Thursday, 26 May 2011

Managing Decline

Feel-Good Factor?
The Conservative-Liberal Coalition government in Britain appears to be very adroit and fleet of foot at one thing only.  That is in managing the process of the gradual decline of British capitalism and the influence of the British state in world affairs.  This post-world war 2 process started in 1951 when the Egyptian government announced its’ intention to eject Britain from the Suez Canal Zone and take control of Sudan.  And many more historical moments have taken place since then that have intensified the now almost complete process of imperial decline.  Ghost of a Ne’er do Well will be alighting upon some of those events in due course.
Right now, the coalitions' attempts at instilling a feel-good factor into the general population have been courtesy of a visit from il Papa from the Church of Rome, a new baby for the rosy cheeked posh boy Prime Minister Cameron, the recent Royal Wedding of William Wales and Kate Middleton – and to trump it all a state visit by President Obama of the USA.  But none of it has worked. 
People in general are thoroughly pissed off with the status quo.  And the general sense of ill ease and discombobulation is palpable across British Society. As I have argued earlier we face a thorough going crisis of ruling class legitimacy.  

How much longer can this malaise continue?
Only as long as we want it to!  There is a solution.  And it is to be found in a rejeuvenated working class solidarity which rejects reforms and palliatives in order to keep us a bit sweeter in the short term.  It also resides in a genuine desire to learn and to educate ourselves about the potential we have within us.  We need not sell our bodies and mental capacities to mendacious capitalists.  We can make the world for the majority and no longer be slaves to the wages system of production.  Our common endeavour can create a democratic world society in which production will be based upon need and not elitist profit, we can abolish money and utilise the resources of the earth for the benefit of all, no matter how disempowered some of our fellow world citizens may seem to be today.
Rather than being acquiescent in a ruling class project which will only see us sink further into the gutter, let us look up at the stars and aspire to a new form of society in which hope trumps desperation and the World Socialist future is the only way forward for all of us.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Morning Coffee with The Men They Couldn't Hang

The original line-up of Stefan Cush (Vocals, Guitar), Paul Simmonds (Guitar, Bouzouki, Mandolin, Keyboards), Philip "Swill" Odgers (Vocals, Guitar, Tin Whistle, Melodica), Jon Odgers (Drums, Percussion) and Shanne Bradley (Bass Guitar) formed The Men They Coudn't Hang in 1983. 

Since the release of their acclaimed first single The Green Fields of France in 1984 to their latest studio album Devil on the Wind  they have made some of the most vital and socially relevant music of the last 30 years.  The core of the band, Cush, Simmonds and Swill remains intact and as exciting as ever both on record and in their amazing live performances.  Having been introduced to the band as a teen by the legendary DJ John Peel I have seen them live 26 times since 1985.  It is a truism that they are the only band who have ever inspired me to take off my shirt and jump upon the shoulders of a big sweaty bequiffed stranger.

The clip below from the 25th Anniversary DVD of The Men They Couldn't Hang says much more than I ever could - See Here:

Notwithstanding the above, Ghost of a Ne'er do Well was delighted to catch up recently for Morning Coffee with Chief Songwriter Paul Simmonds. 

I have admired your music for a long time as you know Paul.  But I’m interested to find out what really got you started and inspired?

I was a late starter in music though my brother and uncle both played from an early age. From about age 14 I wanted to be a writer and I’d started about 3 novels by the time i was 16 - all of them about death and sex!

I turned 18 in 1977 which was a pretty good year to turn 18. I got into punk and met Swill and we formed a band straight away (Catch 22), learning how to play as we went along.  We saw all the bands except the Sex Pistols but we were mad on The Clash – followed them everywhere, sleeping out at train stations and all the rest.
A couple of years later we were supporting them on the 16 Tons Tour – it was like a dream.  At that point I knew what I wanted to do – write songs and play guitar. It was just about waiting for the timing to be right.  It took a few more years but eventually we nailed the style I had been looking for.

TMTCH with Shanne
From left: Shanne, Paul, Swill, Cush (front) Jon (back)
By the time 1983 arrived the British scene was quite plastic – Thompson Twins and Flock of Seagulls et al – and I was living in a 2 bedroom flat with 8 other people.  Cush (Vocals and Guitar) was one of the local pirates; shoplifting and selling weed etc.  He loved early Rock n Roll and Gaelic laments; we still loved hot punk records but also folk and early raw country.  And we just put it all together and added other passions like history, storytelling and a bit of a fuck you attitude.  We were just plain anti-authority really and still are. Childish perhaps but there it is, that’s The Men They Couldn’t Hang!

