Saturday, 25 April 2015

THE YOUNG'UNS

Interview

David Eagle

There is a theory that if you lose one of your senses then the others heighten to compensate. Well if there is any truth in it, when it comes to David Eagle of The Young'uns, who has been blind since he was nine months old, speech has come to the fore.

David Eagle, Michael Hughes and Sean Cooney, The Young'uns
Eagle is an interviewers dream and if you have ever seen him in action on stage in full banter mode with his comrades Sean Cooney and Michael Hughes then you will know he is witty, concise, self deprecating, caustic, urbane and thoroughly engaging.
His strong Teesside twang gives everything he says a depth that translates to the singing as part of the North East vocal trio.
Last month The Young'uns have, to general approval from the folk world and fans, won the best group category at the 2015 Radio2 Folk Awards and now they are setting off on tour to promote their new album Another Man's Ground. If you heard their acceptance speech at the awards then you would know that his cheeky intervention hinted that their rather chance move into the world of folk music was more to do with illegal drinking than any desire to be an award-winning singing group.
"Michael and Sean have known each other from primary school and I met them through a mutual friend when I was about 16," relates Eagle.
"Then we just happened on our local folk club at a pub in Stockton which was one of the few places that would serve us beer even though we were underage.
"We just stumbled on the folk club scene and were completely taken aback by people singing harmonies and in Teesside accents; singing about Teesside stories and doing shanties and that kind of thing, we had never heard anything like it," he says with obvious enthusiasm.

The fact people just got up and sang in pubs and in local accents made a big impression on the trio and enthused them to give it go. 
"Michael and myself sang in choirs but it was nothing like this type of music, especially the unaccompanied stuff, which we had never really heard.
"First we started singing a lot of traditional songs based around a lot of what we had heard from The Wilsons, five brothers from Teesside who sing a lot of unaccompanied harmonies.
"Then as time went on we started singing a lot of local songs; there were a lot of songs about Teesside, songs from the pen of GraemeMiles and Ron Angel who was the founder of the folk club that we went to in Stockton, then this led us to write our own.
"Sean started writing songs about Hartlepool and history and as time's gone on we started writing about more modern day things, so we sing songs about today's issues as well now. We've progressed quite a bit I suppose."
The Young'uns in the studio

That progression over more than a decade has seen them become among the most popular and sought after groups on the folk circuit so do they see themselves now as part of that long tradition of community and folk singing?
"I don't really know, would it be arrogant to say yes?
"We feel a part of it and hopefully other people feel we are a part of it.
"We love going to singarounds and joining in, we love them in pubs, obviously we do this professionally, so when we get a day off the first thing we do isn't necessarily go to a singaround but when we're at festivals we still pop in to a singaround or a pub and sing these songs.
"We are not just doing this because it's a job, we have always done it, but it was never a job, it was never intended to be a job."

So what happened at your first gig?
"Our first was in October 2005 and it was at the Sun Inn which was our folk club, that's where it all began and Ron Angel, who wrote things like the Chemical Workers' Song and was in a group called the TeessideFettlers, gave us our first gig and it was probably a bit rubbish on our account.
"We tried to imitate The Wilsons and what they tend to do is talk a lot in between the songs, drink a lot of beer and sing very loudly.
"So we thought all right we will shout really loudly, which is what we did, we'll talk a lot between the songs, which we did only we didn't talk any sense, and drank a lot of beer."

With that episode behind them they eventually had to face the decision to turn professional but this proved to be problematic with one of the band almost leaving the idea dead in the water.
The Wilsons from Teesside
"I did voice over work, audio production. I then did a job for a charity teaching computers to blind people," explains Eagle.
"Michael was an RE teacher in a Catholic School. Sean did a lot of educational projects and was the resident storyteller in a Manchester school.
"Then we all decided it was untenable to finish a day's work at four or five o'clock then zoom down the motorway to do a gig or a festival or something all weekend, get back on Monday at something like 2am then go back to work again and maybe do a few evening gigs.
"If you are going to take it seriously then you have to make that decision. Do you continue in your job and exhaust yourself doing even more work or are you going to say right let's just give it a go as professionals and see how it goes?
"It's been nearly two years now and it seems to be going all right," he says with genuine modesty. "It was an easier decision for me because I was already down to three days to accommodate some of the other freelance work.
"Michael's was probably the hardest decision, I think he was in a bit of a dilemma. He was on a much bigger wage than I was, in a proper, respected job.
"But Michael nearly put the scuppers on it because we had just decided to do it and he said 'I have just seen this placement at a grammar school I might attend and the salary is much better but it would mean if I was going to do that then essentially I would have to knock the folk singing on the head entirely'.
"I think he had a bit of a crisis of confidence."
"It's a bit like when you're in a relationship and you decide you're going to get married, you've been going along for however many years, then you say you're going to get married then all of a sudden that decision gives someone a crisis of confidence and the entire thing breaks up.
"Fortunately Mike came to his senses, remained with the dark side and stayed true to folk music," laughs Eagle.

