Sunday 9 February 2014


Live Review

Newhampton Folk Club

David Eagle, Michael Hughes and Sean Cooney
The Young'uns

You could say when it comes to voices you get your money's worth with Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Michael Hughes, collectively known as The Young'Uns, as they spend almost as much time engaging in banter as they do singing.

The group from the North East, more specifically Stockton on Tees rarely draw breath with their fantastic three-part harmony singing, ripping the piss out of each other and any unfortunate audience member who chooses too walk into the firing line. When they finally finished introducing themselves they launched into Jack Ironside, unplugged. Using purely their impressive voices in the packed out upper room of the Newhampton Inn, their harmonious sounds filled every corner of the room. The song had real steel in its delivery and was made all the more enjoyable by their strong accents.
After another round of banter, much of it instigated by Eagle, they moved into the gentler ballad The Three Sailors which at times almost tipped over into Gregorian chant and their individual voices built a depth of sound that provided a strong undertone beneath the softer lyrics.
After this they picked up their instruments for the first time with Eagle on the accordion and Hughes on the guitar for Love In A Northern Town and for all of their irreverence you can tell they take both their execution and the tradition of their music and singing very seriously.
They sometimes sail close to the wind with their banter and making light of child sex and religious abuse could test the sensibilities of even the most seasoned of folk club patrons.
The instruments added an extra dimension to their strong harmonies, bringing a nice binding to the trio's jaunty number and gentler tones.
Three shanties followed and they recreated the wonderfully traditional and bawdy style you would expect from sailors. They have got harmonising down to a fine art while keeping their individual styles very distinct with Eagle's raucous voice adding a real edge which is softened by Cooney's tenor voice and both are upheld and woven together with Hughes' soft, deep tones. The shanties included the rope pulling rhythm of Blood Red Roses and the mellower Shallow Brown.
The Young'uns
Picking up their instruments again they launched into a love song, Waiting For The Ferry, a slow air which was a great example of how gentle and thoughtful their tones can be.
Right out of left field they pulled a shanty sung in French, Pique La Baleine, which they belted out with real gusto and because it was sung in French it added, if possible, an even bawdier feel to the machine gun delivery.
One of the great things about their songs is that they are organic, they all carry that tradition of narrative and drawing inspiration from the events not only around them but which have shaped the singers and their generations - passing on the stories and events to the next generation in the ancient oral tradition. This may not sound like it would make a difference but it's obvious from how the trio perform they know why they sing the songs they do and feel connected not just to the stories the songs tell but to the people the stories talk about and that's where their real emotion and love of the song shows through.
A perfect example was John Hill a really evocative song about one of Cooney's ancestors who died in The Geat War. 
Even though it was also a homage to the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One there was a slight 1960s undertone to it and it was made all the more poignant by the harmony of the hymn Lord of All Hopefullness/Be Thou My Vision woven into it. 
Another offering was Tenting Tonight which originally came from the American Civil War and they did it justice with just the right tone and blend of harmonies which gave it the sound of a WWI song in the vein of Pack Up Your Troubles while still keeping the feel of the church congregations of the US singing in the hope of their loved ones return.
They changed the pace and the mood with a real belter, Bully in the Alley which was brought into the public consciousness more recently by Fisherman's Friends and although there were only three of them they easily matched the larger group with their delivery using only their voices.
Oswald Mosley
Eagle and Hughes strapped back on their instruments for Battle of Stockton which was something of a contradiction because it was a gentle ballad which was describing a violent rally against Oswald Mosely's Blackshirts in the 1930s, as the fascist group tried to recruit the working classes of the town who were having none of it.
They kept the softer tone for Beneath The Sandwell Gate where again through their intricate blend of voices produced a clear narrative about changing times and how people live beside and cope with the sea
The lads picked up their instruments once again for Biscuits of Bull Lane which carries the wonderful story of how people took the sting out of a race-motivated march by the English Defence League on a mosque in the wake of the Lee Rigby murder. Instead of meeting them head on in anger or violence the residents of Bull Lane, York took the sting out of the situation by offering tea and biscuits, not so much the Boston but the Bull Lane tea party.
Eagle carried the story one stage further seeing events from the perspective of an EDL supporter. It's everything a folk song should be, based around a true event, politically barbed and full of irreverent comment while making it's point loud and clear. The song has a musical hall feel to it and shows racism for the stupid, divisive and destructive force it can be.
To take out the night they put their voices to John Ball which celebrates the 600th anniversary of the Peasants' Revolt. It was a traditional and defiant song which, like all the songs on the night, was executed with the precision of a marksman.
Sometimes, The Young'uns use their talents and voices like weapons exposing some of what's wrong with society; sometimes they are used to paint pictures and bring characters to life; sometimes to keep traditions, which should be upheld, alive and sometimes to have fun and entertain but always with precision, enthusiasm, emotion and determination to give a bloody good show.
Though the question remains, when will they change to being the Old'uns?

The Young'uns new album Never Forget is due for release on March 17.

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