Even on the far side of the world, folk trio The Young’Uns have found that their songs can resonate just as well as they do at home.
The three-piece, who perform largely a capella, formed 11 years ago. But with back-to-back Best Band gongs at the Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2015 and this year and three albums under their belts, they’ve become one of the folk world’s hottest tickets. And next week they’re playing at Wickham Festival.
With a mix of standards and original songs, they’ve found that they can strike a chord across the globe.
‘We have a song on the last album called A Lovely Cup of Tea,’ David Eagle tells WOW247 about a recent gig in Australia. ‘It’s about some members of the English Defence League who were assuaged by some of the Islamic community when they protested outside a mosque in York. They were met with biscuits and an invitation to a game of football – they were invited into the mosque and they apparently went away with altered views and we thought this was a lovely gesture of peace and it says that minds can change.
‘We sang that song and it got to one of the lines where it talks about the football match. Something similar had happened in Australia but it hadn’t ended so peacefully, so we got to this line and the Australian audience broke out in spontaneous applause, like a standing ovation, and it went on for ages.
‘This is meant to be a comedy song almost, and it went down well in terms of laughter, which is the response we normally get. But in Australia this one time it was different.
‘I think the subjects are so universally applicable – we’re talking about things which are ubiquitous – and they were really able to relate to it.’
It’s been a curious path for the Stockton-on-Tees act. As teenagers, David, Sean Cooney and Michael Hughes stumbled across Stockton Folk Club in their local pub. And it could have all ended there, as the three were under age and were spotted by a former teacher of Sean and Michael.
‘We were 17 at the time. He saw us having a pint of beer and said: “You are old enough aren’t you, lads?” Sean just said yes, and that was all he needed, fortunately.
‘There maybe was a concern for parents about children drinking underage and what they might be getting up to as a result, but when they saw it was only leading us to our local folk club, I think that allayed any concerns they might have had.’
We didn’t expect any of this. We didn’t even expect to be gigging, it was very much a hobby at firstDavid Eagle
The three became regulars at the club and when one day someone said ‘let’s hear a song from the young’uns’, the name stuck. And they soon came to enjoy the unusual cache the folk club gave them.
‘It’s not that we were out of step with our friends, but when we invited them along to come and see this, they loved it. It was such a great culture to be part of and a unique thing.
‘There was something, for want of a better word, cool about finding this sub-cultural or counter-cultural – whatever you want to class it as – world that’s going on.
‘We were welcomed by these old men with beards and other stereotypes – here we were drinking beer with people who have all these amazing stories to tell and singing these songs. There’s something really good about it.
‘Our friends came along and were like, yeah, it’s a bit weird, but it’s good. It’s not like we were bullied for getting involved with folk music,’ he adds with a chuckle.
From there things have grown steadily for the band, but David says they never thought they’d reach as wide an audience as they have now.
‘We didn’t expect any of this.
‘We didn’t even expect to be gigging, it was very much a hobby at first. It’s only a couple of years since we’ve gone professional, but gradually along the way things have got bigger for us.
‘We’ve been played on Radio 2, and there was a documentary on Radio 4, all these things add up.
‘The whole thing has been a bit accidental, but now we’re getting to this point, things are expanding and we’re getting more opportunities because of it.
‘A couple of weeks ago we did Springwatch on the BBC, things like that come not necessarily because of the award-win, but it bolsters opportunities like that.’
And then of course, there’s the simple fact that their sound isn’t one normally heard in the mainstream.
‘That’s true,’ says David. ‘We mostly sing unaccompanied and it’s not really made for radio. A lot of people brand folk music as a kind of Mumford and Sons sort of sound, a guitar-led thing, and that’s great in terms of what it is, but you don’t really hear a lot of unaccompanied singing on the radio, particularly mainstream radio.’
They also have a strong sense of social responsibility. On their recent Three For All tour they used their downtime to visit and perform in schools, nursing homes and at community centres.
‘We put it out on Facebook asking for people to name the tour and someone came up with Three For all which we liked, and thought it married well with our ethos of what we’re singing about – songs for everyone, social justice, equality – and also we spend so much time on tour just travelling around.
‘You get in a car, you get to the venue and you spend hours twiddling your thumbs doing nothing. We thought we could use that time doing something interesting and exciting that will benefit other people and will be fun and valuable.
‘That’s the great thing about social media now, you can put something on there saying we’re playing these gigs, what ideas have you got, where can we go? And loads of people came forward.’
Aside from the traditional songs, the band aren’t afraid of tackling some of the bigger subjects of the day, including so-called honour killings and a response to the ‘poverty porn’ of shows like Benefits Street, which was filmed in their hometown.
‘It’s about what’s inspiring us. Sean’s the principal songwriter and now we feel qualified to talk about these things in a way that we didn’t when we first started, and we didn’t have the ability or the skills to channel this properly.
‘But as you get older you think, actually, these are important subjects and I do have the right to talk about this.
‘With You Won’t Find Me On Benefits Street, that wasn’t about having a go at the people who went on the programme, it was more about people having a lot of pride in where they live and don’t want it run down as they know what a negative effect that can have on a place.
‘All of the songs on (2015 album) Another Man’s Ground, in a way, have the theme of combatting negativity, representing people who are maybe under-represented – it’s speaking up for people who are oppressed, or ideas that have been kept under the banner of cultural or religion tradition.
‘There’s a problem in some ways in maybe thinking, do we have the right to sing about these subjects? And yes we do because things shouldn’t be cloaked under the artifice of cultural tradition or religious tradition, or being told this is the way things are and we should just accept them.
‘And that’s the point of folk songs, they’re meant to be representing ordinary people.’
n The Young’Uns are at Wickham Festival on August 6. The festival runs from August 4 to 7. Also appearing are Spike’s All Star Band, Tony Hadley, The Trevor Horn Band, The Stranglers and many more.
Full weekend tickets cost £80 for under-16s, £160 for adults. Day and evening-only tickets are also available.
Go to wickhamfestival.co.uk