‘We were all out busk­ing and this by­stander said: Shut up singing or I’m go­ing to glass you’

Teesside trio the Young’uns are set­ting the folk scene on fire. The band talk to Dave Simp­son about drunken har­monies, up­set­ting Scot­land – and belt­ing out songs about ev­ery­thing from the founder of Marks & Spencer to the fish­er­men they meet in pubs

The Guardian - G2 - - Arts -

In 2003, three teenagers started fre­quent­ing the Sun Inn in Stock­ton-on-tees, County Durham. In the back room, they found the Stock­ton Folk Club in full voice. “We didn’t even know there was a folk club,” says David Ea­gle, the trio’s bari­tone, sit­ting in the self-same room to­day. “When some­one started singing, I thought, ‘What the heck?’ But we stayed to lis­ten.”

To their amaze­ment, they found that tra­di­tional songs about work­ing peo­ple’s lives – sung by much older peo­ple – spoke to them more than pop. “We’d stum­bled across this rich tra­di­tion that we’d no idea ex­isted,” says Ea­gle’s band­mate Michael Hughes. “Un­ac­com­pa­nied songs about or­di­nary peo­ple be­ing belted out in Teesside ac­cents.”

The trio re­turned so of­ten that “peo­ple started ask­ing, ‘When are the young ’uns gonna give us a song?’ So even­tu­ally we did.” They liked the name and, 14 years on, those un­likely lads have twice been voted best group at the Ra­dio 2 Folk awards, hav­ing gath­ered fans around the world for their rous­ing mix of youth­ful vim, (mostly) un­ac­com­pa­nied singing, rapid­fire ban­ter and songs that tackle con­tem­po­rary pol­i­tics.

“When we won the first award, we ex­pected a massed, ‘Who?’” Ea­gle says. “But there was this huge round of ap­plause. We were like, ‘My God. They know who we are. We weren’t just nom­i­nated as a drunken bet.”

As teen folk new­bies, Ea­gle, Hughes and Sean Cooney had stag­gered from that pub re­al­is­ing that singing un­ac­com­pa­nied meant they could start a band with­out need­ing any in­stru­ments. Back then, their ex­pe­ri­ence of singing had been lim­ited to the ter­races of Mid­dles­brough FC. “Same tra­di­tion though,” says Ea­gle. “Some­one starts singing and oth­ers take it up – and if they don’t, you look a right nit.”

He laughs. “We were crap for years. If Youtube had been preva­lent back

‘We were crap for years. If Youtube had been preva­lent back then, we wouldn’t be sit­ting here now’

then, and peo­ple had got to hear us, we wouldn’t be sit­ting here now. Or rather, we would be sit­ting here, but not be­ing in­ter­viewed by the Guardian. We’d be cry­ing into our beer.”

“We’ve got record­ings of us ba­si­cally scream­ing,” Hughes grins, shak­ing his head. “And be­cause we were drunk…”

“We’d do har­monies,” in­ter­rupts Ea­gle, “and we’d all go for the same note. Then it would be, ‘I’m hav­ing that one, you bastard.’ Once, dur­ing an at­tempt at busk­ing, one by­stander said, ‘Shut up singing or I’m go­ing to glass you.’”

But their de­vo­tion paid off and the gigs started pil­ing up. Ban­ter be­came a part of the act after they saw lo­cal folk group the Wil­son Fam­ily, whom Ea­gle de­scribes as “five big, beer-swill­ing broth­ers from Teesside. We thought, ‘We’ll ban­ter as much as them.’”

At a Lon­don gig a cou­ple of years back, Ea­gle, who is blind, walked on stage, col­lided with the mi­cro­phone

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