Sean Cooney of The Young’uns: Interview

The Young’uns, like many artists and bands, have had to deal with the impact of COVID-19 on their plans to devastating effect. Many artists have taken to online streaming shows, festivals have put together streaming events and Bandcamp have assisted in waiving fees for purchases on certain days. The Young’Uns have taken a different route and put together plans for ‘Young’uns TV.’

Young’uns TV (YTV) launches on 20th August at 8pm (GMT). From the trailer, the show looks to feature performances, songs, travels, special guests and The Young’Uns unparalleled humour. From the logo, you’d be forgiven for thinking it could be a show on CBeebies! Who knows?!

We caught up with chief songwriter of The Young’uns, Sean Cooney, to discuss YTV, where the band are up to, what they’ve been up to, and what the future might hold.

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What is YTV?

YTV is our new monthly TV show. It’ll be streaming live on our YouTube and Facebook channels.  The first episode is on Thursday 20th August at 8pm.  We’ll be converting Tesla Studios in Sheffield into our own little socially distanced Young’uns broom cupboard and encouraging people to tweet in their heckles and post in their drawings.

Will there be puppets?

Of course!

The trailer’s a bit of a fast paced montage of the three of you out and about in various locations. Can you tell us more of where you’ve been filming?

We’ve been busy recording little films on location to slip in alongside the live studio element of the show. Episode one features a ramble up Kinder Scout with Boff Whalley (Chumbawamba) – following in the footsteps of the mass trespassers of 1932.  There’ll also be a singing boat trip as we head back to our maritme muse, the Hartlepool Headland, where many of our earlier songs were written.

How long will the shows be? 

We’re aiming for an hour but you never know once Dave gets going!

How can people support you? 

We’re asking people who can to pay an upfront voluntary subscription of £25 (£5 an episode) for the first five instalments of YTV.   You can donate and support YTV by clicking here.

Have there been any challenges? 

Getting a visually impaired person (band mate David Eagle) safely on a pleasure boat whilst maintaining social distancing!

I suppose the big challenge mentally has been coping with the uncertainty of our musical future. We’ve got no idea how YTV will play out or when things will get back to normal for us.  There are so many people out there desperately trying to make ends meet and we’ve been lucky to have some great people around us and some great fans and friends behind us.  It’s been wonderful getting going again and we can’t wait till the first episode. 

A few exclusive images from The Young’uns trip up Kinder Scout with Boff Whalley and Andy Bell.

All photos by Tim James.

Many of your songs on Strangers and the Johnny Longstaff productions are about people who have overcome extreme hardship. As their experiences inspired you to write songs, has the lockdown inspired you to compose or find material relevant to what we’ve all been experiencing?

Yeah there have been so many things that I’ve wanted to write about over the past 4 months but looking after a toddler has meant it’s been difficult to get the time or the headspace for it. My biggest achievement of lockdown was making a castle out of beer boxes.  It’s named after the only beer that wasn’t stockpilled in March. Corona Castle.

You all have a brilliant rapport with your audiences how much have you missed that?

I’ve really missed it.  I’ve missed the thrilling vulnerability of standing in front of an audience. I’ve missed meeting people after the shows and hearing their stories. I’ve missed the adrenalin. I’ve even missed the driving and the service stations. I haven’t missed the three man travelodge rooms.

Despite the success you have had with for want of a better phrase ‘concept albums’ are you going to return to recording a collection of songs or are there any more themed ideas in the pipeline?

Lockdown has given us the time to reflect, if nothing else, on our future and the future of recorded music.  I have a long list of things that I want to write about.  I suppose many of these stories could stand alone as individual songs on an album. 

We’ve just finished making a documentary for BBC Radio 4 called A Life In Song. The idea of the programme was to do something we’ve never done before when writing a song about a real figure. Tell them before writing the song.  How would they feel about it? Could they help with the process? From that has come a new song and an amazing relationship with Richard Moore who has an extraordinary story of forgiveness.

