Saturday, 9 November 2013

THE WOLFE TONES

Live Review

Emerald Club, Wolverhampton

There is nothing subtle about the Wolfe Tones they may have been around for 50 years but their rebel rousing, political edge and anti-English feeling has not dulled in the least. This is their last tour and it could well be a good move as there is now an anachronistic quality to their hit-you-between-the-eyes style and jingoism.

This is not to say the past can be glossed over or the wrongdoings of the British Government in Ireland can be forgotten, but there comes a time to move on; to start the healing process rather than keep the wounds raw. They had made it clear they would not be on stage until after the Celtic game was finished on TV which was appropriate as there was an atmosphere more akin to a football match with Brian Warfield doing his best to whip up the patriotic fervour - with mixed results.
The Wolfe Tones
Noel Nargle, Tommy Byrne and Brian Warfield
They opened with the politically-charged Sunday Bloody Sunday, lyrics by John Lennon, with Warfield on banjo, Tommy Byrne on guitar and vocals and Noel Nagle on tin whistle. The rousing song was played to a backdrop of images of the streets of Belfast and Derry in particular, they were evocative and in less partisan circles would have been provocative.
The audience in the Cross Street North club seemed to be in two factions, those who were there to listen to the music of an Irish band and those who wanted to show their fervent patriotic feelings through terrace style chanting and singing. This is not to say it was bad tempered or in anyway aggressive or intimidating but to someone without an Irish background the rowdiness could easily have been misconstrued. Warfield preceded most of the songs with some kind of political comment and continued to try and whip up a rebel rousing atmosphere with songs such as God Save Ireland, which as you can imagine would have been right at home on the streets of Belfast being belted out by a pipe band and drummers.
This gave way to Give Me Your Hand which Warfield again used to whip up the fellow fans who had also been watching the Celtic v Ajax game.
There was plenty of anti-English sentiment flying around both from the band and from the crowd and Rock On Rockall was a direct stab at the British Government in its fight for the tiny uninhabited island over the mineral rights which the UK has subsequently lost. The island has, for some time, been at the centre of a dispute involving the UK, Ireland, Iceland and Denmark.
They did tone it down a little with In Belfast which was a softer ballad sung by Byrne about the divisions in Ireland along religious and social lines where again the English were very much the villain of the peace, (pun intended).
Again the song was backed by evocative images depicting the suffering which Ireland has endured over the years.
Even Greenpeace became involved
 in the battle over Rockall
The band was soon back to what it does best with the Boys of the Old Brigade, a song where a former member of the IRA is reminiscing about his previous exploits and his comrades and which the noisier element lapped up and joined in enthusiastically. Like most of the developed countries Ireland has had its fair share of being screwed by banking greed and The Wolfe Tones are never one to miss an opportunity to put in song their feelings about such events and Swing a Banker fitted the bill with its foot stomping beat and almost barn dance sound which gave it a novelty element.
In a complete change of tack they pulled out a softer ballad, The Cliffs of Moher,which was a romantic tune about the classic boy meets girl which had a calypso-style undertone to it.
The Irish have a great tradition of history telling and chronicling life through song and Let the People Sing is about that trait of putting their feelings, observations, aspirations and anger into song. This one sounded like it was pulled straight off the football terraces, it had that simple boot stomping cadence which you would expect of crowds purposefully marching along.
Warfield then, at great length, introduced their biggest selling and No1 hit in Ireland Streets of New York which sounded not dissimilar to The Pogues/Kirsty McColl Fairytale of New York, this was played to the backdrop showing images of the Irish in the Big Apple which, not too surprisingly, included numerous images of New York's finest.
Some years ago there was an audacious escape from Mountjoy Jail with the rather unsubtle use of a helicopter and of course it was an incident which was just ripe for the picking as far as Warfield was concerned. The Helicopter Song sounded very much like the very English traditional tune of Blaydon Races and had a jaunty oompah sound underneath it.
It was then back to the rebel rousing with Off to Dublin in the Green which has become something of a classic even in the wider community outside the Irish contingent and has been covered many times. The rousing sounds continued with Celtic Symphony which sounded again like a chant picked from the terraces.
In that great Irish tradition the Tones moved on to telling the story of James Connolly which was introduced with a poem about about the man who was shot for his part in the Easter Rising of 1916. Connolly, a Scottish born son of Irish parents, was a republican and socialist. He was so badly injured in the Dublin battle that he was unable to stand up for a firing squad so instead he was tied him to a chair and executed anyway.
The poem, written by Liam McGowan about the thoughts of one of  Connolly's executioners is a powerful ode but was lost amid much of the noise of the audience but it led to the another gentler ballad about the events leading up to his death.
James Connolly
This theme was carried on into a more marching-style song about the same event but this time focusing on Padraig Pearse who was also executed after the uprising.
Grace Giffard was the subject of the next softer ballad which brought memories of The Fureys' Sweet 16. Giffard, unusually for a woman in the 1920s, was an artist/caricaturist who became involved in Irish republican politics and was subsequently arrested for her activities along with a group of others.
Like most immigrant populations there is a proliferation of songs about longing for your homeland and while You'll Never Beat the Irish is a rousing and patriotic battle hymn it still carries that homesick blues element; the stomping beat carried on with Sean South of Garryowen who was a member of the IRA killed in a raid on a Royal Ulster Constabulary barracks in the 1950s.
He was taken by his comrades to a barn which was later demolished and the stone reused to make his memorial. This was followed by another Pogues-sounding song Broad Black Brimmer which refers to the type of hat favoured by many members of the IRA.
IRA members wearing the favoured
broad black brimmer hat
Warfield then gave a potted and somewhat self-congratulatory speech about the career of The Wolfe Tones and their planned 50th year celebrations before they pulled out a comedy ditty which goes by several titles but this time it was called Big Strong Man about a character with legendary and ridiculously exaggerated strength.
The concert went on past midnight finally ending with the Irish national anthem and had lasted best part of two hours so you can't say the Tones don't give value for money.
There is always going to be a place for groups such as The Wolfe Tones and rightly so, because the troubled history of Ireland should not be forgotten but now, hopefully, the troubles are at an end then balladeers should also tell of the resilience and determination of the Irish to move on and not be captives of the past.
The lessons should be learned from Britain and England in particular who have done a great deal of living vicariously from two world wars and while the sacrifice of those involved should never be forgotten the peace and freedom they fought for should be nurtured and treated as the precious commodity it is, rather than to constantly carp on about the glorious victories which are often a glossed over version of the reality.