We took some time out recently to catch up with some Teeside lads: Sean Cooney and David Eagle (the third member, Michael Hughes, wasn’t there to keep the others in order). They are of course better known as The Young’Uns. They burst onto the UK folk music scene three years ago and made an instant impression on audiences with their charm, wit and passion for folk music and song. When Our Grandfathers Said No is their fourth album to be released which was produced by Stu Hanna of Megson. Just to warn you this is one the funniest interviews we’ve had…
FRUK: So how did you all meet?
David: The Young’uns entered (what might be called) the mainstream about three years ago, but really it all began for us ten years ago at the Stockton folk club. There we were, at the age of seventeen, in our local pub, just minding our own business, quietly participating in a pleasant evening of illegal drinking, when a man stood up, let out an almighty yelp and launched into a song, quite unlike anything we’d ever heard before. We later discovered it was a shanty, which was something we’d never really heard before. We’d inadvertently stumbled across the folk club; and later we would be stumbling out of there, intoxicated not only by alcohol, but also by our first experience of folk clubs and folk music.
The reason we are called the Young’uns is quite simply because we were by far the youngest people who attended the folk club, and this was how people referred to us. And sadly, the name just stuck. We didn’t hold a big meeting about our name, or hire in some expensive consultancy company to come up with something. If we’d have done that, we’d probably have ended up with some kind of hideous logo to go along with the dreadful name.
Sean and Mike went to the same primary, secondary school and college together, and I met them through a mutual friend. Perhaps one day Sean and Mike will write their memoirs about their school days, before they met me. This depends on whether we make it big enough, and become commercial enough to cynically rip off our fans with extraneous merchandise and ill-considered nonsense like badly written books and albums featuring rehearsals, and low quality recordings of gigs. One can only dream.
FRUK: Were you all versed in communal singing from a young age and were your families all musical?
David: No, not really. And in a way, that’s what makes this experience so special for us. We didn’t come into folk music through our families; it wasn’t part of our lives growing up. We discovered folk music on our own volition in our teenage years. Imagine how delighted our parents must have been to discover that their sons’ rebellious teenage phase saw them going into folk clubs and singing folk songs.
The whole thing has been completely organic. We stumbled across folk music at the age of seventeen. At eighteen we were regular performers at the folk club. By nineteen, we were given our first gig, which was at that very folk club. Then we were asked to perform sets at other local folk clubs, then we did a local folk festival. And things escalated to the point that we’re now signed to Navigator Records, perform at festivals across Britain and Europe, get played on the radio, and spend a ridiculous amount of time answering questions for folk websites. And obviously we’ve learnt some great songs, have met and been inspired by some amazing people, and had the most fantastic experiences along the way.
And to think: when I was in primary school I was told by the music teacher that I would never amount to a musician, just because I was unable to click my fingers. To this day I am unable to click my fingers. I’ll let you be the judge of how that has impacted on my musical ability. If I could click my fingers, I might have won X-Factor or something, rather than having to make do singing bloody folk songs.
FRUK: You’ve built up quite a reputation on the British folk circuit not just for your great harmonies but also for your stage presence…and comedy.
Sean: We cut our teeth in the folk clubs of the North East where you’re expected to give a bit of patter so we had a lot of practice. But we always have a laugh together whatever we’re doing – be it ice-skating, bicycling or cooking langoustines, so it just comes naturally I suppose. Lots of people seem to think we make the stories up but we really don’t – bizarre and crazy things happen to us all the time, like when the homeless beggar in Stockton said to David Eagle, “I thought I had problems until I met you!”
David: I assume he was referring to me being blind; but the other two insist that he was talking more generally. He ended up trying to give me money, and I had to run away.
Folk Radio: You have quite a rigorous tour schedule, how do you fit it all in, as you all have full time jobs, is that right?
Sean: I work as a Storyteller in Manchester on a freelance basis for schools, libraries and arts organisations. I put together community projects whereby children collect and record stories from older members of their areas and turn them into songs. You can use lots of phrases like ‘community cohesion’ and ‘emotional literacy’ to describe how I feel about it but I really just love telling stories.
David: I am at an interesting point in my life right now. I’ve got a job working on a website for a charity (even though I don’t know hardly anything about websites, but don’t tell anyone). However, I also do freelance voice over and production work. I’m currently in talks with some people in the BBC about some ideas, which means there is a very tiny chance you might here me on the radio or see me on TV; though you’ll probably more likely see me in a gutter. Or maybe you’ll see me on TV presenting a programme about me living in gutters for a week. The possibilities are endless. But I’ll do you all a favour and stop there.
As for Mike: he’s a teacher. “boring. Move on”.
Folk Radio: David, I’ve seen you doing some pretty mad and hilarious things on youtube, is it fair to say you’re the lynchpin of comedy in the group?
David: Well I am the only person in the group who is remotely funny, so what do you expect? No, that was a joke – you see? I can’t help it!
There is a clip of me on Youtube ice skating. I was just having a pleasant ice skate, unaware that I was being filmed. But for some reason people find it funny. Obviously being blind I’ve never seen it, so I don’t know what’s so funny about it. People also seem to enjoy the video of me crashing into a wall and falling off a bike. Perhaps I should forget approaching the BBC with scripts and constructed ideas, and just show them a video of the blind man crashing into a wall. Maybe this is where I’ve been going wrong.
Folk Radio: You had Stu Hanna of Megson produce When Our Grandfathers Said No , was there a particular reason why?
David: The reason for that decision is quite simply because he approached us, and we were too nice to say no. But we’re glad we said yes because he was really fun to work with and helped us see things from a different perspective. Our last few albums had been recorded and produced in my bedroom. I had an elaborate nexus of quilts, mattresses and towels all over the room, so as to make the room less reverberant and better for recording. Often, we’d be half way through a song and a mattress would start to collapse, and we’d have to either stop the recording or continue singing with our arms in the air, trying to support the cascading quilts. So we were quite keen on the idea of working in a studio this time round.
We didn’t try to do anything particularly different with this album. We just wanted to be able to give a better recorded representation of who we are than we could in our previous albums. I don’t want to sound uninspiring by saying that we weren’t trying to do anything different. I’m all for moving the goal posts, but we felt like we were still enjoying a good kick around, and the patch of grass was still perfectly conducive to our game. What the hell was that metaphor all about. Let’s move on.
Folk Radio: Are you all quite serious song collectors?
Sean: When we first started going to folk clubs we felt like we were true collectors hearing songs that had never been recorded or heard outside our area. We didn’t realise that lots of the songs we were learning from people in folk clubs had been recorded by dozens of artists all over the place and were available at the press of a button on the internet. To us it felt, and still feels, like an oral tradition. On our previous albums we’ve recorded songs based on old broadsides we’d come across whilst researching. When He Is Away and the Stockton Lass are two of these songs that I suppose we’ve collected even though we collected them from the internet.
David: Yes, we generally acquire the songs we sing by hearing them sang in sing-arounds at folk clubs. I’ve seen folk groups performing who introduce the songs by saying “And this is another one we found on Spotify”, which isn’t the most inspiring introduction. If they’d have said ITunes … well obviously that would have been different.
Folk Radio: Can you choose a favourite song each from the album and tell us a bit about why you’ve chosen it?
Sean: I’m very proud of Love in a Northern Town because it tells the story of how my Nana met my Granddad in Sunderland while ‘waiting for a bus to come.’
David: I like the Battle of Stockton. This is the song that gave us our album name, ‘When Our Grandfathers Said No”. It tells the story about the time when Stockton rose up against Mosley’s blackshirts in 1933.
I’m afraid Mike is far too cool to spend his time answering questions. He likes to create a certain sense of mystery about him. But trust me, there is nothing at all to get excited about.
The Young’Uns Podcast
David took the opportunity at the end of the interview to introduce this gem, his podcast:
The Young’uns Podcast 110: MC squared Represents. Special guests Megson
Featuring special guests Megson; A new story from Sean Cooney; some synchronised phoneme delivery; hip-hop jingles; obscure details about the Basten folk Club toilets; a recording from an incendiary Young’uns performance; Terrible Mike Harding impressions; a cold call; details about the Young’uns’ formative years; and a track from the Young’uns new album. It’s the 110th Young’uns Podcast, with a Yohoho and, of course, a pompompom. Listen to be enlightened.
[audio:http://www.davideagle.co.uk/wp-admin/podcasts/yp110.mp3|titles=The Young’uns Podcast 110: MC squared Represents. Special guests Megson|artists=”The Young’Uns]
When Our Grandfathers Said No is released on Navigator Records. Buy it from our store here.