THE MEN THEY COULDN’T HANG + BAND OF THE UNDERHAND – CONCORDE 2, BRIGHTON 20.11.21
Almost two years ago to the day I last saw The Men They Couldn’t Hang (TMTCH) play at The Con Club in Lewes. It was a memorable occasion as I had not seen them for almost 30 years and it brought back many memories of how good they had been in their heyday. The highlight of the night for me was when the irrepressible singer and guitarist Cush crowd surfed, something I dare not risk at a similar age.
At that point I had officially reaffirmed my love affair with the band and was looking forward to catching them live in the future, but then the world turned upside down when the ‘C’ word struck. This was hard enough to cope with due to the lack of live music and social contact, but this was magnified even further when on February 4th this year, the unthinkable happened for the band and its loyal fan base: Stefan Cush sadly passed away after suffering a heart attack. Even just writing this brings a tear to my eye and my relationship with the band had not been that close for a while, so God only knows the effect it must have had on those closest to him. With the band honouring their tour schedule in spite of their loss, I was preparing myself for an emotion-charged evening at the Concorde 2 in Brighton.
Support tonight came from Band Of The Underhand lead singer Dave Earl, or Dave Underhand as he goes by. Armed with his acoustic guitar he suddenly appeared on stage without any build up. Tonight’s gig was just him due to ‘cutbacks’ and he openly admitted to maybe not being best prepared and that he was going to ‘busk it’.
It was definitely a promising start with a song title unknown though I would hazard a guess at something along the lines of “Hail hail, the Fireball 4”, but I stand open to correction. Second song was an attempt at a new one which had an abrupt end with his capo appearing to get in the way. He made light of this and removed the offending item before continuing with his set.
The next song was my personal highlight as he played ‘Strummerville’, not the Stiff Little Fingers version of the song that I am familiar with, but one which his band released as a single in 2019. Obviously a tribute to the late great Joe Strummer, but as was appropriate tonight, he dedicated it to another music legend whose life we were celebrating this evening, the one and only Stefan Cush. He looked understandably emotional but the song was a fitting tribute.
The set continued as he mixed it up with a bit of country and western, followed by a song dedicated to Extinction Rebellion called ‘We Are The Boat’. Another highlight for me was the penultimate song of the set about George Floyd which hit home at the injustice of his murder. The set ended with a love song called ‘Little Mystery’ which was featured on the band’s 2019 album ‘A Long Way Home’, but was played live at their first gig way back in 2012. A nice little warm up for the evening ahead.
Tonight’s gig had actually been chosen to live stream with a suggested donation of £8, so anyone around the world could tune in to see the back of my bald head down the front, not to be confused with my mate’s who was standing next to me! The Men They Couldn’t Hang (TMTCH) entered stage left to a rousing reception from the crowd. Although not sold out, the room was ‘full’ of love in memory of Cush.
They opened with ‘Raising Hell’ which judging by some of the stories sounded quite an apt song to start off in memory of tonight’s missing member. Playing ‘Going Back To Coventry’ fairly early on, local resident Paul Simmonds recalled how the A&R man had asked him if he could slow the song down to which he thankfully replied “No” as it is a masterpiece and would have been worthy of a mosh pit but seemed to catch the crowd out.
There was a change in the setlist when the band opted to play their moving cover of Eric Bogle’s ‘The Green Fields of France (No Man’s Land)’ rather than ‘Scarlet Ribbons’, personally I wish they had played both. Prior to the song Swill talked about the last time they saw Cush alive on a band Zoom call, and how Cush had struggled for half an hour to get his sound to work. He never had this problem in real life. This outpouring of losing such a close friend and how they heard about his death, brought a tear to my eye and I’m sure to many others in the room and watching around the world.
For TMTCH and their fans, this song has long been associated with Cush and the passion with which he would sing about a young soldier, Willie McBride, being killed in the First World War at the tender age of 19. It was their first single, on the advice of Elvis Costello, and reached the top spot in the indie chart and even number three in the John Peel Festive 50, which was no mean feat. Of course Phil ‘Swill’ Odgers did him proud tonight.
