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The Chieftains

The original traditional Irish folk band, as far as anyone who came of age in the 1970s or '80s is concerned, is the Chieftains. Their sound, built largely on Paddy Moloney's pipes, is otherworldly, almost entirely instrumental, and seems as though it comes out of another age of man's history. That they became an international phenomenon in the '70s and '80s is testament to their virtuoso musicianship.

The Chieftains were first formed in Dublin during 1963, as a semi-professional outfit, from the ranks of the top folk musicians in Ireland. Until that time, and for some years after, the world's (and even Ireland's) perception of Irish folk songs was rooted in either the good-natured boisterousness and topicality of acts such as the Irish Rovers or Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers, or the sentimentality of Mary O'Hara. That began to change in Ireland with the advent of Ceoltoiri Chualann, a group formed from the ranks of the best traditional Irish musicians by a composer named Sean Ó Riada, who hailed from County Cork. Ceoltoiri Chualann, which specialized in instrumental music, stripped away the pop music inflections from Irish music -- the dances were played with a natural lilt and abandon that came from deep within the music's origins, and the airs, stripped of their worst modern inflections, came across with even greater poignancy than anyone had recognized them for in decades, and perhaps centuries. Tempos were changed in midsong, from reel to polka to jig to slow air and back again.

Paddy Moloney came out of Ceoltoiri Chualann to found the Chieftains in 1963, seeking to carry this work several steps further. The earliest recorded incarnation of the group consisted of Moloney (pipes), Sean Potts (tin whistle), Martin Fay (fiddle), David Fallon (bodhran), Mick Tubridy (flute, concertina), and Ó Riada. They were a success virtually from the beginning, their music weaving a spell around audiences in Ireland and later in England, where they quickly became popular as both a performing and recording act -- the only thing holding them back was the decision by the members to remain a semi-professional, part-time ensemble until the early '70s. Their first four albums, spread over a period from 1965 through 1973, were originally available only from the Claddagh label in Ireland, but were later picked up by Island Records for release in England and America in 1976, after the group had achieved international renown.

The '70s saw the group break big in America. A new, younger generation of Irish-American listeners, who enjoyed folk music and whose cultural and musical tastes weren't limited to songs about "the troubles" (i.e., England), had already begun discovering the Chieftains' music in the early to mid-'70s. By that time, the group had elected to go professional, and to expand its lineup. Ó Riada and Fallon left after the first album, and Peadar Mercier (bodhran) and Sean Keane (fiddle) joined with the second. Following the recording of Chieftains 4, they'd added Ronnie McShane (percussion) and Derek Bell (harp, oboe, timpani), a classically trained musician. Bell's harp lent the group's sound a final degree of elegance and piquancy.

The group's big breakthrough in America, however, occurred when they provided the music for Stanley Kubrick's 1975 movie, Barry Lyndon. The film itself wasn't a hit, but the Chieftains were, especially one track called "Women of Ireland," which began getting played heavily on FM progressive rock stations, and even managed to get onto the playlists of some Top 40 stations. Suddenly, the Chieftains were hot in America, and a U.S. tour and a series of performances on television -- especially the network morning news/feature shows -- brought them into demand.

By that time, Island Records had contracted to release both of the group's latest album, Chieftains 5, and their four previous records in England and America. With their newfound audience, Chieftains records started coming out every year instead of every two or three years -- Bonaparte's Retreat in 1976, Chieftains Live in 1977, and Chieftains 7, 8, and 9 in 1978, 1979, and 1980, respectively, although for their U.S. releases, from 1977 through 1980, they abandoned Island Records in favor of Columbia. Ever since the dawn of the CD era, their music has been available on compact disc from Shanachie, while their more recent work has shown up on the BMG label, on both compact disc and home video. The latter have included a Christmas concert and a mixed-ensemble performance interweaving the group with orchestras, American folk and country musicians, and rock musicians, and an album (Irish Heartbeat, 1988) recorded with Irish-born folk-blues shouter Van Morrison. Additionally, the group has been engaged steadily for film work.

Since the late '70s, the group's recordings have settled into an effective but not fully inspired level of creativity. The band has kept its sound fresh with the periodic addition of new members and a search for sounds beyond the boundaries of Ireland -- as distant as Spain -- as sources for its music.

In 2003, longtime harp player Derek Bell passed away while on tour in Phoenix, Arizona. The group continued to play and record, and released a tribute in 2005 called Live in Dublin.

While the band continued to tour, they didn't record again for a number of years. Moloney had long been obsessed with the historical account of the San Patricios, a band of immigrant Irish soldiers who deserted the American Army during the Mexican-American War in 1846 to fight for the other side, against the Manifest Destiny ideology of American president James Polk. The Chieftains and co-producer Ry Cooder decided to try to tell it musically and enlisted a host of Mexican musicians in the process. The album San Patricio created a Mexican-Irish melodic mélange; it was issued to widespread acclaim in 2010.

In 2012, the Chieftains celebrated their 50th anniversary. Every living member of the band participated in a reunion of original members. In addition, they enlisted a number of vocal talents from a wide range of genres, including the Decemberists, Lisa Hannigan, Paolo Nutini, the Civil Wars, Bon Iver, Imelda May, and the Low Anthem, to name a few. Voice of Ages was issued in February of 2012 on Concord. ~ Bruce Eder
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

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Hello from M. McDonald luve your IRISH roots.
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Have always loved this!!
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doshiteka0
Absolutely Amazing. Great tonality and movement within the music.
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Have always loved this; in 2015 it seems especially a universal requiem.
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FirEver...Ce l t - C h e f t a i n s .
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I got see them in Charleston, WV a couple of years ago. Fantastic concert & band!
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This Irish chic met this bunch of sweethearts in Ann Arbor mi over 20 year ago and will always cherish the memory.
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Language of angels& gods, people.. Aswell...
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It is from another Age now...40-50 years ago...what did you think of your Parents music when you were 40-50 years old?
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The band that introduced me to my Irish heritage.
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Oh man!!! I think I've died and gone to Irish Heaven!!!
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One of the best bands out there, hands down.
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Beautiful... . o t h e r - w o r l d l y . . . . h a u n t i n g even.....awe s o m e . . . . . g i v e s me goosebumps.. . . !
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I love you and Van the Man. If I am lucky, I will come to Ireland just to see you live...keep the wonderful Irish going......
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You forgot to mention the wonderful addition of Matt Malloy, from the Bothy Band.
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kclouds21
St. Patrick's Day would not be complete without the Chieftains!!
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¡ Que muy feliz Dia de el Santo Patricio, y'all!!! :-)
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I was looking for "Dunleary" on the map. I saw a "Dún Laoghaire," but for the life of me, do you think I could find Dunleary? (Irish joke)
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My brother T. O'Donnell is in Ireland now, so I am listening to The Chieftains wishing I was there too...

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alohakghi
Boil the Breakfast Early is my favorite Chieftains album. Hey, Pandora, please add it to your discography.
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They are the back bone of Irish music !
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#5 perfection!
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cj3150
Luv these guys my dad played with them ( he plays bagpipes) at Kennedy center !!! U guys keep going!!!!!
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Love these guy's. Have seen the twice, just great!!!
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alohakghi
My favorite Chieftains album is Boil the Breakfast Early. I don't understand why it did not make it onto the discography selection on Pandora
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saw them in Boise, Idaho, of all places. They blew my mind..I had no idea..so began my journey into the magic of the Celtic music..it's the best!
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Wonderful by themselves, with Alison Krauss they are phenomenal!
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you can't touch these guys!
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The Good Lord blesses us with music from Ireland!! Best thing my ears have ever heard
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Makes my heart happy
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This is one of my favorite albums. It kept me calm during my mother's 9 hour surgery back in 1996.
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Have been a fan since I was little, saw them in Houston when I was in grade school and still remember it! I listen to these guys in my car at least once a week, amazing band!
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Great band!
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Saw them in concert near Houston and they were amazing!
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271998418
The band that is Irish traditional for many of us. One the first bands I heard when I became interested in Irish folk. Still one of my favorites and dear to my heart.
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Lovely
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Btw, Happy St. Patricks Day, tmichaelian!
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This is one of my favorite albums ever. The Celtic Harp.
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Lol the last someone posted was 7mo...... anyways, its st. Patty's day 2013, so HAPPY ST. PATTYS DAY PPLS!!!!!!!!
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driley630
Ahhhh,,,,The Chieftains!! ! ! Celtic music at it's best!!!!
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sammyl6666
My favorite band to practice playing the bodhran with.
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Wonderful music used in the film, The Grey Fox. Should be seen and heard by everyone.
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The singer is Frank harte, who was NEVER part of the Chieftains. I believe I have seen a video on youtube of Frank singing this on a special Chieftains TV program. Lewbook
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the singer sounds so much like Willie Nelson I could spit
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When I was little, I had a CD of their music that I obsessively listened to. I learned all the lyrics by heart... Finding them again on Pandora brings back vivid memories of playing this on an old CD player in my room while I wrote out my first-grade spelling lists.
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Love it! Makes the Scots-Irish in me wanna dance!
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This music makes the hair stand on end as I relize my ancestors jammed to this music and sang these same tunes. As a fiddler, I have to keep some tunes that I learned from the Cheiftains on my repetoir.
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nitogumi
This is one of the few bands that make me wish a double thumbs up is possible on Pandora.
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hoyacane
I have no idea why the review overlooks the respect for the Chieftains among other musicians, shown in their collaboratio n s with highly respected rock and other popular musicians and vocalists, as in "The Long Black Veil" and "Tears of Stone" CDs.
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