Not everyone has the privilege of becoming a legend in their own lifetime but there is one sure thing, this can certainly be said of the Wolfetones. They have endured for forty years despite being ignored by radio stations controlled by producers who deliberately omitted them from the airwaves. They endured despite the media bashing they got at times, the begrudgery, the jealousy and a cynical press who tried to write them out of existence. This was because they had a huge adoring loyal fan base that saw through the bias and were never influenced by what was said in the press. They bought their CD’s and Tapes and played them in their cars and personal stereos when the music of their choice was denied to them on the radio. They were aware of the blacklisting etc. and continued to support and follow the Tones who went on from strength to strength.
They have succeeded in bringing every generation along with them. So what is the secret of their success, how did they do it? What have they got that others don’t have? Many groups started during the ballad boom of the sixties and have all more or less sang themselves out of existence but not the Tones. They are still on top. I put these questions to Brian who said, “ The Wolfies are an unique blend of talents and ingredients our voices blend so well it creates a sound that’s instantly recognisable. We all have a passion for what we do. We are all sincere about what we sing about. We all love performing on stage. We never let anyone down. We have never disappointed. There is Tommy’s voice, Noel’s enthusiasm and humour as well as my energy and song writing. I have always believed that creativity was instrumental in keeping the group fresh; we were constantly bringing out new and exciting songs throughout the years while others stood still“. And I should mention these songs have become standards in Irish ballads books and are covered by many other acts worldwide.
Brian continues “Our stage show is strong in that it lasts for two and a half hours. Other groups are off before you even know they were on 50 minutes or an hour. Perhaps I believe we give value for money. These are just some of the things that made the Tones a lasting entity.”
There is no doubt they are a very talented group of people and could have made it in any musical field. They choose Irish music and ballads; a difficult genre to make your name in. “There were very few platforms” said Brian “and not many role models to follow. You might say we took it from scratch, created our own platforms, made our own brand of entertainment and in a short period of time we became one of the most successful acts to come out of Ireland.”
The Wolfetones were signed by Fontana records in early 1964 and were probably one of the first Irish groups to get a recording contract. “It was an exciting time,” said Brian. “We took the boat called The Princess Maude to Holyhead; I’ll never forget the journey. The boat was packed mainly with emigrants. We had the craic; we played a few songs, drank a few pints and got sick with all the rest of the passengers. We were all glad to see the other side. We continued by train to London and there in Phillips studios in Marble Arch on the following morning we recorded our first album. It was recorded in a day. We thought it was just the rehearsal. “Next song” said Mr Baverstock, the A and R man, “Fine now, next one” and so on. “That’s great!” he said “all done. You’ve just cut your first record”. They launched it soon after with a half page ad in the NME, a review of the album and full-page article about the group. The Tones were on their way. As well as the Tones, Fontana’s label boasted hit groups like, The Pretty Things, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders and a group called Dave, Dee, Dozy, Becky, Mitch, and Tich. All of these groups are well forgotten and have found a place on the musical scrap heap but the Tones are still going strong.
When you think about it, it’s remarkable that this humble beginning was the launch of one of the most successful recording acts to come out of Ireland. They have 26 albums to their credit, all of them Top 10 best sellers, numerous hit singles including 2 No. 1’s, top selling videos and DVD’s. They have succeeded in going triple platinum with their current three CD’s; “You’ll Never Beat The Irish”, “Best of the Wolfetones live” and “Rebels and heroes”. Their popularity goes on and on.
They have graced almost every major stage in the world, The Royal Albert Hall London, Carnegie hall New York, the Paris Olympia, Victoria Hall Sydney to name but a few. They have played the major festivals from L’Orient France to Milwaukee in the US. They played at Siamsa Cois Laoi in Cork where they stole the show from all the visiting major international acts that came there. None of them could compete with the popularity of the Tones in Ireland.
What’s left for them to achieve? “Well” said Brian “I would like to get a hit record in America I think we have the songs and I look forward to it as one of the challenges of the future.”
They were very popular with the Diaspora although many never bothered with the Tones until they found themselves abroad. It was only then they saw the value of the group and of Irish songs and ballads. They needed an identity, a brand of music they could call their own, music that would remind them of home. It was not to be found in the music of U2 or Van Morrison who were really just mimicking American artists. Instead they found their story, the story of Ireland and their country in the music of the Tones. “We supported the emigrant movement for legal status in America” said Brian “and preformed at a fund raiser at Town Hall New York” when no one else were bothered about them. “This issue was important to us because we seen the plight of our emigrants first hand”.
It should be said they were consistent over the years. Other acts jumped on and off popular bandwagons as it suited the moment. They continuously supported the people of the six counties in their struggle for peace and justice, the emigrants abroad and were the true reflection of their times.
I had to ask Brian about his brother leaving the band “Derek was unhappy in the group. The Wolfetones were always a band, a sum of musical talents. I think he wanted to pursue a solo career. It’s too bad it didn’t work out for him because he has now resorted to being a kind of Wolfetones tribute band. I tend to look at life positively, we have had great success over the recent years and I never look back. ”
I then asked him what were the future plans for the Wolfetones. Where do you go from here? He smiled and said, “This will be our last touring year next year we will concentrate on recording and bigger shows. You will see the Tones performing at select venues, like the Point and at major festivals. We will handpick where we go in the future and what we do. There is no way we could continue the strenuous touring schedule we have had for the past 40 years. It’s time to slow down.”
Maybe they might slow down but the storybook is not yet closed. Good luck lads and may you be on the one road for another 40 healthy years!