Teeside folk trio The Young’Uns have been winning the hearts and minds of audiences up and down the country with their songs, harmonies and infectious humour which brought them a well-deserved win in the Best Group category of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards this year… in short, there simply isn’t another group quite like them! Sean Cooney, Michael Hughes and David Eagle are to embark on their biggest UK Tour so far playing 18 celebrated venues across England, Scotland and Wales in their “Three For All” tour between April 13 – May 1 (details below). They will also be touring Australia and Canada in 2016…they just don’t rest!
I caught up with David for an insider view on this next part of The Young’Uns exciting journey and started by asking about the challenges of playing larger venues which on this tour include Cardiff’s St David’s Hall, Edinburgh’s Pleasance Theatre, Salisbury City Hall and Liverpool Philharmonic Hall.
David: Well, we are keen to ensure that there isn’t a loss of intimacy at these larger venues next year, which is why Michael will be providing free massages to audience members before gigs.
We love performing in folk clubs, in small rooms crammed with fifty to a hundred people, but we also enjoy playing to thousands of people at festivals. Both have their individual qualities. This year we did a lot of folk clubs and so people have had loads of chances to see us in that environment, so this will be an exciting change, and will provide an opportunity to do a different type of performance. And don’t worry, if you prefer seeing us in smaller venues, we’ll be on our way back down again soon I’m sure.
FR: You also released ‘Another Man’s Ground‘, your sixth album this year which you followed soon after with two very moving videos for songs from the album: ‘The Streets of Lahore’ – about the story Farzana Parveen and ‘You Won’t Find Me on Benefits Street’ in response to the controversial Channel 4 documentary Benefits Street. Do you feel an even greater urge now to write more social commentary based songs?
David: One thing that drew us to folk music was that it told stories about real people and events. As we’ve become more accomplished we grew more confident as songwriters and started writing songs telling more recent stories.
We live in a world of constant rolling news. We are bombarded by a barrage of stories, so much so that we can end up just becoming swept up in the unrelenting rapids of reporting, and individual’s stories are drowned out by all the noise. Taking a story and presenting it in song form can help connect us to the people and the events in a more personal, intimate and emotive way. It’s like a song can help us take a step back, gain a bit of breathing space and reconnect with the people in the story, rather than having all of that obscured by a deluge of facts and figures, casualties, stastics, theories, soundbites and opinions. We respond in a very different way to a song to how we respond to a news bulletin. Also, when we sing these songs, I think there is a power in the fact that we are all united in one space, sharing a collective experience.
I think that it’s so easy for these individual stories to be forgotten, and songs help preserve them long beyond their media shelf life.
FR: Tell us a bit more about your plans to tour Australia and Canada in 2016. What aspects of such a tour do you look forward to most and how do you find your songs translate to audiences in other countries?
David: We went to Canada last year. There’s a big appetite for traditional English music at the festivals, as there are a lot of Canadian residents who have moved from Britain. We met quite a few people who’d moved from Teesside, and so many of our songs instantly resonated deeply with many of the people there. In fact, everywhere we go, we seem to meet at least one person from Teesside.
In Canada last year, we met two people from Hartlepool who’d emigrated to Canada in the eighties. They both came up to us after our gig to have a chat. They had both come to see us because they’d read about our connection with Teesside. Even though they’d both come to the gig separately, it soon transpired that the two of them had known each other from Hartlepool thirty years ago, and had grown up together. They’d lost touch when they both moved to Canada at different times. They were ecstatic to have been reunited, and it was really touching for us to realise that we were the catalyst for this reunion.
We are doing some festivals in western Canada in July next year. 2016 also sees us play in Australia for the first time.
The excitement is already building, as we’ve already started doing interviews for Australian media. Due to the time difference, many of the phone calls are scheduled for times that fit within their 9-5 day, which certainly doesn’t fit within mine. Therefore, I’ve had a few nights where I’ve set my alarm to wake me up at 5 to 4 in the morning, ready for a call from an Australian radio station at 4. I’ll then chat away with an extremely chipper and garrulous presenter about the band, as well as a mind boggling array of incidental nonsense that these radio presenters like to bring up in order to be a bit quirky. Then, fifteen minutes later I’ll be back asleep.
The trouble is that I’ve now started having weird reoccurring dreams, where I’m woken by the sound of the phone. Even though I didn’t recall having an interview booked for this particular night, I assume that I must have forgotten. I am then put straight to air. I haven’t had a chance to wake up or have a drink of water or anything. The interviewer starts asking me questions, but I can’t understand what the heck he is asking me. I try to answer the question, but then the interviewer takes on the persona of John Humphrys and constantly interrupts me, berating me for not answering the question. I then wake up in a cold sweat, realise it’s a dream and then try and get back to sleep, praying that the dream won’t occur again tonight.
So I’m really looking forward to going to Australia next year, but I just hope these preliminary interviews aren’t going to give me permanent mental health problems. Although, to be honest, I think that ship has already sailed, given that I spend the majority of my life in the constant company of the same two band members.
FR: How have you enjoyed the singing workshops you’ve run and are you planning to run more in 2016?
We’ve done quite a few singing workshops at festivals. People enjoyed those so much that they booked us to do extended private workshops for their choir or community group. People seemed to really enjoy these, and we enjoyed them a lot too, and so we decided to do singing weekends. We take over a youth hostel (obviously we book the youth hostel out in advance, we don’t just invade, conquer and settle for a weekend, that would be very unfolklike. We then spend the weekend with about fifty people getting up to all sorts of shenanigans. It’s not just about singing, in fact we get some people turning up who don’t really want to sing and are there just for a laugh. We do workshops,, quizzes, games, walks, we have ghost stories and songs around the campfire, and we have a chef to cook delicious meals. It’s very heartwarming but immensely surreal for us to think that people actually want to pay to spend a weekend with us. I mean, obviously it’s not just about us, it’s the singing, and sharing a collective experience, and the delicious food, and the workshops, and activities. No, I’m being modest; they’re essentially paying just to be close to us, clearly, and who can blame them?
