Looking at The Unthanks, The Pitmen Poets, The Young’uns and Megson
BLOG NO.43 – IF YOU’D LIKE TO READ BLOG NO.42/VLOG NO.3 FIRST, CLICK HERE. If you’d like to read first why I wrote my 65 folk tracks and how all this began, then click HERE. (Blue text are external links, which will open in a new browser window.)
(Those getting this via email won’t be able to see the videos. Clicking on the title of the blog in the email will open it in a tab of your web browser. Apologies but out of my control. If you see any typos, pease let me know. Thanks.)
Now that I’ve covered the 65 tracks of my excuses for folk music, I thought it time to take a look at some real folk artists. The second lot I’m looking at are all from the same part of the world as me: Northeast England; that is the counties of Northumberland, Tyne & Wear and County Durham.
THE UNTHANKS (top of the featured image)
I’ve known of The Unthanks (who were, Rachel Unthank and the Winterset until 2009) for quite some time. Sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank (yes, that’s their real surname), the daughters of a folk singer/songwriter father, are from Ruyton, Tyne & Wear and have made quite a name for themselves in the folk world, and won some coveted awards in the process. Like many folk artists and bands these days, they’re not what you might expect from folk. The style of their music and the instruments used can seem very ‘un-folkie’, but they continue to push the boundaries.
They do a mix of traditional and contemporary folk, into which the sisters might add a bit of Northeastern clog dancing for good measure; very often as a drum-like accompaniment. They will also sing in regional Northumberland, Geordie or Pitmatic dialects, making some of their work inaccessible to ‘outsiders’, at least language-wise.
Since I’m going to keep a theme of coal mining, I’ve chosen the lasses singing The Testimony of Patience Kershaw by Frank Higgins, although, I have to say, I prefer the Unthanks’ version. This is one of a number of sessions they did for The Guardian newspaper in 2009.
THE PITMEN POETS (second from top of the featured image)
The Pitmen Poets are named after the famous 19th century pitman poet, Tommy Armstrong, from my original home town of Stanley, County Durham. All four members of this band – Billy Mitchell, Bob Fox, Benny Graham and Jez Lowe – are also either solo folk artists, or part of another band or duo, all very successful in their own right. They come together now and again to be The Pitmen Poets, and sing some traditional folk songs as well as those written by the various members; some of which you’ll hear in the promo video I’ve chosen, below. Billy and Bob also work together and have recorded as a duo at times, with Billy also being part of The Lindisfarne Story duo. (Billy joined the band, Jack the Lad with members of the then recently split Northeast super-folk group of the 1970s, Lindisfarne.)
You will see Benny Graham all over the Northeast folk scene, joining others for one-off gigs or playing and singing at a song and dance Cèilidh. Jez Lowe is a very successful solo artist, and has written many a song for The Pitmen Poets. One of his numbers, about the 1984/85 miners’ strike, is extremely powerful.
All of these Northeast ‘lads’, like me, are the sons’ of coal miners and, like me, none of them went down the pits themselves. Like me, they tell stories about the ex-mining communities of the Northeast of England so their legacies and sacrifices are not forgotten. Of course, these guys have been doing it professionally for an awful long time, and are far more talented than I. Enjoy….
THE YOUNG’UNS (bottom right of the featured image)
The Young’uns – Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Michael Hughes – are from Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham. They too have won a number of awards, including the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for “Best Group” in 2015 and 2016. They’re a band I only came to know at the end of last year, just as they were getting even more critical acclaim. Having watched their set from what is my local Shrewsbury Folk Festival of 2017 here on YouTube, I was hooked. I love their music, and most of all, their humour.
You may notice (you may not) their soft Teesside accents. This is somewhat different to Geordie and Pitmatic with more of an influence from Yorkshire. Any UK readers will probably know of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, who a similar brogue.
They are master at sining accapella, performing both traditional and contemporary songs, some written by themselves; songs specifically about their native Stockton, such as You Won’t Find Me on Benefits Street (about the town’s reaction to Channel 4’s Benefits Street tv crew. Love this song!) More recently they even tackled (no pun intended) the attack on the Amsterdam to Paris train in 2017 by an Islamic extremist, in Carriage 12.
The lads met when they were teenagers, coming across folk as underage drinkers in folkie bars! They took up the music and joined the Stockton Folk Club. To quote the lads: “One day someone said ‘let’s hear a song from the young’uns’ and we sang this one verse we knew from a sea shanty”, and so The Young’uns is who they became.
The song I’ve chosen is one written by the legendary protest/political folk artist, Bill Bragg, called Between The Wars. This, like many (but not all) of their songs is sung accapella.
MEGSON (bottom left of the featured image)
Megson are another Teesside folk team, composed of husband and wife, Stu and Debbie Hanna. They’re another I only came across last year, and purely by chance as I was looking at different versions of the 1960s’ song, The Old Miner on YouTube and came across theirs. (Click HERE to see it. They also just happen to video this song at The Stables, which is where all my sons went to the Nation Youth Music Camp every summer.)
They’re another folk duo who produce their own music, Stu being the arranger and producer; with Debbie having a lot of say, of course! The duo used to mainly do traditional folk songs, some to their own tunes, but more recently they have started to write their own contemporary folk pieces. One of my favourite of these is Generation Rent from their last album, In A Box.
The song I’ve chosen from them isn’t a coal ming one – although, as I mentioned above, they have done a great version of The Old Miner – but a one about the town I grew up in: Stanley, County. Durham. The lyrics are by the great Pitman Poet also mentioned earlier, Tommy Armstrong. The music is by Stu. It’s called The Old Folk’s Tea (In West Stanley Store). Tommy Armstrong also wrote another called Stanla Markit (Stanley Market). I hope to do a blog on Tommy sometime in the near future.
There are, of course, many other wonderful Northeastern folk artists out there, but these are the four I happen to be listening to the most at the moment.
Next will BLOG NO.44/VLOG NO.4, which will be a version of My Close Encounters Of The Music Legend Kind, but this time It will be called Encounters & Connection of the SciFi & Sci-Fantasy Kind: A Vulcan, a Dragon, a Doctor and a Vogon. There is a loose music legend connection, and that is to the theme tunes to each of these classics; each now a legend in their own right.
Thanks as always for reading and watching, and please, please, please rate the blog (star rating at the top) or leave a Comment below so I know how I’m doing.
IF YOU’D LIKE TO HAVE A SKIM THROUGH ALL 65 OF MY FOLK TRACKS, PLEASE CLICK HERE.