LEGENDARY IRISH BAND the Chieftains are celebrating four decades in the music business with a world tour and new album, but it doesn't feel like 40 years for founder member Paddy Moloney. 'No, it feels more like 80,' he groans, but with a twinkle in his eye. Moloney could be forgiven for feeling slightly jaded, having arrived in Hong Kong earlier in the day after enduring a long-haul flight from Dublin only to be hit by a double whammy: first, fiddler Richard Wood, who was due to guest with the band for their SAR concerts, had fallen ill in his native Prince Edward Island, Canada, and would be unable to travel; second, Moloney had just been informed the Irish national football side had been beaten by Germany in the World Cup. 'Ah, it's very sad, a real loss,' laments Moloney, though it is not clear whether he is referring to the ailing fiddler or team. After the interview, it turns out he had been misinformed and Mick McCarthy's men snatched an injury-time equaliser. What was that about the luck of the Irish? Moloney, 63, exudes enthusiasm and is clearly relishing the revival traditional music is enjoying throughout the world. 'I've just got back from spending a couple of days in Nashville, Tennessee, and while I was there I ended up recording 25 tracks with the likes of Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and Ricky Skaggs,' he says. The Chieftains, whose line-up has undergone a few changes in personnel since the early days in Dublin, now comprise Moloney on Uillean pipes, Matt Molloy on flute, Kevin Conneff on bodhran and vocals, Sean Keane on fiddle and Derek Bell on harp and piano. Says Moloney: 'It is not as if you could audition to be a Chieftain - people just sort of drift in and drift out. Derek Bell drifted in about 1972 and he's still here.' Collaborations such as the Nashville get-together have always been part and parcel of the Chieftains' gigs and records, including on their most recent release, The Wide World Over, a compilation celebrating their 40 years which features contributions from the Rolling Stones, Sting and the Corrs. Indeed, the eclectic list of performers who have teamed up with the band over the decades includes everyone from Van Morrison and Sinead O'Connor to Tom Jones, Elvis Costello, Ziggy Marley and Frank Zappa. The band will be joined on stage in Hong Kong by guitarist Jeff White and Japanese singer Misako Sahara, among others. 'The Chieftains were always known as musicians' musicians.' Moloney recalls. 'Now we're turning the tables.' It is unlikely there will be any shortage of volunteers. Moloney and co have won just about every music gong in the business, including six Grammys, and have a devoted following throughout the world, including China. In 1983, they toured the mainland and were the first Western band to perform with a Chinese folk orchestra and also the first to perform on the Great Wall. The trip was later turned into a movie, The Chieftains In China. 'It was madness, absolute madness,' Moloney recalls. While the band's anniversary concerts are earning rave reviews and drawing sell-out audiences, Moloney regrets that one part of the celebrations had to be cancelled. 'We had planned this massive concert in Dublin on October 21, the 'big gig',' he recalls. 'We had the television all lined up, Van and Sinead were going to be there, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and Lyle Lovett were all confirmed. But then came September 11. We decided that it would probably be best to cancel.' Last month they played at a US$50,000-a-table (HK$390,000) benefit in Manhattan's Waldorf-Astoria hotel which raised US$6 million to help relatives of the victims of the terrorist attacks. 'I went along to Ground Zero,' Moloney says. 'I brought my pipes and I played a lament, I Am Asleep And Do Not Wake Me. A lot of the workers stopped and just listened. It was very emotional and there were a lot of tears.' Given the ephemeral nature of the music business, the Chieftains are something of a phenomenon. How long do they intend to carry on? 'Well, we're enjoying the music as much as ever,' Moloney says. 'We've done 40 years so now we're all set for another 40.' The Chieftains play Sha Tin Town Hall tonight and City Hall Concert Hall tomorrow. Tickets $150-$400 from Urbtix.