LIVE REVIEW: The Men They Couldn’t Hang, Tyne Bank Brewery Tap, Newcastle, Thursday 28 November 2019
Can it really be 35 years since The Men They Couldn’t Hang first entered my world with their debut single, a wonderful cover of Green Fields Of France, which is still my favourite version of the song?
It says 1984 on the label, so it must be true, and if this gig – part of a short tour celebrating their 35th anniversary – is anything to go by, they’ll be with us for a while yet.
TMTCH are a hard band to pigeonhole; their sound contains a lot of folk, a big slice of punk attitude, and dashes of rock, soul and country, all served with a healthy dose of politics. What’s not to like?
First things first, the opening act for tonight’s show were Newcastle-based trio Candi’s Dog, who I believe only got the nod for the support slot on the day of the gig.
Stephen Justice and brothers Daniel and Matthew Slee served up an enjoyable half-hour set of melodic folk-pop, with Stephen’s vocals sounding uncannily like Crowded House’s Neil Finn at times.
It was the first time I’d seen them, and was unfamiliar with their songs, but they appear to have three EPs available, and I’d recommend checking them out at their Bandcamp page HERE.
On to the main event then, and it was clear from the off that this was going to be a celebration, with the venue even brewing a special pale ale, Silver Dagger, in honour of their visitors.
It was the first gig I’ve been to in Tyne Bank Brewery, and I hope it’s not the last. The stage is tucked away in one corner, but the room is so big that you can gather near the front or stay further back and enjoy a few beers at one of the tables but still hear perfectly, as the sound is good wherever you are.
The original incarnation of TMTCH only lasted until 1991, but they reformed five years later, and have been releasing new music and touring occasionally ever since.
Last year’s 12th studio album Cock-A-Hoop was hailed as their best in years, but tonight wasn’t about promoting a new record, it was about celebrating their legacy, and what a rich one it is.
Much of the setlist was drawn from those formative years, starting with The Crest from their third album, 1988’s Waiting For Bonaparte, quickly followed by Gold Rush, from 1986’s How Green Is The Valley.
Those two records accounted for about half the setlist between them, with favourites like Gold Rush, Going Back To Coventry and the still-powerful Shirt Of Blue, written at the time of the 1984-85 miners’ strike (“You know all about this up here, don’t you?”) lapped up by the crowd.
The small stage was a little cramped with six men on it, but the band seemed to revel in the intimate setting, and put on a cracking show.
The current line-up features three original members in Phil ‘Swill’ Odgers, Paul Simmonds and Stefan Cush, plus long-time bassist Ricky McGuire, and more recent acquisitions Billy Abbott on drums, and Tom Spencer (who’s also in The Professionals) adding some extra ‘oomph’ on guitar.
That’s most apparent in songs like early single Greenback Dollar, which segued into a cover of The Clash’s London Calling, and an absolutely storming Ironmasters, which closed the main set.
The latter saw Cush, who’d started the gig by showing his support for striking lecturers, exorting the crowd to ‘vote Jeremy, vote Labour’ on December 12 – as if they needed telling.
A three-song encore began with my very favourite TMTCH song, the anti-fascist anthem Ghosts Of Cable Street, continued with an exuberant Wishing Well and came to an end with a breakneck version of Walkin’ Talkin’ from first album Night Of A Thousand Candles.
As 35th anniversary shows go, this was certainly a night to remember.