Tuesday, 31 May 2011

817 THE MEN THEY COULDN’T HANG, Billy In The Lowground, The Shudders, Swindon 12 Bar, Friday 27 May 2011

So, politically-motivated yet supremely entertaining folk punk pioneers The Men They Couldn’t Hang, one of my 80’s “live” favourites, return for a 3rd time at the 12 Bar in as many years. This is getting as regular as Stiff Little Fingers at Bristol Academy in March – and as welcome! This one was also due to kick off a run of 5 hugely anticipated retro gigs in 4 weeks; this lot, then Adam Ant (!), The Wild Swans (!!), Cheap Trick and finally Simple Minds (!!!). I’m truly partying like it’s the 80’s all over again…

So I hit the deserted 12 Bar at 8ish to hang out with Tim, Liam, Danny and Ellen, and meet Tim’s new girlfriend Tracey! After hearing Tim’s broken hand sob story (Tim being reduced to tambourine duties tonight!), the Shudders trio then went off to soundcheck, leaving me in charge of the girls (hah!), before we joined them in the still-deserted back room for their anticipated 8.30 start. However, a delayed and problematic soundcheck, caused by a late soundman replacement, bumped the set start to 8.45, and the sound problems persisted into their set, with appalling feedback initially through Danny’s mic, and then constantly through The Men’s bass drum set-up, plaguing them throughout. A shame, as this was another nice little stripped-back acoustic set, an approach which, for me, increasingly suits their odd little folky whimsy and hushed, understated harmonies. A couple of duskier, countrified slow burners also continue to hint at a new facet to a band I took time to warm to, but am increasingly enjoying seeing “live”. This of course despite having to kiss Liam before he went onstage so he didn’t feel left out!

The boys showed up at the end of the Shudders set, so we hung out in the back bar in favour of the main support Billy In The Lowground, a gathering of hoary old pub rock choresmen playing nondescript and meandering fiddly diddly stuff, with their mum seemingly on fiddle duties. Chilled and reminisced about the TTP days while BITL played on… and on! Eventually they cleared off so we headed back into the by-now amply attended venue for the Men’s entrance, late on at 10.15. The poor sound was still in evidence, with the Men’s opening few numbers beset with shimmering drum feedback, although the band did their best to plough through and ignite an initially reticent crowd. “Cable Street” got myself and Phil singing along and jigging down the front, although the first half overall seemed somewhat flat in comparison to their recent sets (the usual chilling “Shirt of Blue”, accompanied by some welcome anti-Cameron ranting from Cush, notwithstanding), and it wasn’t until Swill’s rousing acapella sea shanty “Barrett’s Privateer” (which followed a lovely solo “Parted From You”, introduced by Swill as, “one we’ve never played in Swindon before”) that the crowd really joined in the singalongs. Thereafter, it was much more like it, as The Men, feeding off the renewed enthusiasm, cranked up the commitment levels with a swaggering “Smugglers” and an inclusive, sway-along “Bells”. They ran over time again (damn BITL!), but this time got a wonderfully raucous “Ironmasters” in, before totally ignoring the curfew and playing on until 11.45! A final “Night To Remember” rounded off another ultimately worthwhile – if late - TMTCH set. I hope they don’t fall victim to the law of diminishing returns, as, so far as I’m concerned, they’re welcome to come back to Swindon as often as they like!

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