The classic second TMTCH 7"single Ironmasters can be heard here:

How did you set about dealing with ‘The Music Industry’?

Paul Simmonds

Our unconscious tactic was to walk into every punch, kick, trick, stab in the back and keep on walking through the pain!  The Jake la Motta option. It was only after they had left us for dead that we picked ourselves up and began to get cuter. Now we do everything ourselves. We are still going while most of those labels and publishers  are at death’s door.  Not that I’m bitter but it gives me a real kick to watch the music industry flounder.
When they junked vinyl and brought in CD’s they could only see the cash from recycling back catalogues. I don’t think they understood that by getting into digital they were committing suicide. Now they whine about piracy. Not that I think any artist’s music should be free, but I have found that if you have an audience that cares about your output they are not only happy to pay for it, but insist on doing so. They understand that’s how artists keep themselves going.
You’ve had to work with and deal with some challenging people over the years – has it been a joy?

The Men They Couldn't Hang 
No Followers No Leaders
In fact the most challenging relationships are within the band itself. We are all strong characters in our own way. There are no followers and no leaders; we work things out through mutual respect. Our live work is hard – we don’t tour in luxury.

Most of the time we’ll drive back from anywhere as far north as Newcastle in order to save money. It’s not a lot of fun at 4 a.m. in an uncomfortable seat toiling down the M1 after a show. And we do that night after night.  We have had to be mentally, physically and emotionally very tough. 

We all have day jobs too – I drive a van. There are times when you think you are going to crack under the sheer grim slog you go through for that hour and a half on stage – all the relationships you’ve ruined, the not sleeping, the not washing, the drinking and the drugs and all the stupid madness. It takes its toll but fortunately we are a hard and relentless band.
Swill Odgers
Your music is infused with passion and ideas about social justice – is that what inspires you?
Cush performing with TMTCH at Tolpuddle 2007
I'm not really a political philosopher; I’m not even an activist like
Billy Bragg.  I'm a songwriter and a story teller.  But I have a strong
emotional reaction to bullying - and our economic and political
culture is epic bullying of the weakest.  So there is a part of me
that, in a Billy Liar way, is motivated by loathing and revenge
towards classic British self righteous pomposity and the vain self

interest of the bureaucratic class.
It revolts me how access to money always determines outcomes in our
society.  Whenever I see the media refer to malcontents and rabble
rousers i think - well, that's me. Take all the posh kids in the music
world now - Coldplay, Florence, Lily Allen, Mumford and Son, la Roux,
the list is endless. 

It's as if working class kids aren't allowed to make music anymore because they haven't got the connections or money to sit back and plot for 2 years. This posh music stinks of privilege and indulgence.  I do like a rant but i'm just as happy writing songs about pirates or the Quakers on the Mayflower to be honest.  Robert Louis Stevenson is as much of an icon to me as Thomas Paine.
Latest Studio Album

What is the Future?
The future will be what we don’t expect. I think the greatest achievement is to live with a clear conscience. Personally I am proud to be the chief songwriter of The Men They Couldn’t Hang and I hope to go on adding to our huge portrait of Britain until I fall over in exhaustion!  But that's a long way off.

Many thanks to Paul for his interesting and honest insights into an incredible career spanning more than a generation.  It would require a book or academic study to document and do justice to the career of The Men They Couldn't Hang and all their individual and spin off projects.  The best place to start in the meantime is the official band website at:

There will be more on TMTCH from Ghost of a Ne'er do Well in the future!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Why Marx was Right!

It may not have escaped some readers attention that Ghost of a Ne'er do Well has more than a passing interest in the politics of Human Emancipation and in particular the contribution made by a long deceased German Jew called Karl Marx towards that ultimate Humanist project.  I discovered this interesting article by Professor Terry Eagleton from The Chronicle of Higher Education here:

Maybe, over a couple of beers I'd like to challenge the esteemed Professor on one or two points of detail, in particular his use of the word 'Communist' to describe undemocratic State Capitalist Leninists in the 1920's. And his tacit acceptance of borders, the need for money and a lack of analysis of the nation state as one of the most fundamental tenets of capitalist society.

Nevertheless, any Socialist worth their salt should enjoy this piece of low-level academic Marxist rhetoric.

For information about Real Socialism start here: