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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Artists’ website: https://www.tmtch.co.uk/

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

ROBB JOHNSON – Ordinary Giants (Irregular IRR223)

Ordinary GiantsAt first glance Ordinary Giants seems like a sequel to Robb Johnson’s wonderful Gentle Men but it isn’t. It’s more of a companion piece; there is no formal spoken narrative – Robb won’t spoon-feed us, although he helps us along here and there – and the album encompasses the last hundred years of British history interleaved with the story of his family and in particular his father, Ron Johnson. It’s rather like an audio advent calendar with each track displaying a snapshot of a moment in time. This is a triple-CD set with a book so it isn’t something you can rush through nor, I suspect, will anyone listen to it in a single sitting.

Although the songs are arranged with a light touch there is a big supporting cast; among them Roy Bailey, Matthew Crampton, Rory McLeod, Phil Odgers, Tom Robinson, Miranda Sykes as the main female voice, Boff Whalley, four community choirs, Frances O’Grady and Dennis Skinner. Robb wrote nearly all the songs – there’s a traditional tune, a couple of borrowed melodies and the assistance of Robinson on ‘Holding Hands With Hitler’. He succeeds in capturing the style of each period, particularly in the first part, covering the years 1918 to 1939 and puts the most appalling words in the mouth of Adam Clayson as the Mosley-supporting Major Utterswine. The problem is that the same words reappear in the third part covering the period from 1970 to the present day.

Inevitably, Ordinary Giants, is a very political record; you’d expect nothing less from Robb, but the politics are embedded in the words of ordinary people and often creep up on you when you’re not expecting them. The first ‘Lou’, one of Frances O’Grady’s three spoken word pieces is a perfect example, starting innocently enough but ending in verbal conflict. There are causes close the Robb’s heart such as ‘Craven Vale Hall’, dated 1958 and celebrating the building of the first post-war care homes.

The final tracks of the second disc and all of the third can be quite painful because Robb’s view is that things haven’t changed that much and it’s hard to argue with him. The songs are peppered with political slogans and he makes his points with humour and sharp insights in songs like ‘Goalkeepers’ and ‘Who Buggered Bognor?’ but beneath that is the realisation that we’re still fighting the same battles in whatever guises they appear.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://www.robbjohnson.co.uk/

There are no videos from this album yet so we’ll have to make do with this:

Swill and Valentino to reunite on tour in April

PHIL ‘SWILL’ ODGERS
& BOBBY VALENTINO
April 2018 Tour
Never the same set twice!

The Men They Couldn’t Hang singer-songwriter Phil ‘Swill Odgers and roots fiddle supremo Bobby Valentino hit the road in April for a duo tour that’s selling fast.

Confirmed dates so far…

Sat 7th Sheffield Heeley Institute, 147 Gleadless Rd, Sheffield S2 3AF Tickets
Wed 11th Bristol Thunderbolt, 124 Bath Rd, Bristol BS4 3ED Tickets
Thurs 12th Birmingham Kitchen Garden Café, 17 York Rd, B14 Tickets
Fri 13th Lowton Social Club, 214 Newton Road Lowton, WA3 2AQ (Tickets are only available via email to gordongigshaw@aol.com)
Sat 14th Newcastle, Cobalt Studios, Boyd St, NE21AP Tickets
Sun 15th Durham: Old Cinema Launderette, DH1 2HX Tickets
Fri 20th Edinburgh: The Speakeasy, The Voodoo Rooms, 19a West Register St, EH2 2AA Tickets
Sat 28th London: The Slaughtered Lamb, 34-35 Great Sutton St, Clerkenwell, London EC1V 0DX http://www.wegottickets.com/event/427966

Artist Web Link: https://philodgers.bandcamp.com/

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

Wickham Festival 2015 – Reviewed by Simon Burch

Click on the photo below to see the full set…

Wickham 2015

Staged in a corn field and with three stages linked by alleyways of food and crafts stalls, Wickham proved to be a good nursery slope for my family of first-time festival goers: no intimidating vast crowds and a relaxed atmosphere which built steadily through what turned out to be some swelteringly hot days.

showofhands_wickham15Musically, in the main All Time Grates big top stage it was folk with a twist of vintage pop and rock: from crowd-pleasing sets by folk stars such as Seth Lakeman, Show of Hands, Eliza Carthy, Lisbee Stainton and Martin Carthy to The South – Beautiful South survivors Dave Hemmingway and Alison Wheeler – 10CC, Billy Bragg, Cockney Rebel, Wilko Johnson and The Proclaimers.

Crowd_Wickham15The crowd was an eclectic mix of folk devotees and commuter belt families, but overall the demographic was mature and knowledgeable so that at times the main stage had the contented air of a cricket match, with festival goers seated sensibly underneath sun-hats on folding chairs, sipping real ale and completing sudokus to the sound of music.

