the chieftains

the chieftans, or at least a few of them, played at the "soirees" at zappa's home in february 1993, along with the tuvan throat singers, l. shankar, johnny 'guitar' watson, and terry bozzio.  this event is documented in the a&e biography as well as the late show, produced by nigel leigh, bbc2 march 11, 1993.
the music of this original traditional irish folk band is almost entirely instrumental. they were first formed in dublin during 1963, as a semi-professional outfit, from the ranks of the top folk musicians in ireland.
the chieftains were a success virtually from the beginning, their music weaving a spell around audiences in ireland and later in england, where they quickly became popular as both a performing and recording act -- the only thing holding them back was the decision by the members to remain a semi-professional, part-time ensemble until the early '70s. their first four albums, spread over a period from 1965 through 1973, were originally available only from the claddagh label in ireland, but were later picked up by island records for release in england and america in 1976, after the group had achieved international renown.
the group's big breakthrough in america occurred when they provided the music for stanley kubrick's 1975 movie barry lyndon. the film itself wasn't a hit, but the chieftains were, especially one track called "women of ireland," which began getting played heavily on fm progressive rock stations, and even managed to get onto the playlists of some top 40 stations. suddenly, the chieftains were hot in america, and a u.s. tour and a series of performances on television -- especially the network morning news/feature shows -- brought them into demand.
with their newfound audience, chieftains records started coming out every year instead of every two or three years. ever since the dawn of the cd era, their music has been available on compact disc from the shanachie records, while their more recent work has shown up on the bmg label, on both compact disc and home video. the latter have included a christmas concert and a mixed ensemble performance interweaving the group with orchestras, american folk and country musicians, and rock musicians, and an album (irish heartbeat, 1988) recorded with irish-born r&b shouter van morrison. additionally, the group has been engaged steadily for film work into the 1990s.
since the late '70s, the group's recordings have settled into an effective but not fully inspired level of creativity. the band has kept its sound fresh with the periodic addition of new members, and a search for sounds beyond the boundaries of ireland -- as distant as spanish sources -- as sources for their music. -- bruce eder, all-music guide

     from: "fred h. banta" (
i ran into the chieftains biography. i scanned through it and found several interesting fz anecdotes, but best of all was frank expressing his feelings about the chieftains and their rightful place in modern music:

frank zappa circa 1993 speaking to irish journalist, joe jackson

'u2 is maybe the most popular and successful musical export coming from ireland today, but there's no comparison between the musical quality of what they do and what the chieftains do. 'we play together here nearly every time they're in town and i love the sounds these guys make.  i love the melodies and the chord changes, and especially the way their music is performed.  each member of the group is an expert on his instrument, not just in terms of technique, but in terms of the concept they have of what the final ensemble product is supposed to sound like.
'that is something you are only going to get with a group that has been together 30 years.  people describe u2 as "post modern rockers", but what does that mean?  do they themselves know?  and which would you rather have? mediocre invention, or a direct linear descent from celtic culture, which is what i hear in the music of the chieftains? the chieftains are their own culture  and i hear traces of not only celtic history but global history in their work, echoing back to the beginning of time.  i've noticed that when they play here in my home with ethnic musicians from all over the world.
me again: pretty cool, huh?

     date: wed, 24 sep 1997 - from: bill (
subject: the chieftains the authorized biography

excerpt from "the chieftains the authorized biography"
by john glatt, 1997  isbn 0-312-16605-2

"in december, while the chieftains were in los angeles on their 13-city us christmas tour, paddy maloney called gail zappa to arrange to see frank.  gail told him that zappa was very ill but invited the chieftains over for sunday lunch.
"'frank died the day before,' say maloney. 'we heard the sad news and decided we would still go.'
"when they arrived maloney commiserated with gail and her two sons dweezil and ahmet and later they all went into frank's studio to record a special tribute which is due out on a future album."
spencer, if you are reading this, glatt misspells your name as "chrislau".

     from: clgr500 (
i had the pleasure of meeting derek bell of the chieftains around a year ago (spring '98) and queried him about the session at frank's home.  derek didn't mention the music at all - he did, however, state his admiration of frank and the personal courage he demonstrated during that session. bell said that it was obvious to all that frank was very ill and he felt honored to have been included in the session. in the same respect, i was honored to have had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours in mr. bell's company. i regret  i could not have done the same with frank.

     from: steve roche ( -
the chieftains 1995 cd contains the song called the tennessee waltz as its penultimate track:
"a most memorable session with our celtic cousin, mr. tom jones, recorded at the zappa's residence under the bemused and watchful eye of frank himself.  in memory of frank zappa"

