THE MEN THEY COULDN’T HANG + 40 SHILLINGS ON THE DRUM + MATILDA’S SCOUNDRELS – THE CON CLUB, LEWES 16.11.19
The drizzle on a chilly Saturday night in Lewes couldn’t dampen my spirits as I made my way to The Con Club for what is becoming a regular date in the music calendar at this venue for a night with The Men They Couldn’t Hang, but the first time that I had witnessed them playing here.
I even took the risk of taking my 22 year old daughter along, even though she had never heard of tonight’s headliners, at which point the harsh realisation set in that maybe I hadn’t been such a good father after all. Surely this would be akin to child neglect but thankfully she is too old now to report me.
Personally, I hadn’t seen The Men They Couldn’t Hang play live since the early nineties, but up until then they had been a regular in my gig diary and I recall seeing them at Glastonbury CND Festival in 1985, which is evidence of the impact that they had on me as a 21 year old.
I still have in my possession the original vinyl recordings of a ‘Night Of A Thousand Candles’ and ‘How Green Is The Valley’ along with one of my favourite singles of all-time ‘Ironmasters’, but like a few bands, I lost touch with them over the years. It’s fair to say that they have been busy since I last saw them and to date they have recorded 14 studio albums showing off their undoubted musical talents. My only concern was that I wouldn’t be familiar with the newer songs in their catalogue, but I felt in safe hands given the quality of their early material which would surely get a run-out tonight. Given that they were founded in 1984 and still have a hardcore following (9,518 Facebook likes) they must be doing something right.
First on the bill were South Coast favourites Matilda’s Scoundrels. Sadly, but deservedly, they are taking a break from the music scene after 5 years and almost 300 extremely energetic gigs. There is never a dull moment at one of their shows and tonight’s shorter set would prove to be no exception to the rule. Having annoyingly missed the first two songs in the set due to Sunday drivers on a Saturday night, we walked into a packed Con Club and it took no time to get into yet another rousing show from Matilda’s Scoundrels. This band has grown immensely over the years and are now well respected on the punk circuit.
Unfortunately, I was too late in purchasing a ticket for their last ‘sold out’ gig (for now) at Crowley’s in Hastings, so this was to be my last chance to row along to ‘Sinking In Their Sins’ until the band return after their year out from the chaos of a Scoundrels tour.
Tonight’s rowing boat was no ordinary one as the Head Oarsman was none other than Attila The Stockbroker in his ‘Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign’ t-shirt. A seal of approval if ever there was one. The only disappointment for me was that my favourite tune ‘Bow To The Powers’ was cut from the set, presumably due to time restraints, but the set was so good that I didn’t even realise at the time.
With lead singer Quinn recently getting married, it seems like the ideal opportunity to rest his rasping vocal chords until he gets over the honeymoon period and feels his fingers twitching to play the mandolin once again. Roll on 2021 for what I hope will be a triumphant return of Hastings finest, and don’t worry, I have heard that there will be new material, to which they treated us to two songs this evening in ‘Little Common’ and ‘Pigmen’, to coincide with their return. A new album will hopefully also be in the mix.
Tonight’s setlist reads:
‘Shackles And Bones’, ‘Mr Martyn’, ‘Bottles Of Rum’, ‘Crowley’s Curse’, ‘Little Common’, ‘Pigmen’, ‘Sinking In Their Sins’, ‘Godforsaken Sea’.
Matilda’s Scoundrels are: Quinn (vocals/mandolin), Jason (vocals/acoustic guitar/tin whistle/banjo), Jens (vocals/accordion), Dan (guitar), James (bass) and John (drums).
It is virtually a year since I saw 40 Shillings On The Drum supporting the UK Subs at this very same venue. That early review of mine was rather brief, so tonight I decided that I would make up for my lack of words on that occasion, so as not to upset guitarist Steve on his birthday.
40 Shillings On The Drum are now officially Brighton based, given that bassist Dave has moved into the area, though lead singer Daniel was blissfully unaware of this. They are currently in a transitional phase moving from the Folk Punk genre to Rock music, though even from listening to their back catalogue it was apparent that there was a lot of experimenting between different musical genres and it has taken four years for them to find the direction which they wish to proceed in. After their Friday night gig in Hastings to a sparse audience, they were obviously pleased to be playing to a packed Con Club, though I think they secretly missed the bizarre head licking appreciation antics of the night before.
With tonight being a Folk Punk affair, I was rather surprised that the band did not delve into their back catalogue a bit more, but at the same time it is understandable why they would want to play their new rock based music set, as they look to promote their new album which is due out next year, from which they played their next single ‘Video Nasty.’
My favourite tracks of the set were both from their early days, the opening ‘Ode To Old Reilly’ and the catchy ‘Brighton Belle’. They also had to take a song out of their set, as time was of the essence and as a result ‘No Time To Die’ got the chop. I wish them all the best in their new musical direction, though I probably won’t be following them en route.
Tonight’s setlist reads:
‘Ode To Old Reilly’, ‘Four Star Blackout’, ‘Beggars On The Street’, ‘The Early Days’, ‘A Hole In The Cloud’, ‘Cocaine Charmaine’, ‘Brighton Belle’, ‘Video Nasty’, ‘Broken Windows’, ‘Ceremony For The Dead’.
