Around 200 folk turned out to see the self-proclaimed grandfathers of folk-punk at Mareel last night.
And not all the audience who enthusiastically received The Men They Couldn’t Hang were arthritic Methuselas reliving their pogoing youth, a fair cross-section of ages were in the crowd.
The band’s third trip to Shetland almost did not happen thanks to blundering airlines double booking one of their flights which meant they had to re-route from London via Glasgow instead and still had to leave their manager and guest fiddler behind.
The incident might have felled a lesser mortal than promoter Davie Gardner who had driven to Sumburgh to meet a plane devoid of Men They Couldn’t Hang members, and subsequently could not make contact with the band.
But once finally on the Mareel stage, the singer/guitarist Stefan Cush announced they were delighted to be once more in Shetland and in the “fantastic” new auditorium – “now that really is a piece of work”.
They kicked off with the folk/country style Devil on the Wind dating from the 2009 album of the same years ago, and with a little prompting from Cush there were 20 or so on the dance floor – most of them stayed there the whole night.
Next they launched into the Ghosts of Cable Street, penned by mandolin/guitarist Paul Simmonds, based on the pre-war fight against fascism in the East End of London – a fight that “never goes away”, said Cush, referring to the rise of UKIP.
Nick Lowe’s Wishing Well had the band back on country tack. Then electric guitarist Phil Odgers took his turn fairly belting the vocals on Bounty Hunter, another country inflected number.
Celebrating their 30th year, The Men They Couldn’t Hang have just released a new, highly acclaimed, album – the fan-funded The Defiant – and played another trad folk/country song that could have been picked for the local audience, Night Ferry.
References to Wales and Welsh radicalism loom large in The Men They Couldn’t Hang’s work and the improbably titled stomper Dog’s Eyes, Owl Meat & Man Chop was inspired by the raging Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
The punky Going back to Coventry was the last song the band played before Cush took the mic for a solo spot that marked the middle-point of the gig and he delivered an excellent rendition of Barrett’s Privateers.
The band were back in bouncing form after the interval and the re-energised dancers seemed to double in number. The second song into the second half saw the band perform an acclaimed version of Eric Bogle’s song with many titles, in this case The Green Fields of France, off Night of a Thousand Candles.
Two rambunctious songs followed, the second of which, Raising Hell, is off their new album and showed the band have no intention of slowing down, a fact that was well appreciated by the audience.
The band were back on Welsh territory again playing the popular Ironmasters – also a parable for Thatcherite Britain.
And that was that before the encore. Once the band were back on stage, the dance floor again swelled with close to half the audience on their feet.
The crowd were treated to a version of the Clash’s famous Bankrobber followed by a blistering version of Walkin Talkin, another country/rockabilly influenced song.
Fans of the band would have gladly taken more, especially as there was no support act, but that was all they were going to get. Still, as the old saying goes its quality, not quantity that counts. Both is better still.