Ask Paddy Moloney what he and the Chieftains have been up to lately, and you'll quickly learn that there's no short answer to the question. It isn't that the Dublin-born Moloney is unduly blessed with the Irish gift of gab; it just takes awhile to get through everything.
This band has always had a heavy schedule. Never mind the albums -- there are 22 of Irish traditional music so far, with two more ready for 1991 release. There's also the Chieftains' career in the cinema, having provided the score to such films as "Barry Lyndon," "The Grey Fox," "Tristan and Isolde" and the upcoming "Treasure Island." Not to mention the group's peripatetic tour schedule.
Yet Moloney and his mates still manage to make room on their agenda for a few extra items.
Take the band's current tour, a set of Christmas concerts that includes a performance at Shriver Hall tomorrow. Moloney had already told the others that the group would be done for the year once this American jaunt had been completed, but then went ahead and added a Dec. 21 concert in Dublin with Van Morrison. Because, he says, "we owe him one."
How so? It isn't simply that the Chieftains collaborated with Morrison on the singer's "Irish Heartbeat" album. As Moloney explains over the phone from his New York hotel room, "The reason we owe him one is last August we were on tour on the West Coast, and, we get this phone call: 'Ay, Paddy, this is Van.'"
Moloney, who perfectly mimics Morrison's unmistakable voice, laughs. "As if I wouldn't know who the hell it was," he says, "this husky voice. So I said, 'Where are you?'
" 'San Francisco. I hear you have a concert. So, I'm coming up.' And I said, 'Why not?'
"Now, often after the opening number, the dancer dances and I say, 'A grand dancer, there. Happened to be in the neighborhood, dropped in to do a few steps.' Which causes a bit of a laugh, you know?
"But during the second half of the show, I said, 'By the way, ladies and gentlemen, I met up with another Irishman, a singer. Not bad at all, in fact. He asked if he could come on and sing a few songs.' Of course, they laughed, y'see.
"Then I said, 'His name is Van Morrison,' and they laughed twice as much. And then, of course, when the boyo jumps onto the stage, they went berserk." Moloney himself laughs, adding, "We had a great night! Ended up doing about eight songs, finished up the evening. And so we're going to do this again on the 21st with Van."
Morrison isn't the only Ulsterman to work regularly with the Chieftains; the group has a similar ongoing relationship with flutist James Galway. Moreover, Moloney and his crew have appeared on numerous rock albums, including those by Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Don Henley, Dan Fogelberg and others. Currently, Moloney's tin whistle can be heard on Roger Waters' all-star remake of "The Wall," while he played his uillean pipes -- lap pipes, the Irish counterpart to Scotch bagpipes -- on country star Steve Wariner's new Christmas album.
Exhausting? Sure it is, but Moloney has no complaints. "That's what life's all about -- getting together and playing with musicians," he says happily. "We've played with Galician musicians from the north of Spain, with Bretons and Italians. Chinese musicians. We've played with Austrian musicians.
"You can mix it, and we have a great time doing it. But basically, it's still very much a traditional Irish band as such. That's our sound. And in what we do, we're unique. It's harp, pipes, whistle, flute, bodhran, tiompan, fiddles and some bones now and again -- the full range of the old traditional instruments. And that suits the music fine."
Moloney describes the Chieftains as "a folk orchestra," and says the group's interpretations of traditional tunes are quite carefully orchestrated. Listening to the Chieftains, after all, is hardly the same thing as hearing a ceili, or traditional Irish dance band.
"It's a completely different approach," he says. "I mean, I was a member of ceili bands myself in the old days. But that to me was thrash-the-beetle, as I call it, just belting out tune after tune. There was not very much thought put into the arrangements. The blending of instruments, the harmonics weren't taken into consideration."
Whereas with the Chieftains, he says, "there's no clash. It's a tremendous combination, very appealing to the ear. It just molded into ourselves, you know? It was like the music took over."
When: Saturday, Dec. 1, 8 p.m.
Where: Shriver Hall, Johns Hopkins University
Call: 338-7157 for information, 481-6000 for tickets.