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  • Writer's pictureNick Meynell

A weekend of folk punk? The Men They Couldn’t Hang, Bedford Esquires, 17th May 2024 and Ferocious Dog, Nottingham Rock City, 18th May 2024

Two gigs on two consecutive nights, in a town and a city about 100 miles apart, but a great deal of similarities between these bands. Both The Men they Couldn't Hang (TMTCH) and Ferocious Dog come from similar punk / folk roots, although the latter have perhaps only half the history of the former - TMTCH are doing 40th anniversary shows to be fair! TMTCH have perhaps a more cosmopolitan West London vibe, whereas Ferocious Dog are led by a former miner, Ken Bonsal and have perhaps a grittier edge. Both have a healthily anti-establishment side to them. Both bands like to engage with their fans and both certainly want their audiences to have a good time.

 

Ferocious Dog merch
Ferocious Dog's chopping board

It's a Friday night in Bedford, at a venue that I have not been before -  Esquires. I lived here in the mid 90s for three years and I am sure it didn't exist, or didn't put on notable bands. It was nice to be back for the first time in 23 years and not have a clue where I was in terms of orientation. Esquires is however a great venue. Its closest counterpart for me is the wonderful Hare and Hounds in Birmingham. Less than 300 capacity, friendly, efficient bar and great sound. Another all important small venue doing their bit for the mega artist of tomorrow on a shoestring no doubt.

 

I didn't catch the support band, but they did call one of their songs ‘fuck the Tories’ before suggesting that all their songs could be called that. This is a TMTCH support! The headliners come on to Raising Hell from The Defiant - a relatively recent album for them at a mere 10 years old. Then the fast paced Going Back To Coventry from 1986's How Green Is The Valley to get the crowd really going. I had been in Coventry just a few hours earlier (at work) and I really didn't feel like going back on a sunny Friday evening. London North Western Trains aren't great (or cheap) either.  

 

Fan favourite and anti-fascist anthem Ghosts Of Cable Street then follows with a great audience sing-a-long. Inter-band and band to fan banter is great throughout. Violin player Bobby Valentino is ribbed for being on his second hip, the first (signed) being available at the merch stall. Is that how tough it now is for bands out there? Note the merch stall offerings in the next review! I’m sure there are many others (like Bobby) in the audience (myself included) who find standing for long periods more difficult these days due to their age, rather than a disability.

 

The Men They Couldn't Hang

Red Kite Rising is dedicated to former co-lead singer Stefan Cush who died far too young in 2021. Red kiteswere his favourite bird apparently. We saw TMTCH pretty soon after his sad passing and felt that (understandably) the band struggled to work out their arrangements without him. They seem very much back in business now, whilst still clearly and  dearly missing the wonderful man.

 

Eric Bogle’s Green Fields of France is played, the song that made this band famous in the mid 80s, scoring a third place in John Peel’s Festive 50. So emotive, it’s hard not to well up and think of Kush’s lovely vocals. Phil Odgers just said to the audience that he’d do his best and would ‘appreciate any help’. Shirt Of Blue from How Green Is The Valley is another picket line classic, talking of the struggles of the miners during the 1984 strike - a clear connection between this band and Saturday’s Ferocious Dog.

 

Folk-punk-tastic

The main set finishes with the raucous, and similarly political, Ironmasters from Night Of A Thousand Candles. As Phil tell the audience that ‘they always get their way’, one cannot help thinking of Messrs Musk, Bezos, Murdoch and countless more modern day (too?) powerful entrepreneurs in our globalised world.  Of course, we get an encore with a song I didn’t recognise (and Setlist FM  could not help at time of writing), The Bells and Walkin’ Talkin’ to leave the audience nicely satisfied. I would have liked Company Town and Scarlet Ribbons, but when you have 40 years’ worth of history, it must be nigh on impossible to choose a setlist for everyone. Thanks TMTCH (and Cush) for this fantastic night and many others. I can’t wait to see you all again, at the Hare and Hounds (of course) later this year. 

 

The Men (and Woman) They Couldn't Hang

So onto Nottingham, and the marvellous Rock City which is only slightly older than TMTCH, having celebrated its 40th a couple of years back, by selling off bits of its floor stamped with ‘Rock City’. A great (and large) independent venue which has seen some major acts over the year.

 

Ferocious Dog ‘only’ have five LPs, released all pretty much in the last decade. They are popular here and this is a big venue for them. Not quite at capacity, but full, and not a huge surprise - they are from Warsop nearby and their fans, The Hell Hounds, like to support their local heroes. They organise a nearby DogFest, and similarly, tonight there are a whole host of local bands playing here on two stages from 2pm. All for under thirty quid. We catch half of As December Falls, a noisy Nottingham based metal outfit, fronted by a very enthusiastic Bethany Curtis. They are certainly well received.

 

Ferocious Dog

Ferocious Dog come on to Billy Bragg’s There Is A Power In A Union - surely the only band to come on to a Bragg song. Their new LP - Kleptocracy, which has a great cover of our Houses of Parliament - gets a good airing with at least ten songs played from it. Again setlist.fm lets me down, and I wasn’t making a list on my phone or even counting after the second beer. (Editor – the setlist is now published, setlist.fm to the rescue and they played 12 songs from Kleptocracy)

 

I did hear Merthyr Rising, Sus Laws, Moby Dick and Witch Hunt. About half way in we get Broken Soldier from previous LP, The Hope. This is one of several songs inspired by the suicide of singer Ken Bonsal’s son, Lee aged 24, who was suffering from PTSD after serving in Afghanistan. The band have set up a foundation in his memory, and the loss is clearly just as painful.



Punk Police gets the audience bouncing even more, if that was even needed. We also get a metal type ‘circle of death’ on the floor going anti-clockwise (as specified by Ken) which all seems very fun, but safe. The fans by the way are all extremely courteous, and the band take a very firm view on sexual harassment at their gigs.

 

Ferocious Dog certainly like a bit of history. Pentrich Rising charts a little known rebellion in Derbyshire just over 200 years ago. The ring leader was ‘hanged in Derby jail’ according to the fast paced song to warn others, much to the disgust of more liberal minded folk at the time.



As the show continues, it simply gets more raucous. The view is blocked somewhat by people on shoulders and even standing on shoulders, but it’s all good natured and the Rock City security seem relaxed. The set finishes with the fabulous Slow Motion Suicide - ‘as the whiskey comes to claim his soul’ which is enough to encourage anyone into a life of temperance. What a fantastic show - but it’s not over yet. Ken Bonsal, comes on to stage to ‘do’ Nellie The Elephant with the audience as they depart, before just jumping down from the stage to chat to fans.



This sense of connection continues as we exit via the merch. I can’t help picking up two LPs, my friend spends even more! There are a lot of t-shirts on show amongst the audience. This band is definitely on the money (pardon the pun) in terms of merch and have loads on offer, including a beautifully engraved FD chopping board for £85. I had thought that Public Service Broadcasting had all the original merch ideas. 

 

So, two great (and vaguely similar) bands, both trying to make their way in this uncertain digital age. Massive respect to both of them, and all the other talented artists out there trying to make a meagre existence. Please keep supporting live music, especially at smaller venues.

 

Editor – Thanks Nick! I don’t know either band, but will have to go give them both a proper listen!


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