Solo time for Swill.
Why did I
decide to do some 'solo' stuff? Well, let's go back in time a little.
2004 was a landmark year for The Men They Couldn't Hang's. It was our
20th anniversary. In those two decades 10 albums (including one live
and two compilations) had been released. Countless gigs had been
performed. This whole process also provided the added benefits of
travelling to places, and meeting people, that we would never have seen
if it hadn't been for the band. Being in TMTCH covers a wide range of
emotions and experiences. We are close like a family and we always like
to make the most of what we find. As a reviewer of a gig we played as
part of the International Guitar Festival of Great Britain (The Wirral,
2004) aptly puts it "TMTCH are not so much of a band, as a way of life,
having created a deep influential path for which its band members,
former players and fans can follow. They are an exceptional group of
musicians, an exceptional band, with an exceptional attitude towards
music - exceptional!" All well and good so far but it still doesn't
answer the question 'why did I decide to do the solo stuff' does it?
Well, I love TMTCH and long may we continue. We're all still mates and
the core of the band is the same as it was on that 1984 Easter Monday
at The Alternative Country Festival in Camden. It's strange to look
back at the line up from that day where, for just £4 you could
see a bill the included: Poguemahone, Boothill Foot Tappers, Hackney
Five-O Cut Loose, The Blubbery Hellbellies and the svelte, fresh-faced
and recently formed The Men They Couldn't Hang. This was the birth of a
significant music scene that would send ripples round the world.
However, for various and complex reasons, the only band that has
survived intact has been TMTCH. Swill OdgersTo say that it playing in a
band like TMTCH is an emotional experience would be a massive
understatement. On a long tour, privacy is a luxury, nights are long
and the back of the tour bus smells like a yak's arse on a bad day.
When it comes to the music, everyone in the band has his own variations
on a theme. There is common ground, of course, but we all have our own
particular favourites. It makes for a great melting pot when it comes
to songwriting and recording and, in my opinion, this is what gives
TMTCH such a unique flavour. Although highly productive, this method of
working inevitably means that certain songs get overlooked because they
just don't sit right with everyone involved. This was one of the main
reasons that I wanted to record something that I had complete control
over. I didn't want to get distracted by the technology of a big
studio, or a producer with a ponytail. For better or for worse I wanted
to be responsible for the end sound and I wanted the end sound to be
simple and lively. Also, to be honest, I couldn't really afford a big
studio, or a producer. Ponytail or no ponytail.
The Day After - My first solo album
Simmonds, the lead guitarist and main songwriter with TMTCH, and I have
been friends for even longer than we've been together in the band.
We've also recorded and gigged side projects as 'Odgers &
Simmonds', 'Liberty Cage' and, way back in the mists of time, 'Catch
22' ("before it catches you…" as the old song goes). I told Paul
about my ideas and asked if he had any spare lyrics floating around
that he would like me to put to music. So armed with half a dozen
excellent sets of lyrics from Paul, a couple of covers (picked up from
watching endless re-runs of 'Oh Brother Where Art Thou' and going to a
few London Irish weddings over the years), two re-worked TMTCH songs
and some of my own scribblings, I booked a small studio in Shepherd's
Bush. The plan for the album was a simple one: I spoke to several
friends that I wanted to accompany me on the recording session and
asked if they would like to be involved. The deal would be that I would
send them the rough song-shapes and we would meet up at the studio a
couple of weeks later. There would be no rehearsal: we'd simply run
through the songs and record everything we played until we got the
definitive version. Oh, and all the instruments had to be acoustic.
The Band with no Name
So, who were these friends, these guest musicians?
Well, Ricky McGuire, bassist with TMTCH added his unique blend of highland and lowland malt bass to several tracks whilst my brother, Jon Odgers,
who played on the first five TMTCH albums dusted off his drumsticks and
played snare, bongos and any other small, defenceless percussion.
