The Men They Couldn't Hang Biography

The Men They Couldn’t Hang combine folk, punk and roots music to create an essential live act alongside a wealth of recorded talent. The band emerged as the Pogues’ sparring partners but, despite a blaze of early publicity and praise, they failed to follow them upwards, dogged as they were by numerous label changes. Busking in Shepherds Bush, Welsh singer Stefan Cush met up with bass player Shanne Bradley (who had been in the Nips with the Pogues’ Shane MacGowan), songwriter and guitarist Paul Simmonds, Scottish guitarist and singer Phil (‘Swill’) Odgers and his brother Jon on drums, in time for a ramshackle folk performance at London’s alternative country music festival in Easter 1984. Labelled as part of some ‘cowpunk’ scene, the band was quickly signed by Elvis Costello to his Demon Records label, Imp. A cover version of Eric Bogle’s ‘The Green Fields Of France’ in October 1984 became a runaway indie success, and a favourite on BBC disc jockey John Peel’s show.

While playing live, the band matched their own incisive compositions with entertaining cover versions. June 1985’s ‘Iron Masters’ was just as strong, if more manic, and was accompanied by an impressive and assured debut, Night Of A Thousand Candles. Produced by Nick Lowe, ‘Greenback’ was less immediate, but its success swayed MCA to sign the band, resulting in ‘Gold Rush’ in June 1986. The band’s second album, How Green Is The Valley, continued their marriage of musical styles and a political sensibility drawn from an historical perspective. ‘The Ghosts Of Cable Street’ exemplified these ingredients. A move to Magnet Records catalyzed perhaps their finest work, with the commercial ‘Island In The Rain’ and Waiting For Bonaparte, which featured new bass player Ricky Maguire. ‘The Colours’ received airplay, but only skirted the charts.

Fledgling label Silvertone’s Andrew Lauder (who had worked with the band at Demon) signed the Men They Couldn’t Hang in time for ‘Rain, Steam And Speed’ in February 1989. Hot on its heels came Silvertown. Two further singles followed: ‘A Place In The Sun’ and ‘A Map Of Morocco’. In 1990 the band recorded the final studio album of their initial phase, for which the personnel was increased to six, with the addition of Nick Muir. On the strength of this album they gained a support slot to David Bowie at Milton Keynes. Shortly afterwards they disbanded, following a long farewell tour, and a live album, Alive, Alive - O.

Phil Odgers recorded an album with his new band Liberty Cage before reuniting with his former colleagues, minus his brother Jon who had been replaced by former Screaming Blue Messiahs drummer Kenny Harris. The celebratory return to Demon Records for Never Born To Follow showed a band that was no longer striving to prove anything, but unconsciously sounded more proficient and confident. The mini-album Six Pack and two compilations heralded in another long hiatus, although Odgers and Simmonds continued to work together as a duo, releasing the albums Baby Fishlips (1999) and Folk At The Fortress (2002). They revived the Men They Couldn’t Hang in 2003 for a new studio album, The Cherry Red Jukebox. The band has continued to play live on an occasional basis, although Odgers now devotes more time to his other project, Swill & The Swaggerband.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.