If you didn't know better, you might think Paddy Moloney was some kind of rock star.
Ask him what he and his band, the Chieftains, have been up to lately, and it's like tumbling into some real-life version of Rolling Stone's "Random Notes" column. In just two weeks, Moloney and his mates have recorded with Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, concertized with Roger Daltrey and Sinead O'Connor, and were backstage at the Grammys (where they won the Best Traditional Folk Album award) posing for pictures with Bono.
"And Eddie Vedder," adds Moloney. "Eddie and I have struck up a great friendship. We have middle names that nobody knows that are our code for getting in touch with one another. Great fun, you know?"
Great fun, indeed. After all, how many other Irish pipers can claim to have partied with the lead singer from Pearl Jam?
But then, the Chieftains have never been typical folk musicians. Even though the band is widely credited with having sparked the Irish folk revival of the '60s, its influence and popularity extend well beyond traditional music circles. Over the last 30 years, the Grammy-winning group has recorded with rock stars and symphony orchestras, country singers and Chinese folk ensembles -- and shows no signs of slowing its pace or narrowing its perspective.
Just look at their recording schedule. "There's two albums going on at the same time," says Moloney, over the phone from a tour stop in Houston. "Typically Irish.
"We just re-signed with BMG, a new contract, and they were looking for this big, exciting album. It's 'The Chieftains and Friends' album. So I started with the Rolling Stones. I got a great song from Mick. The following day, I went in with the rest of the band. It went on until 5 in the morning. Madness. People got up and danced. I left it all on the tape, so you'll hear it when it comes out.
"I got Marianne Faithfull singing a beautiful song, and Mark Knopfler has done a track. And, of course, it wouldn't be complete at all without something from the great maestro himself, Mr. Van Morrison. I have one, maybe two tracks. We're fighting over the second track -- over which album it's going on, his or mine."
Tom Jones, Sinead O'Connor and Ry Cooder have also cut songs with the group, and Moloney mentions that Bono will be adding his voice to a track or two. He admits, however, that a few of the Chieftains' friends have so far slipped through the net.
"I'm working on something for Jerry Garcia," he says. "I have something ready, in fact, to do with him, but we're finding it very difficult to be able to meet up at the same place at the same time. Moving targets."
Garcia, it turns out, figures in Moloney's plans for both albums. "The other one is a Galician album," he says. "Galicia is in the northwest of Spain, and we play a lot of Galician music, have done for many years. Garcia, on his father's side, they come from La Coruna -- that's Galician, of course -- and on his mother's side is the Irish connection. So he'd be a perfect one for both albums."
In the meantime, the Chieftains are working with the young Galician piper Carlos Nunez while on the road. "He's a musical genius," says Moloney. "His pipe -- it's called the gaita over there -- is similar to the Irish bagpipe, but much lower in tone. It hasn't got the same brashness; it's a sweeter instrument.
"He's researched a lot of the tunes for me, and that's why I brought him on tour. You know, we're actually getting into the music on tour, which is the best way. Because when we get into the studio, we have a better grasp of it."
Moloney adds that the Chieftains will be heading off to Asia once this current U.S. tour is finished. "We're playing Japan now quite a bit," he says. "There's a great buzz over there, and we're going to Taiwan as well.
"I don't know where we're going to get the time," he adds, laughing. "I mean, I'm just absolutely out of my mind with tiredness."
Somehow, that doesn't seem surprising at all.
"The Celtic Harp"
Since 1964, the Chieftains have recorded with everyone from Willie Nelson to Van Morrison to James Galway, and still remain the world's foremost exponents of traditional Irish music. To hear excerpts from their Grammy-winning album "The Celtic Harp," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone telephone, punch in the four digit code 6183 after you hear the greeting.
When: Tuesday, March 15, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall
Tickets: $16 and $26; boxes $36
Call: (410) 783-8000.