The Young’uns’ Johnny Longstaff musical recorded by BBC

Post date: 14/04/2022

Award-winning folk band The Young’uns had their musical show, The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff, recorded by BBC Radio 3 in a live performance in their hometown of Stockton-on-Tees.

Duncan Longstaff, IBMT member and son of the eponymous Teesside Brigader, reports on the show and the original inspiration behind the production. The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff by The Young'uns will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 1 May at 7.30pm.

It was back in 2015, after a performance by The Young’uns in Clevedon, that I was introduced to the folk trio through a mutual friend. I had the chance to speak to the lads about my father John, and the extraordinary life he had led during the thirties and forties – from the Hunger Marches, through the Spanish Civil War to the Second World War.

I gave them several photographs of my father, a chronological list of things that he had done during that turbulent era and, perhaps most importantly, the links to the Imperial War Museum oral history archive of my father recalling his many adventures. Several months later Sean Cooney from the Young’uns called me saying that they were interested in producing a show about Johnny.

The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff opened on 7 April 2018 at the ARC theatre in Stockton-on-Tees – the hometown of both my father and the Young’uns. The theatre was packed mostly by local fans. What followed was an impressive tour de force of my father’s story, mixed with both sadness and hilarity. I even heard my father’s voice during the performance: a skilful sound edit of the Imperial War Museum tapes. Since that date the show has grown from strength to strength, with performances in over 50 venues in the UK and Ireland.

BBC Radio 3 recently chose to record the show at the ARC theatre in Stockton, in front of a live audience, for later broadcast. I was contacted by Sean a couple of weeks before the 17 March recording with advance notice to book a free ticket. 

I managed to get a seat in the front row and the venue gradually filled up to a full house. This was very satisfying as it was being performed during normal working hours. The Young’uns received their usual warm welcome from their hometown audience. The show then began without the normal background set designs, just a straightforward musical performance from Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Jack Rutter (standing in for Michael Hughes).

It was interesting to concentrate on the musical craftsmanship without the usual accompanying scenery projections and graphics. It was clear they had improved the act over the years and it was good to listen to it in its raw state. 

At the end I turned around to witness the usual standing ovation from the Teesside audience.


Posted on 13 April 2022.

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