Now with eight members to the line-up, taking their name from the disgraced canine constable that bit a rioter during a mass disturbance in Brighton and fronted by James Studholme, the London based urban bluegrass outfit Police Dog Hogan are firm festival favourites. This goes a long way to explaining why, even when the subject matter’s downbeat, they find positivity and deliver it with the sort of buoyancy and verve that you’d expect from a crowd-rousing live act as they so ably demonstrate on their latest album Westward Ho!
One Size Fits All is a perfect case in point, a break-up song about heartache which, driven by banjo and accordion, comes with a sort of Slim Chance jaunt and a catchy singalong refrain. Likewise, album opener, Thunderheads, the story of a foundling, taken into care and returned (twice) by the first people that took him in, that comes with the chorus line ‘right now, I got no place to go” but is streaked with an optimism that matches the mix of bluegrass and shanty.
Though working out of London, as the title suggests, the album (produced by Oysterband’s Al Scott) is firmly rooted around Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset and Bristol, indeed the third track, a cocktail of The Pogues and Steve Earle, is called West Country Boy and, in its playful, chorus-friendly three and a half minutes, manages to namecheck Chidelham Ho (mentioned in a book by Sussex crime writer Arthur J Rees and, I assume, a reference to Chidham in West Sussex), Ilfracombe, Bude, Bodmin, Plymouth Sound, Melsham, Redruth, Mere and Fowey (pronouned Foy), as well as mention of a motel south of Bristol with a sign that says ‘no musicians and no pets’, in its celebration of the region and life in a working band.
Elsewhere there’s talk of all night raves and all year surfing in the nostalgic reminiscences of Crackington (in North Cornwall), which itself mentions a girl from Trebarwith, but not all the references lyrical or musical references are from this side of the Atlantic. The energetic From The Land of Miracles (the title of their last album) has a definite American folk fiddle hoe down feel, the lyrics talking of finding fortune in oil and mining, the slow, melancholic, banjo plucked Buffalo mentions the banks of the Ohio and sugar cane fields and Judgment Day is a leg-slapping, yee-hawing bluegrass gospel romp while, addressing a theme of ageing and the things that matter, Ethan Frome specifically references Edith Wharton’s novel; although, of course, the character’s last name is itself that of a town in Somerset.
However, while they may embrace American folk influences, there’s no doubt that the band are English to the core, after all, what other nation could produce a song about masculinity and growing older entitled A Man Needs A Shed with its line about tins of rusty screws!
Three other numbers complete the set, St Lucie’s Day’s swayingly gentle reflections on love and mortality with its choral backing, Home, a fiddle-folk and rap collaboration with members of Platform 7, a band of ex-prisoners, about returning home after doing your time, and, finally, the folk sprightliness of No Wonder She Drinks, another number about hard won experience, the passing years and the drowning of disappointment.
Essentially built to be performed, the songs aren’t the stuff of classics, but they’re delivered with conviction and played with impeccable prowess. With an average age of over 40 and solid day jobs, they’re not chasing music business fame and fortune, but they can be assured of full houses and appreciative audiences, from festival field to village hall.
Review by: Mike Davies