Any thoughts that the award-winning Strangers album would be difficult to surpass prove false as The Young ‘uns have done so with Tiny Notes.
Release date: 7th April 2023
Label: Hudson Records
Format: CD / vinyl / streaming
Tiny Notes – a title inspired by the sight of the collection of messages tied to the railings of a bridge in Sunderland. Like the symbolism of the Paris love lock bridge, a ritual copied elsewhere, the image provides a powerful inspiration. Enough to inspire a series of songs (we had a preview of some of the new material being developed at the RNCM in Manchester back in the Spring of 2022) on an album that “find hope and humanity in grief and despair.“
At a time when the powers that be are determined to encourage division nationally and worldwide, this album will restore your faith in the humanity of people around the world with true tales of ordinary people’s endeavours to support, rescue, overcome tragedy and forgive their fellow man, particularly with the Good Samaritan-themed song Surgeon, where race and religion is ignored in preference to saving a life.
Each song is skilfully crafted from stories of low-profile heroes who have had a huge impact and resulted in inspiring others. It’s become a “personal passion” for Sean Cooney these days to write songs about real, ordinary heroes. A key factor in his selection to participate as one of five selected songwriters (including the wonderful Martyn Joseph) on the BBC 21st Century Folk project.
The connection between songwriter and story character displays a clear emotional bond. I’ve seen at first hand the effect that the power of these songs can have and also experienced how these songs can resonate with the listener too. I can guarantee that listening to these songs will have a similar effect.
Whether the Cooney/Hughes/Eagle trio sing in their signature unaccompanied style, with gusto or with tenderness, or with the string arrangements (great work from Jon Boden on these) and piano from Davis Eagle, the message from each song comes through clearly.
The meticulous research into each person and the events give the listener a full appreciation of the stories being told whether it is a personal tragedy like Richard Moore and Three Dads Walking or a compassionate tale of caring, Tiny Notes or daring rescue, Hand Over Hand. The songs of drama, of loss and grief also leave room for a love song too – Roseberry Moon will have you singing along to the harmonious refrain. Just pick a key you can cope with and join in!! Additional ‘tiny notes’ in the form of cameos are provided at various points by Lucy Farrell, Anne Lamb and Karine Polwart that bring a connecting narrative to the theme.
Camerderie is strong between The Young Uns and their devoted followers and the power of unity is felt robustly in Trespassers when claiming access rights to wandering our beautiful countryside. Another acapella number with a bouncy tone, it provides a link between their Ballad Of Jonny Longstaff ‘ folk opera’; Johnny himself a participant in the 1932 Right To Roam act of civil disobedience on Kinder Scout.
If you have time to search through BBC archive radio programmes in which some of the characters from the songs have been interviewed, the background detail is fascinating. Excerpts from 21st Century Folk and the programme Life In A Song Radio4 will enhance your enjoyment of these songs.
Each song on the album is indeed a tiny note which is touching, delicate and polished but with a forceful message which cuts to the bone. Sean, Michael and David may no longer be Young’uns in the strictest sense, but their passion for singing and storytelling has helped them become creators of what Frank Turner (I Still Believe) calls folk songs for the modern age.
Here’s the title track: