Review: Ferocious Dog – The Hope
Reviewer: Chris O’Connor
I was first introduced to Warsop’s finest about five years ago now, when I was lucky enough to see them supporting The Levellers at Nottingham Rock City. What really astonished me was the sheer riotous fervour that greeted them, being every bit as loud as for the headliners themselves – which is a huge rarity! Since them I’ve followed them avidly, and I’m lucky enough to know frontman Ken Bonsall as a friend, in fact he tattooed the band’s ’Hellhound’ logo onto my lower left leg three or so years ago now.
Little did I know that the band had in fact been playing together since 1988, slowly but surely building an army of devoted fans with their furious sonic onslaught (think a heady fusion of New Model Army, The Dropkick Murphy’s, The Level;ers and The Pogues), releasing a series of truly classy EPs in the process. In fact, it would be 2013 before they boys released their full-length album, which was met with huge critical acclaim. ‘The Hope’ is far and away their most assured, mature and powerful, it is truly nothing short of a masterpiece.
As much as I’m a fan, I’ve felt the two albums that preceded it, ‘Red’ and ‘Fake News & Propaganda’ were lacking somehow. While they were both good and solid, for me personally, somehow the band was not firing on all cylinders. This time around however, they have found their ‘magic’ again, and ‘The Hope’ is a genuinely timeless work of art. There have been several line-up changes over the past five years, and FD today is as follows: Ken Bonsall (Vocals, Acoustic Guitar), Dan Booth (Fiddle), John Alexander (Bass Guitar), Alex Smith (Drums), Ryan Brooks (Lead Guitar) and Sam Wood (Banjo, Mandolin, Bouzouki, Acoustic Guitar, Whistles, Accordian).
To fully understand the band, you need to appreciate two very important things about them. Firstly, they are working class and are fiercely political, vocalist/lyricist ‘Red’ Ken Bonsall is an unashamedly firebrand socialist, he was proudly a miner and then a Firefighter for very many years, and he sings from his heart, whether you agree with his views is irrelevant, as they are delivered with complete and unflinching conviction.
Secondly, and even more importantly, the band carries the hopes and dreams of Ken’s late son Lee Bonsall as central to everything they do. Lee joined the army at 18, serving in Afghanistan, where he witnessed the death of one of his closest friends – killed by sniper fire. Lee became a civilian after his tour of duty, but tragically took his own life aged just 24, his passing caused by PTSD. The band founded ‘The Lee Bonsall Memorial Fund’ in his memory, and at every concert/festival/event they play, they tirelessly fundraise for it – it is the very centre of everything they do.
So ‘The Hope’ is a powerful representation of everything that matters to the band, it is ragingly angry, hauntingly beautiful, and upliftingly joyous all at once, while being astonishingly eloquent lyrically throughout – it really is a musical perfect storm. Offering up no less than seventeen songs, you might think the album would be overlong, but in case of point, only a couple exceed the four-minute mark, and the album fairly flies past. The album also features a haunting cover of Hazel O’Connor’s ‘Will You?’, which fiddler Dan Booth dazzlingly breathes new life into.
From the opening seconds of ‘Port Isaac’, with the song of creaking fishing boats and siren fiddle, you instinctively know this is going to be hugely special, it builds in ever increasing intensity, leaving you breathlessly anticipating what will surely follow. Ken’s solo voice echoes as if coming up a cobbled street, before the band fairly explodes into the furious dance that is ‘Haulaway Joe’, a song that embodies everything that is wonderful about these Nottingham heroes. ‘Pentrich Rising’ follows in similarly furious fashion, a historical revolutionary song that has a loud and passionate chorus to die for.
‘Victims’ follows, continuing the fury with a whirlwind fiddle leading revellers on a merry dance. ‘Broken Soldier’ changes the mood dramatically, with a sombre spoken news report about the army in Afghanistan leading into an anguished cry about the horrors of a war far from home – doubtlessly inspired by Lee’s passing, it is thought provoking stuff. Up next is the beautiful title track, which will surely be a ‘candle/cigarette lighter/phone in the air’ moment when played live – it is simply lovely, there aren’t enough words to describe its exquisiteness – any other band including a children’s choir for effect would make it cheesy- but FD make it inherently precious – I honestly get goosebumps every time I hear it. It is utterly magical.
‘Exiled Life (The Chase)’ picks the pace back up, it is another rip-roaring number, with Ken roaring his vocal with huge passion. ‘Khatyn’ is a almost Piratical jig, with a stuttering drumbeat, and a lilting middle section, that wouldn’t have been out of place in a ‘Pirates Of The Caribbean’ film, it’s terrific stuff. ‘1914’ changes pace again, it’s a reflective lament about a young soldier going to the first world war – it’s another sobering and sad number and is beautifully sung with real heartfelt passion. ‘Born Under Punches’ is another story about a broken youth escaping domestic violence, but then having to live the homeless life as a result, it is lyrically hard to hear, but the song has a swagger to it, as if still giving hope.
‘Punk Police’ is a three-chord romp, a full-on punk assault with a very pointed lyric about the ridiculous judging that goes on even within the Punk movement itself and is guaranteed to cause a mosh pit when played live. ‘Slayed The Traveller’ is another furious political jig, a song that fairly romps along, and has a supercharged chorus, the band does this style of song to perfection. Following this is ‘Parting Glass’ that begins as a teary lament before exploding into a joyous dance, its honestly enthralling stuff. This neatly leads into the Greenpeace themed romp that is ‘Sea Shepherd’ – which in these troubled times could not be more perfect.
The Hazel O’Connor cover comes next, before a crackling radio dial tunes into the languid ‘Maire’s Wedding’, which in turn leads neatly into album coda ‘1914 (reprise)’ which ends this album in simply remarkable style. Music simply does not get better than this. So let’s raise a glass of seasonal cheer to Ferocious Dog … a truly deserving bunch. We could all do with ‘The Hope’.