Tom Spencer, of Fast Lane Roogalator
and sometime TMTCH tour manager, played guitar and banjo. Tom is a
great guitarist and has been playing guitar for years but on this album
he was playing banjo for the first time - literally!!
Jamie Mathews (who was recording on the Roogalators'
album in another part of town) popped in and added some great
harmonica. He also plays a tasty ukulele: that led to the uke and vocal
version of 'In the Jailhouse Now'. We also recruited the studio
receptionist, Marsha Swanson, to join in on a little yodelling.
Next up was Bobby Valentino.
Bobby was his usual brilliant self - possibly a tad brillianter! - he
not only added some wondrous fiddle to six of the tracks but also
played a mandolin that had belonged to his grandma, dates back to the
1800's and was bombed in the blitz and dug out of the rubble. It sounds
Last up was TMTCH roadie and neighbour Ashley Halloween
(and yes that is his real name) who contributed some fine picking to
'The Flood' and 'Family Way' and surprised all of us, even himself, as
this was his first time in a recording studio.
Take your time, time your takes
All the lead vocals were recorded live -
which is very rare - as where most of the instruments. There's a kind
of unspoken acceptance in the music business that very little is
recorded live and most bands go along with that - even to the extent
that most 'Live' albums you have heard will have been taken back to a
recording studio and had almost all the instruments and vocals replaced
(or at least patched up). It is not unknown for a live album to have
barley anything from the gig left intact apart from the sound of the
crowd - and there's a good chance that that will have been enhanced! I
wanted to take the live feel to the other extreme insisting that didn't
even rehearse these songs before the recording session. Wherever
possible all the instruments were recorded at the same time
too…although there were limits with some of us (Tom and Bobby to
name but two) playing more than one instrument on some of the songs.
This was very much the way I wanted to record - to capture the freshest
performance and was something that we (TMTCH) had done, to some extent,
on 'The Cherry Red Jukebox' but now I wanted to take it further.
The studio, beneath the Hammersmith and City tube line, is compact and
not superbly soundproofed. In the same complex are several rehearsal
rooms so this made recording tricky as the mics would not only pick up
the odd sound from any particularly heavy trains rumbling overhead but
also spill from bands in the other rooms (not all of who followed our
'acoustic instruments only' rule). All in all we had to time our takes
carefully otherwise that meaningful fading hum of the last mandolin
note would also pick up the thrash metal bassist in the adjacent room.
The Smoking Guns
Following on in TMTCH tradition each
session had a large social element to it, there was always a bit of a
party atmosphere pervading our studio space and I think this cuts
through in the recordings. We would also follow each session by a visit
to the local boozers or a meal in one of Shepherds Bush's finest
eateries. Often on these occasions, after much patting of backs and
mutual appreciation, we would get down to the subject of names for the
'backing band'. We spent one long and merry evening in 'The Light of
Nepal' debating over the merits of 'Loaded Dice', 'Smoking Guns' and
'Loaded Guns'. This discourse carried on, in a near obsessive manner,
for weeks during which time we also solicited help from visitors to
www.tmtch.net and the list grew to include Swill and:
in a flash of light, it came and everyone agreed that Swill and the
Swaggerband' was a fine name and fitted in nicely, thank you very much,
with the recording. The end result is 'The Day After' by Swill and the
Swaggerband. 13 tracks on 1 lively album which is available from
www.tmtch.net or at either The Men They Couldn't Hang or my own (very
- The Swaggers
- The Dark Stars
- The Bounty Hunters
- The Acton Shuffle
- The Loaded Dice
- The Smoking Guns
- The Loaded Guns
- The Light of Nepal
- The Mad Cowboys
- The Braxton Hicks
- The Wild Cards
- The Peacekeepers
- The 4 Horsemen
- The Wrong ' em Boyo's
- The Band with no Name
- The W Three
- The Swillettes
- The Trough Boys
I wanted to do some solo
stuff in addition to TMTCH stuff and came out with this. I'm now
working on the second album right now and will be happy if I have half
as much fun doing it.