Chieftains and guests entertain, but we could have heard more from band originals
Champions of traditional Irish music had plenty of enthusiastic support for their Hong Kong concert
The version of the Chieftains that played Hong Kong City Hall on November 13 was very different to the one that performed in Hong Kong and China in 1983.
The band’s landmark 1985 album The Chieftains in China was recorded on that tour, but only three of the five members remain; sadly fiddler Martin Fay and harpist Derek Bell have both died. Fiddler Sean Keane is “semi-retired” from the group, and now appears with them on only an occasional basis.
For much of the past 30 years, founder and leader Paddy Moloney has kept the band in the public eye through a series of collaborative albums, featuring well-known figures from the worlds of rock, country and Latin music. Sting, The Rolling Stones and Sinead O’Connor weren’t on hand on Friday to recreate their guest parts in 1995’s The Long Black Veil, but bodhran player and long tanding Chieftain Kevin Conneff sang Sting’s part from Mo Ghile Mear (Our Hero), guest singer Alyth McCormack took O’Connor’s role on The Foggy Dew, and harpist Triona Marshall had a game shot at replacing Keith Richards, playing the Satisfaction riff he worked into The Rocky Road To Dublin on an electronic keyboard.
There were guest stars, but local ones, in the form of the Hong Kong St Andrew’s Pipe Band – St Patrick presumably doesn’t have one here – and the not very inspiringly named Music Office Youth Choir, both of which performed with gusto.
For Full of Joy, the opening track from The Chieftains in China, two erhu players identified by Moloney as “Ms Tong and Ms Chan” augmented the line-up. Also helping out, with perhaps not a lot of rehearsal, were dancers from The Echoes of Erin School of Irish Dancing.
The Chieftains had brought their own professional step dancers, Jon Pilatzke, who doubled on fiddle, Nathan Pilatzke, and Cara Butler, but Butler had the misfortune to suffer a fall a few numbers into the show, sustaining a leg injury, and had to be supported as she left the stage.
The remaining dancers did their best to make up for her absence, and she good-humouredly returned – supported again and standing on one leg – to sing I’ll Tell Me Ma, which the Chieftains recorded with Van Morrison. A full house applauded every tune enthusiastically.
It was an entertaining evening, but one in which we heard perhaps a little too much from guest performers and touring members of the group, and not enough from Moloney on uilleann pipes and tin whistle, and Matt Molloy on flute.
It has, however, been many years since they made an album without guest stars. Perhaps they have lost some confidence in the unaugmented group performances of traditional Irish music with which they originally made their considerable and well-deserved reputation.
The Chieftains, City Hall Concert Hall, Friday November 13, 2015.