Friday nights. The end of the week. The end of work and the thoughts of what you can do with your delicious two days of freedom ahead. Amiright?! I’ll tell you what Friday nights are not about; reading the dreadful news on Facebook that Stefan Henry Cush, a man at the very beating heart of your favourite band The Men They Couldn’t Hang, has suddenly died from a heart attack. How can this be? This was not supposed to happen, this cannot happen, surely, in a world with any justice in it. But happen it did. Cush passed away on 4th February 2021 and the news was announced to the world on the band’s Facebook page on the following day. And everyone who has ever loved this band mourns.
Surely everyone reading these pages already knows and loves The Men They Couldn’t Hang? From 1985 and their explosive seminal album Night of a Thousand Candles, right up their 9th studio album Cock-A-Hoop released a couple of years ago, Cush has been an integral part of the rebellious outspoken folkpunk powerhouse of TMTCH. The band themselves called him
“the life of the party and the soul of the band”.
But Cush was far, far more than just the sum of all the albums and gigs listed drily on a page and to understand this you need to know, as many of you already will, that TMTCH is not just a disparate bunch of accomplished artists, resting on the laurels of yesteryear or churning out formulaic music for the masses. From the mid-80s onwards they carried the flaming torch of rebellious, anti-establishment folkpunk passed to them by the dying embers of the punk and new wave luminaries. Not for The Men They Couldn’t Hang the supernova explosion of fame and popularity only to perish on the bonfire of a bored and fickle public. Fame and fortune did not come knocking for The Men They Couldn’t Hang, though they courted hard that fickle mistress and for a while it seemed they might be graced with a seat at that table.
Their first three albums, Night of a Thousand Candles (1985), How Green is The Valley (1986), and pre-eminent in the minds of many an aficionado, Waiting for Boneparte (1988), are certainly counted as some of the finest of the genre. Rightly so. Many lauded studio and live albums followed, many collections of demos and rarities. They were as hastily and perhaps haphazardly arranged as the many spinoff bands and splinter albums that arose as many of the band members joined up outwith the confines of TMTCH in solo and duo ventures, and endless gigs, with every combination of band member possible. The Men was always the central defining vehicle, but everything else was tried, dropped, tweaked and tried again. Because underneath everything, these boys are troubadours, entertaining the gathered citizenry with a spring in their step and ever a song to sing.
Central to it all has always been Stefan Cush, from start to finish, top to bottom. From his busking days around West London, to hooking up with the remnants of a band who had left Southampton behind to seek fame and fortune in the big city, and onwards to squatting around Hammersmith, fortuitously hooking up with song-writing genius Paul Simmonds and finally hearing the distant call of fame and popularity. He was famously a roadie for The Pogues and others, and the band’s early history is littered with fascinating stories and tales of derring-do in the seedy underbelly of London Town.
Somehow the band never quite made it and slipped quietly from mainstream public view. They carried on regardless, one way or another, and finally I can come to my point: the music, stirring, emotional, rebellious and articulate though it is, is not what sets The Men They Couldn’t Hang apart from others. It is their openness and accessibility to their fanbase, their lack of pretension, their love of partying and their goddamned normalcy that makes them different. They show it in everything they do. Different, ironically, because they are the same. The same and you and me. That is why we love them.
Cush was the most open and accessible of them all (though Swill often gives him a good run for his money on that account). He would very often be found at the bar with the fans. At the start of the night, at the end of the night and at literally any other time possible. He was a man of the streets, the bars, the bright lights and the shaded doorways of the city. Utterly grounded and without pretension he would talk and drink with anyone. He treated everyone he met as if they were his lifelong friend. Dean Davis recounts
“At the Bristol Bierkeller in 1987, the second time I saw them, I got to the front and was crushed up against the crash barrier. Cush gave me one of his grins and looked away again. But I was in a bit of trouble and when he looked back, he came down to check I was okay. And then gave me his beer! Years later when I repaid that drink, I told him it was one I owed him for that moment. He pretended he remembered; but I don’t think he did. It meant a lot.”
Stefan Cush had time for anyone and everyone. Sally Booth, one of the organisers of the Bearded Theory Festival, said
“In May 2010 I was five months pregnant and looking after backstage at the Bearded Theory main stage at Kedleston Hall. Cush asked if there was somewhere selling cigs. I told him there was and offered to get him some so he gave me £10. Remember this was almost 11 years ago so there was change. When I got back and gave him his fags and change he told me to keep the change to buy baby socks because “you can never have too many baby socks”. I did buy socks with it and thought of him every time she wore them.”
For my part, I will say that every time I met Cush it was a memorable occasion. Though I had always loved and bought their music from the first moment I heard it in 1991, I had never seen them live and I didn’t know anyone else who would go to a gig with me. In 2014 the band launched a 30th Anniversary crowd-funder to finance their forthcoming album The Defiant. I signed up to record some backing vocals along with a few others and we were all invited to a backstreet studio in Shepherds Bush to watch them rehearse then record our tracks. When I turned up, Cush was the first member of the band to say hello to me. But because I hadn’t met them, I wasn’t sure who he was and replied, as I remember, rather coldly. I was so embarrassed when I realised; it has stayed with me ever since in that way embarrassing moments haunt you forever. We pledgers watched a phenomenal private gig (aka. the “rehearsal”), recorded our backing vocals for Raising Hell and then of course, retired to the pub where all the fans and the band got royally smashed to oblivion. Then the next day we did it all again for the actual 30th Anniversary gig. If you are going to meet a band for the first time, that is the way to do it.
I met Cush many times after that, sometimes in the studio for Cock-A-Hoop recording sessions, with yet more fans, all of us pledging to be there, and sometimes at gigs. The Christmas Borderline sessions alone are legendary. Though sadly the demise of that great venue put paid to that a few years ago. The evening after the Metway recording session, in a hotel Brighton, is still talked about amongst those who were there, it was a hot dirty mess! And Cush was at the centre of it all, holding court, doing what he did best, drinking hard, rabble-rousing and taking the piss out of anyone and everyone who entered his eyeline.
Because of the hated lockdown we all find ourselves in at the moment, in a sad story arc, not only was Cush the first member of The Men They Couldn’t Hang that I spoke to, he was also the last! I went to the wedding anniversary party of his friends and management, Nigel and Marianne, and there he was. “Hello Marv”, he said, “How are you doing? Have you got any fags?”. I took out my packet and offered him one. “Thanks mate”, he said, “Can I take two?”. I, looked him in the eye but of course, gave him another one. He took them both, thanked me and said goodbye, then immediately left the party with a couple of acquaintances. That was Cush, blagger-supreme, force of nature, lovable rogue and singer/songwriter in The Men They Couldn’t Hang. A more magnificent man you could never wish to meet. The world is a duller and colder place without Cush in it. RIP mate.
Words and Photos Marvey Mills, Marvellous Gig Photography.