain. The Chieftains then became a full-time venture and began an association with folk entrepreneur Jo Lustig. The Chieftains 5 marked their debut with a major outlet, Island Records, and the unit was fêted by rock aristocrats Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton and Emmylou Harris. They were featured on Mike Oldfield’s Ommadawn album and contributed to the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick’s movie, Barry Lyndon, in 1975.

In 1976, Mercier was replaced by Kevin Conneff (b. 8 January 1945, Dublin, Eire) and later in 1979, former Bothy Band and Planxty member Matt Molloy (b. 12 January 1947, Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon, Eire; flute) joined the ranks. Moloney’s skilled arrangements allowed the band to retain its freshness despite the many changes in personnel, which resulted in them being reduced to a core of Moloney, Fay, Keane, Bell, Coneff and Molloy. During the 80s the Chieftains continued their enchanting direction and provided two further film soundtracks plus collaborations with the popular classical flute player, James Galway. However, this period is better marked by Irish Heartbeat, their superb 1988 collaboration with singer Van Morrison.

In the 90s the band found favour in the USA, recording Another Country with an all-star cast of country musicians, while both the New York Post and LA Times made The Long Black Veil album of the year in 1995. The Bells Of Dublin featured participation from Rickie Lee Jones, Elvis Costello, Nanci Griffith, Jackson Browne and Marianne Faithfull. The ambitious Santiago explored the connection between Celtic and Galician music with guest artists including Los Lobos, Linda Ronstadt and Ry Cooder. For 1999’s Tears Of Stone, Moloney assembled a diverse range of female artists including the Corrs, Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt and Eileen Ivers. The following year’s Water From The Well featured the Chieftains alone in the studio, without the dozens of guest artists that was beginning to stifle their work. The Wide World Over was programmed to celebrate the Chieftains’ 40th anniversary. The follow-up, Down The Old Plank Road: The Nashville Sessions, was the band’s second collaboration with American country music stars. Shortly after the album was completed, Bell passed away while in Phoenix, Arizona. The harpist had been awarded an MBE for his contribution to traditional Irish and classical music two years previously.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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