Painting the town Red..
It’s maybe a bit painfully ironic on the day after Ferocious Dog‘s homeland was painted blue by the electorate that they took to Nottingham to unveil some of the songs which will feature on the forthcoming Red Album. Or maybe not, the voyage south took them back into Labour territory for a first airing of these new tracks. But anyway, whilst I might touch on it from time to time this is a blog for music not politics – so I shan’t dwell on that tempting though it might be!
We opted to drive in for the gig – I wanted to concentrate on the new material, plus we’re out and about tomorrow so sobriety made sense, so after finishing up with work for the day into the car we piled and headed to Broadmarsh to take advantage of cheap parking for the evening. Upon reaching town we wandered past Annie’s Burger Shack knowing a fair few mates were eating there – indeed they were, al fresco so easy to find.
A quick trip to the Angel with Geoff found more friends inside, then it was on to Brewdog where everyone claimed their free pint of IPA in exchange for having a selfie at their polling station. We found Sigrit to present her with her CD by The Star Copiers she won in Ella’s raffle (unlucky Sigrit!). As I wasn’t drinking and don’t really get on with Brewdog ales Ella and I popped over the road for an iced coffee and a pot of tea respectively – we really are very rock and roll, you know! After a mooch around the Rough Trade store, the venue was soon open.
Kenny was writing a set list out (and some aide memoires, these songs are pretty damn hot off the press), Big T was on hand to look after merch initially so raffle tickets were purchased and general catching up ensued, including Spud who was the support for the evening. A nice bonus, and great for him to get the opportunity to play a gig with a bit of profile too – I was really pleased when Dan announced he’d got the slot!
Spud took to the stage accompanied by Frazer Stanko who provided both harmonica and backing vocals for his first few songs. He was visibly chuffed as hell to be there, and poured his enthusiam into first song The Small Festival Scene, documenting the difficulties in getting to play sometimes – but his determination to do so anyway, including namechecks for organisers of some very well known festivals round these parts. Irreverent and good fun, classic Spud really!
Wherever I May Roam isn’t a Metallica cover – but a tribute to his love of fishing (despite occasional failures). A few eyebrows raised when I Never Get Penetration on Tinder was up next – followed by peals of laughter. Then he pulled a surprise out the bag, welcoming Lee Tabix on stage for an initial viruoso demonstration of beatboxing – including beats, basslines, vocals and instrumental stings, seemingly simultaneously – it was pretty mind-blowing!
Lee accompanied Spud for High Green with beats and effects – before Frazer returned to provide backing for My Life Without DHP (which has now developed some singalong bits for the crowd!). With just two songs remaining he pulled out To Have and to Have Not by Billy Bragg and finished up (of course) with the by now legendary Chocolate Biscuit – he’d not brought any biscuits with him, but amazingly Chris had, so they were duly handed out amongst an appreciative crowd.
It was a really cracking set – Spud rose to the occasion brilliantly, and the addition of Frazer and Lee really brought a new dimension to his songs too. Top job mate, you smashed it!
Then after a bit of a pause it was time for Ferocious Dog, and that feeling of anticipation of hearing something new isn’t something we’ve had for a couple of years with FD – it was pretty intoxicating in truth. I’ve never come close to falling out of love with the band, but it was a little bit like renewing your figurative wedding vows or something, because something new was guaranteed – I can’t decide if I like it better when a band introduces new songs gradually or a bit hit like the dogs tend to.
Signs around the venue politely asked folk not to record the new songs – so I checked in with Ken and Dan afterwards how much they were comfortable with me writing about them. I’m happy to say they were well up for whatever I wanted to share with you – it’s not like I’m going to write down the chords or lyrics in detail or anything, so it shouldn’t provide too many spoilers – but well, if you want total surprises in coming gigs, then stop reading now…
The first surprise of the day was the opening, Dan sheepishly took to the microphone to introduce the act beginning, with only John L and Alex on stage with him. The first song A and B saw Dan and John sharing vocal duties, with Dan on fiddle and John with guitar and harmonica, Alex of course providing the beats. A and B stands for Auschwitz and Birkenau – it has a gentle melodic country feel to it, but of course with harrowing subject matter following a relatively recent visit there by Dan. ‘This is the hardest story to be told’ say the lyrics. Indeed. Powerful stuff.
It’s nice they took a bit of inspiration from The Star Copiers for getting someone unexpected up to do some singing. (I joke!!). It was great to hear – Dan has a great voice, and it’s good to hear it (he used to pop videos of songs in progress on YouTube so I already knew this) – and despite the nerves he apparently had, it was a cracking performance and a great start for the odyssey into the new songs.
The remaining band members entered the stage – the plan was to run through the new songs, play some older ones – have a break – and they finish up the set. So we’d end up with a good hour and a half set which is pretty damn good if you ask me. The next song The American Dream starts with a percussion intro – plenty of pace and thudding bass kicking in. The violin solo is reminiscent of Ruby Bridges in some ways, John had his mandolin out and there’s a nice electric guitar instrumental for Les in there too. Very moshable.
Next up was a resurrection of a song Ken and Dan have kicked around at various stages of Ferocious Dog (although mostly before even most longer term fans will have seen, except maybe Waggy!). As with the first two albums, they want to have a traditional tune on there – which in this case was Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye which folk will immediately recognise from it being appropriated as the tune for English Civil War perhaps most notably played by The Clash (although I’ve always preferred Levellers version).
John had his pennywhistle out for this, and it’s kind of reminiscent of Levellers version of English Civil War, but on steroids (and of course the proper traditional song lyrically). Dropkick Murphys also do a version but somewhat disappointingly slower – this one is a rip roarer, it works really well and – as Ken explained to me after – feels good to be kept grounded in their roots of traditional folk music.
