It has been mentioned that The Young’Uns are outgrowing their name. After all, it’s twenty years since they discovered folk music in the back room of a pub in Stockton-on-Tees and, while they are not yet elder statesmen, they have amassed an impressive body of work and gained a certain status within the folk community. Tiny Notes is their eighth album and the first to be released on vinyl, all songs written by Sean Cooney and, likely as not, drawn from the news headlines.
The opener, ‘Jack Merritt’s Boots’ is dedicated to the young victim of the terror attack on the Fishmongers’ Hall. If it shares kinship with Graham Moore’s ‘Tom Paine’s Bones’ that shouldn’t come as surprise. Jack was a passionate advocate for criminal justice and was attending a conference when he was murdered. The album’s title is referenced in one song and three vignettes and is inspired by the notes tied by Paige Hunter to Wearmouth Bridge, a “popular” suicide spot in the area. ‘Tiny Notes’ sees David Eagle on piano and a string quartet arranged by Jon Boden. ‘Three Dads Walking’ picks up the theme of suicide prevention and you can check out the story on their website.
‘Richard Moore’ is a song of … what? Defiance, survival, humanity? Richard was blinded at age ten by a rubber bullet at the height of the Troubles but it’s the story of what he did afterwards that makes the song what it is – harrowing and uplifting in equal measure. Sean’s great strength as a songwriter is in telling the stories of ordinary people who commit acts of extraordinary bravery. ‘Hand Over Hand’ is one such story while ‘Lyra’ takes us back to Belfast and the story of Lyra McKee.
‘Trespassers’ is the final song from the chaps’ theatre show, The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff. An upbeat story, it shares a plot point with Terry Pratchett but I wouldn’t care to speculate who got to it first. In contrast, the gentle, yearning of ‘Tim Burnam’ leads us back to the theme untimely death, in this case, the Lockerbie bombing. Again, the piano and strings add so much to the mood. ‘Roseberry Moon’ is a gentle love song – just the three voices – placed as if to remind us that life isn’t all death and despair. But then, ‘The Surgeon’, another song of unsung heroism, tells us differently.
Finally, ‘Iuventa’ drags us back to today’s headlines. Iuventa is a ship dedicated to rescuing drowning refugees in the Mediterranean. Its crew are now awaiting trial on charges relating to people smuggling. That says everything about what’s wrong with the world.
Tiny Notes is superficially a simple album. There are three main voices: Cooney, Eagle and Michael Hughes; three guests – Annie Lamb, Lucy Farrell and Karine Polwart -singing the ‘Tiny Notes’ vignettes and the strings. The songs matter as does the way they are sequenced so although superficially, the record is downbeat you have to see past that to the positive stories that Sean weaves from the threads of tragedy.
Artists’ website: www.theyounguns.co.uk
Three Dads Walking: www.3dadswalking.uk