"track 12: recorded at utility muffin research kitchen, los angeles  engineered by spencer chrislu * assisted by dave dondorf"

     from: "bob.meyrick" (
reading through the page reminded me of an occasion about ten years ago, summer '89 or '90, when i was listening to the "midweek" progamme on bbc radio 4. this was hosted by libby purves and was the sort of show where various guests would come in to be interviewed about their latest book/film/play/record/whatever. much to my surprise, fz was one of the guests  and he talked about his involvement with the then new government of czechoslovakia led by vaclav havel, a noted zappa fan.
the cheiftains were also on the show, promoting their latest project, and in the general discussion at the end of the show, i remember frank suggesting that they get together to record something the next time they were in the states. maybe that's where it all started...

     from: tom tuerff (
anybody see the chieftains special on a&e last night? it was produced in conjunction with the release of their last cd, "water from the well" ( a great cd, right up there with chieftains 8 and 9 and the one with van morrison on my all-time favorites).
anyway, they're talking to paddy maloney and he's answering a question about whether you need to be in ireland to truly get the sound you want for irish music. paddy says no, the chieftains' album "celtic harp" was recorded primarily in frank zappa's basement "when we were there filming something for the bbc with  some tibetan (sic) throat singers." he said frank invited them to record something and they ended up recording a good portion of the album there in the basement. 

the celtic harp

02/09/93 cd (rca victor 09026-61490-2)


     from: greg russo's "cosmik debris"

8 of the 12 tracks were recorded at umrk - zappa contributed uncredited

arrangement ideas.


the long black veil

01/24/95 cd (rca victor 09026-62702-2)


     from: greg russo's "cosmik debris"

"tennessee waltz"/ "tennessee mazurka" recorded at umrk with uncredited zappa arrangement assistance.



1965 the chieftains 1                        shanachie

1969 the chieftains 2                        shanachie

1971 the chieftains 3                        shanachie

1973 the chieftains                          cbs

1973 the chieftains 4                        shanachie

1975 the chieftains 5                        shanachie

1976 bonaparte's retreat                     shanachie

1977 chieftains live!                        shanachie

1977 the chieftains 7                        cbs

1978 chieftains 8                            cbs

1980 boil the breakfast early                cbs

1981 the chieftains 10: cotton-eyed joe      shanachie

1982 year of the french                      shanachie

1984 the grey fox soundtrack                 drg

1985 ballad of the irish horse               shanachie

1987 the chieftains in china                 shanachie

1988 irish heartbeat                         polydor

1989 a celebration                           rca

1989 collection                              knight

1989 chieftains celebration                  rca

1991 reel music: the film scores             rca

1992 another country                         rca

1991 the bells of dublin                     rca

1992 irish evening [live]                    rca

1992 the best of the chieftains              columbia/legac

1993 the celtic harp                         rca

1995 long black veil                         rca victor

1995 making of long black veil               rca

1995 have i told you lately that i love you  rca

1995 mo ghile mear                           rca

1996 gael wind                               sony legacy

1996 film cuts                               rca

1996 santiago                                rca

1996 celtic wedding: music of brittany       rca

1996 tailor of gloucester                    windham hill

1998 fire in the kitchen                     rca

1999 tears of stone                          rca

1999 tears of stone [bonus cd]               bmg international

1999 the chieftains collection: the very best of...  atlantic

1999 the claddagh years                      atlantic

1999 cheiftains: authorized biography        publishing mil

1999 i know my love                          bmg international

2000 water from the well                     rca

     tailor of gloucester                    windham hill



apepars on:

1968 various artists- live for ireland

1986 ultravox- u-vox

1988 derek bell- carolan's favorite

1988 various artists- the tailor of gloucester

1988 glass tiger- diamond sun

1991 van morrison- hymns to the silence (piano, violin, pipe)

1992 various artists- st. patrick's day celebration

1992 james galway- greatest hits, vol. 2 (arranger)

1993 various artists- carol of the drum: a new age... (vocals)

1994 roger daltrey- celebration: the music of the who

1995 various artists- winnie the pooh: take my hand (arranger, vocals)

1995 take my hand: songs from the 100 acre wood (arranger, vocals)

1995 original soundtrack- circle of friends

1997 dan fogelberg- portrait: the music of dan fogelberg... (uillean pipes, tin whistle)

2000 various- brak presents the brak alblum starring brak

     james galway- over the sea to skye (arranger)                                                        

     elvis costello- plugging the gaps

     mike oldfield- balm for the walking dead (uillean pipes)

frank zappa  / musicians timeline



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soundtracks various artists