Giants@WickhamI soon found out that for a parent festivals have to be enjoyed in the round. My children weren’t there for the music, but found instead joy in the laser quest – a shoot-‘em-up inside a series of sweaty, dark inflatable tunnels – the solar-powered Groovy Movie cinema and the digital funfair, a quirky installation where gamers played Space Invaders while sitting on a stationary bike or racked up high scores by slapping two headless mannequins on their plastic buttocks in time to music.

Playbus_Wickham15After a while it became possible to enjoy the music while waiting for them to complete their activities or resisting their pleas to spend the GDP of a small country in the various food and craft stalls, simply via the proximity to the three stages, especially the acoustic stage, where a varied line-up of young up-and-comers and older veterans strummed, picked and twanged their way skilfully through a mixture of their own material and interpretations of popular classics, finding favour with a sprinkling of punters lounging back on the straw-coated ground.

At the top of the festival was the sweatier and rockier Bowman Ales Stage 2 tent – which hosted performances from Edward II, headlining prog rockers Stone Cold and Damn Beats – but I confess that, as a first-timer wanting to immerse myself in folk my visits there were fleeting so I concentrated on the main stage, where a succession of acts filled the afternoons and evenings with musical stories from every corner of Britain and beyond.

SpookyMen_Wickham15From the lilting Northumberland romance of Kathryn Tickell and the Side, to the seasoned yarns of Huw Williams and Maartin Allcock and the acapella oddness of the Spooky Men’s Chorale, it is fair to say there was something for everyone’s tastes, but the big top came into its own later on as the sun dipped behind the food stalls and the headliners took to the stage.

BillyBragg_Wickham15Among the highlights was the life-affirming return to action of Wilko Johnson, the welcome familiarity of The (Beautiful) South’s hits and the appearance of Billy Bragg, whose wit and political zeal brought Friday night to a close. The next night, Seth Lakeman gave a rollicking masterclass of modern folk rock, sweeping the audience along and raising the temperature in the big top.

Proclaimers2_Wickham15Despite the passing of years, festival headliners The Proclaimers hadn’t seemingly aged that much and their set was a polished resounding collection of love songs, devoted to Scotland as much as to the objects of their desire. The large TV screens showed that the Reid twins had their committed fans who knew all of Proclaimers1_Wickham15the words, but as the night continued, you did get the feeling that most people in the tent were waiting for their signature tune – I Would Walk 500 Mile – like a seashore full of surfers all readying themselves for the big wave that would take them right to shore.

And, duly, at about five to 11, it arrived: cueing a joyous outburst of jigs and a singalong in affected Scottish accents. This provided the most exuberant moment of the weekend, before it drew to a close with a thank you and good night, and the boys left the stage.

The third night was over, but the next day the sun again rose hot and strong. Family holiday commitments meant I had to slip away early, but in my absence the crowds returned with their chairs and sun hats, eager for more.

Simon Burch – 23 August 2015

The Armistice Pals

armistice pals header non internetEveryone remembers the charity version of ‘Perfect Day’ with its myriad of voices from the pop and rock world.

Let’s hope everyone will also remember the upcoming answer from the Folk World – ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’ – with a plethora of voices from across the acoustic folk and roots spectrum representing the great and the good, young and the old, seasoned and emerging, all on the same single. The group is called The Armistice Pals and is releasing a fitting tribute to Pete Seeger, who sadly passed away this year as well as marking the 100 years anniversary of the breakout of the First World War. All profits will be distributed between four peacekeeping charities.

However, perhaps it’s not a perfect world after all and the late Pete Seeger’s classic anti war song, ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’, points a finger at the carnage, supposedly ‘ the war to end all wars’ which tragically mislead us to believe it was worth the sacrifice.  The sacrifice, not only of the lives of those who died, but the resultant desolation and struggle of the loved ones who were left behind. Whole swathes of communities were left bereft of their young men-folk who trustingly signed up into ‘Pals Battalions’, many of whom were never to return, with those who did too often spending lives blighted by the experience.

Armistice Pals is the name of the folk community ‘super band’ who are all performing on this single, which is due out on Remembrance Sunday, 9th November 2014. It was the brain child of Damian Liptrot (manager of folk-rock band Merry Hell), who, as the project expanded, has invited Folkstock’s Helen Meissner on board as co-organiser. The project has attracted over 30 names including Chris and Kellie While, Julie Matthews, Judy Dyble, Christine Collister, Dave Swarbrick, Ray Cooper, Sally Barker, Peter Knight, Boo Hewerdine, Gavin Davenport, Blair Dunlop, Lucy Ward, Ken Nicol, Merry Hell, Luke Jackson and Kelly Oliver. A line up so good that, were it to be a festival, it would undoubtedly be the event of the summer.

The single will be released via the usual digital outlets as well as a physical CD and as a nod to the historical element, a limited edition vinyl 45, on new community label, Folkstock Records.

