NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Album Launch Interview

NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Album Launch Interview
Photo by: Darren Beech

“The Men were up from Kent, and out of Essex too – Though naught but the Thames divides us and unites us onwards – Through all the villages of England and on to London town”. Well maybe not quite the “Wat Tyler” rallying cry (by way of Fairport Convention) … However … Paul Johnson was coming from Kent and I from Hampshire to see Naomi Bedford and Paul Simmonds launch Singing It All Back Home at Cecil Sharp House in North London on Wednesday 5 June and it felt like a traditional folk and Appalachian call to arms.

Many will know Naomi Bedford, but for those that have not made her acquaintance yet, she is an English roots singer that was introduced to the wider world in 2001 after a guest appearance on later with Jools Holland with the band Orbital. Justin Currie from Del Amitri describes Naomi as “An English Emmylou” and Shirley Collins as “A favourite voice of mine… I love to hear her sing”.

Naomi Bedford’s official debut album, Tales From the Weeping Willow was released in 2011 and featured guest contributions from Paul Heaton, Justin Currie, Alasdair Roberts and Paul Simmonds (from The Men They Couldn’t Hang). A History of Insolence (reviewed here – https://wp.me/p5SuEn-4eU) followed in 2014 which picked up a Radio 2 Folk Award nomination in the Best Original Song category (alongside her musical partner Paul Simmonds), for The Spider and the Wolf. This was then followed by Songs My Ruiner Gave to Me (reviewed here – https://wp.me/p5SuEn-aGQ) in 2017 which added Paul Simmonds name officially to the album title.

However, the concert was all about the new album Singing It All Back Home, as indeed was the first half of the show. You could tell it was going to be a special night as the musicians joining Naomi Bedford and Paul Simmonds incorporated the national guitar, banjo and mandolin wizardry of Ben Walker (who also produced the album), the 12-string guitar and backing vocals of Richard Leo, the stunning harmonies of Donna Edmead and the bass of Rhys Lovell.

NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Album Launch Interview
Photo by: Darren Beech

I Must And Will Be Married kicked things off with some great stage banter on the songs content preceding it. I was also filming and taking photos throughout the performance, so I’m not sure of the exact running order but feel confident that A Rich Irish Lady (learnt from Naomi’s mother from the Hedy West version), Hangman and The Rebel Soldier were all in the first set. Hangman had its roots in the Jean Ritchie and Peggy Seeger version with a nod towards the folk/country/rock versions of Gallows Pole. The Rebel Soldier closed the first set and that wonderful moment was captured in my video below.

In the second set, the Hedy West theme continued (one of Bedford’s seminal influences) with The Sheffield Apprentice, again from the new record. The harmonies throughout the night were really amazing with songs like Hands On The Plough and Who’s That Knocking (again from the new album) benefitting from the full 4 part harmony with Bedford, Simmonds, Edmead and Leo.

NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Album Launch Interview
Photo by: Darren Beech

In traditional territory, but closer to home came Gypsy Davy (from the album A History of Insolence: Songs of Freedom, Dissent & Strife), with a vocal delivery approach from Bedford that was very much on the other side of the Atlantic, drawing on Jean Ritchie (Naomi’s favourite version) and the Tom Paley and Peggy Seeger version to produce a mashed up version of the two with the sentiment of Woody Guthrie.

NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Album Launch Interview
Photo by: Darren Beech

The second set also included the chilling The Cruel Mother, this version set in New York to accommodate the arrangement from the album Songs My Ruiner Gave To Me. They closed with Railroad Bill from the album Tales from the Weeping Willow from 2011.

A great night, that breathed new life into their collected versions of Appalachian songs that had very much been rooted in the heart of the English and Scottish song tradition. Cecil Sharp House was the perfect place to launch the album.

Paul Johnson and I caught up with Naomi and Paul after the show. Click the play button below to listen to the interview.

