Celebrating the release of a 10th anniversary edition of their debut album, Nottingham based Celtic punks Ferocious Dog announced a special one-off gig at The Barbican in York following their appearance at the Scarborough Punk Festival. This unique event would see the band play a 2-hour show including a performance of the whole of the debut album with a full orchestra.

Being veterans of the festival circuit and with a formidable, energetic live reputation, it would seem to be a no brainer to witness this event.

Not only are Ferocious Dog influenced by the Levellers, but they can also call them friends. Both bands have toured together extensively and shared festival stages over the years, so it seems fitting that Levellers frontman Mark Chadwick has offered his services to warm up an already slightly inebriated and rowdy crowd.

Armed with just an acoustic guitar and with a full house watching his every move, he proceeds to have the whole place in the palm of his hands as he plays a 40-minute set of Levellers hits and deep cuts. You could literally hear a pin drop during the opening ‘Liberty Song’, and what follows is not just mini greatest hits set, but also a masterclass in how to work a crowd with ease, not only proving what a charismatic frontman Mark is, but what a great discography the Levellers have.

Having captured the band’s recent acoustic tour I know these songs work well in an acoustic setting, but what I didn’t realise is, stripped of a band and laid bare, how good Mark Chadwick is.

The fluttery folk of ‘The Boatman’ is perfect, ‘Julie’ is as beautiful as the studio version and even the usually upbeat and powerful ‘15 Years’ sounds magnificent given the stripped-back acoustic arrangement.

“Is anyone drunk yet?” Mark hollers to great cheers, he has the crowd where he wants them and they sing every chorus back to him. Classic singles like ‘Just The One’, ‘Beautiful Day’ and ‘One Way’ were always going to go down well tonight, but it was the rousing and emotive ‘Carry Me’ that sent shivers down my spine and got possibly the biggest reaction from a crowd that were on his side before he even played a note. Mesmerising stuff indeed.

With the orchestra in their seats, Ferocious Dog take to the stage to massive cheers, and frontman Ken Bonsall, looking all Peaky Blinders in his white shirt, waistcoat and flat cap, takes to the mic to sing the poetic ‘Verse For Lee’ before blasting into album opener ‘The Glass’. A sense of euphoria is evident from the off, as the whole crowd sings as one. Ferocious Dog class their fans as family and the Hell Hounds, as they are affectionately known, are in fine voice tonight, as the band deliver a high energy set that never falters. The album is played through in sequence and while the orchestra adds an expanse to the sound, this ain’t no laid-back affair. But then you can’t really give the mellow treatment to a song as dancey and upbeat as the instrumental ‘Lee’s Song’, can you?

The band seem to be loving it as much as their fans, bassist Nick Wragg is all over the stage mouthing the words, as is recently reinstated guitarist Kyle Peters, who shares lead vocals on a few songs tonight. Shout out to multi-instrumentalist Sam Wood who shines on banjo and mandolin all night and all so brings a comedy element to the show.

Recently re-recorded single ‘Too Late’ is a live anthem for sure and gets the rowdy down the front dancing. There is no let up in the energy levels from start to finish, except maybe the dub reggae vibes of ‘Freeborn John, and even that erupts into a dancefloor skank.  It’s all killer no filler for an hour.

After a short break the band return to the stage, minus the orchestra, to play another hour set of their standards. Like Chadwick before him, Ken is no stranger to working a crowd and getting audience participation. The likes of ‘Spin’, ‘Broken Soldier’ and closer ‘Slow Motion Suicide’ are crowd favourites that the audience devour like old friends. 

Both artists bought the festival vibes to the Barbican tonight with a special event that will probably never be repeated. The drinks did flow, the songs were sung and there will be a few sore heads and throats in the morning. But you what? It was all worth it. 

Author: Ben Hughes

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