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   The Men They Couldn't Hang, Islington Academy, London, 30-Jul-04

TMTCH 20th anniversary concert @ Islington Academy, London 30th July 2004

A Night to Remember... ...and don't forget the 20 Years Gone before!

This well anticipated celebratory concert of 20 years in existence of the most refined of folk-punk bands, The Men They Couldn't Hang, started with the challenge of finding the entrance to the venue located inside a modern shopping center near Angel station. You enter on ground level, get your bags searched in a hap-hazard way, then go to first floor level for the venue. This was how what surely would be a night to remember got underway.

Once safely inside, finding the way to one of the bars on either side was for most an easy task with immediate rewards.

The venue itself seemed perfect for an evening that was going to be filmed for a future DVD release. Both light and sound were of good quality, something that hopefully will be apparent on the DVD.

First up were the Fast Lane Roogalators, who had supported TMTCH on many previous occasions. However, this was the first time I had seen them in their full lineup. They worked their charm on the audience and got the usual suspects dancing to their own twist of folk-rock music with critical lyrics with bite.

What I wanted more than anything else from this band was their mandolin! Nope, not the player, JUST the instrument, to shove it in Paul's hands and tell him to bring back that classic TMTCH sound!!!

Finally, at about 15 minutes to nine, The Men came on stage in the company of Nick Muir, their long-lost keyboard and accordion player and the ever impressive Bobby Valentino, who was already sporting a big smile and that customaty cigarette hanging from his mouth.

“The Day After” was the first song of the evening, which was introduced by a cheerful Swill. After this Nick Muir decided to disappear off the stage again and was called back by the band, who were joking whether he was embarrassed to be seen with them! At least there was no need to ask Bobby V that same question, it would have taken a tractor to remove him from stage (or, alternatively, the Freddie Mercury look-alike bouncer, who certainly had the sensitivity of a farm implement)!

The security inside the venue were determined to make up for the neglect of the door's security to check for cameras and jumped any person trying to get a few shots of the band. I'm happy to say that several of us still succeeded in getting some great pictures of this most memorable evening.

The songs chosen were a good mixture of old and new, but regrettably nothing from their album “Never Born To Follow”. But they did play songs that had been requested on the website's pinboard.

“Australia” made a welcome return, which Swill sang accompanied by Nick Muir on keyboards and Bobby Valentino playing the fiddle before Swill performed the now customary solo “Barrett's Privateers” without musical support, but with much conviction. This was followed up by Cush performing two rarely performed songs “The Bells” and “Silver Dagger”.

They dedicated “Smugglers” to Buck, who had been inspirational in organizing a special after show event and had been instrumental in making sure a 20th anniversary show would go ahead.

The evening seemed to be over far too quickly, but the band returned with Jon Odgers, who had been watching the performance from the side of the stage until then, to play two more songs. Apparently Jon had been very nervous and had been practicing for this event especially. It was good to see him back on stage with TMTCH!

The shock of the evening must have been the absense of any stage invaders during “Green Fields Of France”. This was not for the lack of trying by some determined fans, but the security where fast to stop any hopeful stage climbers. They also seemed to take offense at the two ladies sitting on someone's shoulders, one a tower of three, despite the fact that it was peaceful and harmless fun.

Sadly, Shanne, who was a guest ten years earlier at the Mean Fiddler, was absent from this anniversary celebration. No-one knew how to get in touch with her to ask her to join in on bass for a song or two, while another rumoured guest, Atilla The Stockbroker, was too busy jumping up and down with the rest of the audience to appear on stage for a quick “Iron Men Of Rap”.

The cameras used to film the concert with were distracting at best of times, but I think everyone was happy to put up with this inconvenience in return for a digitized memory of an excellent show.

All in all it was a wonderful evening which ended with a spontaneous chorus of “We'll support you ever more” by fans!