As this is intended to be a community project, we are inviting Folk Clubs across the country to contribute by organising an ‘Armistice Pals Night’ during the week of the release of the single. This can take any form but should include a collective version of ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’ at some point during the evening, followed by a passing round of the hat to support the Armistice Pals charities.

If you would like to know more about the project, all the artists, the charities and the inspiration can be found at http://www.armisticepals.com or contact us direct via armisticepals@hotmail.co.uk

We hope that you will feel able to enlist and offer your support.

Helen and Damian
for The Armistice Pals

THE ARMISTICE PALS: A FULL LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS

Attila The Stockbroker (poet/musician and sheer force of nature, whose father survived the Somme).

Billy Mitchell (one time Jack the Lad, ex-Lindisfarne and much else besides).

Blair Dunlop (One of our brightest, youngest singer-songwriters, currently telling tales from the ‘House Of Jacks’, he also found time for a stint in The Albion Band..).

Bob Pegg (Storyteller, singer-songwriter and member of the legendary Mr Fox).

Boo Hewerdine (one time Bible basher, all time songwriting phenomenon).

Chris While and Julie Matthews (singers, songwriters, multi-instrumentalists, award winners in their own right and members of more prestige bands and projects than you can shake a stick at).

Christine Collister (one time She Devil, ex-Daphne’s Flight, much sought collaborator and loved by Q magazine).

Dave Mather & Peter Robinson (singer/songwriters (one of them has written an opera you know), ex-Houghton Weavers, stand up comedy and currently presenters of Salford City radio’s first folk show).

Dave Swarbrick (simply a living legend. As it says on the flyers, ‘needs no introduction’).

Edwina Hayes (multi-million You Tubed singer-songwriter with the ‘sweetest voice in England’).

Eric Bazilian: (Hooter, hitmaking songwriter worldwide for self and others, now he’s One Of Us!).

Flossie Malavialle (multinational singer et chanteuse aussi, gig travelling traffic reporter).

Gavin Davenport (much vaunted solo singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist, award winning, ex-Albion band member).

Gren Bartley (the spine tinglingly beautiful guitarist, banjo playing poet).

Helen Watson (Singer/Songwriter, multi genre artist, producer and erstwhile member of Daphne’s Flight, Carmel and Sons of Arqa, as well as taking a great photo).

Johnny Coppin (broadcasting singer-songwriter, ex-Decameron and now sufficiently multi-faceted to be considered a true diamond).

Judy Dyble (singer/songwriter, ex-Fairport, nearly King Crimson and Facebook dog blogger).

Kellie While (singer-songwriter considered to have one of the outstanding voices of her generation, ex-member of The Albion Band and so much else, her arrival makes The Pals a family affair as her mother and sometime singing partner Chris is also involved).

Kelly Oliver (singer/songwriter, guitarist and harmonicist who has taken Boots Of Spanish Leather to places most of us can only dream of).

Ken Nicol: (globetrotting, guitar endorsing, ex-Albion Band and Steeleye Span virtuoso).

Kevin Brennan MP (an accomplished musician, fan of folk music and passionate supporter of live music).

Lavinia Blackwall (the vocalist who is both a Trembling Bell and a Crying Lion).

Linda Simpson (singer/songwriter, ex-Prog/Folk/Rock legends Magna Carta and supplier of some ideas that are so good that I’d like to present them as my own).

Lucy Ward (singer/song writer and possibly the current heart of British Folk Music as she gets played on virtually every folk show I listen to regardless of the other tastes of the presenters!).

Luke Jackson (bright young purveyer of Fumes and Faith).

Merry Hell (8 piece folk-rocking explosion of melody and joy).

Ninebarrow (award-winning, Dorsetshire folk duo).

Patsy Matheson (singer/songwriter, spent time Waking The Witch, now The Domino Girl).

Peter Knight (singer/fiddle player, Gigspanner, Feast of Fiddles, Steeleye and holder of the world record for continuously playing the violin whilst travelling up and down the lift in the Empire State Building).

Phil ‘Swill’ Odgers (30 Year veteran of punk-folk luminaries, The Men They Couldn’t Hang).

Ray Cooper (singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist, ex-Oysterband and now a pearl in his own right).

Richard Ryall (singer/songwriter, member of the band Litmuss and he comes from a land Down Under).

Robb Johnson (Irregular singer/songwriter and social conscience).

Said The Maiden (3 rising doyennes with harmonies the envy of angels).

Sally Barker (folk singer and by popular acclaim, the true winner of The Voice).

Sian James (Singer, writer, harpist, composer, conductor and actress from Wales, a big Armistice pals ‘Creoso’ to her).

In addition, there is also The Pals Chorus, made up of friends and members of several folk clubs who will be recorded together to help swell the voices and to represent the fact that this is a true community project.