Video premiere: Chieftains and the Low Anthem’s ‘School Days Over’
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A half-century ago -- the same year the Stones got rolling in England, the same year the Beatles released their first single, the same year the Beach Boys put out their first album across the Atlantic in sunny Southern California -- a group of Irish musicians came up with the revolutionary idea of playing their native country’s folk music much the way it had been played 100, 200 and even 300 years earlier.
Over the 50 years that followed, the Chieftains have continued to explore the deep roots of Celtic music while exporting it and relating it not only to traditional music of numerous countries around the world but also to the contemporary sounds of other cultures. They’ve teamed up with the rock, pop and country music elite, including the Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Sting and Linda Ronstadt, and reached out to musicians from Mexico, Spain, Jamaica, Cuba and China.
Their reach is no longer limited to planet Earth: Last year Irish American astronaut Cady Coleman borrowed a couple of flutes when she rocketed to the International Space Station and tootled on a penny whistle from Chieftains founding member and leader Paddy Moloney and on a 100-year-old flute belonging to flutist Matt Molloy.
That history will be formally acknowledged and celebrated on Feb. 21 with the release of the venerable Irish band’s new album, “Voice of Ages,” in which the group again displays its passion for collaboration in tracks with a largely young and vibrant collective of musical partners, including the Decemberists, the Civil Wars, Pistol Annies, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Bon Iver, Imelda May, the Punch Brothers, Paolo Nutini, Lisa Hannigan and the Low Anthem.
Their track with the Low Anthem, the video for which premieres exclusively on Pop & Hiss above, is “School Days Over,” a song written by Ewan McColl, the English singer and songwriter widely known on his home turf for his protest songs in the 1950s and ‘60s, but best known in the U.S. as the writer of Roberta Flack’s 1972 hit “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.”
As the Providence, R.I., band’s lead singer Ben Knox Miller strums and sings McColl’s sobering tale advising schoolchildren to leave their books behind and take up jobs working in mines, the Chieftains’ Moloney adds wistful accompaniment on penny whistle: “Time you were learning the miner’s job / Earning the miner’s pay.”
The Chieftains, who have collected six Grammy Awards and an Academy Award, are embarking on a U.S. tour that brings them back to the Southland — though not to Los Angeles — for performances Feb. 17 in Santa Barbara and Feb. 18 in Aliso Viejo. The monthlong tour concludes March 17 in New York City. A full profile of the group is coming later this month in Calendar.
-- Randy Lewis