Bold, profound and resonant, Strangers showcases the growing talents of Sean Cooney, fast becoming one of folk’s finest songwriters.
Together with Michael Hughes and David Eagle, Cooney has come up with a collection of folk songs for our time, all sensitively arranged by the 30-something trio – looking back at wartime heroes here, offering a news report for the 21st century there, turning the spotlight on injustice and ultimately celebrating the indomitable human spirit.
Setting the scene with a cover of Maggie Holland’s A Place Called England (Best Song at 2000 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards), the remaining songs on the 10-track album all come from the prolific pen of Cooney who manages to combine unflinching, sharply observed but compassionate, heartfelt lyrics.
With its ocean blue cover, Strangers looks at the stories of those that have crossed the seas to British shores and soldiers that have voyaged from here to the warfields of Europe. Paeans for the underdog have been inspired by the courage of Syrian refugees, have-a-go heroes and Gay Rights campaigners which sit seamlessly alongside narrative songs of First World War soldiers, Caribbean and Jewish immigrants, including the founder of one of our best known British High Street stores.
Not forgetting their native North East heroes, The Young’uns inspiration also comes from further afield – the banks of Spain’s River Ebro (Bob Cooney’s Miracle) and the Thalys train terrorist attack in France. (Carriage 12). There are constant changes of tempo and mood, from the jaunty sing-a-long Ghafoor’s Bus, celebrating their fellow Teessider who reached out to refugees across Europe to the slow, soaring beauty of Lapwings (as performed on BBC-tv’s Springwatch), inspired by a First World War diary entry from a soldier homesick for English fields and skies and the sublime, poetic Dark Water where they are backed by Aldeburgh Young Musicians and Radio 3’s Mary Ann Kennedy on harp.
Stand-out song Be The Man was inspired by the incredibly moving story of Matthew Ogston and his fiancé Nazim Mahmood – its poignancy elevated by ex Bellowhead musician Rachael McShane on cello and fiddle and Chumbawamba’s Jude Abbott on melancholic flugelhorn. Matthew reacted to Sean’s lyrics saying: “I do not have the right words to even begin to explain how your words have touched my soul and heart”.