Busking in Shepherd’s Bush, Welsh singer Stefan Cush met up with bassist Shanne Hasler (who had been in The Nips (Nipple Erectors) with The Pogues‘ Shane McGowan), guitarist/songwriter Paul Simmonds, Scottish guitarist and singer Phil (“Swill”) Odgers and his brother John, a drummer.
The group came together in time for a ramshackle folk performance at London’s alternative country music festival at Easter 1984. Labelled as part of some ‘cowpunk’ scene, the band was quickly signed by Elvis Costello to the Demon label.
A cover of Eric Bogle’s Green Fields of France became a runaway indie success in October 1984 and a favourite of Radio 1 DJ John Peel. Their impressive debut album, The Night of a Thousand Candles (1985), demonstrated the band’s deep moral and political conscience.
With their blend of folk and punk, The Men They Couldn’t Hang quickly emerged as sparring partners for The Pogues. Despite a blaze of early publicity and praise, though, they failed to follow them upwards, dogged as they were by numerous record label changes.
The group’s second album, How Green Is The Valley (1986), was released on MCA but the label dropped the band soon thereafter and Shanne left the group to create music with Wreckless Eric. She was replaced on bass by Ricky McGuire (ex UK Subs).
A move to Magnet Records produced perhaps their finest work, not least with the commercial Island In The Rain and the album Waiting for Bonaparte (1987).
The Colours in March 1988 was even more radio-friendly, but despite good airplay, it only skirted the charts and when WEA took over Magnet, the band were out in the cold again after just one single, The Crest, in May.
Fledgeling label Silvertone came to the rescue in time for Rain, Steam and Speed in February 1989, followed by the LP Silvertown (which hit the Top 40, peaking at #39) and a comprehensive world tour. Two other singles kept the fire burning – A Place In The Sun and A Map of Morocco.
The final album, The Domino Club (1990) added full-time keyboard and accordion player Nick Muir but after Great Expectations (July 1990), the Men They Couldn’t Hang called it a day in the face of commercial apathy.
The band re-formed in 1996 minus drummer Jon Odgers – he was replaced by Kenny Harris of The Screaming Blue Messiahs – and have continued to record sporadically and play occasional concerts.
Phil ‘Swill’ Odgers
Vocals, guitar, tin whistle
Guitar, vocals, mandolin, keyboards
Shanne Hasler (Shanne Bradley)