Darren Beech

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The Men They Couldn’t Hang Biography

The Men They Couldn't Hang
Photograph by Max Ellis

The Men They Couldn’t Hang came together in 1984 to perform at the alternative music festival in Camden town alongside the legendary Pogues and the Boot Hill Foot-Tappers. Paul Simmonds, Philip ‘Swill’ Odgers and his brother Jon, veterans of the Southampton based pop-punk band Catch 22, met Pogues roadie Stefan Cush whilst busking in Shepherds Bush in London. Their early line up was Stefan Cush, Philip Odgers, Paul Simmonds, Jon Odgers and Shanne Bradley.

Their first single, ‘The Green Fields of France’, was released in 1984 and.the following year they were signed to the Demon label, which released their début album, Night of a Thousand Candles, and its accompanying single ‘Ironmasters’, a self-penned number by main songwriter Simmonds, linking the Industrial Revolution to the present-day treatment of the working class.. They followed this up with a new single not taken from the album, ‘Greenback Dollar’.

In 1985 the band signed for MCA Records and released How Green Is The Valley. The record included ‘Ghosts Of Cable Street’, a political song concerning the Battle of Cable Street in 1936 and ‘Shirt of Blue’, concerning the miners’ strike of 1984–85. At the end of promotion for the album Shanne Bradley left to create music with Wreckless Eric and The Chicken Family, she was replaced on bass by Ricky McGuire (ex UK Subs).

In 1987 the band switched to Magnet Records and the new record released was Waiting for Bonaparte. ‘The Colours’ told of an English mutineer sailor during the Napoleonic War and ‘The Crest’ a stretcher bearer during World War II. Whilst ‘The Colours’ was at Number 61 in the British top 75 it was blacklisted by BBC Radio 1 due to the line “You’ve Come Here To Watch Me Hang”, which echoed the events happening in South African townships at the time, in particular the plight of the Sharpeville Six.

In 1988 the band were on the move again and signed for new label Silvertone and were joined by Nick Muir (ex Fire Next Time) at this time on piano, organ and accordion, who remained with the band during their time at Silvertone. The band recorded two albums for Silvertone, the first being Silver Town. Highlights of Silver Town included ‘Rain, Steam and Speed’, ‘A Place in the Sun’ and ‘Rosettes’. Silver Town was the only TMTCH album to reach the UK Top 40 album chart, peaking at No. 39. They followed this up in 1990 with The Domino Club, which had a more conventional rock sound dispensing with much of the folk element.

The band split in 1991 after releasing the live album, Alive, Alive-O, a performance recorded at London’s Town & Country Club which was later released as a DVD The Shooting. Paul Simmonds and “Swill” Odgers then formed Liberty Cage who released an album, Sleep of the Just, in 1994 and an EP, I’ll Keep It With Mine, in 1995.

The band reformed in 1996, but minus drummer Jon Odgers who had become Therapy?’s drum technician. He was replaced by Kenny Harris of cult 80’s band the Screaming Blue Messiahs. Their new CD was Never Born To Follow, released on the Demon label in 1996. The following year the band released the mini-album Big Six Pack. Two “Best Of” collections followed Majestic Grill and The Mud, The Blood and the Beer, both in 1998.

The band again withdrew into semi retirement during which Odgers and Simmonds again released new material together (this time under their own names), Baby Fishlips, (originally released under the pseudonym Preacher Jethro Brimstone and the Watermelon Kid) in 1999 and Folk At The Fortress, in 2002.

The band released a brand new CD in 2003 The Cherry Red Jukebox, which most fans agreed was a real return to form. In 2005 the band released two DVDs, Shooting, and 21 Years of Love And Hate (released on Secret Records) to celebrate 21 years together. This latter was later released as a live double CD Smugglers And Bounty Hunters.

During further breaks from the band Phil “Swill” Odgers released two CDs with his band “The Swaggerband”, which includes Ricky McGuire and Jon Odgers, plus lyrical contribution from Paul Simmonds. The Day After, in 2004 and, Elvis Lives Here, on Irregular Records in 2006.