So is this the definitive line-up and if one of you decides to pull there would be no more Young'uns?
Ron Angel
"I do wake up periodically, until I've got something else to think about, and think God how fragile things are in a way.
"I don't know what I would do if I weren't doing this. I am experimenting and working on different freelance things, doing stand up stuff which goes well and I could still do some audio work, but yeah essentially it is very fragile because we are dependent on the other two people.
"One of us could decide to do anything, so it is a bit worrying, however, we are talking about plans for 2016 and even things for 2017 but yes it could all end at any minute.
"For all I know one of them might have decided already and this interview would be a waste of time," he adds with a hearty Teesside laugh.

What are you views on the album now it's finished?
"It's not very good but we had to make it anyway," he jokes.
"We are really happy with it. It's interesting because we have done a lot more unaccompanied songs on this album.
"It's very short, we put together 12 tracks and we thought that's enough for an album and it came to just over half an hour.
"I think the songs are very good and I can say that because I don't write the songs as such. I do the melody and occasionally help with a few words. I will say why don't we have an 'and' here instead of a 'but' and Sean will say, that's an excellent idea which is the contribution I have with the songs generally.
"The songs about the honour killing of Farzana Parveen and Benefits Street and the story of Pvt
Hughes and the message in a bottle and all of these songs, the subject matter is brilliant I really love the songs.
"Then we have a Billy Bragg song which, doing it unaccompanied, sounds really raw.
"With Benefits Street all the words were there from the start, they hardly changed. But the interesting thing was the melody.
"Sean had written it on the guitar and it was a very slow, languid kind of song and I thought it doesn't really fit the thing. So we experimented with something else, then I came up with a jazz kind of thing and we decided that wasn't right either so we thought we would try it unaccompanied.
"We did these harmonies and chord structure and again it worked quite well because when you sing unaccompanied it just sounds abrasive; in your face."

What about the opening song of the album?
"We are not really sure where it hails from, I think it's classed as a traditional Teesside song.
"We got it from this album which was a compilation of north eastern songs and it was from a singer called Mary Duffy, we tried to track her down and find out more about her but no one seems to know so it was like an undiscovered gem.
"It gives you an insight into the humour which I suppose is earthy. Think how many songs like that have been lost but this one had been passed down and recorded on an album so it's been preserved and obviously with us singing it, it's been preserved in that way as well."

Do you each have definite roles when putting together a song or an album?
"Sean is primarily the song writer and may come up with a basic melody and then I might change it, he might write three or four chords. I don't really interfere with Sean and the music but he may write something and then I might suggest putting a bit in the middle.
"The piano arrangement for example for something such as Pvt Hughes, that was a completely different chord sequence, it was a case of changing different chords around trying to make it sound more interesting.
"There's nothing wrong with making music with three chords, that's all well and good, but personally it's nice when you can have more of that.
"I think when Sean's writing a song it's more a case of he's getting the words down and he writes brilliant lyrics and so then I will try and inject some different chords and melodies.
"But even so the music is still very stripped back and in the background, and the lyrics are to the foreground and that's something that's quite interesting, it's something that Andy Bell, who produced the album and Sean are quite keen to do.
"Maybe if it was left to me then the songs would be more "spiced up". They would have all kinds of odd instrumentation in them and that kind of thing but maybe it's for the best that I am not.
"At first if I am not so sure I might say this sounds really stripped down, is that all you want me to do? Because I would like quite fancy arrangements for the songs but Andy is like, 'No, no, strip that back, take that chord out,' and I will say, 'All I am doing is plonking my hands down on the keys', but when I listen back to it I then think, he's done a good call there, it sounds quite good.
"Plus, it also means if I get arthritis I should still be able to play the songs," he states mischievously.

Why did you come up with a name with built in obsolescence?
"There was nothing we could do about that, it was given to us and as you get more popular, when do you change it? When you start doing gigs known as The Young'uns you can't really change it.

You could always drop the apostrophe and claim you were always The Young Guns?
"But there is already a band called the Young Guns who we get mistaken for and they're a popular sort of indie band and there is already a band in Canada called the Young'uns which we also get mistaken for.
"We could call ourselves The Young Nuns which is slightly similar that would probably bring in a different clientèle entirely, they would be expecting strippers."

You can read a review of the new album Another Man's Ground at http://folkall.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/the-younguns.html

The Young'uns are appearing at Henry Tudor House, Shrewsbury on May 3. Doors open 8pm and the show starts 8.30pm. Tickets are £10 plus a booking fee. On May 13 they play the Red Lion Folk Club, King's Heath, Birmingham. Doors open 7.15pm and show starts 7.45. Tickets are £13.20 including booking fee.