The songs played that evening were as follows (but not necessarily in this particular order!):

  • The Day After (show opener)
  • Shirt Of Blue
  • Going Back To Coventry
  • Ghosts of Cable Street
  • Wishing Well
  • Bounty Hunter
  • The Colours
  • Australia (Swill with Bobby V and Nick Muir)
  • Barrett's Privateers (Swill)
  • The Bells (Cush)
  • Silver Dagger (Cush)
  • Company Town
  • Ride Again
  • Rosettes
  • Nightbird
  • Silver Gun
  • Singing Elvis
  • Summer Of Hate
  • Smugglers (dedicated to Buck)
  • Ironmasters (first encore)
  • Green Fields Of France (last song of the evening)

But for the next part of their 20th anniversary celebration at the nearby Wenlock Arms pub some challenges awaited the band – for Swill this meant trying to find the pub by himself after the organization skills (or the lack thereof!) of the other band members who had arrived at the pub early left him behind at the venue holding the guitars.

Cush came upstairs to inform us of the reason for the slight delay, which made Buck feel anxious about whether any acoustic gig would be forthcoming at all. As it turned out, Cush himself had been blissfully unaware until he arrived from South Wales that morning that an acoustic set had been arranged. He was in good spirits about it, though, but did not feel like performing a stand-in accapello set until Swill and the guitars were found.

Once Swill and the guitars had safely arrived, the next challenge was to find songs they remembered how to play and which they hadn't played in the Academy gig.

Paul and Swill started off with three beautifully played ballads, before the song requests demanded the presence of Cush. He then took over from Paul on guitar and the duet of the two singers also turned into a bit of a cabaret. After their first three songs they were interrupted by Will the landlord, who informed us that as the governor, he was expecting things to wind down by 1:15 in the morning and all of us to leave by 1:30am.

“Industrial Town” was a request which was probably ill-advised. First they managed to tie themselves into knots, but once they untangeled from slaughtering the song, Cush added extra guitar sounds Flying Pickets-style.

While Swill was thinking of what other songs they could play, Cush filled in by playing an impromptu cover version of “In The Ghetto” by himself, at the end of which Swill suggested to laugh, rather than clap!

“Scarlet Ribbons” certainly was a highlight, with Cush remarking about recent political events.

Swill was happily flogging his solo CD when Cush suggested they play something from that CD. Maybe he regretted that idea moments later when Swill managed to trip him up by playing his new reworked version of “Family Way”; maybe he should have given a copy of his CD to Cush!

After a short debate about playing an acoustic version of “Rosettes”, they burst into song again with “Donald Where's Your Troosers?”. “Rawhide” was supposed to be the last song, with the time now gone way past 1:30, but they were on a roll and added another two covers of songs you would normally not associate with TMTCH. When folks were still demanding one more song after that, Cush added “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” to the list of covers and cock-ups before dropping to the floor in mock exhaustion.

It was shortly before 3am by the time the last lot left the pub to find their way home by cab or bus, after a member of the small Wenlock audience had finally managed to say goodbye to Swill for the 100th time, then was peeled away from Swill by his girlfriend who wanted to finally go home!

Acoustic songs played at the Wenlock:

Swill and Paul:

  • Pieces of Paradise
  • To Have And To Hold
  • Island In The Rain

Swill and Cush:

  • Parted From You
  • Dover Lights
  • Denis Law and Ali Macgraw
  • Ring Of Fire
  • Bankrobber
  • Industrial Town
  • In The Ghetto (Cush)
  • Ordinary Man
  • Night To Remember
  • Whisky In The Giro
  • Scarlet Ribbons
  • Family Way
  • Donald Where's Your Troosers?
  • Rawhide
  • I Can Help
  • I'm A Believer
  • Should I Stay Or Should I Go? (Cush)

Sadly not all the people who had wanted to attend the Wenlock occasion were able to do so. Hopefully on the short tour later this year they will have a chance to catch TMTCH at a cabaret-style acoustic performance as well. Hope to see you all (again) at the next event!

Esther Angel