In January 2007 Paul Simmonds had the book A Bag of Songs published . It features a personal selection of 50 songs with lyrics, chords and commentary.

In March 2007 the band released a new CD through their website Demos & Rarities Volume 1. This album is a collection of rare unreleased TMTCH recordings from the Silver Town and The Domino Club albums.

The band are joined by Tom Spencer (The Yo Yo’s, Fastlane Roogalator, The Loyalties) bringing banjo to the line up and additional guitar and backing vocals.

They released a new CD titled Devil On The Wind.. As a prelude to the album the band released a six-track EP CD Devil On The Wind EP via their website. The EP contains an alternative mixes of ‘Devil On The Wind’ and ‘Aquamarine’ plus four songs not available on the full album.

On Thursday 8 October 2009, almost 25 years since The Men They Couldn’t Hang played their first proper gig in Camden Town at The Electric Ballroom, they returned for the official 25 Year Anniversary Celebration.

2012 saw the release of an album from Stefan Cush’s new band, The Feral Family and Paul Simmonds was recording and touring with roots singer Naomi Bedford as well as numerous live dates for TMTCH. The latter including appearances at Mike Peter’s “The Gathering”, and festival appearances alongside Billy Bragg and Adam Ant to name but a few. They headlined the 10th anniversary commemoration of Joe Strummer’s Acton Town Hall show which also featured a special guest appearance by Hard Fi.

March 2013 saw the release of Phil (Swill) Odgers highly anticipated solo album produced by Mick Glossop, the album “The Godforsaken Voyage” includes guest appearances from Australian folkrockers Weddings, Parties Anything as well as John Jones (Oysterband) and Eliza Carthy.

2014 marked the band’s 30th anniversary, and they released their ninth album, ‘The Defiant’ and in 2018 came Cock-A-Hoop.

The Men They Couldn’t Hang – Cook-A-Hoop + Skeggy Interview

I sit here two weeks after The Great British Folk Festival with a Whitstable Bay Organic Ale in hand and I’m in good company as I have the new The Men They Couldn’t Hang – Cook-A-Hoop vinyl spinning on my turntable.

The album has made quite a journey from when it was first given to me by the band back stage after the interview we did in the early hours of Sunday 2nd December. The vinyl started its journey on top of a pizza box as Cush insisted it came along to the Oysterband back stage gathering (The MEN were playing on REDS stage outside of the Skyline Pavilion and Oysterband were in the Centre Stage complex and on at the same time). Like us, the new album couldn’t find its way there either as everything was locked up.  It took 20 minutes in the rain with TMTCH in tow to realise that the best destination was now 109 Gull Court in The Keys area of Butlins Skeggy. This was the place where the album, the half-eaten pizza’s, The MEN and us hangers-on could be reunited with some more alcohol. However, not all of us made it to 109 Gull Court as the pizza was offloaded on to Simon Care who happened to be wandering past at 2am in the morning on his way to bed.

Anyway, I digress… so let’s get back to the fantastic new album and that late-night folking TMTCH interview.

Cook-A-Hoop has thirteen tracks, two instrumentals, and eleven songs, five written by Paul Simmonds, three by Swill and three by Cush. Cook-A-Hoop is both minimalist and musically expansive.

The songs start with ‘Sirens’, with revolution and a call to arms Pogue-MEN-Style followed by an escapism tale imagined at the speed of an ‘Arrow’ flight. Then a tremolo panther prowls, like a young Bobby Seale and gives his greeting by way of Sunday Soul ‘Salutations’ with trumpet heralding in the arrival of Marvin.

Next, ‘Three Ships Sailing’ haul away, plundering oceans, flying colours with far of canon-shot drum beat judging distance. While half the world is living on ‘Pone’, the unleavened maize bread, this rocking song with mental saxophone and growling vocals shoves it down your throat and reminds us that some people don’t have a choice.