40 Shillings On The Drum are: Daniel Scully (vocals), Steven Cobley (guitar), Seb Cole (keyboards/backing vocals), David Cobley (bass), Matt Hill (drums).
Whilst eagerly awaiting the main course, an audience member placed a model cow atop a front stage speaker and took a photo of said cow, obviously in preparation for the moosh pit! Given that I was with my first born I was unable to resist the Dad joke.
It wasn’t long before The Men They Couldn’t Hang took to the stage and it was going to be a late one, as we were already behind schedule, but from the opening bars of ‘The Crest’, I knew that the wait had been worthwhile, I mean an extra 20 minutes on top of 28 years wasn’t going to make that much of a difference to me.
With ‘Gold Rush’ and ‘Going Back To Coventry’ from the second album, and ‘Scarlet Ribbons’ (one of my favourite tracks of the night) from the first, getting played early on, the boys had set me up nicely for what would be a set with some surprises, as they played a few songs that rarely get a live outing.
Much to my joy though, they played a further four songs from the two albums in my collection; ‘Shirt of Blue,’ ‘Wishing Well,’ ‘Ironmasters’ (my favourite track of the night of course) joined briefly onstage by Attila to finish off the set, and the last song of the encore ‘Ghosts Of Cable Street’. Saying that though, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole set, even those songs that I was unfamiliar though there weren’t that many as virtually the whole set was pre-1991.
I feel that a special mention has to go to Bobby Valentino on violin, whether he be playing it traditionally or plucking it he made it look easy. Mind you, he has an impressive CV including playing with the likes of The Style Council, Big Country, The Bluebells and Billy Bragg but to mention a few.
The Men They Couldn’t Hang are looking forward in anticipation to playing the Tyne Bank Brewery in Newcastle on the 28th of this month and in celebration of this, a one-off ale will be served that night called ‘Silver Dagger’ and so they played the song for us tonight. As Cush said, “The Men They Couldn’t Hang playing a brewery, what could possibly go right?!” It sounds like it could be a memorable gig if anybody remains sober enough to actually remember it.
This fantastic night was complete when Cush decided to crowd surf. I have no photographic evidence, as being at the very front, I was the first person to grab his right leg as he fell into the crowd, but I can vouch for it being a momentous occasion without any serious injuries sustained by the crowd or musician. He commented afterwards that he is “your mother, father, uncle, aunt, grandfather……..” and so on through the family tree, in reference to maybe not being so slender as he was in his younger days. Swill was kind enough to ensure that those of us at the front didn’t get their knees smashed against the stage by requesting that the mosh pit take one step back to prevent further bruising.
I had worried that my eldest daughter would not appreciate tonight, in what was a pretty middle aged audience, but I was pleasantly surprised by her reaction as she completed another stage of her musical education with flying colours by discovering the wonders of folk punk. She rowed along to Matilda’s Scoundrels, got involved in TMTCH mosh pit, and stood next to the punk poet legend that is Attila the Stockbroker for the most part, without knowing who he is, but that is another lesson.
They are still passionate about politics and singing for the socialist cause, which was one of the reasons they caught my eye in the early days. It’s safe to say that I won’t be waiting another 28 years before I witness the musical genius of The Men They Couldn’t Hang again.
Tonight’s setlist reads:
‘The Crest’ (found on ‘Waiting For Bonaparte’ 1988)
‘Gold Rush’ (found on ‘How Green Is The Valley’ 1986)
‘Bounty Hunter’ (found on ‘Waiting For Bonaparte’ 1988)
‘Scarlet Ribbons’ (found on ‘Night Of A Thousand Candles’ 1985)
‘Going Back To Coventry’ (found on ‘How Green Is The Valley’ 1986)
‘Great Expectations’ (found on’ Domino Club’ 1990)
‘Blackfriars Bridge’ (found on ‘Silver Town’ 1989)
‘Silver Dagger’ (found on ‘Waiting For Bonaparte’ 1988)
‘Smugglers’ (found on ‘Waiting For Bonaparte’ 1988)
‘Shirt Of Blue’ (found on ‘How Green Is The Valley’ 1986)
‘Dogs Eyes Owl Meat And Man Chop’ (found on ‘Domino Club’ 1990)
‘Home Fires’ (found on ‘Silver Town’ 1989)
‘Greenback Dollar’ (found on Single released 1985)
‘Sirens’ (found on ‘Cock-A-Hoop’ 2018)
‘The Colours’ (found on ‘Waiting For Bonaparte’ 1988)
‘Ironmasters’ (found on ‘Night Of A Thousand Candles’ 1985)
‘Donald Where’s Yoor Troosers?’ (found on B Side of ‘Ironmasters’ 1985)
‘Wishing Well’ (found on ‘How Green Is The Valley’ 1986)
‘Ghosts Of Cable Street’ (found on ‘How Green Is The Valley’ 1986)
The Men They Couldn’t Hang are: Phil “Swill” Odgers (lead vocals/guitar), Stefan Cush (lead vocals/guitar), Paul Simmonds (mandolin/bouzouki), Ricky McGuire (bass),
Tom Spencer (guitar/banjo), Billy Abbott (drums), Bobby Valentino (violin).
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