The Young’uns are an award winning folk trio hailing from Stockton Folk Club in Teeside. They have been together for ten years and it is just three years since they became full-time musicians. They won the “Best Group” award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk awards in 2015 and again in 2016. Last year they toured Canada, America and Australia. Their live act is reputed to be excellent, with strong songs, spellbinding harmonies and rapid fire humour leaving the audience with tears of laughter and sadness in equal measure. Their music cuts to the heart of some of society’s most difficult issues.
Strangers is the The Young’uns fourth studio album, recorded in Castleford and Newcastle, it is firmly and gloriously rooted in the North. I can only describe it as a veritable box of delights. There are so many layers to the different tracks; the beauty of the harmonies, haunting accompaniment by guest musicians, stories told with humour and stories of courage and pain. It is a true showcase for the talents of Sean Cooney, Michael Hughes and David Eagle who have between them variously written, arranged and curated a commentary on the early part of the 21st Century.
The opening track is a cover of Maggie Holland’s “A Place Called England”, which sets an upbeat and sometimes cutting commentary on the state of post-truth country of today. It acts as an excellent backdrop for the tapestry that is the rest of the album. The harmonies are spectacular, they draw the listener into the Album with the hope of more treats for the ears.
There are several biographical tracks; "Carriage 12" recounts the story of the Thalys terrorist Attack in France. "Ghafoor’s Bus" celebrates the conversion of a bus into a mobile kitchen by Ghafoor Hussain who then took it it to deliver warm meals to Syrian refugees in Serbia and Macedonia in December 2015. The lilting syncopation is compelling and the chorus is delicious leaving the listener looking forward to its next arrival and the opportunity to join with the delightful shout:
“beans and rice and rice beans, and hand when you fall, for there’s a friendly face and better place and future for us all”
This upbeat commentary upon the wonders of man’s humanity is followed by the gut wrenching tale of Matthew Ogston and his Fiance, Nazim Mahmood, who tragically killed himself when his family felt unable to accept his sexuality. "Be The Man" is such a terrible paradox to "Ghafoor’s Bus". Musically it is haunting and beautiful, featuring cello and fiddle by Rachel McShane of Bellowhead and melancholic flugelhorn by Chumbawamba’s Jude Abbott.
"These Hands" records the experiences of early immigrants to the UK with the Rivers of Blood speech by Enoch Powell and the racial tensions of the 1981 New Cross fire disaster woven through it. "Cable Street" captures the story of those who stood against Oswald Mosley at an ill-tempered rally in Olympia in 1934. Lapwings was inspired by the diary entry of a soldier in the First World War, and has been featured on BBC’s Springwatch. "The Hartlepool Pedlar" documents the antisemitism at the end of the 19th century, as experienced by the founders of Marks & Spencers in North of England. "Dark Water" starts hopefully and becomes a haunting song of refugees attempting to swim across a sea to safety. "Bob Cooney’s Miracle" is a short telling of the tale of a prominent anti-fascist and communist from Aberdeen who joined the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War and helped feed the fighters on the banks of the River Ebro.
Strangers isn’t just an Album, it is an education and a challenge to learn from the past and to do things differently in the future.
Review by Pete Yeomans