The Chieftains’ collaborations span decades

The Chieftains — Paddy Moloney, Kevin Conneff and Matt Molloy — will be joined by Jon Pilatzke, Alyth McCormack, Triona Marshall, Tara Breen and Tim Edey.
The Chieftains — Paddy Moloney, Kevin Conneff and Matt Molloy — will be joined by Jon Pilatzke, Alyth McCormack, Triona Marshall, Tara Breen and Tim Edey. Photo provided

Formed in Dublin, Ireland, in 1962, The Chieftains have been credited with bringing traditional Irish music out of the pubs and into theaters throughout the world. The band will stop at Penn State’s Eisenhower Auditorium as part of its North American tour.

Led by musician, composer and founding member Paddy Moloney, The Chieftains’ sound is almost entirely instrumental and largely built around uilleann pipes and has become synonymous with traditional Irish music.

Moloney said he was destined to be a musician. When he was 6 years old, Moloney’s mother bought him a tin whistle, and he taught himself how to play. Then at 9, he started to play the uilleann pipes with the “King of of the Pipers,” Leo Rowsome and won competitions as a teenager.

But Moloney wasn’t satisfied and had a vision for the music he wanted to do. Moloney’s ambition was to put Irish music on the major stage throughout the world. In 1974, the Chieftains performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London, later playing at Carnegie Hall and numerous other notable venues.

“Back then there were no big screens, flashing lights, and dancing — just good solid music,” Moloney said.

Eventually, Moloney began adding dancers to The Chieftains performances. One of those dancers was Michael Flatley, now famous for “Riverdance” and “Lord of the Dance.”

The Chieftains will be joined onstage by Jon Pilatzke, a master fiddle player, as well as twentysomething fiddle player Tara Breen, whom The Chieftains had on their tour for the first time last year.

“She is unbelievable,” Moloney said. “She’s an amazing saxophone player as well. I persuaded her for the end of the concert to do a little solo. She plays jigs on the saxophone that will blow your mind.”

Guitarist Tim Edey, a traditional folk musician and BBC champion will also perform with the group as well as Alyth McCormack, a Scottish vocalist from the Isle of Lewis off the northwest coast of Scotland.

“She has the voice of an angel,” Moloney said. “She will sing some songs in Irish and some in English as well. So we have a great backup in case one of us goes down.”

Also joining The Chieftains will be Triona Marshall, a harpist who was the lead with the orchestra in Ireland.

“We have all these pretty, young, energetic people, and we always give a hand to any great, talented young artist,” Moloney said. “We always invite them back, too. It’s all good Irish music and songs, and it’s something that everyone will really look forward to.”

The Nittany Valley Children’s Choir, directed by Lou Ann Shafer, also will join the band to perform two songs from The Chieftains’ 1998 Grammy Award-winning album “Long Journey Home” — “Shenandoah” and “Long Journey Home (Anthem),” written by Elvis Costello.

The band’s most recent album, “Voice of Ages,” presents collaborations with a new generation of top musicians from various genres, including indie rock, country, Americana, and Irish and Scottish folk. The 2012 album, produced by Moloney and T-Bone Burnett, includes songs with Bon Iver, The Decemberists, The Civil Wars, Pistol Annies, Carolina Chocolate Drops and Punch Brothers.

Throughout the years, Moloney and The Chieftains have recorded with some of the biggest names in the music industry, including artists such as Tom Jones, The Corrs, Art Garfunkel, Sting, Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris, and country-western artists Willie Nelson and Ricky Skaggs. As a result of these numerous collaborations, a lot of great stories and friendships have been created.

“We recorded with the likes of The Who and Roger Daltrey. It was such a great honor for him to be able to use his voice and belt it out and sing Irish ballads,” Moloney said. “Van Morrison has always been one of my favorites to work with also.”

Even after a career that spans six different decades, Moloney said he feels he has more work to do.

“I have projects down the line I’ve been planning for 20 years — they’re knocking on the door,” he said. “So I have to do it and put my stamp on it. I want to team with different cultures and I just want to spread my wings further. I’m not done yet.”