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.