The Men They Couldn’t Hang – Shepherd’s Bush Empire (19 April 2014)

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The Men They Couldn’t Hang played a blinder. They were out to celebrate their 30th anniversary, so were the crowd, and, by god, we all did.

That’s it, leave it there. Don’t poke it with a stick or pick at it. Just accept it’s was a brilliant night and walk away. Go on, you can do it…


Never let it be said I passed up the chance for a little petty nit-picking and a good old whinge.

And, it’s the usual whipping boy; the sound in Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Except, this is a special night, it’s getting recorded (both audio and video), so none of the cheap renta-soundman nonsense that’s blighted so many recent shows there. No, this is pristine, perfect, top quality hi-fidelity shit going on here. It’s enough to send an audiophile home to change their underwear. And, just to prove what a contrary tosser I am, therein lies the problem.

Many years before becoming Letterman Jr Craig Ferguson used to perform under the name Bing Hitler. One of the best bits he did was when he mused upon the two natures of The Corries: Happy Corrie and Angry Corrie. To a certain extent, TMTCH have always suffered from this too. There is the pastoral wistfulness of Swill Odgers vs the working class rage of The Cush. But, perhaps moreso, musically there was always that tension between their cowpunk roots and a much more (let’s be kind) trad folk thing. Even in my favourite song of theirs, The Ghosts of Cable Street, there’s a very thin line marked ‘naff’ which that chorus teeters on (but never falls). Of course, this dichotomy is a big part of what makes them them.

However, in this pristine, crystal clear environment the naffer side of things seems a little more amplified. Although I bought their first single, I was too young to have caught the band live those 30 years ago (oh yes I was). Having finally got the chance to do so, as no-one really splits up these days, it’s been in good old sweaty clubs. The Fureys (not to diss Finbar & Co – but they’re not the band I’m here to see). Throughout the show they have various special guests (original bass player Shanne Bradley, Ed Tudorpole – for a joyously unnecessary bounce through Swords – among them). There’s a point where they are joined by their original drummer (Swill’s brother Jon). Suddenly we’re watching a different band. Can that be all the difference? It’s the original rockabilly floor-tom thumping. It’s not like they pull out all the big guns, or even all ass-kicking numbers. It just works properly. When the regular, (fine, fine drummer) hi-hat riding guy come back it’s back to the polish, lacking grit and grist.

Again, this gig was great and I’m just a curmudgeon. But, just imagine it had all been that good…


Written by Tony Kiernan

20 April 2014 at 2:39 pm

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  1. […] to reprise last year. Who can blame them. Less guests and half-full. Still another top […]

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