Wednesday 26 February 2014


CD Review

Never Forget

It's just a simple fact that with a band such as Young'uns no recording is ever going to do real justice to the full gamut of sounds they can make with their voices. If anything this recording tends to sanitise their strong, versatile and organic harmonising.

David Eagle, Michael Hughes and Sean Cooney
This is no reflection on Andy Bell who has worked with and produced some of the top names in the folk world not least of which is Bellowhead, but The Young'uns are a live band. This said if you can't get to see them live in the near future then this is the next best thing and will certainly give you a flavour of their wonderfully masculine harmonies, the raucousness of some of their singing and the great storytelling and fun they incorporate into their performances.
Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Michael Hughes have been blowing the cobwebs from audiences, fascinating them with their storytelling and entertaining them with their banter for a decade this year. Hailing from Stockton-on-Tees in the north East their accents are native, their connection to their home turf very strong and their gusto for singing apparently inexhaustible.
The album kicks off with a soft three part harmony reminiscent of barbershop quartets, except there are only three of them. The Biscuits of Bull Lane is a slightly music hall/theatre musical offering with a serious message of racism and community strength. It's based around the events following the murder of Lee Rigby when the English Defence League decided to march upon a mosque in York but where the local community had other ideas and made it clear it was having none of it. Eagle has written a sister song to this, which is also on the album, and although light-hearted in feel it carries a serious message.
The good folks of York, instead of using confrontation and intimidation, decided they would meet the right wing marchers with, of all things, cups of tea and the biscuits of the title. It's a song which jumps across styles from the great hymns of the cathedrals to something akin to a West End musical and, although it was a tragic incident and shocked the nation, the song shows how ridiculous racism and intolerance are when exposed to the light of human kindness and understanding.
David Eagle's raucous voice lets rip when they are singing Jack Ironside live and it usually involves a great deal of stomping which gives you a feel of the harshness of the work of which it sings. This song is a wonderful social narrative and is something which is lacking in a great deal of folk music today. The trio's voices do it justice singing it with passion and emotion which can only come from being steeped in the local traditions and customs which inspire the stories that are turned into their songs.
The jingle was from The Molloys
The Long Way Home bears more than a passing resemblance to the song Meet You There by The Molloys which you may not know by its own merits but could well recognise it as the sound of Richmond Sausages. Long Way Home is a soft ballad of a love song which is more of a solo written by Cooney and is a gently ditty which is easy and pleasant on the ear.
Blood Red Roses and Shallow Brown gives you more of a sense of what the trio sound like on stage. It has more of their energy and vocal incidentals thrown in and is a great throwback to this island's fame for producing sea shanties, while Shallow Brown is a much softer ballad and shows just mellow theirs voices can be and, occasionally, when their harmonies hit a "sweet spot" it sounds more like the drones of a great organ than human voices.
The gentlest ballad on the album is Rosario which is a traditional song with a new arrangement by Eagle and Hughes. It has a European feel to it even though it refers to a port in Argentina but it still keeps that taste of a sea shanty, there is less harmonising on this and Eagles makes more of his talent for the accordion.
Hands and Feet, written by northern musician and raconteur Jez Lowe, is the voices of the trio pretty much unadorned and coloured only by the backing of schoolchildren from Manchester. It does have that feel of the kind of sing around you may remember from your school days.
The Young'uns
Cooney's haunting song, Altar, is just another example of the long if sometimes uncomfortable relationship folk music has had with Christianity and the established church. Cooney's voice is picked up only by the single notes of a piano which are most effective and give it both a somber, serene and ethereal quality. Following this is another one from Cooney, Three Sailors, and in the great tradition of folk songs was inspired by a single snapshot of history, a military grave in West View cemetery in their native Hartlepool. Their voices are decidedly understated on this track and it seems this is both in respect of the theme and the poignant words which give it more of a feeling that this is essentially a poem to which gentle backing vocals have been added.
The Running Fox is one of two tributes, the other being Jack Ironside,  to Graeme Miles who sadly died in April last year but made his mark writing and singing about the beauty he saw in Teeside.
Eagle's gutsy voice and elaborate accordion playing carries this tale of a fox hunt wonderfully to where you can almost hear the horns and the dogs baying. You will have to listen to the whole track to find out if the fox survives.
The three show their versatility with a love song, The Sandwell Gate which is a tune as rooted in Teeside as deeply as the stone foundations of the medieval archway itself. Their voices still keep that gravelly edge to them but the softened harmonies manage to project some of the emotion they associate with it.
John Ball, which has its roots in the Peasants' Revolt and  is one of those great tunes that you sort of know but don't know why, but makes it so easy to pick up, that before you get to the end of the track you will be singing along at least to the chorus. It's a plain and simple traditional song executed perfectly by their precise voices.
Never Forget
The penultimate track is again eluding to folk's association with Christianity as Cooney sings of one of his ancestors, incorporating the tune Lord of All Hopefulness. Cooney's voice stands on it's own and it's again one of those storytelling songs which is as much a history of the characters as it is a song, but again one of the drawbacks of the recorded version is that the emotion from Cooney is not easily transmitted as when watching him perform it live.
Going out with a fun song, Lovely Cup of Tea is a cheeky, piss take both of the EDL and of course the absurdity of racism.
Eagles' rendition is very much in the music hall tradition and takes the stand that one of the best ways to take the sting out of something as destructive and pernicious as racism is to show it for the nonsense it is and Eagles' rapid-fire lyrics do just that to take the album out on a high note. Never Forget is a great introduction to the Young'uns for anyone who has never heard them, but they need to be seen live to really appreciate the subtleties, nuances and irreverence of their wonderfully entertaining act.

Never Forget is official released on March 10

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