Given that I was contemplating grabbing a ticket to The Men They Couldn’t Hang’s upcoming gig at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire, this one was an utter no-brainer for me, a chance to see these enduring folk/ punk “live” favourites for the 11th time overall, my first time for a couple of years since a rambunctious and totally appropriate Stiff Little Fingers support slot a couple of years ago, and the first time in Swindon for 4 years! This time, there was little chance of their falling prey to the law of diminishing returns (3 gigs in 3 years at The 12 Bar sadly saw reduced attendances each time), as this one was organised by Charred Hearts’ maniman Dermot Fuller for his 50th birthday celebration, which surely guaranteed a proliferation of old punk rockers through the door at the rebadged Level 3!
I sorted tickets out for the boys as well (some more eager than others, it’s fair to say), and, after I’d spent the early evening cheering on Rach in her Gala swimming event, we met up in the Rolly for a rare TTP drinkie night! I popped downstairs about 9 pm into the already utterly jam-packed Level 3, where Dermot was already leading Charred Hearts through their usual growling wall-of-noise street punk, and, also as usual, going walkabouts during the set to greet punters and old friends. I did likewise during their set so didn’t pay as much attention as previously, but my ears did prick up for their sincere cover of The Damned’s “New Rose”, set closer “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and Dermot’s final words of fulsome praise after his set; “it’s been a great night but it’s not over yet…”
More chats with old friends and Level 3 faces as the boys arrived, and I joined an enthusiastic Phil on the dancefloor for the unheralded arrival of The Men They Couldn’t Hang at 10. After the usual chuntering, low key opener “Devil On The Wind”, Mr. Fuller was located to do the intended introduction, one song late(!), and we were then into the singalong “Ghosts Of Cable Street”, which got a small dancefloor crowd singing raucously along. A splendid “Bounty Hunter” followed “Wishing Well”, although at this stage it all seemed a little low-key and understated, The Men easing their way into this, their first “live” performance of 2015. We also had a the first of a smattering of new numbers from their recent PledgeMusic-funded album, following a lament from co-vocalist Stefan Cush about the closure of the 12 Bar; “Night Ferry” was a ramshackle acerbic folk-punk powered number, proving the new apples still don’t fall far from The Men’s usual tree.
Things were still a little ragged at this stage, a messy “Going Back To Coventry” inadvertently repeating a verse then being offered up afterwards by co-vocalist Swill as, “an alternative take”, however their self-effacing, all-inclusive attitude, plus Cush’s regular anti-UKIP references, were still winning them through. It’s sad to comment ast this juncture, that, with the current rise of racist idiots such as the UKIP mob, The Men They Couldn’t Hang’s central themes of class struggle, anti-racism/ fascism and equality and inclusion for all are equally as relevant today as they were in Thatcher’s divided Britain of the 80’s, perhaps in some circumstances even more so. A Cush solo version of The Jam’s “Down In The Tube Station At Midnight” also underlined this point, the antagonists in Cush’s version referenced of smelling of “too many UKIP meetings”, and going down a storm with the packed audience of old punk rockers as a consequence.
Things picked up notably, post-Cush solo break, with a tremendous “Smugglers” a barbed diatribe and superb singalong, “Shirt Of Blue” as chilling as ever, and “Colours” a terrace chant manifesto for the common man. However, set closer “Ironmasters” was the jewel in the crown tonight for me, a breathless blast through their strident, manic best number, which got me jumping about crazily despite 2 dodgy knees. We also got an encore run-through of the sprawling, poignant anti-war anthem “Green Fields Of France” following exhortations by Mr. Fuller, and a jigabout “Walkin’, Talkin’” saw a 1 ½ hour set of initially low-key, but ultimately as raucously fun as ever folky punk to a close. The birthday boy was elated, and so were we; and you were right, Mr. Fuller, Sir; it was a great night!