The Men They Couldn’t Hang

The Men They Couldn't Hang played a special, sold-out gig in Bristol....
The Men They Couldn't Hang : Live
The Men They Couldn't Hang : Live

Formed in 1984, The Men They Couldn’t Hang gained prominence during the mid-1980s as part of the alternative folk and punk scene. Their music is characterised by its blend of folk, punk rock, and social commentary, often focusing on historical and political themes. Over the years, they’ve built a reputation for energetic live performances and a devoted fanbase and Friday night, November 24th at Thunderbolt in Bristol, U.K. was no exception, with people in attendance from as far away as Glasgow and Norwich.

This night’s venue was the Thunderbolt Pub in Bristol, which has a storied history of hosting diverse musical acts and fostering a lively atmosphere for intimate gigs. Known for its cosy ambiance and enthusiastic crowds, the venue often draws sold-out shows for both emerging and established artists. The Men They Couldn’t Hang could have sold out several times over but they continue to play the venue, as they like the selection of beers behind the bar, as proclaimed by Phil “Swill” Odgers during the show.

The Men They Couldn’t Hang are Phil Odgers (guitar/lead vocals), Paul Simmonds (Mandolin/Guitar and vocals), Ricky McGuire (Bass and originally in the UK Subs), Tom Spencer (guitar/vocals and also member of ‘The Professionals’ punk outfit), John Odgers (Drums and percussion)

The Men They Couldn’t Hang took to the small stage in front of a packed room to a warm welcome. The bond between the band and their loyal following is clear, many who had seen them countless times over the last 39 years (40-year tour next year). Furthermore, this was emphasised as they shared that tonight’s gig was dedicated to a loyal fan from the start, Paul Stacey, whose funeral had been earlier in the day and the family were all present for tonight’s show. 

Kicking off with how they meant to go on “Raising Hell” from their 2014 album The Defiant rumbled along as the atmosphere crackled with emotion and celebration as the band segued seamlessly into their repertoire, weaving tales of history, rebellion, and heartfelt nostalgia.

The crowd’s reaction was to sing along to every word dancing, and raising their glasses in celebration as they played tracks both new and old like firm favourites like “The Ghosts of Cable Street” from their second album, How Green Is the Valley from 1986. The Men They Couldn’t Hang have a natural ability to intertwine socio-political themes with foot-stomping melodies resonated deeply with their dedicated fanbase as they sang an anthem against fascism.

Acknowledging Bristol’s significance in their storied career, the band reminisced about the city, referencing their early gigs and the passionate spirit of the people. Paul Simmonds humorously remarked about the city’s penchant for standing up for their rights and at times “guaranteeing a good riot” a nod to the band’s political undertones and support for social causes throughout their career.

Phil “Swill” Odgers

The evening was not without its poignant moments, notably the absence of original band member Stefan Cush (passed away in February 2021 following a heart attack at the age of 60). Bristol then had marked one of the band’s first performances after his passing soon after. Odgers’ wry comment about Cush having “left the planet” long before emphasized both the band’s resilience and the bittersweet remembrance of their former comrade and larger than life character.

There were also warm stories about Cush from Tom who then led an amazing soulful performance of “Salutations”, a song about Cush’s local pub. The emotional weight of the moment was palpable, with Phil Odgers who looked visibly moved and on the verge of tears, creating an intimate connection between the band and audience.

Paul Simmonds is one of the main song writers behind The Men They Couldn’t Hang, and he had the opportunity to introduce “Running on Ice” and the story behind it, going back to his youth of going to the ice rink in the hope that you might get lucky and manage to speak to a girl.

The band captured the audience’s attention with their fervent performance of the Nick Lowe song “Wishing Well”, but also “Greenback Dollar”, which was produced by Nick Lowe.

The setlist journeyed through the band’s evolution, from the spirited fervour of “Going Back to Coventry” to the emotional depth of “Greenfields of France”, creating a tapestry of emotions on the stupidity of war. The song was originally written by Scottish-born Australian folk singer-songwriter Eric Bogle, reflecting on the grave of a young man who died in World War 1 who had fought thinking it to be the war to end all wars.

As the night drew to a close that included fan favourites like “The Colours”, “Ironmasters” with the band bidding farewell to a roaring ovation with “Walkin Talkin” from their debut album Night of a Thousand Candles (1985), leaving the audience buzzing with the euphoria of a truly unforgettable performance.

The Men They Couldn’t Hang’s performance at The Thunderbolt was more than just a concert; it was a celebration of their enduring legacy as social commentators, storytellers, and musical pioneers. As the night ended, the echoes of their anthems lingered, leaving an unforgettable mark on the hearts of the very loyal fans who never miss a chance to meet up and sing along with The Men They Couldn’t Hang.

The Men They Couldn't Hang

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