The most remarkable thing about The Young’uns is they are so, well, young. OK! So, given the venerable status of many of their peers, you could argue that age is a relative term almost as slippery as song provenance in folk circles. Nor are they Young Folk Award young, but the Teesiders are still in their 20s and yet can count a decade of collaboration and music making already. It’s when you start to stack up their achievements in the course of just 10 years that you feel you should be dealing with people twice their age at least. There are the four years running their own folk night, the hundreds of gigs, podcasts, the festivals, again including their own, the CDs and finally a growing confidence in their own song writing, which on Never Forget looks very well founded. Besides, when push comes to shove, they’re a good deal younger than the person writing this.
To their credit is the way that they happened on folk music. These aren’t the sons of folk families, or even seasoned Shrewsbury and Cambridge regulars, but three pals, Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Michael Hughes, who were enjoying a slyly underage pint, on an evening when the local folk club coincidentally had the sway of the pub. Although finding themselves amongst a much older crowd, they were none the less impressed by the individual singers, but all the more so by the fact that the rest of the assembled joined in. A seed had been planted.
[pullquote]the essential elements of communal singing and story telling that they identified with on that first evening, are things The Young’uns have made their own[/pullquote]It may have taken them a while to pluck up the courage throw their own voices into the ring and a good while longer to really start to believe in what they were doing, but the essential elements of communal singing and story telling that they identified with on that first evening, are things The Young’uns have made their own. It’s nice that even their name is a hangover from those early encounters, when the elders pronounced it time to have a song from the young’uns and the name just stuck.
It’s also fitting that we’ve just covered the benefits of regionality in folk music, not as anything limiting, but for the connections and the identity that it can offer. What Harp And A Monkey are to North Manchester, The Young’uns are to Teesside. Having made their connection to the folk mainline in Stockton, their own club ran in Hartlepool. Their last album, When Our Grandfathers Said No, owes its title to a local uprising against Moseley’s Black Shirts, who wrongly figured the region’s working poor as likely recruits. That record came out through Navigator, a step up from their self released works and was produced by Stu Hanna, himself a proud ‘smoggy’.
Never Forget finds them once again in charge of their own destiny, but with production from Andy Bell, whose Sheffield base makes him a comparative southerner, this is no backward step and there is a bold mix of instrumentation and arrangements amongst some of the more expected three part a cappella.
Expected the unadorned vocal songs may be, especially from those familiar with The Young’uns stage show, but that doesn’t make them any the less effective. Given that by their own admission, when starting out, they made up with volume any deficiencies in pitch, things have come a long way and the three voices have that special chemistry and a way of finding their individual space in the mix. You might not call their harmonies pretty, but their robust style still hits the sweet spot time and again.
As if to illustrate the combination of three part vocal prowess and more adventurous arrangements, the opener The Biscuits Of Bull Lane, Written by Sean, is an opening gambit with a touch of both. The three voices combine with a lingering, cavernous reverb as the track opens and their harmonies take an unexpected turn, supported by a dramatic and profound, furniture rattling organ chord, all of which places us in a cathedral like setting. But as the first verse takes off, The Young’uns are joined by a brass band and the song starts to take on a jaunty air as the words move from a poignant reflection on the death of Will Rigby to the healing powers of the human kindness.
In this case it was the mosque in York, which when attacked in the aftermath of the atrocity used tea, biscuits and understanding to diffuse a volatile situation, much to the surprise of the assailants.
Two different takes on the story bookend the album and as polarising as the event may have been, that the voice of compassion can still make itself heard, is a valuable lesson for these times. David’s closing Lovely Cup Of Tea, offers an almost Flanders & Swann romp, which makes its serious point with disarming humour and neatly encapsulates the essence of Englishness from several different perspectives simultaneously. It’s clever stuff indeed.
The joy is that the sandwich filling proves equally nutritious, in fact something a of a gourmet feast of different textures and flavours. There are two songs by local Middlesbrough legend Graeme Miles, the wonderful Jack Ironside about the growth of the city once called Ironopolis, because of the rich ore deposits that fuelled its growth and The Running Fox, written for the fox that happily got away. Graeme died last year and it’s a frustration that there isn’t a better resource to his memory, as both are belters. But the latter in particular, with its clever change of pace, is a revelation with The Young’uns deploying guitar and squeezebox, played by Michael and David respectively, to support a cracking tune.
Whilst the instrumental skills of the pair are developing, it’s Sean who is becoming the principal songwriter, having his name against half a dozen of the tracks here and even plays a little piano. It’s the sole instrument of the folkish-hymnal Altar, inspired by St. Columba, who lived in the North East. But all three play on the gorgeous love song, The Long Way Home. The Sandwell Gate, a homage to the sailors who have toiled in constant danger off Hartlepool’s Coast and the moving tribute to the unknown war dead of Three Sailors are taken a cappella. The subject of the latter is echoed in John Hill, based on the revelation that Sean’s great grandmother married twice, her first husband being killed in WWI.
[pullquote]There’s room too for more of the political with Jez Lowe’s anti-fascist anthem Hands Feet and Sydney Carter’s homage to the rebel preacher and idealist John Ball.[/pullquote]There’s room too for more of the political with Jez Lowe’s anti-fascist anthem Hands Feet and Sydney Carter’s homage to the rebel preacher and idealist John Ball. Then there’s the richly poetic Rosario, which takes us across the sea to the Argentian port of that name. To end on a nautical note, although it’s actually track four of the CD, the medley of the traditional Blood Red Roses and Shallow Brown, connects the trio to the shanty singing that launched them on their way.
There’s great depth and breadth to the material gathered here and also in the arrangements and performances. But it’s not all about quantity, as there’s an unmistakeable quality too. Much as the Young Tradition once did, they prove the power of three voices, engaging story lines and a cracking set of tunes. I doubt that the people who first encouraged them to take their turn in that local folk club had any idea what they were setting in motion, but I wouldn’t mind betting there’s a little pride to be had in that memory. It’s something that The Young’uns can share in, having taken that inspiration and already created a legacy that belies their years. By the time they get to be the Old’uns who knows what they will have achieved, although one thing’s for sure, it will be fun to find out, because as the title suggests, theirs is a story you should Never Forget.
Review by: Simon Holland
John Hill – featuring Lucy Ward and recorded, produced and edited by Elly Lucas
Released 17 March via Hereteu Records
Order via: The Young’Uns Own Store
Tour Dates: http://www.theyounguns.co.uk/tour-dates/