Derek Warfield, leader of the Young Wolfe Tones, continues his illustrious musical career, now exceeding the 50-year mark. We recently interviewed him, and he looked back on those 50 years—his life, musical upbringing, career, and hopes for the future of the Irish musical tradition.
I’m not sure if Derek Warfield has a bumper sticker, but if he does, it probably says: “Hell, no, I ain’t forgettin’.”
I’m not about to suggest that, after decades of hatred and bloodshed, the warring parties in Northern Ireland are holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.” But the Irish Republican Army laid down its arms two years ago. The Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin formed a government in May. There is still a long way to go, God yes, but things at least seem to be headed in the right direction in the North.
All of which makes you wonder what Derek Warfield, a founding member of the Wolfe Tones—the legendary purveyors of Irish rebel anthems—has to sing about these days.
With his Sons of Erin Band, Warfield took the stage at the Philadelphia Irish Center on Friday night to answer that musical question. His answer? Well, of course, Warfield still draws heavily on the standards, like Cockles and Mussels and the Wild Rover.
There are some great instrumentals, too, plenty of jigs and reels to get the blood pumping. Warfield has a wonderfully talented backup band—including the brother-sister act of Damaris Woods (tenor banjo) and Jim Woods (accordion and bodhran). The band has a bright, fresh sound. It’s a nice match for Warfield at this phase of his career.
But it’s not all “Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go.”
Peace process or no, Warfield is not about to let anyone forget the long, bloody struggle. He invokes the memory of Padraig Pearse and all the ghosts of Kilmainham Jail. Bobby Sands and all the 1981 hunger strikers are still fresh in his mind. He won’t let anyone historically reconstruct the 1988 “accidental” shooting death of Irish Catholic Aidan McAnespie at the hands of British troops.
There’s still a lot to answer for, and it’s for damn sure Derek Warfield is not going to let any of the guilty parties off lightly.
Maybe all of this dwelling on past wrongs makes Warfield an anachronism. (I would say that the nursing of ancient grudges just makes him Irish.) But for Warfield and his fans at the Irish Center, history hasn’t fully played itself out yet. Until it does, Derek Warfield will play on.