Have you managed to keep in contact with the people you wrote about and got so close to from the Strangers album?

Yes, we’ve developed some lovely relationships with some of the subjects of our songs.  As part of YTV we will be catching up with some of them including Mark Moogalian one of the heroes of Carriage 12 who helped tackle and disarm a terrorist on a Paris bound train in 2015.  In our interview with him we hear the surreal story of how he came to play himself in a Clint Eastwood film. 

Through making the Radio 4 documentary we’ve also been able to catch up with other song subjects including Matt Ogston whose story inspired our song Be The Man.  Matt lost his fiancee – Naz Mahmood –  to suicide in 2013 – brought on by his religious family’s reluctance to accept his sexuality.  We talked movingly to Matt about his reaction to the song and the response we’ve had from people around the world to hearing the story.

Strangers was a career high; it sounded like the album you have been threatening to make for many years. Where do you go next? Do you relish the challenge of trying to up your own benchmark?

Telling stories is still very much at the heart of what I want to do as a songwriter and there are many real stories that I’m desperate to turn into songs.  Many of them could have fitted well into the Strangers album.  Yet after developing The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff into a fully staged theatre piece in partnership with Northern Stage and the Harbour Front Center in Toronto, I’m really excited about the possibility of creating new stories that could be developed into more fully staged pieces for larger, wider audiences in the world of theatre too.

Your singing weekends are a highlight of the year for so many of your fans. Will the state of these change in any way?

We’ve been hosting residential singing weekends in rural locations around the country for seven years. Groups of up to 50 people join us for an autumnal weekend of communal living, singing and sharing.  They’re a big part of what we do and who we are.  We’ve postponed our 2020 ones, though we will be doing a virtual event on each of the weekends we had planned for this October.   The intimacy of the weekends is what makes them so special for us and we really hope that by 2021 we’ll be able to get back to doing them properly.

The Drunken Children’s Songs are a highlight of the Singing weekend. Have you any plans to record them for schools?

Over the years we’ve built up a repertoire of kids songs through our work in primary schools across the country.  Somehow it has become a tradition of ours on the Saturday afternoons of our singing weekends to find the nearest pub and bamboozle locals with renditions of songs like Hariet’s Magic Hair and Buttons the Naughty Dog.  We’d love to record them properly at some point.  I’m sure you’ll hear some of them on YTV too.

David’s hilarious comedy routines have given him a diverse entertainment opportunity, is he continuing with that?

Yes. David’s had an incredible year bursting onto the comedy scene. In 2019 he won three New Comedian of the Year awards (Leicester Square, Bath and Nottingham Comedy Festivals). He’s just done his first post lockdown live gig. I’ve not heard from him since.

Have you thought of any solo enterprises?

I spent a big part of 2019 writing songs for Rising Up: Peterloo 2019.  The show was commissioned by Manchester Folk Festival and the English Folk Dance and Song Society to mark the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre and the implications it has for democracy today. It was a new, challenging but ultimately invigorating experience writing songs for other people to sing.  I wrote 14 songs. Jim Molyneux arranged and performed 9 of them in the show alongside Lucy Farrell and Sam Carter. Plans to record them were underway before COVID.  The whole process has encouraged me to think about writing for other people more in the future.

When the world returns to relative safety, which venues are you looking forward to getting back in to?

We had lots of UK festivals lined up for this summer. It would have been the first time we’d have done Cambridge Festival in 6 years and we were all pretty excited about that, as well as returning to the U.S where we toured for the first time last summer.  

We’re proud to be patrons of Folk East Festival in Suffolk and delighted that we can take part in Virtually Folk East infront of a live audience on 21st and 22nd August alongside Sam Kelly, Katherine Priddy, John Spiers, the Hut People, Honey & the Bear, Toby Shaer and Evan Carson.

Many thanks to Sean for his time. You can view the trailer for YTV below.

You can donate and support YTV by clicking here.

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