The Wildhearts, Ferocious Dog and The Amorettes – KOKO, Camden, London – 02/12/18

The Wildhearts at KOKO
The Wildhearts at KOKO

25 years ago The Wildhearts released what has often been heralded in rock circles as one of the best debut albums of all time, Earth Vs The Wildhearts (read my retrospective review of it here).

To mark that milestone, as they did at its 20th anniversary, and similar to the 20th anniversary of its follow-up record P.H.U.Q a couple of years ago, the band celebrated the anniversary with a series of shows playing the album in full, so, despite having only last seen them live back in the summer in Brighton, I made the trip to KOKO in Camden for the London show.

Before the show even began there were a couple of slightly concerning developments.

The Amorettes at KOKO
The Amorettes

First was that The Wildhearts, who had planned on doing two sets (one under the name of The Moodswingers and presumably featuring a full collection of their popular songs not on Earth Vs), had decided to do only the one set on doctors’ orders as frontman Ginger is still overcoming some vocal chord damage earlier in the autumn.

Second was that opening act The Amorettes had made no secret that their frontwoman, Gill Montgomery, was suffering from laryngitis (and it turns out they were playing without their usual bass player).

As they blasted into a set of harmonious hard rock based on the likes of AC/DC and Judas Priest, with hints of the 80s sounds of Def Leppard and Motley Crue thrown in for good measure, there was no need for concern.

The Amorettes
The Amorettes

It was clear the band had their followers in attendance but, even having never heard them before tonight, it wasn’t long before I was swept along by the surprisingly swinging rhythms and great shout along choruses (which we were certainly being encouraged to join in with thanks to the laryngitis).

As they closed on recent single Everything I Learned I Learned From Rock And Roll, I was left wondering where Ginger and co keep finding these up and coming hard rock bands as this isn’t the first time I’ve been hugely impressed by a lesser known band at a Wildhearts show (stand up Black Spiders in particular), and I can’t help but comment that the rock world needs more drummers like Hannah McKay with a sense of groove and swing along with the thundering power.

Ferocious Dog at KOKO
Ferocious Dog

The job of filling the gap left by ‘The Moodswingers’ at fairly short notice fell to Nottingham’s Ferocious Dog, a name that, while vaguely familiar for reasons unknown, I really knew nothing of – and still I didn’t get anything like what I was expecting.

Armed with acoustic guitars, mandolin, bouzouki, fiddle, tin whistle, electric guitar, bass and drums, it soon became clear what we were in for as the six-piece blasted through a set of British folk punk of the old school at astonishing breakneck pace.

If it wasn’t clear from the style of music the band’s political and social leanings were soon confirmed not just by the bass player’s Joy As An Act Of Resistance t-shirt but also by one of the songs being dedicated to the ‘Orgreave Veterans’ (Criminal Justice), but while they clearly had a message to spread, Ferocious Dog also had the tunes to back it up.

Ferocious Dog
Ferocious Dog

Mixing traditional English and British style jigs and reels with the more tuneful side of punk rock they were something like a less cartoony Dropkick Murphys and I can safely say I’ve never seen fiddle, mandolin of whistle played at such pace by Dan Booth and John Leonard.

Like the openers they also had a contingent of fans in the audience but again like the first band they seemed to win over many more, despite a few initial looks of derision from some of the more set in their ways hard rocking Wildhearts fans and, with an understatedly engaging frontman in Ken Bonsall, and some of the best joint fiddle and mandolin work I’ve ever seen, I can’t say I’m surprised.

Bedecked in a Discharge t-shirt it seemed that the spirit of punk rock embodied by the second support act was flowing through Ginger Wildheart tonight as he led The Wildhearts through a no-nonsense rendition of their classic debut album, barely stopping for breath.

The Wildhearts
The Wildhearts

Of course we all knew the order of the set list but this didn’t seem to matter as it brought band and crowd together in vocal and energetic unison in spectacular fashion.

It has to be noted that during opener, Greetings From Shitsville, it did look like things might be derailed early as Ginger was clearly distracted by some unnecessarily powerful lights focussed on him and the sound crew seemed to be having issues too, but as the crowd shouted the words to the song by the time we hit the second chorus all was back on track.

With quite a few of the tracks not being regulars in the band’s set it was great hearing them live, particularly with the ‘classic’ line up of the band playing them, possibly for the first time ever in this way.

Ginger of The Wildhearts at KOKO
Ginger Wildheart

Highlights for me came with Everlone, Loveshit and Shame On Me in particular but, as the album doesn’t put a foot wrong, neither did the band closing on a spectacular Love You Til I Don’t that had that been it would have sent most home more than happy.

I’ll admit that compared to the show I attended back in August the band seemed slightly more uptight on stage and this was something Ginger addressed as they returned for an extended encore of some other favourite songs, as he said he felt a bit like a showcase playing the album end to end (but what a showcase that would have been).

For the following forty minutes or so then, the band blasted out favourite after favourite spanning everything up to The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed album with highlights coming in the form of Sick Of Drugs, mass singalong Geordie In Wonderland, I Wanna Go Where The People Go, Anthem (as sung by Danny and that remains far more tuneful than its album version would suggest) and huge closer 29X The Pain.

The Wildhearts at KOKO
The Wildhearts

All said the night was a celebratory triumph with many transported back to 1993 and others, like myself, happy to have been swept up by the erratic force of nature that is The Wildhearts, and, with talk of a new album in the new year, it’s a force that seems in no hurry to stop, and the often maligned rock ‘n’ roll world should be thankful for it.

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