Enemy Within picks up Ken’s passion for the politics surrounding coal mining – with a drum intro similar to I Stand into a violin instrumental backed with pennywhistle, it slips in a few cheeky pace changes and pauses. It takes a while to notice John has added accordion to his array of musical instruments – the lyrics are fast so it’s going to take a few listens to decode, there’s a middle-eight like in Marikana Massacre but without the reggae vibe. Again, this is going to be a fun one to mosh to!
The Class War has a dub reggae style intro – a spiritual musical successor to Freeborn John in pace and feel – John is by now back on mandolin and backing vocal duties, the violin kicks in late as a layer, then the main vocals. The subject matter is vitriolic which gives you a bit of cognitive dissonance as the track has a relaxed easy pace – of course, being Ferocious Dog it does eventually descend into a fast-as-fuck instrumental whilst retaining the vocals. It slows back down with a spiralling fiddle solo and a final chorus repeat. And a bum note from John A at the end (sorry John, haha!).
The next track Blackleg Miner – something again that’s been in Ken’s arsenal for a while, but resurrected now (partly as an expression of his disgust of his local constituency turning Tory). A traditional Northumbrian folk song from the nineteenth century made more famous by Steeleye Span (and certainly appropriated during the 80’s miners strike) is lambasts those ‘scab’ miners who shunned their colleagues on the picket lines – clearly a subject very close to Ken’s heart.
Of course, the relatively gentle folk song has in this case had the Ferocious Dog treatment – Ken starts it on guitar and vocals relatively gently with just John L on mandolin and backing vocals. It starts almost like something you’d hear Daniel Hagman sing whilst traipsing through Spain on an episode of Sharpe, but then the band join in to give it the full folk punk treatment. The lyrics are massively direct and accusatory – it’s probably their most vitriolic song and you can imagine being quite incendiary in the bands home area.
The last of the new songs we were treated to was Spin, with a Mairi’s Wedding Part II style drum intro a fiddle solo with pennywhistle accompaniment danced over it as the full band kicks in giving a classic Ferocious Dog sound. Ken’s vocals sound like they’re doing something a bit different, a bit more melodic – here we’re politically themed again (unsurprising really given the current climate and events!) – there’s a bass solo in there, a pennywhistle instrumental and then the vocals kick in again, the band dropping out briefly to bring the vocals to full prominence before kicking in again.
Wow. I was expecting something pretty rough and ready from having natters with Les at Something to Smile About, these were pretty polished sounding songs to me, and that was based on just a few practice runs over the last week or so – dabbling as I do in rehearsing and learning songs that have already been written for us, I’m actually somewhat taken aback by the quality of these, I’m really looking forward to how they shape up!
Now we’re on to more familiar territory – the crowd, who’d been moving obviously but not moshing as such, exploded into life as Gallows Justice kicked into life. With Phil getting worried about the placement of his sounddesk I moved infront to offer some protection along with Rob. Poor Angry and Young had a lyric slip in there, a cheeky grin my way from Ken as he noticed that I’d clocked it (I probably wouldn’t have noted it if he hadn’t done that, haha!).
Verse for Lee was a particularly emotional delivery, the crowd bellowing it back at Ken who dropped out completely for the last lines letting the crowd sing it for him. A really lovely moment. The Glass was next, and I’m sure there was a bit of extra reverb added to the vocal channel, and then on to Lee’s Tune. John L has added some interesting banjo bits to Ruby Bridges to my ears – they finished up the first half with Crime and Punishment – John’s added pennywhistle to ending instrumental for that too which sounds great.
During the break Big T and Ella conducted the raffle draw – needless to say I didn’t win anything! Some folk walked away with beer pump clips and assorted set lists though and looked very pleased to have done so. Judging by some of the numbers drawn compared to the earlier ones I’d bought a good number of tickets were sold to raise money for The Lee Bonsall Memorial Fund which is awesome.
The second half started with a quick rendition of Happy Birthday for Karen (belated birthday greetings, Karen!) and then it was Too Late, with Paul on merch duties (and still crocked) Dave took it upon himself to lift Nicki up. Freeborn John kicked in next, Spike was hoisted as a board, I’d resumed my position guarding the desk – a chap I think called Sean clambered up to surf. There was a nearly lyric-slip in there, but a good recovery.
Unconditional has the f-word in it, even with Karen in the building! Initially I thought Big T was on the stage to stop the moshpit whacking into the mic stands, but it wasn’t – he contributed the ‘Ellis roar’ ™ in Lyla. Rob and I glanced over at Phil’s set list on the mixing desk and realised we might be in for a torrid time repelling the borders of flying people – Quiet Paddy, Criminal Justice, Hell Hounds (dedicated as ever to Jay Barsanti and Kurtis Mann). We braced ourselves for the inevitable carnage.
A funny moment during Hell Hounds was when Chris went prone during the ‘take me down…’ section, as he was ‘resurrected’ (ie, hurled up from his prone position by fellow fans) he was nearly launched straight into the beam / projector above the front of the stage. Lucky escape! The set finished up with Freethinker and Mairi’s Wedding Part II, during which both Rich and John L ( still playing his mandolin) ended up on shoulders by the front.
The encore of sorts was Slow Motion Suicide, of course – with seemingly half the room up on people’s shoulders for a triumphant finish. This really was a special night, it felt nostalgic being in a small space, hearing songs for the first time – it’s been a while after all. A lovely evening I feel genuinely lucky to have been able to share with so many friends of many years and more recent. I can’t get over how good the new songs are sounding – and they’re only going to get better!
Hats off to the band for their hard work – I know they’re running behind schedule on the new album for a myriad of reasons, but boy on this showing it’s going to be worth the wait. There you go Sian, a blog done within a couple of hours of me leaving Nottingham – I hope you’re happy! Haha!