The Chieftains, Symphony Hall, Birmingham

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The Independent Culture

These leaders of Irish traditional music have been together for 42 years, fronted by Paddy Moloney on Uilleann pipes and tin whistle.

These leaders of Irish traditional music have been together for 42 years, fronted by Paddy Moloney on Uilleann pipes and tin whistle. The harp of Derek Bell has been silenced since the band's last visit, and the band's core quartet has now been augmented with younger blood.

Harp, cello, guitar and second fiddle lend an almost orchestral spread. They open up the tunes with arrangements that bloom outwards from the centrally placed pipes, flute, fiddle and bodhran. The Chieftains take to the stage with an informal stumble, immediately creating an intimate rapport. They're drawing the audience into a pub-session frame of mind, as the sound of massed heel-tapping fills up the hall. Even though they have large speaker stacks to each side of the stage, the volume is comparatively low, and would have benefited from a slight upward nudge.

All of the Chieftains are given at least one solo showcase, but it's bodhran-player Kevin Conneff's early vocal display that moves the most strongly, with its profoundly desolate expression.

Matt Molloy trills his flute with nimble grace, and fiddler Sean Keane rubs his strings with a sliding rotary motion, while most of Moloney's upfront action comes via his introductory chatter. Paddy just won't shut up, even while his fellows are doing their own introductions. His effervescence is essential to the band's outgoing nature.

Molloy and Moloney work as a closely knit team, while Keane leads the dynamic string section. The second fiddler frequently downs his instrument in favour of mane-shaking step-dancing at the side of the stage. He's from Ottawa, and is joined by another shoe-clicking specialist from the same city. There's also a girl from Long Island, who has a lighter, gliding style. Apart from when she lands on her rear as she makes her entrance. The step-dancing makes a successful counterpoint to the inactivity of the seated Chieftains.

The two sets were expertly paced, shuffling sensitive solo features with full-tilt ensemble reels. Even though there are a few nods to their recent cross-genre collaborations, the evening is devoted to a broad repertoire that acknowledges the band's complete 13-album BMG catalogue being reissued to coincide with this tour.

Over the last decade, this over-enthusiasm for collaboration has sometimes diluted their essence, but the live Chieftains deal involves a dedication to their eternal repertoire. The expanded line-up adds an acceptable degree of variety, but doesn't detract from the innate qualities of old.

Touring to Monday

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