‘We took sides through song!’ - Wolfe Tones

The Wolfe Tones who play the Forum on Saturday April 13.
The Wolfe Tones who play the Forum on Saturday April 13.

The legendary Wolfe Tones will take to the stage of the Millennium Forum on Saturday April 13. The ever popular band are set to be joined by another Irish superstar in the form of Republic of Ireland winger, specially invited guest, James McClean.

Creggan man McClean was invited after he found himself and his favourite band at the centre of a media storm. Having tweeted that he was listening to his favourite song, ‘The Broad Black Brimmer’ by the Wolfe Tones, DUP Gregory Campbell complained that he was “promoting terrorism.”

The MP for East Londonderry, Campbell, added: “Three simple words should suffice: stick to football. If he doesn’t heed this then a final three words should be given: pack your bags.”

A remark which Brian Warfield of The Wolfe Tones described as; “A terrible injustice on a great young man. What’s Gregory’s problem? Let me put it this way, if it were a Jamaican tweeting about his favourite song, about Bob Marley and his songs of protest and resistance for instance, would he have criticised that?

“No one is asking Gregory to like the song. If you don’t then tweet you don’t but don’t criticise James for liking it.

“Gregory is trying to deny James his freedom of expression, his freedom of culture and his freedom to enjoy the arts. He only tweeted what his favourite song was and a local MP calls for him to be sacked! We shouldn’t be living in a country where this is still a problem.”

The controversy is only the latest in a long line of “snubs and blacklistings” encountered by the band in their near five decades on the road. The fact that the band are often seen as ‘intrinsically linked’ to the struggle for Irish freedom is seen as not incidental to this.

“When we began we were singing about songs of freedom and resistance from all over the world. We were able to play ‘The Foggy Dew’ in Belfast in the mid-60s. These were seen as Irish songs, historic songs. It was when the Civil rights campaign began that things changed.

“We saw things were different for Catholics in the North and why would we sing about the black struggle in the USA and not the Northern struggle in our own country? Songs which are political today were historical and Irish traditional tunes when we started. We suffered in terms of radio play and were effectively blacklisted by RTE, for example.

“All for our stance on this unpleasant problem in our own country - but we never hid from it.

“We took sides through song. We shone a light on it and are proud to have done so.

“It has still been an overwhelming and very enjoyable experience for me, for us. I love singing, writing and entertaining. It is wonderful to be able to make a living out of something you enjoy. Our passion for performing is just as strong today as it was 30, 40 and 50 years ago.”

Most special of all, said Brian, “is the fact we have built a global network of friends. No matter where we go in the world we are treated really really well. I couldn’t possibly single out one destination over another.”

For the same reason Brian would struggle to select his finest song. The Tones have a back catalogue and a longevity which is the envy of most acts and aspiring artists today. The folk musicians will celebrate 50 years together in 2014. Brian said: “We’ve recorded over 600 songs. I’ve written almost 200 since we started. It is a terrific window into our past. I love ‘The Streets of New York,’ ‘Joe McDonnell’ and ‘The Celtic Symphony.’ We’ve released so many CDs and records that the highlight has to be selling the story of Ireland to a global audience. We can tell the entire history of the country in song.

“That and the fact, we’ve had a tremendous reception no matter which part of the world we sung that story in.”

The Wolfe Tones play The Millennium Forum on Saturday April 13. Tickets from +44 28 7126 4455.

The ‘Journal’ has secured three pairs of tickets for lucky readers, to win, simply email Laurence.mcclenaghan@derryjournal.com with the answer to ‘Which part of Derry does James McClean come from?’