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Features / Veteran folk rockers return for shindig

The Men They Couldn't Hang return to Shetland for the first time since the 1980s this weekend.

FOLK ROCKERS The Men They Couldn’t Hang will return to Shetland this weekend nearly 30 years after their first visit.

The rowdy ensemble first played in the isles at the original Shetland Rock Festival back in 1986, writes Chris CopeOn Saturday night the Brits will take to the stage at Mareel in Lerwick as they continue to celebrate their 30th anniversary.

The group, who played their first gig alongside musical comrades The Pogues in 1984, will come to Shetland with new album ‘The Defiant’ in their arsenal having released the record in September.

Speaking ahead of the Mareel concert, singer and guitarist Phil Odgers joked their Shetland date might not be quite as raucous as the 1980s show – but it still looks set to be a boisterous affair.

“We’re definitely looking forward to coming back,” the founding member said. “We had such a wild time there to be honest, and it’s a bit off the rock and roll map in some ways. But it was extremely wild. We met up with quite a few people and went out with them for a couple of days. There was a lot of drinking and cavorting involved. We’re older and wiser now, so I’m sure it’ll be a more sober affair…”

The band’s punked-up sound, which at times echoes Shetland favourites The Revellers, features the likes of guitar, mandolin and banjo – but Odgers revealed that they will be taking prolific fiddle player Bobby Valentino up to Shetland for the show.

“It’s our 30th anniversary year and we’re half way through that now. We do a selection of stuff from right across the 30 years, so there’s a couple of songs from the first album and a couple from the each of the albums. We’ll probably do two or three new ones.

“It’ll be a bit different than ’86 as we’re bringing a fiddle player, Bobby Valentino, who plays on most of our records. He’s in London and doesn’t travel very much, but because we’re going to Shetland he’s especially wanting to come up.”

The Men They Couldn’t Hang – who recently toured with Stiff Little Fingers and count folk, punk, country and northern soul among their influences – will round off their 30th anniversary celebrations in style at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire in April.

But what have been the highlights from the last three decades?

“It’s too hard to remember,” Odgers quipped. “The highlights have generally been getting the opportunity to travel and meet people you never would have met. I think for me, Australia and Canada were probably highlights and also probably getting the chance to meet and play with other musicians as well.

“We’ve met people from all over the place that we’ve kept in touch with – it’s much easier now with Facebook and so on – but we’ve got friends all around the world…we’ve always got somewhere to crash.”

One integral part of the band’s success is their live show, which has developed a reputation for being a kinetic, high-jinx shindig.

“In some ways we’re almost like two bands,” Odgers reflected. “There’s some stuff we do in the studio a lot better, but the energy of our live gigs – I don’t think you can quite capture that in the studio. The thrill of playing live is something that you can’t get out of your system really. We’re getting older, but our live gigs are special to us.”

  • There are still tickets available to see The Men They Couldn’t Hang at Mareel on Saturday night at Shetland Box Office, priced £18. The event will have some cabaret seating with ample space for standing and dancing.

Chris Cope