Irish Independent, Monday, February 22, 1988
NORMA Jean's looked more like a lean-to than a bar. A single storied, barricaded building completely smothered in graffiti. Most of the words were meaningless and illegible, except for good old Al Jolson. Al was scrawled everywhere - even on the white walls of the Clysdeale Bank, an ediface totally without windows.
On the mean streets of Glasgow, running up slight inclines from the town centre to Gallowgate, Jolson was the man for some reason or other. Here and there his name was underscored with "You aint seen nothing yet..". And in the case of our own Wolfe Tones appearing in the glitzy Barrowland, an entertainment complex which has seen better days, Glasgow hadn't seen anything like it since the last time they played in town.
It is Sunday night and a cold rain clears away earlier snow. Outside Barrowland, there are 50 or 60 policemen, sweating under the strain of bringing some semblance of order to eager young men and women, clutching green buff tickets, squeezing towards the entrance.
There is no aggro, just a heave or two to get out of the cold and into the hall. It is eight o'clock and the Wolfe Tones will come on stage at nine.
Buses from Newcastle and Dumfries and Aberdeen disgorge their passengers onto cold, wet streets. The police bear the pressure of the crush, and within 20 minutes more than 3,000 gain admission.
Barrowland has three levels; the second has a series of bars and plastic pint glasses are carried from the main arena on the third floor, where the crush barriers are manned by burly boyos as they pack the floor. Many carry tricolours and one giant flag drapes the shoulders of a group of around 20.
The average age of the audience is about 23 or 24. In frightening chorus, they chant the songs of Celtic, a team which divides Glasgow in two. The blue of Rangers has no place here. The clothing of boys and girls are Green and white with perhaps a touch of orange. But no blue. Ian McGuigan, the promoter of the show, says that probably half the audience are on 'the brew'. Unemployment runs deep in Scotland and Glasgow bears most of the brunt.
Celtic had won the previous day, they were still top of the Premier Division, and the audience were in celebratory mood. There is a rapturous reception for the Tones and they belt into "The Boys of the Old Brigade". The teeming, sweating throng sway and cheer to every word.
"Some say the divil is dead", sings Derek Warfield and the floor boards groan with stamping feet. And so it goes. The Wolfe Tones know their audience, and more importantly, their audience knows them. A quiter song now about Joe McDonnell who died on hunger strike. The thousands listen in rapt attention and as Tommy sings out the names of those who died. There is applause after each name.
The crowd Know them more than people at home would know: McCreesh and Hughes and O'Hara and the loudest clap of all for Bobby Sands. When the song is over, as if on cue and obviously an echo of their party piece at Parkhead when they cheer their beloved Celtic, the entire crowd sing back the ballad of Bobby Sands MP.
The group's songs are nakedly republican. Songs like "Sean South" and "A Nation Once Again" were the music of pubs a long time ago. And there was no stigma then, maintains Derek. There is no apology for the kind of music they play and sing. "These things happened and the kids out there were happy, with no fights, just a party atmosphere," Tommy Byrne asserts after the show.
The group would deny that they are cashing in on the swirling mists of the Irish question, pointing out that they have been on the road since 1962. "our songs do not advocate violence ", Brian Warfield says. "Rather we sing a reaction to events, which have happened. There is nothing wrong with that".
After Glasgow they take the shuttle to London and another sell out show in the National at Kilburn. In an old cinema now owned by Limerick millionaire builder john Carey, the Tones are at home. Four times a year they play Kilburn. It is a bigger venue than the Barrowland and it is packed to the doors.
The Wolfe Tones play nearly 300 dates a year, mainly in Ireland. Next week, they tour Canada and cross into America for the month of March.
The Wolfe Tones are Brian and Derek Warfield, Tommy Byrne and Noel Nagle.
They have recorded 15 albums, which have total sales of nearly two million. One record, "Let the People sing", recorded in 1972, has sold more than 300,000 units.
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