We have four singing weekends in 2016, and information will be released about them in January.
FR: You’ve always championed other North East artists such as Graeme Miles, Ron Angel and Richard Grainger (click here for our review of his latest album). What is it that makes the North East so special to you?
David: The North East is where we hail from, and although two of us have moved to Sheffield now – not living together I hasten to add before those rumours start up again – our families still live in Hartlepool and Stockton. So we have an automatic connection to the place for that reason.
Also, it was the North East folk scene that drew us into folk music. We accidentally found our local folk club simply because it was taking place in the pub we happened to be in at that particular time.
We were welcomed with open hearts by the people at the club in Stockton, which was ran by the aforementioned Ron Angel from the Teesside Fettlers and creator of songs such as the Chemical Worker’s song. It was Ron who called us The Young’uns. It wasn’t a band name as such, as we weren’t a band back then, but it was just what we became labelled at the club, given that we were the youngest people at the club by about forty years. Ron also gave us our first booking in 2005.
The also aforementioned Richard Grainger gave us some of our first bookings too, and we were involved in lots of projects with Richard in our formative years in folk. The Wilson Family from Teesside became massive influences, and they were also extremely encouraging and positive about us. We were encouraged, supported and nurtured by so many people within the North East folk scene.
We were also taken by the fact that people sang in their own accents. At school we were taught to dilute our North East tones and sing in RP English. We were taught to sing in a more genteel and refined way, but folk music was the antithesis of all that; this was real in-your-face, bold singing, where harmonies would be gay fully shouted over the top of melodies, whereas in the school choir the harmony lines were deferential to the melody. We loved the fact that folk music seemed to be a lawless zone, where anything goes. Plus, drinking ale in school was very much frowned upon, whereas these folkies seemed to see it as obligatory.
We also enjoyed the fact that the folk clubs were all so informal, and that people would just chat and banter away with each other between songs. Even the paid performers demonstrated scant regard for formality and professionalism, drinking beer on stage and relentlessly bantering and chatting nonsense. I refer of course to the Wilsons as a very influencial casing point here.
Another element of folk music that we loved was the subject matter. We had no idea before this point that people wrote and sang songs about Teesside. It was such a revelation to us. Not only were we enchanted by the music, but we also loved the history and the heritage that the songs were evoking.
We then discovered Teesside songwriters like Graham Miles, who documented Teesside life in hundreds of songs. And then to top it all off there’s Jez Lowe, Bob Fox and Vin Garbutt. These artists, along with The Wilsons, possess a real down-to-earth quality. They are passionate about what they sing, truly emotive and expressive, and also fantastically hilarious. The North East folk scene and the North East is a massive impactful influence on The Young’uns, which is why it’s always been so special to us.
FR: How are The Young’Uns spending Christmas?
David: Fortunately, not together. We’ve spent what seems like this entire year together, so the greatest gift this Christmas will be a break from the other two, and I’m sure they’d say the same. Having said that, we will see each other over Christmas, as we always attend the Boxing day sing at Greatham, Hartlepool.
It has been a tradition for years that North East folkies gather at midday Boxing day in greatham high-street to watch the Greatham sword dance and mummers play, before heading to the Hope and Anchor pub for a drink, a chat and a big sing. The pub is teaming with people. We’ll be there, The Wilsons will be there, as will the Unthanks, Jez Lowe and Richard Grainger, and so many of our friends who we’ve made over the years from the Stockton folk club and the North East folk scene. That is one of my highlights of the year.
But the three of us will probably keep a healthy distance away from each other in the main, in preparation for the year ahead. In terms of our relationship, Christmas is our fallowing period. Although, unfortunately the three of us share many of the same friends so we’ll probably have to bump into each other at some point. Is there no release?!
The Young’Uns – Three For All Tour 2016
13/4 GRANTHAM Guildhall Arts Centre 01476 406158
14/4 KENDAL Brewery Arts Centre 01539 725133
15/4 YORK National Centre for Early Music 01904 658338
16/4 EDINBURGH Pleasance Theatre 020 7609 1800
17/4 SHEFFIELD The Greystones 0114 2 789 789
18/4 SHREWSBURY Theatre Severn 01743 281281
19/4 CARDIFF St David’s Hall 029 2087 8444
20/4 LONDON Bush Hall
21/4 BRIDGWATER Arts Centre 01278422700
22/4 NEW MILTON Forest Arts Centre 01425 612393
23/4 BRISTOL Folk House 0117 926 2987
24/4 SALISBURY City Hall 01722 434434
25/4 CANTERBURY Marlowe Theatre 01227 787787
26/4 ALDEBURGH Snape Maltings Concert Hall 01728 687110
28/4 WARWICK Arts Centre 024 7652 4524
29/4 LIVERPOOL Philharmonic Hall 0151 709 3789
30/4 DURHAM Gala Theatre 03000 266600
1/5 COCKERMOUTH The Kirkgate 01900 829966
And there’s more from David!
The Young’uns Podcast features highlights – and the occasional embarrassing lowlight – from Young’uns gigs, observations and recordings from on tour, live music and chat from all manner of folk, plus an array of irreverent features. Presented by the Young’uns’ David Eagle.
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