Interview with The Young'uns: part 1
The Young'uns, who hail from Teesside in the north-east, are Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Michael Hughes and know a thing or two about the fine art of singing. Working with traditional and original material their close harmonies are winning them warm praise and many fans. Though only in his mid-20s, Sean Cooney crafts powerful songs which draw on the north-east's rich history. Here, David from the group discusses the trio's background, their latest album, and their intriguing side projects.
How did you meet? And what sealed the deal?
Mike and Sean knew each other from school, and I met Sean and Mike through a mutual friend when we were seventeen. We were sitting in the Sun Inn pub in Stockton when a man (seemingly apropos of nothing) rose to his feet, thrust his head back and let out a loud and weird yelp. We turned around in our chairs to see what was going on. The yelp transformed into a weird kind of song. He was singing some kind of seemingly nonsensical song and inserting periodic yelps. We looked around the pub, expecting someone to make comment on this strange behaviour or for the landlord to intervene and escort the man out of the pub, but instead we were shocked to see that everyone else seemed to be nodding their heads and smiling at the eccentric yelping man. Then it got stranger. suddenly everyone in the pub burst into life and began to join in with the man. They were all singing the same thing. In fact, as we looked around the room, we realized that we were the only people in the place not joining in.
After a few minutes of this absurdity the man's song came to an end, but not before he let out one final triumphant yelp. This was met with an applause from everyone in the pub. We had no time to talk to each other about what on earth had just occurred because as soon as the applause died down, the man began again, only this time he didn't yelp, he pointed at a man at the other side of the room and shouted his name, and the pub applauded. The man who had been pointed at began to sing a song, only this song was entirely different to the previous song. It was slow and mournful, and we could understand the words. It was a song about a ship wreck and a lost love. everyone sat in silent and listened to the man's song, and then applauded at the end. And this pattern was repeated over the course of the next hour. we heard songs about mining disasters, comedy songs, songs about local events, and there were fascinating stories that explained the song and its particular pertinence to the individual singing it. We had stumbled across our first folk club and this inadvertent discovery was the catalyst for The Young'uns.
We were so enamoured with our first folk club experience that we returned the next week, and the week after, and the week after that, until we became recognised as regulars. We gradually got to know more of the other folk club members and also got to know some of the songs. Most people were very welcoming and responded well to the fact that some people in their teens had come into their club, which was primarily attended by people over the age of fifty.
One day we were asked if we wanted to sing. "Do the Young'uns want to sing" the MC enquired. And yes the Young'uns did want to sing. But we didn't know what to sing. So we got up and sang the chorus of the shanty 'Roll the old chariots along' and asked the audience to fill in the gaps, I.E. the verses. The next week we were encouraged again, and the week after that. Gradually we became regular singers at the club and actually learnt songs for the occasion, such as shanties and traditional songs that we'd heard sung by other people at the club.
After a couple of years of attending the club, we were asked by the club organiser, the great folk singer songwriter Ron angel, if we wanted to do a whole set. We accepted, and this became our first ever gig. Slowly but surely we got better at what we were doing and a few more people tentatively suggested that we performed at their folk club. And it all just kind of escalated. And here we are.
We just fell in love with the songs and the harmonies, and the stories and the idea of folk music. Plus we have met so many amazing people and been to so many amazing places all because of folk music. And we feel very privileged to be able to do it at the level that we are doing it now.
Did you set out to present a certain theme with your new album?
Well we originally wanted to create an epic folk concept album about aliens from the planet Folk coming down to earth to bestow folk songs an folk-based wisdom on the folk performers of Earth. But the people at Navigator Records didn’t seem too keen on the idea, for some reason. So instead we created an album that comprised a mix of accompanied and unaccompanied songs that we’d either written ourselves or had been influenced by and had loved singing together over the years.
There is no major concept to the album but there are certainly defining themes that run through the album. There are a lot of local songs on the album, either songs written by Teesside people, like for instance ‘The Chemical Worker’s Song’ by the aforementioned Ron Angel, or songs that we have written about local historic events, such as the Battle of Stockton (which tells the story of Stockton’s uprising against the British Union of Fascists in 1933), or One December Morn (which is about the bombardment of Hartlepool in 1914). But nothing about aliens I’m sorry to say.
How long has the album taken and what were the most difficult hurdles?
The recording of the album was done over a couple of weeks in Cambridge. It was produced by our now-good friend Stu Hanna from Megson. There were no major hurdles to be honest. Stu was amazing in the studio.
The first day of recording was an interesting experience. We were singing an unaccompanied song and Mike stopped us halfway through and said that I was stamping my foot all the way through the song, and that this would spoil the recording. But Stu said that he really liked the stamping, and actually he wanted to give the singing a rest for a bit and concentrate on getting some good stamps. So Mike and Sean sat on the sidelines, and watched bemused, as Stu and I traversed the hall stamping our feet, in search of what Stu called “the stamping sweet spot”. After a minute or so, stu stopped and triumphantly declared that “the stamping sweet spot” had been found. He then proceeded to demonstrate that this particular few centimetres of the hall was acoustically superior for stamping than any other part of the hall. He stamped his foot in the sweet spot, and then contrasted this with a stamp of his foot outside of the sweet spot, and then looked at us expectantly for our verdict. We tentatively nodded in agreement, wondering if we were witnessing the mental collapse of a respected folk musician and producer. He then instructed me to practice stamping in the “stamping sweet spot” while he set up some microphones that he said would be more conducive to stamping.
After a few minutes, the microphones were set up and Stu went into the studio to observe how the stamps were being picked up by the microphones. He returned a few minutes later and said that he thought that his shoes sounded better than mine, and instructed me to swap shoes. I barely new the man at this point, but here I was swapping clothes with him. Anyway, we more or less spent that first day recording the sound of me stamping my feet. So if you’re a fan of stamping then you’ll love this album. Don’t worry, there is a little bit of singing and playing on there as well too.