FEROCIOUS DOG – Kleptocracy (Graphite records GRAPHFAR61)

KleptocracyGovernment by theft, then? At least, that’s my take on it, a criticism, I imagine, rather than an aspiration, Red Ken and his bondage trouser philanthropists no strangers to a bit of agit-prop. And mighty fine fare it is, too, their energetic folk-punk now claiming studio album number five. In fact, against all the odds, really, and they get better and better. Let’s consider, reeling back the years, and FD are a ragged crew of reprobates and renegades, with a not half bad roster of songs, all in the key of frantic, raising a mid roster flurry of interest at small to middling festivals, land-wide. Possibly a little derivative, custom built for anyone with a taste for the Levellers, but always a good gig. 

Along the way they lose near all their players, leaving frontman and vocalist, Ken Bonsall to keep the flag flying, along with right hand fiddle man, Dan Booth. This seldom augurs well for a band, but 2021’s ‘The Hope’ was then their finest yet, bolstered by a keen young crew of eager musicians. A packed schedule saw them play anywhere and everywhere: folk festivals, punk festivals, metal festivals, no genre untouched. Suddenly most people had begun to hear of them and, of those, many had bought at least one T shirt from their groaning merch table. Booth then retiring from touring seemed to set a further nail in their side, but a touring replacement was swiftly recruited, more than up to the job, and on went the normal service of perma-touring and playing. If anything, 2023 was busier still.  Shock, horror, Booth, now acting as manager for the band, throws out his toys, threatening the band with dissolution, all much at the time as this album was being touted. The end? No chance, with, give or take a few on-line spats, Ken and his boys picking themselves up, dusting themselves down, and, like any self-respecting band of the people, getting straight back on the boards. Pin back yer lugs, Hellhounds! 

From the first tumble of banjo notes pouring out the speaker, followed swiftly by drums and chainsaw guitars, you can tell this is the business. As Bonsall pipes in, ‘Witch Hunt’ becomes a  typically rabid critique of the paranoia rampant about us, where facts and knowledge have become occult wisdoms to be despised. His voice an increasingly confident instrument, the band behind him is solid and unrelenting. New fiddle man, Jamie Burney, picks up the middle eight for a sneaky breather, but the main propellant is the banjo of multi-instrumentalist Sam Woods, who also produces. 

The earlier single, “Sus Laws’, up next, starts with a short pastoral intro, ahead of becoming a sturdy rowdy dowdy folk-rocker, sawed fiddle and guitars each of a bounce. “More blacks, more dogs, more Irish” proclaims the chorus, and if you don’t find yourself singing along, go read another review. The title track sees Woods switch to mandolin and is, they all are, a call to arms, but avoids the curl of embarrassment such notions often bring onto a musical platform. (Who remembers Oysterband’s “Skin up and vote labour”, which, if neither imperfect notions, haven’t and didn’t age well.) 

Talking of Oysterband, who are clearly spiritual grandfathers of this type of musical palate, ‘Iron Mike Malloy’ could easily come from Messrs. Jones, Telfer and Prosser, and is an amiable cod-Celtic romp. It is clear that enjoyment is all part of the FD MO, for punters and players alike, and the rhythm section of Kyle Peters, Nick Wragg and Luke Grainger, guitars, bass and drums respectively, are all having a ball. Peters was actually an early member, 2010-14, rejoining in 2022, at the same time as all his recent compadres, bar Woods, present from a mere year before. Bonsall? Present and correct since ‘88. 

‘Merthyr Rising’ threatens to slow things down, briefly, Woods adding whistle to his repertoire. A historical warning, from 1831, when insurrection came to South Wales, the workers having had enough of their conditions. It all ended in tears, but the warning is no less apt. So, you ask, can they do slow, that promptly answered by ‘A Place We Call Home’, a beautifully orchestrated ballad in a fashion not dissimilar from the title track of the last album. They do this well, as a swayalong swagger, replete with cello, Sarah Huson-Whyte, and a female vocal, from Lizzey Joe Ross. It all becomes increasingly choral as it progresses, and is delightful, Bonsall’s Worksop rasp a deft contrast to Ross’s purer tones. The Hellhounds will waltz and sing for this one, the lyrics, should you listen, all about homelessness. 

‘Blood Soaked Shores’ retreats straight back on to the throttle, sounding disarmingly, for a moment, like George Formby. Assuming that can, as it should, be considered a good thing. A steampunk Formby, clearly. Wragg throws out broadly unexpected bass solo that adds a lift, with the realisation that Woods is now touting accordion, as well as a cittern. Good, innit?! ‘Darker Side Of Town’ throws further switches, a four to the floor punky number, that wouldn’t be out of place on ‘Sandanista’, had the Clash the wisdom to ever add  fiddle. 

The band then throw in a completely unexpected curveball, with the only non-original of the album, and perhaps the most blatant bid for a spot at Cropredy ever. (And where, Mr Pegg, if you are reading, they would go down an absolute storm, if possibly not too close to the Saturday night finale!) For yes, it is ‘Matty Groves’. Faster and, notwithstanding Maart’s  ‘Metal Matty’, louder than the Fairport version. Walloping along at quite a lick, it is high octane fiddle and banjo fuelled, and sticks to the now familiar ‘Shady Grove’ melody. Traditionalists look aside, Bonsall adds a short additional chorus that may divide listeners. I love it, albeit once the shock receded. 

‘Running With The Hounds’ is a strummed epiphany for the faithful: “So tread with mortal fear, the hell hounds are drawing near”. All with their “F*ck The Tories” T shirts, no doubt. Possibly a bit throw-away, but a live highlight to be certain, especially as Grainger puts his foot through the gears. Blindsided by that, Moby Dick enters all of a Balkan, even as seagulls caw. Quite what Captain Ahab and Queequeg have to do with balalaikas and cossack dance, I am uncertain, but it makes for a touch of unexpected extra colour, before the set sears to an end with ‘Anger On The Streets’. Another punky tirade, it is maybe to placate those who might see their idols becoming too absorbed into the folk community. Even if it is, this doesn’t stop Woods making sure he adds some torrents of banjo bluster, with just as much fury as Peters exhibits on his electric guitar. It’s short, but an ideal way to close the show 

With Kleptocracy, Ferocious Dog feel to have hit their sweetest spot yet. With Woods they have not only found an instrumental polymath of no small added value, an imposing central oak of a man on the stage to boot, but a canny and sympathetic set of hands in the studio. Now bring on the festival season!! 

Seuras Og

Band website: www.ferocious-dog.co.uk 

‘Sus Laws’ – official video:

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