The fiercely independent Celtic punk collective Ferocious Dog mesh traditional instruments such as fiddle, banjo and mandolin with distorted guitars, punk, ska and folky goodness. They mix politics and music well and have a fiery live reputation that makes them regulars on the festival circuit.
Although the Nottingham based 6 piece have been around since the late 80’s, their debut album was not released until 2013. A debut album born out of tragedy after Lee, the son of singer Ken Bonsall, tragically took his own life in 2012 at just 24 years of age.
With main man Ken having a working class, miners upbringing and taking influence from political artists such as Billy Bragg, New Model Army, and the Levellers, it’s no surprise that the band is a platform to tackle and raise awareness to social issues from history and spread the message of justice and solidarity.
This remastered version of their debut album comes packaged with a second disc recorded live at Leeds O2 Academy last year, with the addition of a 6-piece orchestra.
Ferocious Dog have a habit of leading you into a false sense of security with a mournful fiddle introduction, a wistfully picked mandolin, or a strummed acoustic chord progression before they take things up several notches. For there is as much power in their music as there is in the lyrics. This debut album doesn’t leave much room for balladry, the emphasis is on passion, anger and the themes of liberty and justice for all.
Opener ‘The Glass’ documents Lee Bonsall’s last day on earth, yet musically is an upbeat and euphoric blast of Celtic punk. It rides on a cool banjo riff to an urgent rhythmic backing and is as anthemic as anything I have heard in recent years, a perfect album opener and a perfect introduction to Ferocious Dog.
Yes, the Levellers comparisons are justified, but there is a bit more to Ferocious Dog than that. There are raucous upbeat drinking songs such as the instrumental ‘Lee’s Tune’ and the classic fan favourite ‘Hell Hounds’ that are fantastic examples, but elsewhere, there are dub vibes on the likes of ‘Freeborn John’ and heavy ska influences in the excellent ‘Pocket Of Madness’. There is also traditional folk, ‘Paddy On The Railways’ is as close to the Pogues you can get without having a whiskey with Shane McGowan.
Mixed and mastered superbly by Al Scott, who brings out the best in the songs especially the vocal department, ‘Ferocious Dog’ is as fresh and vibrant as the day it was released and lyrically it probably means even more in these trying times.
If you are already a fan or have even just caught Ferocious Dog live in the past 10 years, then the real gem of this release lies in the bonus disc, a full gig recorded at the O2 Academy in Leeds last year with a 6-piece string section. A full set of their songs reimagined with a different, orchestral soundscape.
Opener ‘Landscape Artist’ lets the listener know that this is not to be a laid-back affair. The mass of strings weave their magic over the melodies and Ken’s raw, but perfectly delivered vocals.
Stripped of electric guitars, the folk inspired ditties lose none of their power, in fact as with other orchestral rock albums of the past (Metallica for example) it adds a cinematic depth which can be just as powerful as a bank of Marshall stacks.
The strings amplify the emotion in the beauty. The likes of ‘A&B’ and ‘Justice For 96’ benefit immensely and the euphoria created in ‘Broken Soldiers’ will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention.
Ken Bonsall’s loveable charm as a frontman comes across well, and his ability to engage with his audience is second to none, even teasing the local crowd to a ”Yorkshire, Yorkshire!” chant.
The addition of a new studio recording of ‘Too Late’ is tagged on at the end for good measure.
If you are a longtime Hell Hound or a curious Furious Dog virgin, there is much to enjoy in this 10th anniversary edition. A debut album that is as urgent and vital as the day it was released, backed with a document of a magical evening in Leeds that may make you check out why this band have a great live reputation.
Author: Ben Hughes