Stefan Cush: The Men They Couldn’t Hang – An Appreciation

Following the sad news of the death of the effervescent Men They Couldn’t Hang front man, we pay tribute to Stefan Cush.

Like many I was stunned and saddened by the terrible news of the death of Stefan Cush, irrepressible stalwart of The Men They Couldn’t Hang. A larger than life presence, his passing will leave a huge hole in the lives of his bandmates, the audience and the wider music community.

I could attempt to write an obituary that presents his recorded achievements and bemoans the fact that the The Men They Couldn’t Hang never received the acclaim they deserved. However, the many who loved him know all that and it would omit the one thing that is crucial above all else when discussing Cush and The Men They Couldn’t Hang, and that is the power of emotion. Few bands could grab you by the throat and drag you into a song, a story or an experience like them. I don’t believe there is another band who can have you punching the air with a righteous defiance one minute and wiping tears from your eyes the next. Yes, emotion is all with this band and, as I sit here a few hours after hearing the terrible news, I can only try to share what I see as I look back.

I count myself lucky to have been granted one of the great periods of British music. Like those before me who had the Cavern Club in the early ‘60’s, or The Roxy and the 100 Club in ‘76/77, I had the “Folk-Punk” explosion of 1985-86, spearheaded by The Pogues and The Men They Couldn’t Hang. At a time when the original adrenalin of Punk was fading, these bands led a furious revival of energy in venues across the country as they gigged constantly, inspiring legions of devoted followers.To see The Men They Couldn’t Hang then was an uplifting experience, as it remained when they last played live before Lock Down.

Sitting here in the misery of Lock Down, when the future of live music hangs by a thread, I close my eyes and see a band, and in Cush a man, who represent the joys of the gig experience as well as any. March 1986, three days before I saw The Pogues at Hammersmih Palais on St. Patricks’ Day, I saw The Men They Couldn’t Hang at the International Club in Manchester. It’s the Venus Supermarket now, but whenever I drive past there, I can still see that night. The venue was rammed to the rafters and the band were at the top of their game. With their brilliant debut album, Night of a Thousand Candles, now well established, they were in that delicious time before the second album drops. New material and new ideas were thrown into the set to produce an absolutely barnstorming performance. And that is how I see Cush now, and I suppose I always will; the livewire, “like a case of dynamite”, bouncing all over the stage, leading the heaving mass in front of him through an exultant celebration. Yes, Stefan Cush was Mr Live Performance, the effervescent life and soul of every gig party.

The Men They Couldn’t Hang were the sum of many parts; the genius lyrics of Paul Simmonds, from which you could learn history better than in any book, the frantic drum patterns that defied you to sit still, the irresistible melodies and the perfect blending of vocals between Cush and Phil “Swill” Odgers. Harmonizing or combining to produce that essential “power choir” sound, they were unbeatable and, crucially, each track they took lead is instantly owned by each of them and distinctive. It just always sounds right. Cush’s performance on maybe their best-known song, The Green Fields of France, is a true delight, albeit destined to be a poignant one now. Tender, powerful and evocative, his performance is so good that it never fails to put you in France, at the graveside of Willie McBride and to drag you through the emotions felt there.

Great as it is, it’s not just The Green Fields of France that I will listen to, to remember Cush; the passion of Ironmasters, the perfection of The Colours and the yearning beauty of Scarlett Ribbons will all do it. However, the later albums reveal some true gems such as his paean to the 1970’s Denis Law and Ali McGraw, the best song I have heard about the Iraq invasion, Devil on the Wind and the heart-rending beauty of Turquoise Bracelet Bay. Listen to Cock a Hoop, their most recent and, arguably, finest album and three Cush fronted songs jump out. King Street Serenade, Salutations and, maybe the one I will see as his epitaph, the stunning Pone. A soul-infused gem it captures Cush and The Men They Couldn’t Hang at their finest with a killer tune and biting lyrics of the reality of human suffering.

In the hours since his death was announced, you cannot fail to be struck by the theme of the reactions from those who knew and loved him, and it is how he will be remembered. A big-hearted, effervescent human dynamo; a man of strong convictions who brought joy and inspiration to many.

Salutations Cush, we will miss you terribly but your ideals and inspiration will live on through your music.

Stefan Cush: The Men They Couldn’t Hang – An Appreciation

With thanks to Marvey Mills, Marvellous Gig Photography, for the photos.

All words by Dave Jennings. More from Dave can be found by checking out his Louder Than War Author Archive. He is also on Twitter as @blackfoxwrexham.

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23 COMMENTS

  1. Thankyou. i remember we played twice at The international Club in Manchester. It was a fantastic venue. One night after a brilliant heady sweaty gig with the crowd all singing along we got off stage to find the dressing room had been robbed. Cush was going ballistic running about the place because they had stolen his favourite old leather jacket which he wore constantly for years. Other than this event we loved the place! At that time we were very broke ourselves Cush used to go out busking! Currently heartbroken he has left us so suddenly. So Rest in Peace Cush my Dear old Friend and Bandmate in The Men They Couldn’t Hang. Forever Loved by us all.

    • I only saw this news yesterday. Very sad. One of the best live bands I had the privilege to see.

      I was a student in Manchester and was at the two gigs at The International. Great memories. Along with the Smiths, TMTCH frame my Uni days. I still regularly play those early albums and will ’til I die.

      RIP Cush..

  2. I knew Cush and the Men back in the day he and Paul and the rest of the band were solid gents.
    He had a great and quick sense of humour belying his sharp intelligence.
    Their friendliness and friendship was a light In The dark 1980s.
    Many thanks for this article
    My embraces to Cush’s family, friends and The Men They Couldn’t Hang esp Paul who was a great support and adviser to me !!!
    One love
    Frank Rynne

  3. Well what a shock. I was in school with Stefan in Llandeilo in West Wales. We were close friends from around 1973 until the end of school years when we all went our separate ways. It was great to see Cush mature and the success of his band was great to see and hear about. I watched the band many times including two Glastonbury gigs where the crowd were going mental as usual for The Men They Couldn’t Hang. Classic Glasto, its not always the best stuff on the biggest stages and I’ll never forget their amazing performance on the acoustic stage. It makes me sad and proud reading the tributes to Cush. He wasn’t just in a great band, he kept the spirit alive with all of his friends and contacts in the music scene he loved and never turned down the chance to perform. Importantly he had a no holes barred sense of humour and all who knew him as a friend will have laughed with him over a couple of beers until their sides ache. He was also very intelligent and was true and passionate about the causes he believed in, supported, and sang about. Sincere condolences to his family and band members. Goodbye Cush, a lot of people will miss you. I hope you can form a band in heaven and liven the place up for when we get there. Your mate, Paul James

  4. Wonderful article It was a pleasure to work with Stefan in 2019/2020. I shall miss our chats… putting the world to rights. He will always be in my thoughts and CD/song list. Xx

  5. This is a wonderful tribute to Stefan, whom I got to know well in 2019/2020 as we worked together. I shall miss our long chats and his infectious smile and floral shirts. He will always be in my thoughts and on my CD/song list. Goodbye my new dear friend x

  6. Excellent piece and so many evocative memories of Mr Cush bouncing off Swill live on stage over the past thirty years.
    RIP, Mr Cush.

    (Mike Eddowes promoter of Heineken free admission gigs in the 1990s and various gigs since then – last booking of TMTCH in 2020)

  7. Thank you for a brilliant tribute.
    Have been following TMTCH since 86 with a group of pals and have grown up with the band and their music, we’ve been talking about the great gigs we’ve been to – and we’ve all said that they are one of the best bands you could ever wish to see live !! Regardless of venue size the guys always played to their best, Cush’s energy on stage was electric. I was fortunate to be invited up on stage with them at the 100 Club and belted out Ironmasters alongside Cush & Swill. Great memories.
    RiP Stefan Cush you will be missed by so many.

  8. A beautiful tribute to Cush, he truly was larger than life & will never be forgotten by those who met him, saw his passion, whether singing, dancing, DJing… a dear friend and one of the ‘gàng’ who I will miss so very much
    Wendy May ex Boothill Foottapper

  9. What a truely wonderful tribute to Stefan or ‘Cush’ as we knew him. What a guy.!! He never once dodged stopping to say hello to us both before and after getting up on stage to do his stuff with the magestic Men They Couldn’t Hang. His energy was proper infectious. His passion, his talent and of course his on stage wit will forever stay with me in my heart. I have so many unbelievably fond memories of Cush from my very first ‘Men’ gig in the 80s at The Town and Country Club, Kentish Town right through to the latter gigs at venues like The Borderline and 100 Club, London not to mention of course following them around many other venues with the same passion and sheer anticipation of seeing the man himself up on stage before my very eyes belting out such stunning songs in his very unique and special style. I always felt I had the best gig shirt in the land whenever lI wore my Shirt of Blue, up there as one of my favourite songs of the night to look forward to. What a song. What an intro. What a man.!! So with a very heavy and sad heart I Thank you so much for all the great nights and memories Cush . True legend in my eyes and never ever forgotten. Am devestated right now but I know a quick blast of Night of a Thousand Candles , and I will be back there, front stage, pushing, banging, sweating, falling, diving, but always hugging each other at the end no matter what injury we may have recieved or afflicted….all under the hypnotic influence of the big man himself. ‘Men’ gigs were always so special and I could not help but get excited about a week before just knowing another night of glorious, romantic mayhem was but a few days away. . Rest in Peace Stefan Cush

  10. RIP my old friend. Happy memories from my Clarendon days when Cush and Swilll busked in the Underpass on the Hammersmith Broadway. Not seen him for years. Now I never will.

    • Yes I once came across Cush busking in the subway between the Hammersmith Piccadilly and H&C tube stations.

      Stopped for a chat and he was a really nice bloke. I was naive about the record industry and wondered why someone who was regularly in the pages of NME would need to go busking!

  11. RIP Cush, I have been a fan and concert goer of Men They Couldn’t Hang and Catch 22 previous since I was 12 years old ( I was tall 12 year old), meeting them first at the Lord Louis Pub in Southampton at the start and following on at concerts at The Brook also The Joiners and other Southampton and London venues and fests.
    Great live band to be continued please.
    Sadly Missed Cush.

  12. First saw TMTHCH at Newcastle Polytechnic students union, 86 I recollect. Followed ever since, best band and characters ever. Proper music. a band that connects with the audience is, I think the best way to descrbe. The last gig I saw before lockdown was TMTCH at the Wigan Dggers Festival. All so sad. . . . the character and music will live on. A legacy for the band and Stefans family to be proud and always remember. X

    Dave

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