Did you know that the Pogues were originally going
to be called The Men They Couldn't Hang? (And their very weird movie
Straight to Hell suggested their idea of what the American West was
really like!) Well, history was slightly different, and The Men They
Couldn't Hang were instead the band formed in 1983 by former buskers --
Is there really such an animal? -- Phil 'Swill' Odgers, Jon Odgers,
Stephan Cush, Paul Simmonds, and -- surprisingly -- a woman named
Shanne Hasler who if the photo in The Night of A
Thousand Candles CD is any indication, a dead
ringer for Caitlin O'Riordan of the Pogues. (Caitlin O'Riordan would
later marry Elvis Costello who signed TMTCH to his Imp label.
Schroedinger's kittens were very busy back in the early Eighties!)
Originally, they were considered part of the punk scene with the Pogues
-- and Hasler -- my, this gets very weird -- was a member of the Nipple
Erectors that Shane MacGowan founded before the Pogues. My take is that
The Men They Couldn't Hang very quickly developed a style of rockish
folk heavy on socialist/working class themes and drawing heavily from a
romanticized version of the American West.
Men They Couldn't Hang still exist, and Baby Fishlips seems to be a
sproutling off that group. (There was a group called Liberty Cage that
had a brief existence in the mid Nineties. If the CD-R of a Liberty
Cage concert I was sent from a member of TMTCH listserv is a fair
representation of their sound, the group sounds exactly like TMTCH!)
The Men They Couldn't Hang featured inteligently written lyrics clearly
sung with instrumention strong on solid guitar work. Not that there
weren't lots of other instruments -- I count medlodia, tin whistles,
uillean pipes, mandolin, trumpets, clarinets, saxaphones, keyboards,
drums, other percussion, and a few other things on their albums. The
Men They Couldn't Hang are certainly one of the best folk rock bands
ever created, period. Indeed they're so good that I'd personally book
'em if they ever made their way across the Atlantic Ocean!
how does this Philip Odgers and Paul Simmonds' CD differ from their
work as part of TMTCH? My wife says it sounds sparser and a bit
cleaner. Philip Odgers and Paul Simmonds are the principle players here
with Mick Thomas being credited (guest vocalist) on "The Trigger"
track. It's an amazingly full given that there's only Odgers and
Simmonds. It's some of the finest ballsy harmonizing I've ever had the
pleasure to hear -- They must be truly awesome live!
of the songs have a definate feel of the old American West. For
example, "A Mountain in Navare" seems like it should have been made
into a video with Johnny Cash wandering around in it. The lyrics are
not what sets the tone; it's the voices of Odgers and Simmonds combined
with their tastefully restrained guitar playing that invokes the fee of
that long-gone era for me.
all of the songs are written by Simmonds/Odgers/Simmonds except for
"Barrett's Privateers" which was penned by Canadian musician Stan
Rogers. It's a great version with Swill doing a solo a capella vocal.
The refrain of "God Damn It All" of the last of Barrett's Privateers
certainly rings true.
I look back on the thousands of CDs that Green Man
Review will have gotten this year, I will clearly
remember this CD. Many of the others -- the good, the bad, and the
indifferent -- will be but a blur in my memory, but Baby
Fishlips will stand out clearly in my memory. If
you haven't yet heard The Men They Couldn't Hang, this is more that
fair introduction to them. Buy Baby Fishlips
and then go get every TMTCH CD you can lay your hands. If you live
anywhere in the British Isles, go see them live when they come anyone