Mantle then shrouds the tale of ‘The Queen of Crows’ who surveys the night to gentle pining fiddle. We journey then to the city of the ‘Archangel’, riding on camels, playing snake charmer grooves, telling tales of devils, demons and shotgun shacks.

Finally, Cush gives us a ‘Kings Street Serenade’ in green bomber jacket, and tight drainpipe trousers. A homage to the glory days of Joe Strummer, Pogue Mohon and being in heaven.

So, to sum the album up… Right Time, Right Place, Right Song. All packaged up in ‘The Amazing Carrier Bag’ of broken dreams and Brexit chaos.

Yes, its classic MEN, so if you’re already a fan, you’ll love it. If you’re not yet, then you are in for a treat as it stands shoulder to shoulder with the best of the rest of the back catalogue of 9 studio albums and over 139 songs.

Paul Simmonds has songs pouring out of him at the moment and Swill and Cush are on top song writing form. So, strap yourself in, fasten your seatbelts, you’re in for a TMTCH Cock-A-Hoop roller coaster of a ride of an album. The MEN continue to be, not just a band of brothers who have stuck together for 35 years through thick and thin but also a group that have survived their time and forged a new  musical strength out of the political, blood, sweat and tears of their glorious musical past.

However, the biggest revelation of all is that Swill wished he had written Bat out of Hell!

Darren Beech

Here is the interview that Paul Johnson and Darren Beech recorded with TMTCH after the show.

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Here is the video from the Gosport and Fareham Festival in 2008 that we mentioned in the interview.

NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Songs My Ruiner Gave To Me (Dusty Willow DWR004)

Songs My Ruiner Gave To MeConcerning Love, Madness & Obsession” is what is says.  I’m never sure what to expect from Naomi Bedford but I’m not sure that this was it. Songs My Ruiner Gave To Me sort of picks up on Tales From The Weeping Willow except that it’s more Americana, verging on C&W. I confess that I listened to it three times through before I even felt able to venture an opinion.

The first track, ‘We’ve Hardly Started Yet’ is pure country. I’m guessing that it’s about two people in the prime of middle life rejoicing that they still have lots to look forward to. Probably autobiographical, then. ‘Misty, Golden Road’ picks up on the same theme, this time reflecting on the places they’ve been and the things they’ve done and featuring Ben Walker’s banjo. Then comes ‘The Cruel Mother’, located in New York to accommodate the arrangement. It seems oddly placed given that it’s followed by ‘The Still Want You Blues’ with Andy Summers’ slide guitar. Things get even stranger, now. Percy Bysshe Shelley could never have imagined ‘Young Parson Richards’ sounding like this. It’s not the most pleasant poem but it takes Gerry Diver – who else – to really bring out the oddness in it. This track also supplies the album’s title.

Paul Simmonds wrote six of the songs here but mostly takes a back seat to Naomi when it comes to lead vocals. An exception is ‘Ballad Of A Self Made Man’, which Paul might have considered for The Men They Couldn’t Hang but it isn’t really them although it does have the political edge of their best work. ‘Ramshackle House’ revisits and updates ‘Misty, Golden Road’ then it’s Naomi’s turn with ‘I Hate You’, reminiscent of ‘Positively 4th Street’ but with rather more empathy.

Finally, Paul’s ‘Better Than The Best’ is a sort of song of praise to his partner, Naomi. I’ve omitted mention of a couple of titles, mainly because I’m still figuring them out but Songs My Ruiner Gave To Me is an album that I’ve really enjoyed getting to grips with.

Dai Jeffries

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‘The Still Want You Blues’ – live:

NAOMI BEDFORD – A History of Insolence: Songs of Freedom, Dissent & Strife (Dusty Willow)

naomiFor those who are unaware, Bedford is the personal and professional partner of Paul Simmonds from The Men they Couldn’t Hang, so it’s not too surprising to find a similar political vein to her work. Plus, of course, she has a history of political activity, having been, for example, the Artists Liaison for Artists Against The Poll Tax. This is her third album and, as the title suggests, isn’t overflowing with stories of lover’s trysts and break-ups, although nor is it a hectoring collection of unfurled protest banners.

