Wolfe Tones Biography

Formed in Kilrush, County Clare, Eire in August 1963, this quartet (originally known as the Wolfe Tones Ballad Group) has been a rebellious presence in the folk music scene since their inception. Their greatest success has been among the Irish diaspora in the USA, but their fanbase extends from Eire to Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Australia.

The founder members were brothers Derek Warfield (1943, Dublin, Eire; vocals, mandolin) and songwriter Brian Warfield (b. 1946, Dublin, Eire; vocals, five-string banjo, harp, whistles, uillean pipes), and school friend, Noel Nagle (b. 1945, Dublin, Eire; whistles, uillean pipes). This trio had grown up in the Dublin working class suburb of Inchicore, where the folk music seeds were sown both by their families and by their regular attendance at music sessions in their local traditional music club, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann. They were later joined by Tommy Byrne (b. 1944, Dublin, Eire; lead vocals, guitar), whom they met when playing at an open air festival in Elphin, County Roscommon in 1964. The quartet took their name from eighteenth-century Irish Nationalist patriot, Wolfe Tone, one of the leaders of the 1798 Irish Rebellion. From the moment of their inception, the band forged their reputation for highly charged political folk singing. From their debut single, ‘The Spanish Lady’, in 1964, they rapidly rose in the folk firmament, playing in the USA’s Carnegie Hall by 1976. In 1973 they had their first number 1 single in the Irish charts with ‘The Helicopter Song’. ‘The Streets Of New York’ in 1981 was their biggest success, staying at the top of the Irish charts for seven weeks.

The quartet has never been afraid to wear their republican sympathies firmly on their sleeves, but their more recent exploits have seen them mining the complexities of Irish history in greater depth, fuelled in no small measure by historian and song collector Derek Warfield’s love of the subject. Warfield has made a number of solo forays into the world of folk, recording several albums from 1995 onwards focusing on Irish history and the American Civil War. He left the Wolfe Tones in the early 00s.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.