I first heard The Hangmen play at this year’s Swansea Fringe Festival, held at the end of September. As they ripped through a Saturday night set at The Hyst, I found it hard to believe that a band so high on energy and quality could still be unsigned. I’ve since learnt that they only got together in October 2016, and a recent stint as the BBC Introducing ‘Artist of the Week’ suggests they’re already on the radar. The Hangmen have quickly built a reputation for their classic 60s-influenced sound and energetic live shows, and their hometown gig at the Fringe gave the feeling that this is a band on the verge of great things.
Earlier in the day, Hangmen guitarist Grant Mitchell had taken part in a Fringe panel discussion, chaired by Horizons/Gorwelion (a national scheme delivered by BBC Cymru Wales and the Arts Council of Wales to develop new, independent contemporary music). The discussion – centred on what impact music has on a city – was lively and varied, taking views on board from local musicians, promoters and councillors. One of the challenges discussed by the panel was how original artists could reach audiences in a world where the cover band is king. It’s a problem The Hangmen say they’ve encountered, with many smaller venues ignoring new music in favour of Dad Rock bands endlessly belting out ‘Sex on Fire’.
Thankfully, that seems to be changing. Less than two weeks after the Fringe, The Hangmen are back in their hometown – this time at the Britpop Café. Recently opened, it’s a tiny venue that stakes a big claim for the title of coolest place in Swansea (not such an easy accolade to take these days). The walls are ceiling-to-floor with music memorabilia – not just from early-90s Britpop, but also from the eras and artists that inspired it. Bowie, The Beatles, The Who, The Jam. Your eyes can’t move too far without getting into a staring contest with an RAF roundel. The café’s packed on this Friday night, bordering on uncomfortable capacity, but nobody seems to care. It’s a venue with a perfect aesthetic for The Hangmen, whose look and sound channels many of the artists looking down on them from behind glass. On their Facebook page the band promise “hooks, melodies and dance floor stompers.” This is exactly what we get during their set, a 30-minute burst of rock ‘n’ roll that leaves the crowd chanting for more at the end. Despite the band’s retro influences, there are no covers. The Hangmen only deal in original earworms – music that resounds through your mind long after it’s stopped playing. The chorus of ‘Heartbreaker’, the debut single released earlier this year, plays on repeat in my head throughout the whole of the next day.
Had The Hangmen been around a decade or so ago, when the indie boom dragged garage rock and other associated sub-genres along for the ride, I have no doubt we’d have been seeing them on MTV2 alongside the likes of The Coral, The Bishops and The Draytones. Though the masses’ thirst for indie rock may have waned, there’s always room for good music, and The Hangmen stand out enough to make it to the next level. My advice would be to catch them at an intimate venue like the Britpop Café while you still can.