Phil ‘Swill’ Odgers at North Boarhunt Social Club, Hampshire 21.6.2021
This was a special Monday night trip into the unknown….the wilds of …well I didn’t know where…but what I did know was that I wanted to catch Phil ‘Swill’ Odgers on his return to the stage for the first time since Covid was unleashed on us.
North Boarhunt? I had no idea…but we found it OK. Down the M27 motorway towards Portsmouth and off left somewhere. Tickets bought by sending a cheque – had to ring the bank to check if my chequebook was still valid. Excellent.. all worked and tickets arrived. Just 30 tickets available for each of two performances on the same day. 8pm for us.
Why my keeness? I like The Men They Couldn’t Hang yes….but in Lockdown Phil ‘Swill’ Odgers emerged as one of my Lockdown heroes.
Those months of boredom and Covid nausea were given a musical boost by Swill’s Sundays night sessions – free on Facebook – a relaxed homely feel – and for me and many others these became a regular Sunday night fixture. Not just a relief to find some virtual live performances but it relit my Men They Couldn’t Hang interest.
During Lockdown I was also watching the sessions by (Stefan) Cush from the Men They Couldn’t Hang (TMTCH)…Thursday evenings after the NHS clap….they stopped after a several months and then one day there was the awful news that Cush was dead.
Stefan Cush was 60. A shocker. This tribute published by Louder Than War was fitting. https://louderthanwar.com/we-pay-tribute-to-stefan-cush-effervescent-front-man-of-the-men-they-couldnt-hang/
It felt personal although it wasn’t. When we grow up with certain bands that are a backdrop to aspects of our lives it’s like that, especially when they are or were one of ‘your bands’.
In 2018 I bumped into Cush at Glasgow Airport one Sunday afternoon, while flights were delayed for hours, after TMTCH played King Tuts. I’d been to another gig (Slow Readers Club). He said ‘don’t I know you’ and we had a chat. The previous time I’d met him was in the gents in The Crown Inn in Digbeth, Birmingham before a gig at the Civic Hall/ Irish Centre I thought…I can’t find any evidence of this gig.
TMTCH were an important part of my tunes in the late 80s…not even particularly seeing them live at that point but just the early albums at that time which I savoured… often with my mate Sean in Weston-super-Mare in our room while on training courses…and anywhere we could find a juke box.
The TMTCH boomed alongside The Pogues’ popularity and brought their lively brand of folk to a post-punky scene. Their cover of Green Fields of France was a huge fave for John Peel listeners and was Festive 50 No.3 in 1984 and Ironmasters No.11 the following year.
YouTube clip: Cambridge Folk Festival, Green Fields of France
I’m a bit rusty on early TMTCH detail but first gig I saw I’m sure, was in 1985 at Battersea Park as part of a series of GLC ‘free’ festivals: this one ‘Jobs for Change’. There were some festivals and the Birmingham gig which I can’t really be sure about and I must check back on but it was more listening to their records than gig activity for me at that time.
I found an old ticket for one at Goldwyns in Birmingham but that’s the only one I still have.
In more recent years a group of us were gigs at Winchester Civic Hall (Oct 2016, including some old Weston buddies) and then Joiners, Southampton (Nov 2017) .
Also a night at The Brook sticks in the mind for a ‘Two Men They Couldn’t Hang’ gig.. Swill and Cush. Cush was reluctant to come off stage after numerous encores and a boozy night: so much so he was virtually dragged off the stage before the place had to close.
So I wanted to be in North Boarhunt Social Club on a wet Monday, on the longest day of the year. TMTCH face mask at the ready and Swill Sunday Sessions t-shirt on.
Forest Folk: North Boarhunt Social Club
As with Kirk Brandon earlier in June, and a few more things lined up in the Lockdown ‘bonus’🙄 of July, this is something of a unique opportunity. Seeing a performance in secret gig like surroundings. A small community hall with an audience of 30 seated, carefully spaced at a selection of tables. I’ve never been to a whist drive but I imagine this is how the room would be set up.
With it being part of a regular folk night – Forest Folk’s first of 2021 – you get that added benefit of a hushed and appreciative audience. It’s different but it works for a man with a voice like Swill and guitar. We later hear that this was the fourth time Swill had played here – I presume from having that affinity with the area when his parents moved down here with him way back.
No wandering with a camera, so trying to be discreet I took a few pics zoomed from our table top.
Phil ‘Swill’ Odgers live
The day’s two performances, one in the afternoon and this 8pm start, were Swill’s first outings since before Lockdown and the first since the loss of fellow TMTCH frontman and co-songwriter Cush.
On with the first few songs, including Dusty Fields from the 2013 Odgers album The Godforsaken Voyage, which stirred me enough to buy it from the merch stand in the interval – yes there was a merch stand. Some normality returns.
Sound was really good. Clear and strong in the otherwise silenced room, which enabled more focus on the lyrics and the emotion of it all. A slight distraction as one of the lights near us smouldered a bit and popped just when I thought I’d raise the alarm.
Phil is a good between song talker which is why the virtual Sunday Sessions were so appealing and it was clearly hard to introduce songs without slipping to a Cush reference, which he was saving to confront properly later.
So much material to choose a set from: TMTCH, solo material and some covers – in the first half including Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Early Morning Rain’. Swill said he was taking the opportunity to air some lesser known TMTCH material…which I looked up later.
Songs prompted his recollections including of an MTCH tour of Egypt, funded by the British Council to spread the word on British culture. ‘Mist on the Water’ (from Swills last studio solo album Roll to the Left) written by Swill remembering sneaking onto boats on The Hamble for the night, in his youth.
Today’s two performances totalled 3½ hours I read later, each with an interval – time for a few ales from the well stocked bar – some nice bottles including an Old Thumper. (This social club bar looks like a community lifeline, especially in times like these – no pubs I could see in the immediate area.) I was in the bar queue with Swill so was able to have a masked chat.
After the break a song to fuel my fridge magnet interest: Brooklyn Bridge, a Swill adaptation of a Joe Solo poem about dementia. Bandcamp demo.
Phil talked more about Cush and the huge loss as we went on, sharing the emotion – ‘like losing a brother, worse even’, he reflected. 30 odd years of writing, playing, touring and hanging about together is over. He played ‘Salutations’ in particular for Cush near the end but the one that hit me was ‘Heartbreak Park’, from Devil on the Wind (2009). You know that feeling when your eye sockets ache and you feel like balling your eyes out.
The title track from that album and Mrs Avery both featured in the second half. Mrs Avery is written as a sequel to Dr Hook’s ‘Sylvia’s Mother’, which didn’t meet their approval sufficiently enough to get their involvement apparently. I’ll have to play them through consecutively sometime.
With the TMTCH old favourites in mind I was pleased to feed my Isle of Wight fixation when the brilliant ‘Islands in the Rain’ appeared. I recently picked it up on 12 inch single from a local second hand record shop. YouTube version.
I’ll take a journey through the town to dock gate one
and there I’ll take a ferry boat; That ferry sails across the Solent waters deep
to an island like a castle with a moat…
…I’ll leave the empty shores of Hythe and Netley Bay; The smoke of Fawley will soon fade…Islands in the Rain MTCH
Ironmasters was as punchy and stirring as ever, and to finish, perhaps inevitably, the single the started it all: Green Fields of France.
A special evening. Thank you Swill and Forest Folk. Emotional.
Next gig for Swill is Water Rats in London, with a bit of late distancing arrangements required as the Lockdown lift is delayed.