The Young’uns: ‘… for the Young’uns, it started with a yelp’
With a BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Best Group firmly under their belts and the release of their third album, Shire Folk asked the band’s David Eagle to tell us how it all began …
SF: For those who haven’t seen you live, tell us how you got together and how you got your name?
YU: For the band Hot Chocolate, it started with a kiss: for the Young’uns, it started with a yelp. The yelp issued from a man standing in the Sun Inn pub, and heralded the beginning of a song, quite unlike anything that we’d heard before: loud, brash, in-your-face, peppered with a plentiful supply of further yelps, whoops and guttural grunts. At first we assumed that he was just drunk, and that the landlord might ask him to leave, but instead we were taken aback when everyone else in the room let out a collective whoop, and launched into the song. We had just witnessed our first sea shanty, and our first few minutes of a folk club. It transpired that we had stumbled across the Stockton folk club, which takes place in the back room of the Sun Inn pub, an establishment that we particularly found favour with at that time given that we seemed to get away with drinking underage in there – we were seventeen.
That night we were treated to songs and stories about our local area, Teesside, sung in Teesside accents, which was a revelation to us, as in the school choir we were always told to dilute our Teesside accent. These were real songs, about real things, sung by real people, people who came home from a day’s work and gathered together in a pub to sing and tell stories. We fell in love with the whole thing, and the folk club members were very welcoming to us.
After a few months, some of the regulars began to ask whether ‘the young’uns want to give us a song?’ We weren’t a band at this point, the name The Young’uns was just given to us as a result of being the youngest people at the club by at least thirty years. We pointed out that we didn’t know any folk songs in full, but the folk club members encouraged us to sing regardless, suggesting that we could get up and sing the chorus and they’d sing the verses. And so that is what we did. Over the next few months we began to learn songs, and we were encouraged to perform them at the folk club. Eventually we were asked to perform at a few local folk clubs, including the Stockton folk club. Then we were asked to perform at some local folk festivals, and steadily we started to get noticed. Our first gig was July 2005, so we’ve been going now for over ten years, and unfortunately, we never thought to change the name The Young’uns, so it seems we’re stuck with it now, despite its ever-increasing unsuitability. Hey-ho.
SF: Congratulations on the ‘Best Group’ award at the recent BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Did this come as a surprise and did you know you had won?
YU: vWe had no idea beforehand, so it was a surprise when The Young’uns was declared. Sean and Michael had worked out earlier that night that they would be able to deduce who had won by the number of people on the trophy, which was visible from our vantage point at the front of the hall, but when the moment came for our award category they completely forgot to look.
It’s incredible for us to think about how this all started, and how it was an accident, and to see where it’s taken us. This is now our jobs.
SF: You are noted for your great harmony singing and amusing dialogue between songs. Do you practice the banter?
YU: We came from the folk club scene, where it was all very informal, plus we were heavily inspired and influenced by fellow north-east groups and artists such as the Wilson Family, Vin Garbutt, Jez Lowe and Bob Fox, who had a lot to say between the songs and were very funny. Then there was the Stockton folk club founder and member of the Teesside Fettlers, Ron Angel, who would start the folk club nights off with a story and a song. I think there tends to be a lot of crossover between standup comedy and folk music, with Billy Connolly, Bernard Wrigley, Les Barker, Keith Donnelly, and the aforementioned. So I think we just felt that you were expected to have something to say and be funny, and I’d like to think we’ve got more adept at it as we’ve progressed. There was a quote that was doing the rounds for quite a while from somewhere, which described our gigs as ‘utter chaos’. MCs would often wheel this line out as an introduction to us, and I always used to imagine how disappointed some people might have been if they’d seen or heard the phrase ‘utter chaos’ to describe our act, only to receive three lads singing songs and bumbling about in between. ‘Where’s the circus act? The fireworks? Is this it?’ I suppose what is meant by ‘utter chaos’ is that we don’t have much of an idea about what is going to happen during a gig until it happens. We don’t plan the songs we’re going to sing in advance, nor do we script or plan what we’re going to say in between the songs, which can lead to some interesting experiences, for both us and the audience. But that’s the brilliant thing about performing live.
SF: You have a new album out called ‘Another Man’s Ground’. Tell us about it.
YU: When we first started singing, we had a tendency to write and sing songs about events from history, but as we’ve developed we’ve realised that folk songs can talk about things that are happening today, not just events from the past. We are constantly bombarded with around-the-clock news coverage, and often I think many important stories are unnoticed because we’re slapped around the face with facts, figures and dramatic, as-it-happens pictures and sound. There are so many stories that are covered that it is likely that we reach saturation point, and we can forget the people behind the stories. A song can take a story and present it to people in a very different way, a more memorable way, because it’s more than just a series of hard facts delivered in the familiar news reporter style. It makes the experience personal.
So on Another Man’s Ground we sing about the so-called honour killing of Farzana Parveen carried out by her own family in broad daylight outside the law courts of Lahore in Pakistan. We also sing about the people of Dixon Street in Stockton, who chased the Benefits Street film crew out of their neighbourhood because they did not want to have their community and town stigmatised by a reality TV show. These are two events that happened in the last 18 months. We also sing some songs inspired by personal stories of World War I, as well as simply singing some of our favourite folk songs which we’ve loved singing for the last few years. A great deal of it is just the three voices, with some piano, accordion and guitar cropping up here and there.
Another Man’s Ground is out now on Hereteu Records.