One third of The Young’uns – alongside Sean Cooney and Michael Hughes – David Eagle last spoke to us in 2012. He shed light on the trio’s album, When Our Grandfathers Said No, as well as telling us about Hartlepool, Stu Hanna, why we shouldn’t allow him to look after whales, and – crucially – the group’s favourite sandwiches.
So when we heard about the new Young’uns album, Never Forget, we were keen to speak to him again. The record revisits some of the previous album’s themes – anti-fascism, war, rollicking sea shanties, love songs and stories inspired by local history among them.
The Young’uns are in as fine a voice as before. But the new album also features more complex instrumentation (a hearty dose of brass and a children’s choir both pop up); songs by Sydney Carter, Graeme Miles and Jez Lowe; more stunning Cooney compositions – Altar rivals Jenny Waits For Me in terms of sheer weight of emotion; and, in its final track, an audacious, Noël Coward-esque take on how five members of the English Defence League were positively engaged with over A Lovely Cup of Tea.
In the year we mark a century since the beginning of World War I, Never Forget feels as timely as it does accomplished, and as sincere as it is entertaining. Thankfully, David was willing to talk to us once again – about untold stories, dodgy reviews and biscuits…
Folk Witness: Journalists often ask you about being called The Young’uns. Did you call this album Never Forget in order to get them to ask questions about whether or not you were inspired by Take That? And, um… were you inspired by Take That?
David Eagle: I hope you won’t be too disappointed when I say that the answer to that question is no. Sorry if you were hoping for it to be otherwise and were holding out for other Take That-inspired Young’uns projects to follow, such as teaming up with Lulu (although, actually, I wouldn’t necessarily rule that idea out completely).
The Take That song Never Forget (which ironically we actually did forget about when we chose to give our album that name, otherwise we may have picked something else) has the chorus, “never forget where you’re coming from”, which is very relevant to folk music as that is one of its defining purposes. But no, the album is not Take That-inspired.
The album is called Never Forget because that is its core theme. This year is the centenary of the beginning of World War I, and there are many projects taking place which seek to unearth and maintain stories relating to that time. What interests us are the largely untold, more localised and personal stories. For instance, Sean’s research into his family tree has revealed that his great grandmother had been married before his granddad to a soldier who died in action in 1914. This startling revelation and its obvious consequences led Sean to write the song John Hill (the name of the soldier), which sees Sean philosophising about how his own life was only brought into being because of the death of John Hill.
FW: The Biscuits of Bull Lane addresses the anti-fascist battle of Cable Street – a similar tale to the Battle of Stockton, which you addressed on your last album. Why did you feel the need to chronicle this story too?
David: The song is about anti-fascism on a more general scale and is inspired by an event that happened in York. In May last year, members of the English Defence League planned a protest outside Bull Lane Mosque. Only five EDL members actually turned up and they were surprised to find themselves met not by anger, fear or hostility, but with a tray of biscuits and cups of tea. News reports claim that some of the protesters engaged in conversation with Muslims outside the mosque and went away with altered views. Our song The Biscuits of Bull Lane juxtaposes this story with other anti-fascist acts, and while we are not denouncing or belittling the events of Cable Street, and the Battle of Stockton, we are showing the contrast between those kinds of well-documented and violent events and this small-scale yet pertinent, peaceful and compassionate incident.
This is another example of a story we seek to preserve and remember. We sing about these things because they inspire us and we feel that they will inspire others.
FW: The sleeve notes are very enigmatic on the subject of Long Way Home (“a northern love story that began with a blue scarf in Newcastle train station”). Is it important for you to balance the ‘political’ songs with more tender, ‘personal’ ones like this?
David: If you’ve not heard the song before then rest assured that the object of love is not the scarf but the person wearing it. We are not going down the route of singing about lusting after inanimate objects. I think Madness covered that perfectly adequately with their song about an infatuation with a lamppost. I think Sean feared that it might seem a bit twee to state that this is a song about his girlfriend and so went for the more enigmatic description.
I think it’s nice to have contrast. If the album was a constant barrage of political or overtly serious songs then perhaps people may become exhausted after the first few tracks. Plus we are not a political or overtly serious band. If you see us live we sing about war, social injustice, inspirational events and stories, our local history, and we also sing sea shanties and traditional songs with big choruses. We are inspired by many things. A big part about what we do is also about the banter and anecdotes we share on stage. Therefore the album simply tries to reflect the range of things we do and who we are. I know that a few reviewers have stated in the past that our albums lack cohesion, because we mix self-written “political” songs with shanties, but personally I think it works and it is cohesive in terms of who The Young’uns are.
FW: Where did you get the idea to merge Blood Red Roses and Shallow Brown? It really melds the tough and tender aspects of seafaring songs.
