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The Men They Couldn’t Hang

+ {Liberty Cage} + {Odgers & Simmonds} + {Swill & The Swaggerband}

From 1984 to 1991, London’s punk-folk elite The MEN THEY COULDN’T HANG were the poor man’s POGUES and, having stepped out of the shadows of busking around the Shepherds Bush area, it was a similarity that didn’t bother Messrs Phil “Swill” Odgers, his brother Jon (both from north of the border), Welshman Stefan Cush, Paul Simmonds and Shanne Hasler/Bradley; the latter coincidentally had plied her musical trade via The NIPPLE ERECTORS/NIPS, alongside a certain SHANE MacGOWAN.
TMTCH initially got together for an impromptu performance at the Alternative Country Festival in London, and though they never intended to become a professional outfit, their performance was so well received that promoters were queueing up to offer them concert dates; ELVIS COSTELLO was so impressed he signed them to his Imp roster. Though they were initially lumped in with the folk-punk scene, the band’s hard-edged thrash-bash appeal was always more politically motivated, tracing the lineage of historical protest and choosing a cover of Scottish folkie ERIC BOGLE’s anti-war anthem, `The Green Fields Of France’, as their debut single. One of their biggest fans was cult Radio One disc-jockey John Peel, whose audience polled the song at No.3 in his end of the year (1984) “Festive 50”.
The self-penned `Ironmasters’ (written by Simmonds) was even more frenetic and just as cutting, while the debut album, NIGHT OF A 1,000 CANDLES (1985) {*8} brought widespread acclaim, featuring as it did some fine reinterpretations of folk ballads as well as their own compositions. A final NICK LOWE-produced single for Imp later that year, `Greenback Dollar’ (a US hit many moons ago for The KINGSTON TRIO) preceded a major label deal with M.C.A.. The resulting album, HOW GREEN IS MY VALLEY (1986) {*6}, was a disappointment in comparison, the band’s material not translating well to big budget production values, although `Ghosts Of Cable Street’ and `Shirts Of Blue’ were of political and historical value. Though it made the Top 75, the album failed to achieve the crossover success that their new label were obviously hoping for and the band duly found themselves dropped.
Picking up where they left off with Magnet Records, the MTCH (Shanne was replaced by ex-U.K. SUBS/The FITS/CHAOTIC YOUTH bassist Ricky McGuire) eventually released the much improved WAITING FOR BONAPARTE (1988) {*8}, a record that just missed the UK Top 40 by a whisker. Featuring songs about the Napoleonic wars (`The Colours’ – which was banned by the BBC) and World War II (`The Crest’), the Men had lost none of their political bite. After being subjected to executive pressure for a name change, the band again parted company with the powers that be.
Subsequently finding a more sympathetic door at Silvertone Records (duly home to The Stone Roses), the MTCH with the addition of Nicky Muir issued SILVERTOWN (1989) {*7}, a record which found Simmonds at his most lyrically scathing and provided them with their only Top 40 entry of their career; three singles fared reasonably well: `Rain, Steam And Speed’, `A Place In The Sun’ and `A Map Of Morocco’.
Shortly after the release of 1990’s THE DOMINO CLUB {*5}, the band called it a day; concert set, ALIVE, ALIVE-O (1991) {*6} was a document of their final night at London’s Town and Country Club and testament to the onstage intensity of these musical vagabonds. The LIBERTY CAGE (aka Simmonds, Phil Odgers, plus Dave Kent and Neil Simmonds) got together in the studio for SLEEP OF THE JUST (1994) {*5}, an album that went unnoticed outside the indie-folk world.
Surprisingly (or not as it turned out), The MEN THEY COULDN’T HANG came back to haunt the scene late in ’96, courtesy of an EP on Demon Records: `The Eye’. This was tracked by a full-length album, NEVER BORN TO FOLLOW (1996) {*6} – featuring the Goffin-King/BYRDS cut – and the SIX PACK mini-set (1997) {*5}, although during this spell their profile remained low. As retirement looked ominous, Phil and Paul tried desperately to recreate something of their past by issuing the BABY FISHLIPS CD (2002) {*5}, fans-only recognising its pseudonymous disguise when originally delivered a few years earlier as Preacher Jethro Brimstone & The Watermelon Kid. A fresh impetus reunited the MEN for comeback set, THE CHERRY RED JUKEBOX (2003) {*6}, although its misleading title just might’ve suggested it was a “greatest hits”, not by themselves, but a certain indie imprint.
Further moonlight shifts with his own act The Swaggerband (which featured Jon and Ricky) and some group demo collections, convinced Simmonds, Odgers and the band to reunite in 2004, a live set SMUGGLERS AND BOUNTY HUNTERS (2005) {*6} convinced them to keep on keeping on.
With the help of folk star and Irregular label boss ROBB JOHNSON, The MEN THEY COULDN’T HANG pitched up again with their umpteenth set, DEVIL ON THE WIND (2009) {*7} – featuring a classic opening track; celebrations were rife at their 25th Anniversary knees up. Shaping up after `The Night Ferry’ EP, the band marched on in 2014 with the well-received THE DEFIANT {*7}. Biting social commentary championing the blue collar worker, tracks like `Scavengers’, `Raising Hell’ and `Turquoise Bracelet Bay’ would have passionate fans aiming fists to the air.
In their time, TMTCH have covered several songs, including `Donald Where’s Your Troosers?’ (a hit for Andy Stewart), `Rawhide’ (LINK WRAY), `Man In The Corner Shop’ (PAUL WELLER), `Gudbuy t’ Jane’ (SLADE) and `Harvest Moon’ (NEIL YOUNG).
© MC Strong 1994-2011/GRD-GFD2 // rev-up MCS Aug2015

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