The Young’uns – Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester – 19th April 2022
The Young’uns – add ‘award winning’ if you like – are back on the touring trail. Their stunning Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff album and show put to bed for the time being although you can hear a special recording on Radio Three on 1st May, new and old songs were on show at Manchester’s plush and very fitting Royal Northern College of Music concert hall.
No mention was made about being under pressure to sing in tune being at a music college of high repute and all – Seth Lakeman did refer to feeling a little nervous at the venue once – and as always, the mix of the lighthearted and the beautifully observed was at the fore.
The trio may have other projects on the go – fingers in many pies – but their trademark ‘waspish wit’ was on full show – thank you David Eagle for taking up the canine theme of the evening as well as heading close to, but swerving around the bone (geddit?) with a few “I shouldn’t mention it but I will” moments. Nice to see Michael Hughes back too, juggling two careers and for giving David a focal point for his doggy jibes – something to do with leaping off stage and guide dogs in the front row…only at a Young’uns show…
While a couple of significant Longstaff songs remain – The Great Tomorrow striking out from unity at the end of the first half – there are plenty of new songs on offer as the gang polish the material for a new album. As with the Stangers album, those new songs are explained by Sean Cooney as taking inspiration from his research into stories and people, ones that often fall under the radar, who do remarkable things. Some are very personal but the overarching theme, whether the song is about Lockerbie, making a small difference (Tiny Notes) or big black boots, is how they touch raw nerves and strike at hidden emotions. Whether they’re unaccompanied pieces of backed by simple piano they tap into the same emotional core as Ta-ra To Tooting from the Johnny Longstaff album. Sean is also typically humble and appreciative that we take time to listen to their offerings as he highlights the tales behind the songs.
The second set is more upbeat, raucous even,; the trio often in a little huddle relaying what might come next – the unpredictability and feel of still being in an intimate backroom of a pub amongst friends. Going back to several songs that provided the launchpad for The Young’uns, we get Tom Paine’s Bones, John Ball and a Michael Hughes-led Roll Down (from Petter Bellamy’s The transports and a reminder what a good job they and their friends did with that show). They also sea shanty away, noting that after years of flogging the genre, now they’ve suddenly become popular – never short of a quip, Mr Eagle notes they’re “not the most popular shanty band but certainly the campest.“
And as he’s never far from the spotlight (“take a l-o-n-g drink David….” he’s urged) he gets a genuine spotlight moment with one of his classic pieces that tells of The Day We Drank The Nazis Out Of Town – a partner to his A Lovely Cup Of Tea and a David Eagle masterclass in sailing close to the wind, his accordion adding an appropriate Beer Festival/bierkeller vibe.
A word too for a busy Joe Rusby adding his expertise on the sound desk and making everything crystal clear and also to Sean’s fashion guru who’d sourced a lovely bomber jacket which we really need to mention. Something from the Mick Jagger/Richard Ashcroft collection we’d wager. A word too on a brief post-gig chat with David that revealed a hitherto untapped affinity with Progressive Rock icons Transatlantic (and related…). Clearly, an untapped mine that’s yet to make it’s way into unaccompanied social singing. Watch this space.
With a strong ATB presence in the building, here’s Howard’s view from the other side of the hall:
To me, a Young’uns concert is not like any other folk group gig. It’s a warm welcome into the musically harmonious and amusingly whacky world of Michael, David and Sean. It is also a gentle reminder of their wonderful annual singing weekends and a pleasant reunion with other fond followers of the Young Uns.
During the two-set concert sandwiched between the familiar favourites Jack Ironside to open and John Bull to close were visits to the world of Johnny Longstaff and a whole handful of new songs to enthrall Young Un’s fans who are anticipating a long-awaited new recording, which will be their first since the award-winning Strangers.
Many of these new songs, like those on Strangers, focus on people whose lives have inspired others. Some of these sensitively tell the story of people who may have passed far too early but whose spirit strongly lives on. Like the song Jack Merrit’s Boots, about a victim of a London terrorist attack, the tale of a love story cut short by the Lockerbie tragedy and the story of journalist Lera Mckee. Each story is given anecdotal introductions from Sean, which along with compelling lyrics and music, have their own warm charm.
The evening also had a healthy helping of sea shanties, Go Down You Blood Red Roses, Shallow Ground, the riverboat shanty Shawny town amongst them.
Some of their new songs are establishing themselves as firm favourites as from their pre-Christmas concert we heard again Tiny Notes, the amusing but still holding a subtle message Day We Drank The Nazi’s Out Of Town and the evocative Roseberry Moon, which must have reminded at least a dozen in the audience of a choral performance on the banks of Derwentwater.
During the interval, we heard a recording of traditional English and Irish folk songs given a Ukrainian touch from the band The Jolly’s . Anyone interested in making donations to support their plight can link to them via YouTube streaming of their songs. They did very passable versions of Whisky In The Jar and Dirty Old Town amongst therein repertoire.
The Young’uns also pay respect to the North Eastern songwriting heroes Graham Moore, Graham Miles and also to Ron Angel with a roistering version of Chemical Workers’ Song, a protest about unhealthy working conditions in the 70’s.
Young Un’s concerts would not be the same without the witty off-the-cuff wit of David Eagles. Michael’s broad shoulders strongly bear these gentle attacks as he is often the brunt of David’s jibes. Tonight these had a ‘dog’ theme. Nobody knows where they came from but they develop through the gig getting ever more zany. Nevertheless he gets as much as he is given and Sean quietly request him to take a long drink to politely shut him up.
The encore like the end of the evening came all too swiftly with Maggie Holland’s Place Called England, as we are all encouraged to think of what England really represents when we are living through times when the powers that be seem hell-bent on breaking our resolve. But they won’t.
Just one quick plug for the boys. There are still places on the December Derwentwater singing Weekends, which if you like to sing and want folky camaraderie I can thoroughly recommend.
So hopefully the recordings made tonight will soon be released following the ending of the tour to remind us of another memorable evening with The Young Uns . Can’t wait.
Footnote – The evening began for me and ended with the mention of a delicious-looking cake. As I arrived at the RNCM I spotted Sean carrying this tasty cake provided by a fan, sadly too small to share with the 300-strong audience. Apparently, it was still in one piece at the end of the evening possibly to be shared amongst themselves and their crew. Hopefully not whilst they had their after-show curry on the nearby ‘Curry Mile’ !