In November 2015, UK based Celtic punk band Ferocious Dog made history by being the first unsigned band to ever sell out the legendary Rock City music venue in Nottingham. We caught up with front man Ken Bonsall and his son, fiddle player, Dan Booth a week before hand at the Talking Heads pub in Southampton where the band were playing in support of their new album From Without.
S&O: Ken, you started your working life as a coal miner. How do you make the transition from miner to musician?
FD: There wasn’t really a transition. There was an overlap. At first it was the pit and the music. Sometimes I’d get off shift with an hour to spare before a gig or sometimes finish a gig an hour before going on shift. While it was devastating to the local economy when the pits closed, it was beneficial for the band.
S&O: Dan, you work in the National Health Service; you must have similar pressures. How do you cope?
FD: You just do it. I was once bitten by a patient and went straight from A&E to playing a gig. Fourteen hour days prior to a gig are not uncommon.
S&O: I’ve noticed songs about Ireland on both your albums; Quiet Paddy and Gallows Justice. Despite playing celtic music, you aren’t an “Irish band” do how did these songs come about?
FD: They came as the result of visiting Ireland and particularly from camping in Connemara and being blown away by the rugged beauty of the place. It felt really tropical as it always rains. I was also responding to the “English go home” vibe you can sometimes pick up and I wanted to say “I empathise” and “don’t blame the English working class”. Things done by Cromwell and by English landowners were done to the English working class too.
S&O: Let’s stay with the history side of things. Tell us about the song Crime and Punishment.
FD: Ken found out that he was related to a poacher called Bill Sykes who was transported to Australia in 1865. Now, Bill Skyes might have been the blueprint for the archetypal Victorian villain in Charles Dickens but from what I can see he was just a working class lad from Mansfield. Sykes and some other lads were out poaching on the big estate and the game keeper was tipped off. In the scuffle to apprehend them the game keeper was killed and one of the poachers turned Queen’s evidence in order to save his own neck. The rest of the poachers refused to say who had struck the killing blow and so were all transported. Bill Sykes’ wife wrote to him regularly but the letters never reached him. They were all lost behind a shelf in an Australian police station for decades before being discovered and written about in the 1959 book Unwilling Emigrants.
S&O: It’s my favourite song on the new album along with Slow Motion Suicide. As the son of a miner from the northeast that song has some powerful resonance. What can you tell us?
FD: Ken wrote the lyrics about six years ago-beautifully telling the tragic tale of an out-of-work miner who’s turned to the drink. Dan then had to add something equally beautiful with the fiddle. The hope for the song was that it would take listeners on a journey. The music had to fit the emotions being portrayed in the lyrics.
S&O: Is that how all your song writing is done? Lyrics then music?
FD: Not at all. Our song writing is a very random and very collaborative process. Everyone is free to contribute. Ellis (Warring) is the unsung hero of Ferocious Dog. If you listen to something like Gallows Justice he layered riffs on top of riffs. Scott, our drummer will always bring something new to the mix- sometimes in the middle of a gig! But it works. We’re also influenced by the music we grew up listening to. You learn your trade listening to the music you love. Some of those influences are obvious; New Model Army, The Levellers, Flogging Molly; others are less so. For example, we were in a practise session and Scott completely stole a drum riff from the Stone Roses. We are all massive Stone Roses fans; so it all goes into the mix. But the key thing for every song is it’s got to have moshability.
S&O: Ken, every gig, you stand on stage and sing about your son, Lee. (Lee tragically took his own life as a result of post traumatic stress suffered while serving with the British army in Afghanistan). As an audience member, it moves me to tears, how do you do it?
FD: Pride. Everything we do is “For Lee”. We want to see how big we can make Ferocious Dog because everything we do is in his memory. Without Lee there would have been no band. He is the drive behind Ferocious Dog. (The Lee Bonsall Memorial Fund has been set up in order to help raise funds and awareness to help others suffering from PTSD. More information about Lee’s story and the issue of PTSD can be obtained via the documentary Broken by Battle)
S&O: You are all doing him proud.
S&O: Final question. How did you manage to get Les Carter (formerly of 90s indie sensation Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine) to join Ferocious Dog?
FD: That was down to Dan. We’d done some dates with Carter and then Les offered us a support slot at their final gig at the Brixton Academy which we couldn’t play due to a prior commitment. We were looking for a new guitarist after Kyle Peters left to start his own band, the Outlines so Dan cheekily asked Les what he was doing with his “retirement” and he joined us!
S&O: Thanks for taking time to talk to us and all the best for the remainder of the tour; especially the first Hell Hounds AGM at Rock City.