By Eileen Murphy
After 38 years of traveling along the one road, the legendary Irish band The Wolfe Tones has called it quits.
The announcement came after what turned out to be the group’s final show, at the Royal George Inn in Limerick on Jan. 8. The audience was unaware that they were witnessing the Wolfe Tones’ last concert.
Front man Derek Warfield, who founded the band in 1963 with his songwriter brother Brian, Noel Nagle and lead singer Tommy Byrne, said that the band had been embroiled in “artistic and political disagreements” since October 2001. While he declined to discuss the political rows, Warfield was outspoken about the band’s musical strife.
“The other lads wanted to go in a different direction musically,” he said from his Dublin home last week. “They’re using drums and synthesizers on their new album, ‘You’ll Never Beat the Irish.’
“Drums and synthesizers are not something that I’m interested in,” he continued. “Strings — guitars, banjos — are the basis of my music.”
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Though he insists that the end came suddenly, Warfield admits that over the last decade band members hadn’t seen eye to eye regarding their recording career.
“We haven’t released an album since 1987,” he observed dryly. “That should tell you something. “I was constantly trying to get them into the studio to record something, but they wouldn’t agree.”
Warfield says that his first hint of a split came when a representative from the band’s record label, K-Tel Ireland, called him to ask if he’d be contributing tracks to the band’s new album.
“I knew nothing about the record until then,” he said. “I called Tommy and asked him what was up, and he said it was a project that he and Noel and Brian had put together on their own. That’s the way they wanted to keep it.”
Warfield continued working on his solo project, a second collection of Irish Civil War-era songs. Then, just after Christmas, Byrne called him with news of the split.
“He said that he wanted to call an end to the partnership,” Warfield said. “I asked if he’d consider a farewell tour — to say goodbye to the fans — but he said no, he wanted to go out quietly.”
Efforts to reach Byrne were unsuccessful by press time.
The Wolfe Tones’ biggest hits include “Men Behind the Wire,” “On the One Road,” “Paddle Your Own Canoe,” and “The Ballad of Joe McDonnell.” Their first chart topper was “The Helicopter Song,” which went to No. 1 in Ireland in the late 1960s. The band is known for its republican views regarding Northern Ireland.
Longtime fan Brian Aherne summed up the feelings of the Wolfe Tones’ vast audience.
“It’s sad to see them go their separate ways,” he said. “It was a yearly tradition to see them, and they were always a great show.”