Swill and the Pledgers

Swill and the Pledgers
Photograph by Dai Jeffries – l-r: James, Marv, Swill, Jade

Following the success of The Men They Couldn’t Hang’s Pledge campaign to fund The Defiant it was clear to Phil Odgers that he would do the same when it came to recording his next solo project. The Men have been held up as an exemplar of how to conduct such a campaign and Phil has possibly taken it to the next level.

Which explains how a quartet of pledgers and one fortunate journalist came to be with Phil and producer James Knight in a studio in Ealing listening to the final mixes of eighteen songs. What was different about both these campaigns was their interactive nature. This wasn’t a case of taking the fans’ money and waiting for the record to come out; pledgers were involved all the way with Phil making videos in his kitchen to keep everyone updated. These involved, among other things, his cat and peeling potatoes. It was the very ordinariness of these films that appealed to supporters and the cat was a big hit.

So how did the pledgers become involved in the project? Jade and her husband are from the Black Country and proud of it. Two years ago Jade’s boss sent her an email headed ‘The Men They Couldn’t Hang’; she looked them up “and after that I was hooked”.

Marv, from Essex, paid a bit extra into the fund to earn the title of consultant producer. “I first heard about The Men They Couldn’t Hang back in about 1991 and I loved them from first hearing them and I lapped up everything I could find. I didn’t have anyone who would come with me to hear them live but it was on my bucket list. I signed up to their Facebook page and saw the 30th anniversary Pledge campaign. I thought ‘I’m going to get involved in that and I’m going to see them live and the first gig I’ll see will be the 30th anniversary gig which was last year’. And it was the most satisfying and fantastic experience. When that was over and Swill said he was going to do one for his solo album I snapped up the chance to get involved again.”

The quietly-spoken Eric is from Bristol. “I’ve followed The Men They Couldn’t Hang since 1984 when I saw them live at The Thekla for 50p and I have getting on for over a hundred LPs and singles.” Before you ask, count every format, every edition and every variant and you’ll get there. Eric makes me look like an amateur. “Years ago when Phil sponsored the cover of Elvis Lives Here I got my name on that. I’m a big collector and pledging is part of collecting.”

So what happens, now? Phil has eighteen songs recorded which, by this time in the conversation, had been bounced down by James and handed over on a stick ready for uploading. They are more than demos but a little less that final versions.

“The original plan was just to get my guitar out and something like that [indicating my H4n] and just record them very basically but good quality”, says Phil, “but plans change. Then I thought I can bring in Bobby [Valentino] to do a bit of fiddle and I’ll bring in this great double bass player I know. Then I found the studio on the internet and met Jim in a pub – we’re neighbours – and so we went there. We recorded in a very basic way but because he’s good at what he does and because I used top people the recording came out in such high quality that I kind of feel ‘what do I do now?’.

“Well, I’ve got to get rid of eight of them, which is a bummer; do I leave the rest as they are, do I re-record them, do I build on top of them?”

What will happen is this. On Christmas Eve the eighteen tracks will be posted on line for the pledgers to hear and about a month from now each will receive a double CD – a strictly limited edition. In the meantime, the pledgers will vote on which ten tracks will make it to the final commercially available album. It won’t be easy – Marv says he’ll vote for ten out-and-out rockers, but if I had an input I’d want to include one of the three “change of pace” tracks like Phil’s cover of Graham Parker’s ‘Long Stem Rose’. I suspect that at least one of the Hank Williams songs be voted in and both ‘New Song Blues’ and ‘Eddie Was’ deserve to make the cut as does the Shakin’ Pyramids’ ‘Sunset Of My Tears’. But it’s not for me to say.

“I’ve met some people”, says Phil, “who’ve said that they’re not going to pledge and were going to wait for the proper album but, personally, I think that the pledge version will be the definitive version. I know that down the road, when I’ve done the proper version, people will say that the pledge version is better.”

There was a great enthusiasm for the pledging process around the table and, in an era where there are very few big labels and those that exist don’t want to handle anything that doesn’t follow the corporate pattern, who can say that it won’t become the established way of doing things for more and more artists. Swill’s album will be out in its commercial form sometime next year and, despite the suggestions made four pints and a curry later, I’m prepared to bet that it won’t be called Leather And Onions.

Dai Jeffries

Phil’s pledge website: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/swill