Hailing from Nottinghamshire, Ferocious Dog are a folk-punk band who’s following is only going to get bigger. Louder Than War’s Nyika Suttie speaks to violinist Dan Booth about personal lyrics, hating folk clubs and support for soldier’s mental health.
“I think any band that’s violin lead, it’s hard to explain, lots of bands might have violins like Mad Dog Mcrea or Seth Lakeman but you put a bit of reverb on a violin and you get accused of trying to be The Levellers or New Model Army,” says Dan Booth, Ferocious Dog’s violinist, in reply to a question in which I, naively, compare them to The Levellers. “But there’s no way we’ll shy way away from the influence, they’re amazing. If they want to compare us, that’s their news”.
Ferocious Dog, from Nottinghamshire, are quickly building up a fanbase far surpassing their local area, as well as their dedicated followers the “Hell Hounds”.
Fusing Celtic folk and punk with deep, personal lyrics, it’s not difficult to understand why. Many of their songs have been released before on EPs but this is the first time Ferocious Dog have released a full, 14 track album. And it’s a treat. Mostly written jointly by lead singer Ken Bonsall and Dan Booth, it chronicles personal and political happenings without ever once becoming sentimental.
The album opens with The Glass, written for the lead singer Ken Bonsall’s son, Lee, who sadly took his own life after suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder triggered by fighting in Afghanistan.
“Lee died about a year ago and that devastated everyone. Songs like On The Rocks I wrote 10 years ago… we decided to write a song for lee and we just sat down at the table and it just came out.
“Other songs might take years, but this just took 20 minutes. So obviously we decided that the first song on the album would be The Glass for Lee.”
Dan explains; “And then when we were recording in Wolverhampton last year we wrote Lee’s Tune, that’s for him as well. He died and we wanted to write a song for him.”
Lee is remembered in the album cover as well as the lyrics, and it’s clear that the band want to make others aware that the fighting doesn’t stop for soldiers when they come home.
“We were really scared when Lee was in Afghan fighting that he’d be shot or blown up by a landmine, but when we got him home we thought he was safe. We were more worried but then he goes and hangs himself because of what he’s seen at war. You think you’ve got him home safe, but he’s not. It’s the worst thing ever.”
The Glass is fast-paced, danceable and completely heartbreaking lyrically, a fitting tribute, and Lee’s Tune follows suit; an instrumental, foot stomping tune with the underlying melancholy you might expect.
On The Rocks, as mentioned above, is one of Ferocious Dog’s older songs, but you certainly wouldn’t know it.
“On the Rocks I wrote 10 years ago and was inspired by seeing the effects of crack cocaine use. But I didn’t write a sad song, you know, I wrote a good song, a happy song.” says Dan.
And it is a good song, and a happy song, despite the subject of the lyrics. Blending violin and mandolin alongside guitar, bass and drums in a way that old Ferocious Dog can, it makes you want to be dancing in a sweaty crowd.
Too Late is a little more subdued, at least to begin with, and is one of the best tracks on the album. “Sitting up in the morning time waiting for you, you said we’d have a good time girl, now tell me what did you do?” Ken sings, his voice unmistakeable and especially showcased on the slower parts of songs.
“Too Late… I wrote a couple of years ago,” Dan continues, “I wrote it for my ex-girlfriend. Her dad was really shit, if you listen to the lyrics ‘no more waiting for you’ is like Emma saying to her dad: ‘no more waiting for you’, know what I mean?”
Beginning slowly, the song is at first guitar lead but soon builds to its brilliant, violin and drum lead crescendo that gets your toes tapping and your face smiling. It’s a really great bit of song writing and deserves as many listens as you care to give to it.
Freeborn John takes the album on a far more political turn, and the sound changes a little too, with a dubby bassline complimenting lyrics such as “my only crime was fighting for a cause”, a lyric consistently topical, especially in light of Theresa May’s plan to crack down on “non-violent extremists” that almost certainly includes the likes of anti-austerity protesters.
Hell Hounds brings back the more traditional folk sound, albeit fast paced and with a good dose of punk. This song is where the followers of the band got their name, and it is always a favourite live, causing non-isolated incidents of moshing and general happy crashing about.
Quiet Paddy continues in a similar vein, with a haunting violin introduction that quickly changes pace. The lyrics are reminiscent of traditional folk songs, imploring us to “listen to the west winds”.
Lyla takes the album on a gentler turn, and musically the celtic influences are particularly obvious here. The album includes a beautifully produced booklet of lyrics and has an accompanying picture with each song. Lyla features Dan’s little girl, also called Lyla, cementing the family affair that this album is (Ken and Dan are related, as are Dave and Brad, the bassist and drummer).
Returning to the politics is ‘Criminal Justice’, regaling tales of the miners’ strikes, the travelling life of their late drummer, Paul Newbery, and the battle of the beanfield, alongside, of course, the effect of the Criminal Justice Act of 1994. “When the laws are stacked against you, you’re always going to lose”, the lyrics lament, again managing to be on topic despite talking about past events.
Pocket of Madness is written and sung by the youngest member of the band, Kyle Peters, who plays the guitar. There is a very clear dub and almost ska influence in the song, fusing nicely with the usual folk, and really nice lyrics such as “winter sinks in like a dream you’ve been numbing yourself since 15”. Kyle is much younger, but he certainly has the same amount of talent as the other band members.
Blind Leading The Blind is about the squatting movement and has some bold lyrics alongside a catchy refrain. Free Thinker begins with the lyrics “How can you sing a love song when you’ve never been in love?” and then goes on to blast through all ideas of religion. A true atheist anthem without being at all Dawkins-esque, it’s certainly an achievement.
The album draws near to a close with Mairi’s Wedding PT II, which you may know as a traditional folk song. However, Dan tells me that this version is quite different: “The folk music scene…they sing the same old songs at the same old nights. I go to folk nights and I just think it’s pathetic, like is this what you do? You spend your Tuesday nights just singing, you just want to be the centre of attention for like 20 minutes, I find that kind of a piss take. So I wrote a new version of Mairi’s Wedding and they hate it, I knew they’d hate it.”
And indeed in this version there’s no “fairest of them all by far is my darling Mairi”, oh no, she’s met a lazy boy called Jack and “broken far too many hearts”. It’s a triumph of a subverted folk tune and is definitely up there with Too Late for best song of the album.
However, the band don’t always shy away from the traditional, performing Paddy On The Railway just the way it’s meant to be, albeit very fast and frantic. This song has been sung by the likes of The Pogues but Ferocious Dog have certainly put their own stamp on this, not least with their fantastic lung capacity on the chorus, which leaves little room to even think about taking a breath!
Finally, Verse For Lee lays out explicitly the story of Lee’s death, and brings the album to a close. And so, to a final word from Dan: “The thing that I don’t get, is that I was a prison officer at 21, I only did it for a year cos it was shit, but you can’t be a prison officer until you’re 21. But you can go out to war at 19, and can be shot and that.”
It’s an interesting dichotomy, and one made more poignant by the fact that Help for Heroes, the Government, and the Army do very little to look after the mental health of soldiers once they’ve come back from fighting. Lee’s family and friends are raising money for Combat Stress, who support over 5000 veterans with mental health issues. They’ve raised more than £20,000 so far and vow to continue raising money forever.
The album is startlingly good, and so it should be, it’s been many years in the making. The tributes to Lee are fitting, the politics spot on and the music is just fantastic. If you like the bands listed at the top, you’ll definitely like Ferocious Dog too.