Music Q&A:
The Young'Uns

David Eagle of the Durham folk trio chats ahead of their appearance at Manchester Folk Festival, 20 Oct

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What informs your music and songwriting?
In 2003 we stumbled across our local folk club in Stockton, where people would gather in the back room of a pub to sing songs. The songs covered subjects that we’d never heard people sing about before: songs of industrial Teesside, songs about real people and their struggles. The other thing that grabbed us about the folk club was that most people were singing without instruments, and many of the songs would have great choruses where everyone in the room would join in as loudly as they bloody well wanted, adding layers of harmony. We were so enthused by all this that we kept going back to the folk club week after week, and eventually were encouraged to sing together. Being the youngest people at the club by several decades, we were branded The Young’Uns by the other folk club members.

Our sound is very much informed by those early folk club days. Our songs are largely unaccompanied, and we sing about real people with great stories to share, and about Teesside, where we come from. On our latest album, Strangers, we sing a song about Ghafoor Hussain, the Teesside grandad who bought a bus, turned it into a mobile kitchen and drove from Middlesbrough to Dunkirk to feed refugees. He now has three buses in different parts of Europe, one of which is a mobile hospital. We also sing about the day in 1933 when Mosley’s fascists marched into Stockton, hoping that the town’s mass deprivation and unemployment would make it a good place to convert people to their cause. But the people of Stockton were having none of it and sent the fascists packing. There is so much in our local history and present to be proud about, and we love sharing these stories through song.

How have you evolved as a band over the years?
One big thing was realising that folk music wasn’t just singing songs about the past – that at some point those old songs were new songs – and as we grew more confident as a band we began to write songs that addressed things happening today. So on our latest album, Strangers, most of our songs are about current stories, such as the story of Matthew Ogston, whose fiancée took his own life because his religious family couldn’t accept he was gay. Matthew fought through the pain, determined that others wouldn’t have to go through what happened to him and his fiancée, Naz. So he set up a foundation to tackle homophobia and his efforts are saving lives. Through our song, Be The Man, based on the words of Matt, we have struck up a friendship with Matt, who features in the song’s video. We have actually met most of the people who we’ve written about on this album, and thankfully they are all happy that we have chosen to tell their story. These subjects are definitely something we wouldn’t have had the confidence to address a few years ago, as it’s quite daunting to write songs from the perspective of people who are still alive.

What are you up to at the moment artistically?
Well, I’m answering these questions, which I’m sure you’ll agree qualifies as a work of artistic brilliance. Other than that, we have just finished our album, which we are now touring. We are also working on a project for next year, but we’ll reveal that in our own sweet time. We’ve just finished writing a book, which is a mix of stories behind the songs we sing, along with tales of our various exploits over our 13-year history. Go to our website, Facebook or Twitter if you fancy buying a copy.

What’s on your rider?
I’m interested to know out of all the bands you’ve asked this question to, how many have actually said something unusual? Our rider is fairly prosaic, consisting of some sandwiches, some water, and maybe a couple of beers. Something tells me this answer is not going to make your end of year best-of compilation. It does say “healthy snacks” on our rider, which we assumed people would interpret as nuts and seeds, some carrots, celery, some fruit, but it’s normally chocolate, cake and biscuits, meaning that our good intentions are often unfulfilled. Sorry, I feel as if I’ve really let you down with this answer, not being able to give you some crazy revelation about our eccentric demands, but alas it’s just sandwiches, water and snacks. Oh, and the sacrificial goat, of course.

Tell us your most embarrassing or surreal experience.
A few years ago we were doing our album launch at the Sage in Gateshead. We’d done the Sage before but only as part of collaborative projects, never as just the three of us. These other gigs had been in the main hall, but our gig was taking place in the much smaller second hall. This was a really special gig for us for, as well as it being our album launch, it was also our home gig.

Caught up in the moment, and perhaps also fuelled by delusions of grandeur, spurred on by the cheering crowd awaiting our arrival on to the stage, I forgot that we were playing the smaller hall. We received the go-ahead from the stage manager, and with the crowd’s effusive cheering ringing in my ears, I proudly strode out onto the stage. But being blind, and forgetting that this wasn’t the main hall, I found myself walking out onto the stage and then seconds later walking straight off the other end of the stage. Well, I say walking, falling would be more accurate. The audience’s cheering turned to exclamations of shock as I plunged from the stage to the floor below. We drink a lot of water during gigs, and I was therefore carrying a litre bottle of water, which burst open upon impact when I and it hit the ground. I landed upon the bottle which began squirting the first row of the audience. I clambered to my feet, but immediately fell back down again due to being unable to coordinate myself properly through laughter. The audience, seeing that I wasn’t dead or seriously injured, burst into raucous laughter, which still hadn’t abated by the time I made it back onto the stage. We attempted several times to launch into a song, but each time we were thwarted as another wave of laughter rose up again, either from us or the audience. It took nearly 10 minutes before we were eventually able to get the laughter controlled and actually begin the gig. After the gig people commented that the first minute was worth the ticket price alone.

What song do you wish you’d written?
One of the Christmas ones, like Slade’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday. That must be an annual cash cow – the world’s biggest Christmas bonus.

What’s your worst lyric?

Well, this seems like a rather negative way to wrap up an interview. We do a lot of work in schools, writing songs with children, and some of their lyric choices can be quite interesting. We spent a morning telling the story about a World War II hero who saved hundreds of lives in a rescue operation but was killed by the Germans just seconds before he reached his trench. The children seemed really moved by his story and they were coming up with some really good ideas for the song, treating the subject matter with sensitivity. But then we breaked for dinner and, when the kids returned to class, having been stuffed full of sugar, they were a lot more hyperactive and giddy.

“OK, calm down everyone. So we’ve got to the part of the story where he’s just been shot and the line we have is, he was brought down by a German’s gun. So, any ideas. Let’s think of a line that rhymes with that.”

The kids’ hands all shot up.

“Great, we’ve got loads of ideas. What’s yours?”

“He was shot in his big fat bum,” replied the kid, gleefully. Cue mass giggling and more than a modicum of guffawing.

We tried a few more kids but they also said that their idea was hinged around the gun-bum rhyme.

“OK, OK, calm down. Right, put your hands down everyone whose idea involved bums. And let’s see what other ideas we have.”

Every single hand went down.

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The Young’Uns

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