Farewell, Paddy Moloney

Paddy Moloney, 1938-2021 (image: stereogum.com)

Paddy Moloney, 1938-2021 (image: stereogum.com)

Paddy Moloney, the great front-man for the Celtic band The Chieftains, has died. He was 83.

In my musical life, Paddy Moloney ranks very high. Very high. When I list musical figures who shaped my world and the way it sounds in my heart, Paddy Moloney is right up there with John Williams, Hector Berlioz, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Leonard Bernstein, Annie Lennox, and Sam Cooke. I can tell you when I first heard each one of those artists, and I can tell you when I first heard Paddy Moloney and The Chieftains.

I don’t know why I remember this with such clarity, but remember it, I do. It was late in my high school career, maybe my senior year, or it was in my first college year, when I was home. We had taken a day trip like we often did to Erie, PA, and a shopping mall there. After the hours at the mall, there was another store in an outparcel that my parents wanted to visit, but I opted to sit in the car, reading and listening to Erie’s classical music station. At this time, living in Allegany, NY, classical music on the radio was a rare luxury that involved driving an hour in any direction. Before the Internet, before cell phones.

At this point in the day, there wasn’t actual classical music playing on that station. Instead there was a weekly program called Thistle and Shamrock, that featured something called “Celtic” music. I had no idea what this music was. I would later learn that it was a larger genre that included an artist whom I had discovered not long before, a singer named Enya (wait a minute! If this is post-Enya, then this is during my college years, because I remember with equal clarity when I first heard Enya: in the record store in a shopping mall in LaCrosse, WI, where we stopped on a college visiting trip. Thanks, memory!). But it took all of five minutes of listening to Thistle and Shamrock (hosted to this day by Fiona Ritchie) to realize that Celtic music was much, much, much more than the New Age-tinged dreaminess of Enya.

I would later buy a Chieftains CD as part of one of my orders to the BMG Classical CD Club (the less said about my experiences with fiscal insanity that were driven by my several memberships in BMG, the better). The CD was Celtic Wedding, and from that one disc sprang a love of Celtic music that has lasted me in all the days from that to this. This genre ranks just behind classical and film music in my heart, and I often find that a rough mood is soothed by listening to some wonderfully melodic and rhythmic Celtic music. All of this came from hearing The Chieftains, and Paddy Moloney.

Paddy Moloney, and by extension The Chieftains, were extremely versatile and dedicated to exploring every byway of Celtic music they could. Albums were coming out constantly, sometimes more than one a year, and the focus was always something new. There was a holiday album that nevertheless broke new ground, and there were duet albums with the likes of Van Morrison. Moloney and friends were not content to keep to the British Isles, either: they did albums with Canadian artists, and that Celtic Wedding album actually explored the Celtic music of Brittany. They did an album of Celtic-inspired music from the northern regions of Spain, and they did several albums with Country-Western stars, since a lot of the original settlers of the hills of Appalachia were actually descended from Scots and Celtic peoples, meaning that the folk music that eventually became a part of Country music in America sprang originally from older Celtic material. The Chieftains appeared in film scores

Paddy Moloney was a great ambassador for music, a constant force of admirable curiosity and of good cheer, and he was also a fantastic musician in his own right. The music world is poorer for his loss, but immeasurably richer for his having been here at all. As am I.

Thank you, Paddy Moloney. I hope ye were in Heaven a half hour ‘afore the Devil knew ye were dead!

And now, some music.


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One Response to Farewell, Paddy Moloney

  1. I saw them a lot growing up. I own at least two of the collections represented in your selections.

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