The template’s set with the opening track, ‘Davidson/Wilder Blues’, a traditional Tennessean union song about strikebreaking written by miners in the 30s and learned from Hedy West, one of Bedford’s seminal influences. With Dan Stewart on banjo and Bedford singing in an Appalachian twang, you’d not think she was born in Putney. She remains in traditional territory, but closer to home for ‘Gypsy Davy’, although, having said that, her approach is very much on the other side of the Atlantic, drawing on Jean Ritchie and Woody Guthrie, adding a chorus and inviting Justin Currie along for harmonies. Currie also shares vocal duties and plays piano on his own contribution, ‘We Are Not The People’, a stirring, fiddle accompanied ballad about those in power from the perspective of those who will never have it and don’t want it.

Other than the two traditional arrangements, Bedford only contributes one writing credit, a collaboration with Simmonds on ‘The Wild And Charming Energy’, a nervy folk blues number about machismo with handclaps, itchy percussion and a mariachi feel, other than that the bulk of the material is courtesy of Simmonds: ‘The Spider & The Wolf’’s fable about debt with Bedford again channelling West and Jackie Oates on fiddle, ‘Overseas’, a banjo dappled song about religious intolerance that centres on the Crusades; ‘Raise These Sails’, a clopalong duet between him and Bedford spun around the provisions taken aboard the Mayflower; ‘Junktown’, a loose loping blues duet that sounds like a nod to Johnny and June about corporate culture, market forces and the powerbrokers ghettoising the common herd and featuring the defiant line “a hand up is not a hand out”; ‘Fields Of Clover’, about the rise and fall of the baby boomers and on which she sounds like Baez circa ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’. The last of the Simmonds’ tracks, ‘The Old Abandoned Road’, offers a view of the pointlessness of the English Civil War through the eyes of a soldier in the Quaker army, set to acoustic strum, military drum beat and a Gaelic skirl of fiddle and mandolin.

The final cut returns to the traditional archives for ‘The Watches Of the Night’, the words taken from an optimistic poem about the rise of socialism by Tom Maguire, a British Trade Unionist, sourced and set to music by Alasdair Roberts, who sings and plays guitar, with Bedford on harmony, Ellie Wyatt on violin and Helena Ashworth on psaltery. Naomi’s name may not be as well known as others in the folk field, but, justly championed by the likes of Shirley Collins and Peter Buck, she most certainly deserves your listening attention. It would be impertinent not to.

Mike Davies

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PHIL ODGERS – Sunday Morning Coming Down – Vinyl Stac Records VSREP001

Phil Odgers, better known to his friends as Swill, has developed an interesting solo career alongside The Men They Couldn’t Hang. With Paul Simmonds there was Baby Fishlips and the long-lost Liberty Cage album before the formation of The Swaggerband. Here he’s completely solo with help from Mick Glossop on production and Pro-Tools.

Sunday Morning Coming Down is an EP of covers. TMTCH have always done covers but ‘Rawhide’ and ‘Gudbye T’Jane’ aren’t quite the same. Now Swill casts himself as the outsider. ‘I’m A Lonesome Fugitive’ sums up the character; ‘The Parting Glass’ is the ultimate moving-on song and the central figure of Tom Waits’ ‘Bottom Of The World’ is as far down as he can get. The hero of the title track may be further up the social scale but he’s equally alone in the middle of a city.

Swill doesn’t do anything too fancy with the songs: voice, guitars, harmonica and keyboards is all. In fact, you could say that he’s respectful of the material which wasn’t always the case twenty-five years ago. I could take a lot more in this vein, though, alongside The Men and The Swaggerband.

Dai Jeffries

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Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us. Can’t find what you are looking for? Search Amazon Store below.

Artist Weblink: https://www.tmtch.co.uk/