David: I’m glad you think so, because we came across someone’s blog recently that featured a terribly constructed review of our album, and they thought very differently about this. They wrote: “Like all folky albums, it features a version of Blood Red Roses … it is also bundled together with Shallow Brown as one track for no obvious reason.”
Firstly, I think it’s more than a bit of a wild exaggeration to claim that all folk albums have a version of Blood Red Roses. The reason we “bundled” these two songs together is because when we sing shanties live, we often go down the line and sing three shanties back-to-back. We decided one time to put together an arrangement of three shanties that could flow into one another without interruption, instead of stopping after each song. So on the album we feature this technique with Shallow Brown and Blood Red Roses. Obviously, one of the songs had to be Blood Red Roses given that (as our blogger friend points out) it is mandatory for all folky albums to feature that song.
Incidentally, if you’d like to read this album review, which has to be the most woefully written review I’ve ever seen, you can find it [by clicking] here.
The Young’uns, from left: David Eagle, Michael Hughes, Sean Cooney
FW: Where did the idea for the brass – on The Biscuits of Bull Lane and John Hill – come from?
David: We thought that given that the Biscuits of Bull Lane is a celebration of a Yorkshire event, a brass band would be very fitting. The trumpet is also an instrument associated with war and remembrance, so it’s an instrument that helps evoke a certain mood. In the Biscuits of Bull Lane, there is a military brass accompaniment to the lines: “we’ve fought their kind many a time and now we fight again, but not with sticks, not with bricks, not with guns or men.” So the idea is that this is kind of like a call to arms to fight fascism, but not to fight with weapons but with love and gestures of peace. The other reason we opted to use brass was simply because we thought it would sound good, which I think it does. I love the end of John Hill when the church organ and the brass come in. I think it evokes strong emotions.
FW: How did the idea of getting kids to record vocal parts on Hands Feet come up? What was it like recording them?
David: This fantastic song from Jez Lowe is a statement about how we should use our resources for good and not ill. The final verse is a cry of hope for our future generations – it therefore seemed appropriate to feature children singing the chorus of the song with us: “we’ve got hands to make folks happy, we’ve got feet so we can be free, and the mouths of the mob can mutter, but they’re not speaking for me.” The children are also clapping and stamping along, using their hands, feet and voices to sing this positive message of peace and freedom. We do a lot of work with children. We’re currently working on a World War I project in primary and secondary schools. You can find out more on the education page of our website.
Primary school children love it whenever we go into schools and do creative projects, and they get especially excited whenever you bring in electronic recording equipment. Plus, we were asking them to clap their hands, stamp their feet and generally make lots of noise, which kids really love. So they had a great time. It’s great to see children being inspired by the music and stories that inspire us.
FW: Congratulations on your finale, Lovely Cup of Tea – particularly on the inspired hatred/caffeinated rhyme. Is this your first composition for The Young’uns? And what inspired you to write it from the perspective of an EDL member?
David: Thank you. Yes, it is my first song for The Young’uns. I don’t have any plans to write any more. I didn’t really plan to write Lovely Cup of Tea. It was just one of those things that seemed to come out of nowhere. When we heard about this story in the news we were all inspired and we said that we must write a song about it. A week later, Sean and I both announced that we had done so. Fortunately, the two songs are very contrasting in terms of tone, and so we started performing both in our gigs, and both went down really well. I’m not really well-suited to writing serious songs, and so it seemed more natural to me to write a comical depiction of the scene from the perspective of an EDL member. I haven’t been attacked yet, and we’ve only had one complaint about it at a gig.
FW: We’ve already asked you about the crucial issue of sandwiches. Seeing as this album refers often to tea and biscuits, it seems germane to ask – what’s your favourite biscuit?
David: Last time when you asked me the sandwich question, I decided to tease your readers by announcing that we would reveal the information on our podcast. This tactic obviously worked because on the day you posted our interview on your site, our website crashed due to the number of people trying to access The Young’uns Podcast in a bid to seek clarity on our sandwich preferences. This time round we have prepared for such an event and so we are ready and waiting for the onslaught of readers to flock to the Young’uns website where we shall release a Young’uns Podcast that uncovers our favourite biscuits.
Last time, however, not only did we provide you with our three favourite sandwiches but also the favourite sandwich of Becky Unthank. I can assure you that listeners to the next Young’uns Podcast will not be disappointed, for we shall not only unearth our own biscuit preferences but also the biscuit preferences of other renowned folk singers. Perhaps Becky Unthank will return. Perhaps we can call the feature Bicky Unthank. James Fagan is due to make an appearance, and so we’ll discover his and Nancy’s favourite biscuit. I have a feeling that Nancy’s will be the Kerrstard Cream. Anyway, before this descends into cringeworthy biscuit-based folk singer pun meltdown. I will bid you adieu.
The Young’uns Podcast can be found here. Never Forget is out now on Hereteu Records