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The Young'uns

The Greystones, Sheffield
Friday 29 May 2015

It seems like quite a while since I last bumped into The Young'uns, which was probably at Leeds Irish Centre when the trio were supporting The Unthanks on their excellent Mount the Air tour earlier this year. Since then, the Teesside trio have made an impressive splash in the annual folk award pool, picking up the award for best band at both the annual BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and FATEA awards, together with the Best Live Band award over at Spiral Earth. This might explain why every seat in the house was taken a good 45 minutes before the three Teesside lads climbed up on stage in The Backroom tonight. 

Being a Friday it was pizza night at The Greystones, with Nether Edge Pizza Company cooking up some tasty wood-fired Italian delights right there in front of the pub. The Young'uns were just completing a pretty lengthy sound check, whilst their assorted partners and friends relaxed upstairs in the comfortable and spacious green room. Between the sound check and the performance, the lads had agreed to a catch up with Northern Sky and we were soon sitting around a table chatting as promoter Chris Wilson prepared what looked like a delicious feast. If Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Michael Hughes were tired and weary after a gruelling day of travelling and a seemingly endless sound-check, then they hid any symptoms of it during the interview and subsequent performance on stage.

We spoke about the early days of the group, their tentative singing at Stockton Folk Club, their development as performers, their recorded output thus far, particularly their latest release ANOTHER MAN'S GROUND, together with their song choices, Sean Cooney's increasingly mature songwriting and their shirts! The Young'uns' profile has obviously changed since their success in Cardiff last month, but it hasn't changed their thoroughly engaging personalities. As the hot food started to arrive, I rounded up our little chat and left the party to relax before their concert. "Join us for something to eat Allan" offered Michael as I packed my notebook and recording device away. A tempting offer, but alas I had some notes to make and a place to secure downstairs in The Backroom.  

The illuminated stage with its now familiar backdrop was already prepared for the band as the audience arrived. A keyboard, two guitars on stands, a black Vignoni accordion at the foot of one of the three microphone stands at the front of the stage, together with an additional one over the keyboard. With no support act and a full, possibly sold out concert room, the Young'uns took to the stage to some enthusiastic applause from an eager Sheffield audience. Opening with Billy Bragg's Between the Wars, the three singers soon found their voices with this revered anthem to the working man; essentially, a cappella singing at its best.

The onstage banter throughout both sets was irreverent and playful, but at times almost argumentative and confrontational, bordering on inter-bandmate bickering. If one sang a note slightly off key, the other would let them know about it in no uncertain terms, taunting their bandmate mercilessly, albeit in a half-joking manner. "It's important that we do the last note out of tune, well done Sean for that" quipped Mr Eagle at the end of the shanty Shawnee Town. Mind you, if you dared criticise, you could be certain of a perfectly timed retort. "I wondered why you only lasted two years as a councillor!" responded Mr Cooney. After almost 30 nights on the road, the familiar adage of 'many a true word spoken in jest' almost becomes a reality.

The first set was pretty much entirely made up of songs from the new album including the local protest song You Won't Find Me on Benefits Street, the tender Private Hughes, the heart-wrenching The Streets of Lahore and the uplifting Tom Paine's Bones, with the one exception, the aforementioned shanty Shawnee Town.

After a short break, the songs continued with a set made up of more familiar fare, such as The Battle of Stockton, Jack Ironside and the wonderfully ironic A Lovely Cup of Tea, whilst the banter stepped up a notch to boiling point, especially with some unexpected audience participation. It's probably the first time a heckler has been handed a microphone with an open invitation to shout up if he required an additiuonal reverb or 'more in the monitor'. Whether the mocking was tongue-in-cheek or semi-sincere - I'm pretty convinced it was the former - the audience loved every minute of it. Whilst explaining the source for Jimmy Go Down To Your Uncles, a song learned from the singing of Mary Duffy, a mystery voice from the past, David said that one day she will pop up at the back demanding her royalties, to which Sean responded "She'd probably say leave the good looking one on the end alone, he's got a cold." Priceless banter.  

Reminiscent of the folk club days of the past, when the clubs up and down the country were filled with an equal measure of music and belly laughing, the Young'uns managed to bring such an atmosphere to the Backroom tonight, right now in the current era, which made for a most entertaining evening. Leaving the stage after the final song of the set John Ball, which the entire audience joined in with, the boys returned to perform a couple of audience requests, a song that the Young'uns usually perform for kids in schools, No More Frying Bacon and finally the communal shanty Tilbury Town (Rolling Down the River). Tonight's appearance in Sheffield confirmed that 2015 is most definitely their year and left the audience in little doubt as to why The Young'uns have been recognised as both the Best Band and the Best Live Band by various sources.

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky

Listen to the interview here: