By Elvis Costello
There are few words or original thoughts that I might add to the many erudite compliments about musical and cultural achievement that have been published in the hours since the sad passing of the great Paddy Moloney.
The very name of “The Chieftains” assumed a nobility sometimes denied musicians and artists. In taking up this title, Paddy was in the company of Duke Ellington and Count Basie; band leaders and virtuoso musicians who gathered unique and singular talents together under a standard or banner, and saw them thrive and speak with their individual voices in a common purpose.
Since I first found a Chieftains record among my father’s collection, I was struck by the ability to tell a larger story through the accumulation of beautifully played airs and dance tunes. The narrative of these records did not have to venture into outer space – although there is a record called “The Chieftains In Orbit” with a contribution from an astronaut, recorded on the ISS. It can have only been the matter of a pressing engagement elsewhere that meant that Paddy did not make the journey himself.
Paddy was like a man in possession of a map plotting all the old undersea telegraphic lines that once connected continents. Long after the flicker of our imaginations had ceased to tap out our thoughts across such wires and words were carelessly squandered to some distant satellite, Paddy was tracing the connection of Irish traditional music and human kinship across the hemispheres. The Irish got everywhere and he had the musical evidence.
These were all occasions for song, for tunes, for travel, for hard work, for laughter and for the craic. For if any of the above endeavours sound dusty or pedantic, such a notion would have been dismissed by an evening in Paddy’s mischievous company.
My own small part in this was to write a text for an air Paddy had adapted with view to bringing one slightly more jaundiced – and some would say, horribly truthful – Christmas song to a Chieftains collection of festive numbers. I tried to sing “The St. Stephen’s Day Murders” with relish, it being about feeding poisoned turkey to unwelcome seasonal visitors and family members with The Chieftains baying in the background.
A second collaboration, the title track for Philip King’s television series “The Irish In America: The Long Journey Home” was a song that Paddy referred to as “The Anthem”, a suitably noble air to which I wrote a lyric about both migration and the eventual return with the cautionary footnote to each immigrant: “But as you ascend the ladder, lookout below where you tread.”
Today, I read my friend and teacher, Michael McGlynn recalling the part played by his vocal ensemble, Anuna, in this recording and to this memory, I add the thrill of singing “The Long Journey Home” with The Chieftains on a St. Patrick’s Night at Carnegie Hall.
My wife, Diana and I both had our adventures with Paddy but his finest gift to us was in playing a set of tunes at our wedding with such joy and verve that a Musical Knight from Liverpool was seen to dance a nimble jig to the tune of Paddy’s tin whistle.
It seems no time at all since we spent a beautiful evening around a supper table, telling tales, tall and otherwise. Of course, it is more time ago than one imagines and that time has turned out to be in much shorter supply than anyone could have dreamed. I will miss Paddy very much. We send our love and deepest condolence to Rita and to the family and all this great man’s many colleagues and friends.