The Chieftains -- An Irish Evening (BMG Special Products, 2000)
The Chieftains -- The Long Black Veil (BMG Special Products, 2000)

I expect that die-hard Chieftains fans are already in possession of these DVDs; on the off chance that anyone has missed these two releases, they make a wonderful addition to any Chieftains collection.

An Irish Evening was recorded live at the Belfast Opera House on July 31st and August 1st, 1991. The performance was recorded and released as a music CD but was also taped for broadcast by Ulster Television. Many years later the compilation was transferred to DVD, and this is the result.

This is a wonderful show. The picture and audio transferred quite well, though a bit hazy due to the original recording medium of video, but the delightful personalities that are The Chieftains come through as beautifully as they must have to any audience member lucky enough to have attended the live performances. I've always felt that part of the artistry of The Chieftains is their lack of any obvious artistry; that is to say, their simplicity of style reflects their comfort in their own skins and in front of an audience. This DVD is a shining example of their understated performance style.

The show begins with the band doing a medley of reels, "Paddy's Jig/O'Keefes/Chattering Magpie". The band (Paddy Moloney on uillean pipes and tin whistle, Martin Fay on fiddle, Sean Keane on fiddle, Kevin Conneff on bodhran and vocals, Matt Molloy and flute, and the incomparable Derek Bell on harp, tiompan, and keyboards) could for all the world be sitting in sessuin in a smoky pub, at least until they're joined partway through by an exuberant and lovely step dancer in traditional costume (pre-Riverdance Jean Butler in a winning performance). Immediately afterwards Kevin Conneff steps up to the microphone and, hands in pockets, casually performs an amazing a capella rendition of "North Americay".

After another group performance on "Around the House and Mind the Dresser", Texas singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith joins The Chieftains and performs her own song "Little Love Affairs" (note to self: get some Nanci Griffith CDs!) followed by a haunting rendition of the traditional "Red is the Rose". Then we see more of The Chieftains on "Lilly Bolero/The White Cockade", "O Murchu's Hornpipe/Sliabh Geal gCua na Feile/The Wandering Minstrel", "Independent Hornpipe" (danced again by Jean Butler), "Full of Joy", and "The Mason's Apron".

At this point, the second guest star takes the stage. Roger Daltrey of The Who is an interesting choice of guests for The Chieftains, but as they show later on The Long Black Veil, interesting guest performers and collaborators are always welcomed by this band. Daltrey's version of the 1946 Patrick Kavanagh song "Raglan Road", backed by The Chieftains soaring sound (Derek Bell shines on the keyboards in this one) is absolutely my favorite performance of the show. When Daltrey sings this song with the passion and power of a rock star, it invests the folkish tune with an entirely new level of meaning. It's utterly gorgeous. Daltrey's second solo, on The Who's "Behind Blue Eyes", is very well done, but somewhat of a let-down, misplaced as it is in a show full of traditional and folky music.

The 10 minute finale affords each of the Chieftains a chance for a solo -- the late, beloved Derek Bell, who reminded me of nobody so much as my slightly stooped, nerdish middle school biology teacher (and who had more talent in his pinky toe than most musicians can aspire to in their lifetimes), shows off some delicious ragtime keyboarding -- and brings back Griffith and Daltrey for encore solo performances of Griffith's "Ford Econoline" and the traditional English tune "Any Old Iron".

There is one major fault with The Chieftains -- An Irish Evening. At just an hour long, it's far, far too short. I want more!

On the other hand, The Chieftains -- The Long Black Veil comes in at 46 minutes, and that's plenty. Unlike An Irish Evening, this is not a concert recording, but a documentary about the making of the collaborative album The Long Black Veil. If you are unfamiliar with The Long Black Veil, after years of being asked to play on albums with everyone from James Galway to Van Morrison, The Chieftains decided it was time for some reciprocation, and invited Sting, Marianne Faithfull, Sinead O'Connor, Ry Cooder, Mark Knopfler, and Tom Jones to perform on a Chieftains production.

On this rather grainy DVD, interviews with members of The Chieftains and with the various guest stars are interspersed with footage from the recording process. It's unfortunate that nowhere on the DVD cover does it mention that this is a documentary -- even the credits are laid out as though it were a concert performance! Yet we only see clips from the various songs, and often the interviews are recorded over the performance footage. While the interviews with Paddy Moloney and the other band members are fascinating and certainly well worth watching, the interviews with Tom Jones and the other guests are mostly of the "why I love the Chieftains and am honored to work with them" variety.

I was disappointed when I first purchased this DVD, as I was looking forward to seeing Mark Knopfler perform "The Lily of the West", or Ry Cooder's work on "Coast of Malabar". However, as long as viewers understand that they will be watching a documentary rather than a concert, this is certainly a DVD that should be included in any Chieftains collection, if only for the chance to hear the words and wit of the members of the best known Celtic band in the world.

Both An Irish Evening and The Long Black Veil are treasured pieces in my extensive film collection, and I recommend them highly.


[Maria Nutick]