Men They Couldn’t Hang

  • Men They Couldn't Hang
  • Night of a Thousand Candles (UK Imp/Demon) 1985 
  • Greenback Dollar EP (UK Demon) 1986 
  • How Green Is the Valley (UK MCA) 1986 
  • Waiting for Bonaparte (UK Magnet) 1988 
  • Silvertown (Silvertone) 1989 
  • The Domino Club (Silvertone) 1990 

This English quintet acquired its name when original bassist Shanne Bradley nicked it from her former Nips bandmate, Shane MacGowan, who had it in mind for his own combo — which instead became the Pogues. Playing whistles, mandolin, bouzouki (with guests adding fiddle, accordion, etc.), the Men sail a musical sea that is not that far removed from the early work of their better-known contemporaries. Pogue Philip Chevron produced part of Night of a Thousand Candles, which includes “The Green Fields of France” (written by Australian folk singer Eric Bogle, also covered by the Pogues). Despite the similarities (is it merely coincidence that both bands formed with female bassists who didn’t stay long?), the Men They Couldn’t Hang have nonetheless carved out a distinctive, rocking identity all their own, with dual lead vocals and original songs (mostly by singer Phil “Swill” Odgers and guitarist Paul Simmonds) that combine folky humanism and an earthy working-class sensibility.

The basic approach hasn’t varied much over the years. Night of a Thousand Candles (the six songs on the Greenback Dollar 12-inch, including the titular Hoyt Axton classic and “Rawhide,” are appended to the CD and cassette editions) displays the band at its pub-bred rootsiest, racing through tunes with uninhibited enthusiasm. From there, the band filled out its delivery and improved its songwriting, reached a pinnacle of sorts on the smoothly realized Silvertown, a rich folk-rock brew of topical numbers about actress Frances Farmer (“Lobotomy Gets ’em Home!”), capitalist paternalism (“Company Town”) and the Channel tunnel (“Rain, Steam & Speed”), with a woebegone tale of European travel (“A Place in the Sun”) and similarly romantic adventures.

Produced by Pat Collier, The Domino Club is a bit too slick for its own good, with inconsistent material (Simmonds is the main contributor) and plain, uninspired performances.

[Scott Schinder / Ira Robbins]

See also: Pogues