Paddy Maloney, who over a span of decades has entertained hundreds of thousands with his wit, warmth and talent, has passed away at 83 years of age. One of the founding members of The Chieftains, Paddy, along with his band mates not only returned traditional Irish music to popularity in the Republic of Ireland, he championed it, internationally, for decades, bringing tunes once played around kitchen tables, in county halls and at sessions to the world stage.
I first met Paddy in the fall of 1997.
I'd fallen in with Martin Fay, The Chieftains' second fiddle at the time, after meeting him at a bar in Halifax Nova Scotia. The band was in town recording a few bits and pieces for Fire in the Kitchen. Every evening that week, I'd finish off playing at a bar down in the Historic Properties. He'd wander out to Maxwell's Plumb for a bit of dinner. We'd polish off the rest of the pub's open hours.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
On the last day of their time in town, Martin, along with the rest of the band at the time, came in to the pub. Unrecognized, they stood around, chatting and nursing pints. I was quietly introduced to each member, in turn. They were to be taking off to a new music festival—Celtic Colours—on Cape Breton Island, the next day. Martin asked if I wanted to tag along to keep him company. I didn't have any gigs for the next five days. I most certainly didn't have the money. I said yes, nonetheless.
There were to be a number of sessions at the festival. Even if nothing was planned, trad players usually find a way to sit, drink and enjoy tunes together. So, I brought my bodhrán and bouzouki with me. I'd been in a bad head space and was on the cusp of making some life-altering decisions. I thought some time playing would do me well.
The Chieftains were opening the festival with a concert at the largest venue in Sydney, Nova Scotia. I met up for Martin for a bit of a pre-show nosh. We walked to the venue together. He had me added to their list as one of the musicians on their roster. I assumed it was to get me back stage for some free pints and company. Just before the band went on, Paddy walked into the green room and welcomed me, by name. He told me that Martin said I'd be joining them on stage, that evening. I wanted to say, the hell that I was. All I could manage was a nod and a pressed-lipped smile. 20 minutes later, a stressed-looking talent wrangler came looking for me, told me to grab my shit and follow her.
There'd been no soundcheck for me. No warning that this was happening. Mary Jane Lamond smiled recognition at me. Ashley MacIssac, who I'd played with in town a couple of times in Halifax, asked me if I knew Cotton Eyed Joe (no, not that one. This one.)
Two tunes later, I was a nobody local musician being welcomed on stage with two of the biggest names in Cape Breton music at the time, by the biggest name in Celtic music. It was absolutely fucking terrifying.
And over in under 20 minutes.
After the show, the band returned to the greenroom to jaw wag and have a few social beverages. Paddy came up to me and apologized for the trouble I was having with my microphone. We talked about our families and the band's plans for the next few months. We shook hands and said our goodbyes. I joined Martin outside for a smoke. We exchanged home addresses and phone numbers to stay in touch. Over the years, I drove or flew out to see Martin, when time allowed, when the band was playing in North America. Each time I wandered back stage for a drink with him, Paddy remembered me by name. I was invited to play. Sometimes I took him up on the offer. More often, I did not.
Martin died in 2012, leaving me absolutely gutted. He was a dear friend and father figure to me for over a decade. My association with Paddy should have ended there. It didn't.
Over the next decade, I interviewed him for a number of publications I was freelancing for. On the event of our first phone call, he said he was glad to hear my voice and that I was doing well. We talked about 'poor dear Martin'. And how he'd tried to have him return to the band for one last recording, just before he passed. He was still proud of his children, one of which was working for NASA at the time (perhaps he still is.)
For all of Paddy's fame and despite the hundreds of thousands of fans, acquaintances and reporters he must have interacted with throughout his career, it amazed me that he never forgot my name, or how dear Martin was to me.
He was a fine man.
An excellent musician and showman.
I'll remember him, fondly.