Thursday, 29 October 2009

768 THE MEN THEY COULDN'T HANG, Swindon 12 Bar, Friday 18 September 2009

After the last couple of gigs, in which I discovered a couple of 80's icons were wearing badly in the 2000s, we had a chance to see how another 80's fave was faring. This time The Men They Couldn't Hang, last seen by myself at 2001's Fleadh and seemingly in rude health then, were, amazingly, booked to play at the 12 Bar, 20 minutes walk from my house! So far that place hasn't yet stepped up for me as I'd hoped, but this was a definite bullseye, so I wandered down, hitting the venue at 8.15 and running into various friends who'd accompanied me on those drunken jaunts to see The Men at Bristol Bierkeller back in the 80s, particularly Phil, who was like a kid in a sweet shop at the prospect of this gig. Obviously he gets out less right now than I do!

Hung out and chatted in the bar while the support (unimpressive, Rich said, after a cursory glance) were on, and ran into Men co-vocalist Stefan Cush. I'd brought along gigbook No. 1 and showed him a couple of those 80's Bierkeller setlists, to his surprise! "Well done, that's what you should do with them," was his response to my having hung on to them for 20 years!
Took a wander in for the entrance of The Men at 9.30. By no means a sellout, this was however a well-attended and enthusiastic crowd to welcome a well-worn but energetic band. As befitting their veteran status, they were totally at ease onstage, joking and anecdoting for all they were worth in between numbers. But this was all about the music - tunes as old as time and as familiar as old bedsocks, songs I've not played for years but still remember all the words to. The Men They Couldn't Hang ploughed a unique furrow in the 80's with a blend of London punk attitude, Irish folk music roots and supreme songcraft, depicting class struggles through the ages, from 1930's fascist uprisings (the brilliant early singalong of "Ghosts Of Cable Street"), through the days of the British Empire ruling the Seven Seas ("Smugglers" and "Colours") via the inevitable 80's Miner's Strike, lived-through and still raw in the memory (a spooky "Shirt Of Blue"). Although my tastes had evolved and I'd lost touch with their more recent recorded output, I still cherished their early material, and it was wonderful to see it done full justice tonight. New material rubbed shoulders easily with the oldies as co-vocalists Cush and Phil "Swill" Odgers, amazed by the crowd reaction ("Swindon! Where have you been all our lives?") exchanged both banter and acoustic interludes (Swill's a capella "Barratt's Privateer" particularly haunting and memorable) and the 4-guitar plus banjo attack evoked the atmosphere of those storied songs.

A marvellous 1 3/4 hours was climaxed by a manic, breathless "Ironmasters" before "Going Back To Coventry" and the Clash's sinewy, reggae number "Bankrobber" closed the night out perfectly. I'll go to better gigs this year, but none more fun, a point I made to appreciative songwriter Paul Simmonds, after I'd shown him and an incredulous Swill ("fuckin' hell!" being his response) those 80's setlists. Restoring my faith in live music after a couple of bad 'uns - God bless The Men They Couldn't Hang!

No comments:

Post a Comment