A new song, ‘Red Kite Rising’ was written and sung by Paul Simmonds in memory of Cush as the Red Kite was his favourite bird. The emotion shown during this song was there for all to see, but also brought a smile to my heart as we celebrated Cush. Guitarist Tom Spencer, and current frontman for The Professionals, took over vocal duties for ‘Salutations’ and recalled a drinking story with Cush. As usual the politically sound ‘Ghosts Of Cable Street’ about the stand of the British people against the rise of fascism, is well received by the crowd.
Tonight’s set had some curveballs thrown in with ‘A Map Of Morocco’ released as a single in 1989 and ‘The Eye’ from the album ‘Never Born To Follow’ in 1996, both rarely heard live. One of the wonders of seeing TMTCH live is you can always expect the unexpected, and they play the songs as if they are a regular feature on their setlist.
The mosh pit didn’t really start to take hold until the second to last song of the set, when they played ‘Colours’ and the final song was a rousing rendition of the wonderful crowd favourite ‘Ironmasters’ which raised the roof. There was then a very short break before the encore, probably due to the live stream, and we calmed down for ‘A Night To Remember’, only to finish off with a final mosh to ‘Walkin’ Talkin’, which would have been their first single if not for Mr Costello’s intervention. A great song to finish the night though and once again I left satisfied.
A night spent with The Men They Couldn’t Hang is a history lesson, an emotional rollercoaster, and a lesson in musicianship, all rolled into one. I still marvel at Bobby Valentino’s mastery on the violin. Last time I attended their gig with my daughter and tonight with a friend, neither of whom had heard of the band nor would TMTCH fit into the genre of music I would associate with either, yet both left as converted fans.
The Men They Couldn’t Hang remain unbeaten and unbroken. The sad loss TMTCH suffered would have killed off many lesser bands but Swill’s announcement that they will continue as a band in the future shows their friendship is the strength of which their music continues to influence people worldwide. This news was obviously well received by the loyal following in attendance. It may never be quite the same as before as the charismatic Cush is irreplaceable, but with his guitar placed poignantly in front of the drum set at every live gig it is a reminder of what a much loved member of the band, he was and always will be. I would like to think that he was looking down on us during his Brighton ‘Wake’ and crowd surfed his heavenly body over the mosh pit. Even if he wasn’t, we were honoured that his son was in the crowd to share this precious evening.
R.I.P. Cush, Long live The Men They Couldn’t Hang.
Tonight’ actual setlist:
‘Raising Hell’ (found on ‘The Defiant’ 2014)
‘Nightbird’ (found on ‘Six Pack’ 1997)
‘The Eye’ (found on ‘Never Born To Follow’ 1996)
‘Going Back To Coventry’ (found on ‘How Green Is The Valley’ 1986)
‘Green Fields Of France (No Man’s Land)’ (found on ‘Night Of A Thousand Candles’ 1985)
‘Smugglers’ (found on ‘Waiting For Bonaparte’ 1988)
‘A Map of Morocco’ (released as a single in 1989)
‘Red Kite Rising’ (vocals: Paul Simmonds) (new composition)
‘Gold Rush’ (found on ‘How Green Is The Valley’ 1986)
‘Salutations’ (vocals: Tom Spencer)
‘Blackfriars Bridge’ (found on ‘Silver Town’ 1989)
‘Islands In The Rain’ (found on ‘Waiting For Bonaparte’ 1988)
‘Ghosts Of Cable Street’ (found on ‘How Green Is The Valley’ 1986)
‘The Colours’ (found on ‘Waiting For Bonaparte’ 1988)
‘Ironmasters’ (found on ‘Night Of A Thousand Candles’ 1985)
‘A Night To Remember’ (found on ‘Night Of A Thousand Candles’ 1985)
‘Walkin’ Talkin’’ (found on ‘Night Of A Thousand Candles’ 1985)
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