If I could get away with doing a one-word review for any release then this would be the one. The word? Beautiful!
But……even I’m not that lazy.
So expanding. Icons is a collaboration between Nick Burbridge (vocals, acoustic guitar, national treasure) who with McDermotts 2 Hours was one of the pioneers of folk-punk highly influencing both the Levellers and Ferocious Dog; and Dan Booth (fiddle) of the aforementioned Ferocious Dog and soon to be national treasures.
Icons is stripped down acoustic and fiddle versions of some of McDermotts best songs and new tracks co-written by Nick and Dan. And as mentioned before it’s beautiful – musically, lyrically, and sounding.
Congratulations to Ferocious Dog on their recent overnight success (after 32 odd years together as a band), when they almost cracked the UK top 10, charting ahead of Drake, with their new album, Hope. We here at Shite’n’Onions HQ have admired Ferocious Dog since its 2013 debut for both its music and DIY spirit. Hope, is the band’s fifth studio album and in my opinion their best to date. If you are unfamiliar with Ferocious Dog, the Nottinghamshire based six-piece, play fiddle infused, English folk-punk with an occasional ska or reggae undertone and a nod in the direction of The Levellers and McDermott’s Two Hours mixed with old fashioned English labour politics. Hope, contains 17 tracks and each one is as deserving as the next to be on the album – there is not a filler to be found. Though, if I had to pick my absolute favourite tracks they would include the first world war inspired ballad, 1914, the old school Punk Police, Born Under Punches and Broken Soldier, a track about PTSD, a subject very close to the band.
Live at Rock City was recorded in 2015 (released in 2016 and I just picked it up in 2020). Rock City is a legendary 2,000 capacity rock club in the band’s hometown of Nottingham, England. Ferocious Dog has the distinction of being the first independent band to ever sell out the venue (in 22 minutes). If you haven’t heard Ferocious Dog, they play folk-punk that takes its start from The Levellers, New Model Army and The Pogues yet have their own distinct speedy English folk punk sound. If Live At Rock City is an indication of the band live, then I really, really want to see them play.
In November 2015, UK based Celtic punk band Ferocious Dog made history by being the first unsigned band to ever sell out the legendary Rock City music venue in Nottingham. We caught up with front man Ken Bonsall and his son, fiddle player, Dan Booth a week before hand at the Talking Heads pub in Southampton where the band were playing in support of their new album From Without.
S&O: Ken, you started your working life as a coal miner. How do you make the transition from miner to musician?
FD: There wasn’t really a transition. There was an overlap. At first it was the pit and the music. Sometimes I’d get off shift with an hour to spare before a gig or sometimes finish a gig an hour before going on shift. While it was devastating to the local economy when the pits closed, it was beneficial for the band.
S&O: Dan, you work in the National Health Service; you must have similar pressures. How do you cope?
FD: You just do it. I was once bitten by a patient and went straight from A&E to playing a gig. Fourteen hour days prior to a gig are not uncommon.
S&O: I’ve noticed songs about Ireland on both your albums; Quiet Paddy and Gallows Justice. Despite playing celtic music, you aren’t an “Irish band” do how did these songs come about?
FD: They came as the result of visiting Ireland and particularly from camping in Connemara and being blown away by the rugged beauty of the place. It felt really tropical as it always rains. I was also responding to the “English go home” vibe you can sometimes pick up and I wanted to say “I empathise” and “don’t blame the English working class”. Things done by Cromwell and by English landowners were done to the English working class too.
S&O: Let’s stay with the history side of things. Tell us about the song Crime and Punishment.
FD: Ken found out that he was related to a poacher called Bill Sykes who was transported to Australia in 1865. Now, Bill Skyes might have been the blueprint for the archetypal Victorian villain in Charles Dickens but from what I can see he was just a working class lad from Mansfield. Sykes and some other lads were out poaching on the big estate and the game keeper was tipped off. In the scuffle to apprehend them the game keeper was killed and one of the poachers turned Queen’s evidence in order to save his own neck. The rest of the poachers refused to say who had struck the killing blow and so were all transported. Bill Sykes’ wife wrote to him regularly but the letters never reached him. They were all lost behind a shelf in an Australian police station for decades before being discovered and written about in the 1959 book Unwilling Emigrants.
S&O: It’s my favourite song on the new album along with Slow Motion Suicide. As the son of a miner from the northeast that song has some powerful resonance. What can you tell us?
FD: Ken wrote the lyrics about six years ago-beautifully telling the tragic tale of an out-of-work miner who’s turned to the drink. Dan then had to add something equally beautiful with the fiddle. The hope for the song was that it would take listeners on a journey. The music had to fit the emotions being portrayed in the lyrics.
S&O: Is that how all your song writing is done? Lyrics then music?
FD: Not at all. Our song writing is a very random and very collaborative process. Everyone is free to contribute. Ellis (Warring) is the unsung hero of Ferocious Dog. If you listen to something like Gallows Justice he layered riffs on top of riffs. Scott, our drummer will always bring something new to the mix- sometimes in the middle of a gig! But it works. We’re also influenced by the music we grew up listening to. You learn your trade listening to the music you love. Some of those influences are obvious; New Model Army, The Levellers, Flogging Molly; others are less so. For example, we were in a practise session and Scott completely stole a drum riff from the Stone Roses. We are all massive Stone Roses fans; so it all goes into the mix. But the key thing for every song is it’s got to have moshability.
