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Chieftains Produce Fire in Canada

The Irish legends team up with the Rankins, Rita MacNeil, and a nutty Ashely MacIsaac

Paddy Moloney - leader, producer, and uilleann piper with Ireland's premier traditional group, the Chieftains - must be one of the busiest people in the music industry. In addition to working on two recordings with the band, he's currently involved with the scores for three films, running his own fledgling record company, Wicklow (a joint venture with BMG), and readying himself for an international tour with the Chieftains and guests to promote his new label's first major release - the made-in-Canada Fire in the Kitchen.
"I'm up to my eyes here at the time," he admits, reached at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin. "I'm completing another album, one that's been ont the back burner for the past two-and-a-half years, called Tears of Stone. It's a series of love songs, mostly Irish ballads, interpreted by various women friends of ours. So far, we've got Joni Mitchell, Loreena McKenitt, Joan Osborne, Sinéad O'Connor, your own Diana Krall, Mary Chapin Carpenter, the Rankin Family, and the Corrs - a yound Irish band that's having a huge success; they're opening for the Stones all over Europe at the moment. I was just over in London recording Natalie Merchant, and today I had the whole band in to do overdubs. On Friday, Bonnie Raitt is coming here to do a song. After that I'll be mixing, then I fly to New York to cut the master."
Moloney says he's lost count of the number of recording projects he's been involved with since forming the Chieftains back in November 1962. "I know there are 35 albums of our own I've produced, and there are a great many I've guested on for artists such as Paul McCartney, Art Garfunkel, and Mick Jagger," he says. "Sometime I'll have to work it all out - if I ever get the chance to sit down."
Most of Fire in the Kitchen was taped in Nova Scotia in October of last year, and the recording features 11 leading artists and groups from Eastern Canada - all of them backed up or accompanied by the Chieftains. "It was never intended to be a Chieftains album," Moloney confides with a laugh. "I wanted them to contribute the odd arrangement, just to keep it all in the family, but as they were all in town, everybody stayed around and chipped in. It made it very easy for me. We had a picnic, you might say. Every day, a different group came in and gave their total energy and input. There was no such thing as having to drag it out, or suffer egos, or whatever. We had a fabulous time, and I think it shows - it's a fabulous album."
Although almost all the recordings were made in Halifax, it's Killarney, in the southwest of Ireland, that springs to Moloney's mind when he's prodded for acecdotes about Fire in the Kitchen. "We were shooting the video there for [Newfoundland foursome] Great Big Sea and their song 'Lukey'," he recalls. "They somehow got hold of a big fishing trawler, put it on wheels, and wheeled it through the centre of town. If you can imagine it being taken through the small, narrow streets, with an old guy pushing it - it was actually being towed, of course, but we pretended he was pushing it! He got as far as the pub we were all playing in, and parked it outside. You should see the looks of astonishment on people's faces in the video. We didn't have to stage any of it."
The majority of the selections on Fire in the Kitchen come from Cape Breton - a part of the Celtic world that Moloney has held in particular affection since first visiting the island back in the early '70s and discovering its musical riches. There are tracks from the Rankins, Ashley MacIsaac, Rita MacNeil, Natalie MacMaster, Mary Jane Lamond, and the Barra Mac Neils. And when Moloney and the Chieftains return to Vancouver, to play the Orpheum on Sunday (November 22), they'll be bringing the Barra MacNeils and MacIsaac as guest artists.
"Ashley was, in a sense, the inspiration behind doing the whole album, because he's been touring with us, on and off, since he was 17," Moloney reveals. "Totally bonkers, totally wild, totally mad, as usual - that's why we love him, you know. We'll also have a couple of Irish dancers with us and a local choir to help us perform a suite from our album Long Journey Home, which we made last year with Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, and others. We always like to team up with artists from the cities where we're playing - but I don't yet know who it will be."
Moloney will be coming to town a few days ahead of the gig to consult with his codirectors at Wicklow, Sam Feldman and Steve Macklam (who also manages the Chieftains). "Wicklow's head office is in Vancouver - we've also got an office in New York, and there's myself in Dublin. I'd like to sign up some young world-music artists that are showing great promise. We already have about 15 albums being developed at the moment. Every minute, there's something happening. I admit I'm not paying enough attention to the research thing, as I'm so busy."
One of the film scores on Moloney's plate is for Mammy, a movie directed by actor Anjelica Huston, who went to school in Ireland. "She dearly wants me to do the music for it, but I don't know whether I can take on the full score because of the time factor - there are 52 cuts of music in it," Moloney laments. "We spent seven hours on Thursday going over and over it, playing tapes and throwing out ideas. There's also a Swedish film I'm working on, and another called The Match that's been offered to me."
But of all the projects piling up for Moloney, there's one that's recieving special priority. "The band has been on to me - and indeed I've been feeling myself - that it's time to get back and do an all-out Chieftains album with just the Chieftains. We've had The Chieftains in China, and in Brittany, and in Galicia, and all the rest. We're thinking of calling this The Chieftains in Ireland." He chuckles. "We've actually started it. So that will keep me even more busy."

by Tony Montague for the Georgia Straight