Cork songwriter Jimmy Crowley pays tribute to Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains

After the death of Paddy Moloney this week, aged 83, JIMMY CROWLEY remembers the “brave and daring” man who was a star in the country’s traditional music firmament
Cork songwriter Jimmy Crowley pays tribute to Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains

Paddy Moloney of The Chieftans who passed away this week.

PEOPLE have been so moved by the news of the death of piper Paddy Moloney this week. Beautiful memorettes have been penned; little echoes of magical moments when hearts were moved by his music, full poems, if you please, and caoineadhs, all trying to assuage the great loss and departure from us of this unique chieftain.

Well, that’s what we do in this amazing cosmos, and we’re good at it.

I’m old enough to remember some of the idle sca and rumours of the folk/ trad scene in the ’60s. 

I remember older musicians saying that Paddy Moloney was ‘mad for the road’; he wanted to tour the world with Ó Riada and Ceoltóirí Chualainn. He could see it; the success, the acclaim, the general acceptance of Irish music on the world stage.

Moloney could imagine easily this, much like the Blues revival that was beginning to blossom, where old singers and players from the southern part of the U.S like Lightnin’ Hopkins , Missisippi John Hurt and Rev Garry Davis were being re-discovered, celebrated anew and where new ethnic record labels were springing up like curly kale. to give them voice and a few bucks.

It was a time when Cork teenagers took the bus into town, bought Melody Maker and maybe a Blind Willie McTell LP in one of the wonderfully urbane record stores we had in those days. Magical places where there was a jazz section, a rock section, folk, opera, and where the shop assistant knew his stuff and actually spoke to you! A far cry from the paltry philistine choice we have today.

Moloney, do you see, like Seán Ó Riada, had listened. It wasn’t just Mrs Crotty playing her concertina or Seán de hóra’s new LP they were listening to; these lads were aware of every quaver from Frank Sinatra to Skiffle through Grapelli and the Stones.

So, Paddy Moloney had a vision of himself in a world context, a very brave and daring concept. However, according to what I seem to remember from the sca-mongers and folk police, Ó Riada had settled in Cúil Aodha with his family; he was actively engaged in rearing his family in a Gaelic milieu; writing timeless film scores and composing those moving masses. He was focused on setting up Cór Chúil Aodha and working full time at the music department in UCC. Not a lot of time there for gallivanting around the world.

And so, the Chieftains were born.

I promised myself lately, and now there is more reason than ever for doing it, to listen back on the Chieftains’ first three or four albums. It would be interesting to mark the changes, I thought, from one to the next.

After all, with the Incredible Stringband, Sweeney’s Men and the Beatles, it was part of the soundtrack of my youth.

Even though if really annoys me at times, the order that Paddy Moloney arranged for the sets of tunes played by his Chieftains, still stands among seisiúiners today. Thus you have well-worn bouquets like ‘Comb your Hair and Curl it’ / ‘The Boys of Ballisodare’ ,’The Musical Priest’ and ‘The Queen of May,’ ‘Banish Misfortune/ ‘Gillian’s Apples,’ not likely to be ever disrupted. Lame minds, unfortunately, seldom have the courage to concoct alternative sequences of tunes.

Being a huge fan of Ceoltóirí Chualann, I found the first couple of Chieftains albums a bit tinny; I missed so much Ó Riada’s zany harpsichord and harmonies; but his spirit still seemed to haunt the early Chieftains.

I guess the third fiddler, John Kelly of beautiful Kilbaha in south county Clare, was too busy at his wonderful grocery shop in Capel Street to go off with the Chieftains, but I missed him too and the homely button box of Éamonn de Buitléir.

I got to know Paddy Moloney bit by bit; I think the first time was when we played the first Lisdoonvarna folk festival. I was there when Christy got the inspiration to write the eponymous song; when he observed:

“Before the Chieftains could start to play

Seven creamy pints came out on a tray.”

I saw those seven pints and they looked delicious! It was lovely the way they came out on the tray, if not after every set, after every movement.

I saw another very droll custom when the Chieftains played that day; Moloney got up from the piper’s chair and went around shaking hands with all the boys in warm congratulations after nearly every tune. Then the rest of them began shaking hands with each other, the gargantuan Sean Keane, the sallow Martin Fay, the bespectacled Michael Tubridy, the rakish Seán Potts, not forgetting the suave, mustachioded Peadar Mercier. Derek Bell hadn’t yet joined the band. I don’t think the boys were on the tear or anything; the playing was stupendous; but they might have been what my mother called ‘nicely’.

One time I asked Paddy Moloney a big favour. I must have been very presumptuous - or ambitious - at the time. 

I was working on the album Irish Eyes, a lovely project; my chance to sing Irish sentimental parlour ballads that I always loved. The chords were jazzy; lots of reminiscent augmented chords, flamboyant diminished sisters and soporific major sevenths. You could say of the album’s GPS position: it was where John McCormac met Django Rheinhardt.

When I came to Cottage By The Lee, written by the stupendous Jimmy Kennedy who also wrote my mother’s favourite, Harbour Lights, I truly felt that the only man in the world to play the guitar chorus was Willie Nelson. If you’re familiar with that rubbery, quasi-electric sound he gets from Trigger, his well-walloped Spanish guitar, you can nearly hear it.

Paddy told me Willie was very approachable if you could get beyond the barriers and he didn’t seem to see anything presumptuous in the quest. But I missed a great chance and I was two weeks too late.

Willie came to Dublin then to sing Goodnight Irene with the Chieftains. The session fell on Good Friday and the pubs were closed. Paddy managed to ‘get in’ to a pub in Ringsend with Willie and Krisofferson. That would have been the time for diplomacy; but sure, maybe I’m asking too much.

Paddy Moloney exuded good vibes, positivity and was very helpful to a lot of musicians. He had great love for the tradition. I’m not one bit surprised that his demise has knocked the nation off its axis.

In iothalann Dé go raibh a anam lách.

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