At 2pm on Saturday 16th August 2014 Ferocious Dog played what was undoubtably their most important gig to date. Beautiful Days festival at Escot Park in Devon attracts a very enthusiastic and loyal following. The people who attend this festival are exactly the audience that Ferocious Dog need to attract, they are knowledgeable, enthusiastic and sit a little out of the mainstream. The festival has no sponsorship, doesn’t advertise and yet it sells out months in advance every year without fail. There is a buzz around the festival and it’s popularity has spread largely by word of mouth. Ferocious Dog are building a similar reputation in a similar way.
The band have played at numerous festivals in the last couple of years and they are building a fantastic reputation for the quality and energy of their live performances. The buzz around the band has been gathering pace since the release of their eponymous debut album in 2013. I have reviewed the album elsewhere on these pages. You can read the review here. In order to maintain the momentum the band have built over the past couple of years and to expand their growing fan base it was important to put in a quality performance, especially given that work is underway on a second album which, it is hoped, will be released towards the end of this year.
I was a little concerned as to the timing of the bands set in the big top as they were sandwiched between solo performances by Kim Churchill and the levellers Mark Chadwick. This and the early afternoon slot was hardly ideal for a full on, high energy, band who feed off the energy of the audience. I was a little worried that the timing could mean the audience were a little flat and that this would have an adverse effect on the band.
I arrived in time to catch the end of Kim Churchills set and as he finished and the crowd drifted off Ferocious Dog arrived and began to set up. I was struck by how relaxed the boys looked, frontman Ken and Fiddle player Dan waved and chatted with friends in the crowd as they set up and it seemed to me that anticipation and excitement were much more in evidence than nerves or apprehension. The sense of excitement built as the start time drew closer and then suddenly as if of a single mind the crowd entered and filled the big top. There was no question that the huge majority of those in the tent had come to see Ferocious Dog, this was not a crowd that had drifted in just to see what was happening, the buzz that had been around on social media for weeks had spread into the venue, and what a venue. The huge tent has a huge stage and can easily hold 5000 people, the lighting and sound are fantastic and with a jam-packed crowd present the only missing ingredient was in the hands of Ferocious Dog. All that was needed now was a great performance by the band to ensure a memorable occasion that would give birth to a new litter of Hellhounds.
Within seconds all of my apprehension was dispelled. From the opening bars of ‘On the Rocks’ the crowd went nuts dancing, moshing, crowd surfing and singing along to every song. Those of us who have never performed on stage can only imagine the buzz you must get from hearing a packed audience sing back every word of every song to you. Such is the power of music. As the gig progressed the band progressed through Raggle Taggle Gypsy, Criminal Justice, Freeborn John rising to a crescendo for the absolute mania that is Ferocious Dog’s version of ‘Paddy on the Railway’. Throughout the set band and crowd fed off each other as they moved as one, growing, swelling into a pulsating, seething, sweating mass of bodies driven on by the rhythm of Dave’s Bass Guitar and Brad’s drumming. Dan’s fiddle duelled with Ellis’s Mandolin and banjo to set feet moving. Kyle’s electric guitar and Ken’s frenetic vocals whipping the crowd into a single minded frenzy.
Even through all the energy of a performance such as this there was time for moments of intimacy. Dan & Ken acknowledged familiar faces in the audience, making eye contact and making you feel that they were singing just for you. When the set reached ‘The Glass’ & ‘Lee’s Tune’ Ken made a simple gesture, kissing his finger and gesturing heavenwards, tears in his eyes, a moment that said, ‘this is for you son, I know you are watching’. A simple gesture that brought tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat and I am sure did the same to everyone in the audience who know the bands back story.
The set ended all too soon with the band leaving the stage to rapturous applause and returning a few minutes later to play a three song encore of ‘Hellhounds’, ‘Freethinker’ & ‘Marie’s Wedding part 2’. They returned, it must be said in triumph. They had absolutely smashed it, putting in what was for me and many others the best performance of the entire weekend. My apprehension was totally misplaced and you know what, it was always going to be misplaced. You see Ferocious Dog are made of the right stuff. They are talented individuals who have found the right blend to play well written and meaningful music in a joyful, energetic explosion of sound, but this doesn’t even begin to tell the story. You see the band are so much more than this because above all Ferocious Dog connect with people. What they have been through has helped them to develop a strength of character and a sense of caring and consideration for others that is so rarely seen in this, the most cynical of industries. They are the antithesis’s of the manufactured pap churned out by the likes of Simon Cowell, an antidote to the ‘me, me, me’ culture of the pop industry. How many bands do you know that send merchandise, unsolicited, to a little girl with disabilities just because they saw on a Facebook chat group that her parents were taking her to Beautiful Days. As if that wasn’t remarkable enough they then went and played an acoustic set in the disabled camping field to ensure that those who were unable to see them in the big top got the chance to see them play. They also played an acoustic set at Magpie Music’s marquee, debuting some new songs destined for their second album. These thoughtful and selfless acts are what make Ferocious Dog special, what sets them apart, what builds a very special relationship between them and their fans.
If there is any justice in the world it will also lead to ever increasing success for the band. If the queues to buy Ferocious Dog merchandise and the number of Ferocious Dog T-shirts I saw around the festival are anything to go buy, Beautiful Days marks another, triumphant, step along the way. Their success so far is richly deserved and I hope and believe they will progress to greater things..