The Chieftains – Live at Montreux 1997 (2009)

by | Sep 20, 2009 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

The Chieftains – Live at Montreux 1997 (2009)

Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment EE 39186-9
Video: 16:9 color
Audio: DTS 5.1, Dolby 5.1, PCM Stereo
Subtitles: None
Length: 124 minutes
Rating: ****

(Paddy Moloney – Uilleann pipes, tin whistle; Matt Molloy – flute; Kevin Conneff – Bodhrán, vocals; Martin Fay – fiddle; Sean Keane – fiddle; Derek Bell – harp, piano; special guests: Bea Riobo – gaita, vocals; Martin Murray and Tom O’Farrell – guitar; Donny Golden and Cara Butler – dancers)

The Chieftains were one of the first groups to find worldwide fame by performing Irish traditional music and the ensemble – which is nearly five decades old and still going strong – continues to deliver their unique musical charms via studio records and popular stage concerts.

The Chieftains – Live at Montreux 1997 chronicles the second visit the Irish troubadours made to the Montreux Jazz Festival (their first was in 1976) and showcases not only Gaelic folk material but interpretations of non-Irish music from Galicia – located in the northwest corner of Spain – as well as contemporary songwriting.

The fourteen tracks offer a retrospective outline of The Chieftains’ legacy: tunes range from songs the group has performed since its inception in 1962 up to compositions from then-current hit albums The Long Black Veil (issued in 1995) and Santiago (released in 1996). Along the way viewers are treated to examples of Irish dancing and the lighthearted banter between band members.

As fine as The Chieftains’ are on record there is nothing like watching and being a part of a Chieftains concert and The Chieftains – Live at Montreux 1997 is as intimate a way to see the band as any fan could ever hope to experience. The film direction is superb: lots of angles, close-ups, cutaways and multiple camera set-ups present the players and instruments right up front – one would need to be on stage to get any nearer. The sound is equal to the pictures. Chieftains sound man Martin Murray’s mix brings out the subtlest moments from quiet instruments such as harp and he gives the arrangements a rich and robust touch.

Following an appetizing warm-up medley, The Chieftains swing into one of several numbers from The Long Black Veil, "Changing Your Demeanour," about a small Irish town dubbed Hollywood and the lingering after-affects of drinking too much ale. Subsequent to a brief interlude for a reel and a pantalette, the group does more material from The Long Black Veil. The late Derek Bell – who passed away in 2002 – exhibits his wonderful and sublime harp playing on the traditional "Lady Dillon." The Chieftains’ then display their soulful side on Van Morrison’s "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You." Then they move into eloquent terrain on "Mo Ghile Mear (Our Hero)," based on an 18th century Gaelic poem. They provide a sense of wit on the opening introduction to "The Rocky Road to Dublin," quoting from The Rolling Stones’ "Satisfaction," which reminds everyone the Stones recorded the song in the studio with The Chieftains but obviously were not able to attend the Montreux show. The medley finishes with a reel, where the group is  joined by dancers Donny Golden and Cara Butler, who increase the audience’s enthusiasm.

Soon after The Chieftains inaugurate music from Santiago, which won the 1997 Grammy for Best World Music album. They introduce guest artist Bea Riobo on the gaita (or Galician bagpipes) as Gaelic meets Galician on the upbeat and crowd pleasing "Galician Overture" and "Dueling Chanters," an adaptation that shows off the interplay between Paddy Moloney’s Uilleann pipes and Riobo’s bagpipes. Later in the program, Riobo returns to add vocals to the cheerful work, "Guadalupe," which is a fine representation of a New World immigrant song that merges Mexican and Galician influences.  

Interchange is also embodied on the beautifully melodic "Carrickfergus," which features a duet between Martin Fay’s fiddle and Bell’s harp. When the melody erupts joyfully the crowd happily claps along to the enticing rhythm. Another special guest, guitarist Tom O’Farrell, enters the stage during another Santiago highlight, the flamenco-like "Maneo," accented by more hand-clapping which escalates to a near-manic beat as the piece rises in tempo.

Flutist Matt Molloy takes the center spot on an awe-inspiring three-tune solo medley. Molloy’s fingers fly as notes quickly cascade from his flute. The cameramen supply stunning shots that emphasize his performance – any flute student should watch this for pointers on how to accomplish demanding material of any genre – and Molloy makes even the most exacting moments seem easy: in the extreme close-ups of his face, no sweat can be seen.

The evening comes to a close with two rousing numbers. The Chieftains start with the infectious "Did You Ever Go a Courtin’ Uncle Joe," where three pipes and three fiddles (Murray joins for this one), flute, piano, Bodhrán, tin whistle, and Riobo’s Galician bagpipes add up to an abundant ensemble musical outpouring. Almost everyone gets solo time but Bell steals the spotlight when he veers into a jazzy ragtime keyboard break that demonstrates his humorous personality. The action advances to an invigorating conclusion when Riobo contributes some impromptu multi-ethnic dance steps as she combines her dancing skills with Butler and Golden. The throng isn’t done, though, and undertakes a similarly energized encore medley that begins with a graceful harp/flute duet, followed by a charismatic Irish cut that includes an affable three-fiddle retort. As a finale, the medley blasts off with a vigorous reel supplemented by Moloney’s vocal encouragement while the Montreux fans break into high-spirited dancing.

The Chieftains – Live at Montreux 1997
is a noteworthy concert document that focuses exclusively on The Chieftains’ music: no annoying interviews clutter the live footage and the traditional compositions afford a timeless quality that means this film will never seem dated. Although this project is geared toward Irish music devotees it is something general music listeners will probably also find entertaining. Despite the absence of any extras – the music is the main focal point – John Tobler’s excellent and concise liner notes present both historical and concert information that synopsizes the proceedings.


1. Opening Medley: O’Neill’s March/Rosin Dubh/Reels and Dance
2. Changing Your Demeanour
3. Donegal Reel/Ladies Pantalette
4. Lady Dillon
5. Album Medley: Have I Told You Lately That I Love You/Mo Ghile Mear/The Rocky Road to Dublin/Reels and Dance
6. Song of Immigration/Kerry Slides
7. Medley: Galician Overture/Dueling Chanters
8. Carrickfergus
9. Maneo
10. Murphy’s Hornpipe and Dance
11. Matt Molloy Medley: A Fig for a Kiss/Mulhares Reel/Gravel Walks
12. Guadalupe
13. Did You Ever Go a Courtin’ Uncle Joe
14. Give Me Your Hand/The Trip to Durrow/Flogging Reel

— Doug Simpson

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