S&O: Ken, every gig, you stand on stage and sing about your son, Lee. (Lee tragically took his own life as a result of post traumatic stress suffered while serving with the British army in Afghanistan). As an audience member, it moves me to tears, how do you do it?
FD: Pride. Everything we do is “For Lee”. We want to see how big we can make Ferocious Dog because everything we do is in his memory. Without Lee there would have been no band. He is the drive behind Ferocious Dog. (The Lee Bonsall Memorial Fund has been set up in order to help raise funds and awareness to help others suffering from PTSD. More information about Lee’s story and the issue of PTSD can be obtained via the documentary Broken by Battle)
S&O: You are all doing him proud.
S&O: Final question. How did you manage to get Les Carter (formerly of 90s indie sensation Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine) to join Ferocious Dog?
FD: That was down to Dan. We’d done some dates with Carter and then Les offered us a support slot at their final gig at the Brixton Academy which we couldn’t play due to a prior commitment. We were looking for a new guitarist after Kyle Peters left to start his own band, the Outlines so Dan cheekily asked Les what he was doing with his “retirement” and he joined us! S&O: Thanks for taking time to talk to us and all the best for the remainder of the tour; especially the first Hell Hounds AGM at Rock City.
Another great compilation here from our continental cousins over at MacSlon’s Irish Pub Radio. As always if you want to know what’s going on with new bands on the scene (and especially Europe) then Raise Your Pints is the starting point. Twenty great tracks in all and not a bad one amongst them. Highlights include, The Flogging Molly-ish Brick Top Blaggers, Uncle Bard and the Dirty Bastards, the might Ferocious Dog, Black Water Country, the Do or Die era Tortilla Flats and The Fatty Farmers.
As I was starting the review of Red, I pulled up the Dog’s web site and on it there is a really great description of the band – English working class Celtic-folk punk, The Levellers meets Billy Bragg meets The Pogues. As authentic as feck – I read it and though to myself that really nails what Ferocious Dog are all about (and the author is obviously a genius and probably very handsome too) – then I notice the quote was from Shite’n’Onions – I was right on all counts. Red is the third full-length from Ferocious Dog and it certainly does not disappoint, high energy fiddle led Celtic-punk in a similar vein to the band’s previous two releases – Ferocious Dog and From Without – so if you love those albums you’ll love Red.
Honestly, I’m pretty convinced that the Ferocious Dog are going to break real big…….at least in the UK where they are building a massive fan base and have the distinction of being the first unsigned act to sell out the legendary Rock City venue.
The eagerly awaited second album from folk-punk legends, Ferocious Dog does not disappoint. Building on the success of their superb debut, the new album, From Without cements their place in the Celt punk pantheon. With its tales of striking miners, poachers transported to Botany Bay and the bravery of school girl Ruby Bridges, I can’t recall a second album this good since Levelling the Land.
The whole album works. End of story. It’s musically tight, showcasing Dan Booth’s virtuoso fiddle playing- easily as good as that of Leveller Jon Sevink or ex-New Model Army contributor, Ed Alleyne Johnson; while the rest of the band contribute guitar, banjo, mandolin and a rhythm section that can dish out dance floor filling folk punk before switching seamlessly to ska. Vocalist, Ken Bonsall continues to deliver; weaving tales of injustice with songs of hope and defiance. A visually arresting front man with his giant mohican and a lyricist to rival any in the scene.
As the son of a miner, and someone who has witnessed first-hand the damage that comes in the wake of the death of that industry, the stand out track is Slow Motion Suicide. The heart breaking tale of an ex-miner cast aside by the economics of Thatcherism and his descent into alcoholism is both lyrically and musically stunning. I’ve only been lucky enough to see Ferocious Dog live once and Slow Motion Suicide was THE moment of the gig for me. The swell of the music in the final instrumental section sent a shiver down the spine and it is wonderful to see that musical wow factor captured on the album.
Other stand out tracks include Ruby Bridges; the bands ode to the bravery of a six year old African-American girl and her teacher Barbara Henry in the face of racism and ignorance. Marakana Mine tells the tale of striking miners and their fight for better pay while Crime and Punishment tells the tale of the aforementioned poachers sent down under.
If you love bands that tell stories and wrap them up in a top quality Celtic punk soundtrack and you haven’t sought out Ferocious Dog then get it done. You are in for a treat. Not bad for lads once teased for being a “shit covers band”.
Ferocious Dog are a new name to me but after doing some research I discovered the Warsop, Nottinghamshire, England based Ferocious Dog have a history that goes back to the late ’80s when they started out as a three piece, growing to a full size band though splitting and reforming a number of times. The current line-up has been in place since 2011.
The influences I hear on the same titled Ferocious Dog are The Levellers, The Pogues and The Whiskey Priests with just a wee touch of Ska and The Clash. The other band that comes to mind are Mumford, though in my mind Ferocious Dog are the anti-Mumford. Mumford to me are a bunch of public school (that’s what the English call private schools) toffs who went busking for a lark and end up getting rich and famous. Ferocious Dog they are not! Provincial accents, a mohawked coal miner on vocals, fiddles and chainsaws – it doesn’t get much more real then this. A fantastic band, album and find.