It can be very frustrating for an act when your debut hit single gets off to a good start in terms of radio airplay, but then comes to a sudden halt when radio decide to ban it. In the case of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax, the controversy just fuelled people’s intrigue and everyone rushed out to buy it which sent it to number one and thus became one of the biggest selling singles of all time. The Men They Couldn’t Hang didn’t have such luck when their single The Colours fell of the chart after just four weeks.
The band were formed in 1984 after Paul Simmonds, Philip Odgers and his brother Jon, all former members of post-punk band Catch 22, got together with singer Stefan Cush, and drummer Shane Bradley. They spent much of the mid-eighties appearing at a number of alternative country music festivals. Their first two albums, Night of a Thousand Candles (1985) and How Green Is the Valley (1986) made little impact. In 1987 Bradley was replaced by ex-UK Subs drummer Ricky McGuire and the following year they switched to Magnet records and released their third album Waiting for Bonaparte which launched them into the spotlight across Europe, but not in the UK. Magnet had the budget to promote them better and it resulted in one track called The Colours which, as mentioned previously, got substantial airplay on Radio 1 with DJ’s like John Peel and Janice Long supporting it.
Although it received evening airplay on Radio 1, The Colours, which told of an English mutineer sailor during the Napoleonic War and The Crest a stretcher bearer during World War II, was blacklisted from daytime airplay due to the line ‘You’ve Come Here To Watch Me Hang’, which echoed the events happening in South African townships at the time. Despite this, it still reached number 61 in the UK chart and hung around for four weeks. What probably meant more to them was that in 1988, they ended up at number three on John Peel’s Festive 50.
In 1988 the band changed labels again and this time signed with a new label called Silvertone (which later became home to The Stone Roses). The first album on the new label was Silvertown which included Rain, Steam and Speed, A Place In the Sun and A Map of Morocco. They followed this up in 1990 with The Domino Club, which had a more conventional rock sound and thus dispensed with much of the folk element in their sound. The band split in 1991 after releasing a live album called Alive, Alive-0. Paul Simmonds and Phil Odgers then formed Liberty Cage. This was short-lived as The Men They Couldn’t Hang reunited in 1996. They returned with a new power and excitement to their music and the new album Never Born to Follow included the excellent single, The Eye.
The band are still on the road and have confirmed that they are appearing at the Rhythm Folk Festival on Friday 24th August. They’ve also just announced that they will be headlining a tribute concert for the Clash’s Joe Strummer on Friday 16 November at Notting Hill’s Tabernacle club where they will be accompanied by sets from Strummer’s mentor and sometime Mescalero, Tymon Dogg. They are also writing songs for an as yet un-named new album.