Talk about Irish folk music and you’re talking about the Wolfe Tones. After almost five decades in the music business, Brian Warfield, Noel Nagle and Tommy Byrne are still belting out the folk hits – hits which are said to have outsold U2’s in Ireland. We chat to Brian while he’s having a few beverages in a bar on the Canary Islands, ahead of their tour Down Under. Not bad for some…

Hi Brian. So you’re in the Canary Islands at the moment?
I am indeed. We have some work here next week, but I thought I’d come early.

Do you speak Spanish?
I don’t. I can order a beer in Spanish, that’s about it.

So you’re coming over to Australia just after St Patrick’s Day?
That’s correct. It’s a special time of the year for the Irish gang.

You’re spending the actual day in San Francisco yeah?
That’s right yeah, we start in America on the 25th of February right through to the 17th of March and then head to Melbourne, which is our first stop in Australia.

You have a lot of Irish fans down here.
Oh yes indeed. We’re looking forward to it.

What do you think draws Irish travellers to Australia?
Well I think Ireland and Australia have had a long history together. I think most Irish people feel like they’re a part of Australia. We’ve read so much about it, it’s part of our culture you might say. The connection of immigration and everything else over the years, it’s just a two-way connection. Everyone in Ireland knows about Australia from when they’re a kid. We all know about Ned Kelly, we all know about his contribution over there so it’s part of our heritage and part of our culture.

Have you had a chance to go to Glenrowan, where Ned Kelly’s last stand took place?
I did some years ago. I didn’t get a chance last time but I did the time before that and we went for a BBQ down there. We had a great time.

You guys have been in the business for several decades, do you think it has changed for the better or the worse?
Well, we’ve been together now for 47 years, we all still enjoy what we do, we’re committed to what we do, singing the songs of Ireland and the history of our country. We’re probably unique in the way that the Irish ballad is one of the two countries in the world that can carry the whole history of our land in song and I think that’s a very special, recognisable thing. We play a lot of festivals around Europe and in many countries and we’re seen as a unique kind of art form. We enjoy what we do, our music has developed over the years, we do a mix of new stuff and the traditional ballads as well. Our music-writing abilities have definitely developed and matured over
the years.

You have fans all over the world, have there been any places that have surprised you?
Nothing amazes me anymore. If you look at YouTube you will see a clip from Thailand and it’s children in a school there singing one of my songs “Let The People Sing”. We supported a charity over there and in return for that we got a video of these children singing and they’d been singing long before we supported the charity. This school teacher over there teaches children to speak English in the form of song.

The Wolfe Tones headline the Shenanigans Irish Music Festival, in Melbourne (March 19), Sydney (March 20), Perth (March 25) and Brisbane (March 26). See Also on the bill will be Mundy and Celtic Fire.

We’ve got a double pass to each Shenanigans show to give away. For details on how to win, click here.

February 14th, 2011