Brian Warfield tells Eanna O Murchu about life on the road with The Wolfe Tones over the past half century
In the mid-1960s, minutes after the fresh-faced ‘Wolfe Tones’ had completed a week of sell-out shows in the Paris Olympia, the promoter responsible for bringing the young Irish musicians to the banks of the Seine took to the stage to utter a few words.
“A few years ago I made a prediction that a band that played here would go on to great things,” he said. “That band was The Beatles. Tonight I make a similar prediction about these guys you see in front of you…The Wolfe Tones!”
It was a bold statement to make on a Parisienne walkway all those moons ago; in hindsight, his words had touches of clairvoyance. What he could not have predicted, however, was that almost half a century later The Wolfe Tones would still be packing out venues the length and breadth of Ireland, and far further afield.
When I set out to meet Brian, Tommy and Noel, it is a humid Friday night in early autumn in Wexford town, where the summer has stayed late and there is an energy pulsating from the streets. That might be down to the fact that The Wolfe Tones are in town to play the Dun Mhuire Theatre.
We have arranged to meet in The Bugler Doyle’s, a pub that rests at the heartbeat of the maritime settlement. You can tell from the queues of people at the bar clutching vinyl records and t-shirts that they want signed – and cameras poised for precious souvenir shots – just where the three musicians are sitting.
“Where would you like to begin,” says the congenial Brian Warfield, extending a warm handshake and the remaining band members as well as tour manager, Dwyer, from Lurgan in County Armagh, are equally as warm in their welcomes. “Where else but at the beginning,” I tell him, and Brian tells me to pull up a stool. With a simple nod of his head, you can tell he has a very interesting story to share.
In 1963 in Bluebell in the Inchicore area of Dublin, two brothers, Brian and Derek Warfield, got together with their friend, Noel Nagle, and decided to form a band.
The music they played was deeply embedded in the Irish tradition and the following year on the recommendation of a fourth band member, Philip Woodnut, they entered a ballad competition which was being run in conjunction with The Rose of Tralee.
The four musicians were triumphant and very quickly had acquired a manager, a Norwegian by the name of Kaaare Jonson, who ran an Aeroviews company in Ireland.
Jonson had come to see the lads play, liked what he saw, and offered to manage them. Woodnut, a cooper by trade, felt he was earning enough at the day job and decided being a full-time musician was not for him.