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Earlier this year I made my way to the well hidden Folk-in-a-Field just south of King’s Lynn in Norfolk. Headlining that day were Ferocious Dog who are touring with The Levelers in November and December. Backstage I got a chance to chat with Ken Bonsall and Dan Booth about their music, their influences and of course the late Lee Bonsall, the man Ken & Dan dedicate all their gigs to.
Ferocious Dog, I’m looking at the mohican Ken and I am thinking we are not talking pure folk here?
Ken – And you’d be wrong. Its a cross over between… its like modern folk. You’ll hear this later, everyone thinks ferocious Dog – they are a punk band, but its not like that at all. We take real traditional music but give it a little bit of attitude. There are all different style there as well, isn’t there
Dan – Yeah, we don’t struggel because we don’t care we are Ferocious Dog and thats it, we know w hat we are doing, we can’t label ourselves because…. can you remember that German magazine that called us ‘dissident folk’ – the most common one is ‘folk-punk’ but actually you could say folk-rock, there is ska and reggae in there.
So lets ignore the whole genre thing!
Ken – But we do it all with fiddles, mandolins, bazooki and banjo…
Dan – there is even some country in there and Cajun
You list your influences as the Dubliners, Flogging Molly and The Pogues, where does the Irish influence come from?
Ken – that’s my Dad! He is completely English, there is no Irish in our family what-so-ever, but me Dad I think were a wannabe Irishman!
Dan – he definitely did want to be Irish, you’d have thought he was!
Ken – yeah, he’d drink Guinness and as a small child I grew up on The Dubliners, Ronnie Drew, The Clancy Brothers and when I learned to play a guitar I knew all these songs word for word. They were in grained in me as part of my childhood. Then for my son to be an amazing Fiddler who could listen to a tape an just then play the song straight out it is just so easy to play the Irish and folk stuff. But I wouldn’t say that we try and do Irish ’cause I’m quite proud of our English heritage that we have lost as a folk scene. Up in Northumberland you’ve got it, go to Cornwall you’ve got it but middle England seems to have lost it so it is trying to get that back.
Dan – one magazine, I can’t remember which one it was, they were comparing us to The Levellers which we get a lot, and we totally get it. We love The Levellers and we are touring with them at the end of the year and we are good friends with them and that is absolutely cool. But one magazine did say the Ferocious Dog sail a little closer to the Emerald Isle than The Levellers do and I think that is perfect.
Ken – True, yeah.
I grew up listening to the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Maken singing Shoals of Herring, thinking it was an Irish sea shanty – and its not, its from Norfolk!
Talk to us about Lee and why it is that Ferocious Dog dedicate all their gigs to him.
Lee – my son, Dan’s brother went to fight in Afghanistan at eighteen year old. He came back but was still fighting a battle, he lost his best friend in Afghanistan through a sniper. We didn’t know what PTSD was, I wish we did but we didn’t. He ended up coming out of Army, unbeknown to us dishonourably but he did anything to get out of the army and he committed suicide years after. He had married, settled down but we didn’t know, we didn’t see it.
Dan – we knew he was different, but hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it?
Ken – we look back now and it is just screaming at us but we didn’t know about PTSD or the scares it leaves or what it does. Now we know everything about PTSD – we have made it our life ambition to know and to tell other people. The relief fund was set up, first to keep his name going, secondly to stop any other families going through what we went through as a family. And thirdly to help veterans – anyone who is suffering from PTSD and raise awareness and not just in the armed forces.
But is it still true that the armed forces won’t release medical records to a person’s GP?
Ken – Yes, that is still true. We have had so many recommendations through Lee’s coroner who has backed us 100% and because of that we have had recommendation on the MoD, the Government and the NHS. Its a start, its not enough – little steps and we’ll get there.
Back to the music, your fans – The Family – is it very important that you connect with them at gigs?
Ken – definitely, you can see that here. You go to these festivals, we are not rock starts, we’ll never be rock stars – we could headline Glastonbury and we still wouldn’t be rock stars, I’ll still be Ken from Warsop, drinking Stella! They know that, they understand that.
So tell us about Glastonbury, you played there at the Left Field stage.
Ken – yeah, just last week. Perfect for me, Billy Bragg’s stage. If you asked me: Ken, you’ve got two choices Pyramid stage or Left Field – I’d say Left Field…
Dan – (laughs) speak for yourself!!
Ken – and I am doing, this is me, and for me and my politics that were perfect. The rest of the band will say shut-up Ken! But for me it don’t get no better than that.
Dan – the best thing was he came back stage just before we played, sat down, had a good chat with us and he was like: its six o’clock Saturday, Left Field slot at Glastonbury can be a bit of a graveyard shift because people are getting their tea and wondering what they are going to be doing at 2am. So he says play loud, play fast and people will come. We walked out on stage and it were rammed! Absolutely rammed.
Ken – Billy Bragg walked up on to back of stage and stood there with the biggest grin on his face.
What made you take up the fiddle Dan?
Dan – do you want the truth or lies?
We prefer the truth! Providing its printable.
Dan – I’ll give you the truth then, its a bit embarrassing but… I was playing guitar and recorder when I was about five. Me Mum had a phone call from the head teacher saying Dan’s a bit musical, there is a spare violin going, does he want violin lessons? Now, in my head, being all of six, I thought that the bow, instead of horse hair, I though it was like a razor blade, like a sword or and ice skate and I thought, yeah I can fight with that! When I got it I were dead disappointed!
Ken – but you did once at a gig stab somebody in the ear!
Dan – yes, but we are good mates now because he’s about six foot four and a big ‘ard lad.
Ken – but at the time Karen really wanted Dan to take up clarinet but his teacher persuaded Karen that he should be playing the violin because it is a far more demanding instrument.
So Ferocious Dog could have been a Jazz Band?
Ken – oh no, never!
You are a former miner Ken, I am guessing that you don’t miss the pit?
Ken – I do actually, every miner will say the same. They don’t miss the pit, it is the worst place in the world to have to work, it really is but it is the lads, the camaraderie. I’ve seen my best friend die down there, he got buried, we had to dig him out and these things, working down a hell hole, its a man’s world.
That must influence the writing yeah?
Ken – Definetly, yeah.
Ken, Dan – thank you for taking the time to talk to GrapevineLIVE.
Tour dates with The Levellers: