Tonight: The Chieftains at Jones Hall

As Rocks Off mentioned in last week's print article, Chieftains founder Paddy Moloney is a bit of a talker. Furthermore, his lilting Irish brogue is so enchanting it's easy to get lost in it and forget whatever you asked him in the first place - and he rambles so much he probably forgets too.

Luckily, since he started the group in Dublin in 1962 - the current lineup is Moloney (Uillean pipes, tin whistle), Kevin Conneff (bodhran, vocals) and Matt Malloy (flute); fiddler Sean Keane is sitting out this tour to spend time with his family, and longtime harpist Derek Bell passed away in 2002 - the Chieftains' combined resume, discography and touring itinerary has to be thicker than the Book of Kells, so there's a lot to talk about - including their upcoming album exploring the common ground between Irish and Mexican music. A few more excerpts from our conversation after the jump.

Rocks Off: How big would you estimate the Chieftains' repertoire is at this point?

Paddy Moloney: Oh, lord. Well, apart from the 48 albums, there's a lot of stuff I haven't actually put down on tape yet. Songs that we've done for films, TV, special songs, so it goes on. It's a massive repertoire. I must sit down sometime, or maybe get somebody else, to do a catalog of the whole thing. People come to me pretty often back home - they're students at the university, musicians-in-residence in world music at the University of Limerick at the moment. We give master classes, and I give a lot of talks there. I always have a tin whistle in my inside pocket. It's like my mistress. When I was honored with an honorary doctorate I got at the American College in Dublin, I told them a bunch of funny stories about the band. Then at the end I pulled out the old tin whistle and said, "Look, I know this is unusual, but..." I played two tunes, and the students from countries all over the world - there were 14 ambassadors there - they were in their cap and gowns, a lot of them got up and danced, which was never heard tell of before at this college. RO: You must have quite an interest in history in general.

PM: With this Mexican project now, for instance, I have a friend in Vancouver who's from Argentina, and she did a lot of research for me as well. So I got stores of stuff to select from. Apart from the subject, about the history of the San Patricio [a battalion of Irish-born soldiers who fought against the U.S. in the Mexican-American war], which I knew, it was an event that was explained to me 25 to 30 years ago, and I followed it through but I never really got around to it until now. Then Ry Cooder asked me to get going with it, and I'm delighted it's happening. Even when I went to Mexico, somebody said, "There's another group here, it's got about 50 [people] in it. I thought, "God, I'd love to hear it." While I was there I listened to some of the stuff, and identified a lot of the music with ours, so I was able to pick immediately pieces of music that fitted perfectly with the project. RO: Do you remember your first trip to Texas?

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PM: Oh, God, will I ever forget? We spent two weeks there. It was like going to a different country. I remember playing Willie Nelson's Opry House - oh, by the way, did I mention Willie's going to contribute a song to this Mexican project? But my first trip to Texas... I accepted the freedom of the city from the mayor of Austin, she was a lovely woman [that was future Texas comptroller and gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Rylander "One Tough Grandma" Strayhorn.] We were presented with this on television and a big, tall hat. You know, these 10-gallon hat. Now you can imagine what that looks like on me, a small guy from Dublin.

But that was 1980, and we did all the towns of Texas. It was just great, and we had an absolute ball. We were much younger then, of course, and we could take it a little better. But the party in every city was just great.

8 p.m. tonight at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 713-227-4772 or www.spahouston.org.


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