Police Dog Hogan bring their joy machine to Morecambe
From one of the men behind the now infamous Cadbury's gorilla advert comes an unusual, but highly pleasingÂ mix of Americana and English folk in the shape of Police Dog Hogan. But what's it all about?
Combining fiddle, trumpet, banjo, mandolin, accordian, drums and guitar with four-part harmonies - they fuse all this into songs about not very good white wine to the first day's battle at Passchendaele, from their trip to Nashville to being hung for stealing at Tyburn; all the while taking in songs about love, loss and growing up in the West Country.
The man responsible for many of the songs and for the lead vocals in the band, James Studholme, gave his insight into Police Dog Hogan. He said: "We have got a foot in the world of Americana, and a foot in the world of folk. We are kind of like inspired by American roots music, but coming at it from a very British/English point of view. So we don't sing about highways, but we might sing about the A303 possibly!
"The best way to describe the band may be the line-up - which is banjo, mandolin, fiddle, accordian, trumpet, acoustic guitar, bass and drums - so it is very eclectic. There's a lot going on. Everybody sings, there are a lot of harmonies, and there's quite a lot of humour in what we do.
"The music we take tremendously seriously but we take ourselves not seriously at all!"
This large seven-piece line-up features James up front, with Eddie Bishop on violin, mandolin; Tim Dowling on banjo; drummer Michael Giri; bassist Don Bowen; Shahen Galichian on accordian and keyboards; and Emily Norris on trumpet. Each member also provides vocals.
But seven people are a lot of folk to get on the stage all at once! James said: "I think that's one of the things that is exciting about it. It's a bit tricky because obviously everyone wants to play all the time and that doesn't work. You have to hold back and not play all the time.
"We started out very much with a mission to try and be a bluegrass band. And we're not. We're absolutely not. We broke every rule that we set for ourselves at the beginning a long time ago. But we've actually come full circle and we now have - you know when you see a bluegrass band and they all play around one microphone - we've now got that going on - we have a bluegrass microphone.
"It was extraordinarily fortunate recently because we were playing in Canterbury and Norwich and our drummer had the kind of flu where you can't even get out of bed and walk to the door of your bedroom. So we had to redesign our entire show at four hours notice. And it was fantastic! Because we were basically able to do a bluegrass gig more or less. And it was wonderful."
And how did seven diverse musicians all come together?
"We'd all been in bands. Pretty much everybody in the band at different times have been very, very serious about their music and we're all in our 50s, I guess, so we'd started out back in the day, being in bands of different sorts, that have probably not overly troubled the accountants. And then life intervenes, you get jobs, wives and children, you know all sorts of other things going on. So we came sort of full circle to it.
"And I came back to it and started playing for myself, and people just kept turning up at my house basically, without much of an agenda!" he laughs.
"So it gradually kind of evolved. There wasn't like a vision - okay, what I want, I need a seven-piece band. The marvellous Radio Two DJ Johnnie Walker he advised me, he said 'you'll never make any money, never make any money', and I thought, oh, okay. But that's not really the purpose of the mission.
"But what is great about it is it's just so fun! I think this is the unexpected by-product of how it has evolved is that it is kind of a joy machine. Largely a joy machine for us, but a joy machine for the audience.
"And even though there are quite a lot of sad songs and dark, difficult stuff - there's a song about my great-uncle who was killed at Passchendaele, Devon Brigade, which is a powerful song - and a man in Canterbury, a big guy, really big guy, came up with his wife and said 'Oh mate, you made me laugh, you made me cry.' And his brother had been killed 10 years ago in Afghanistan and then he heard this song, Devon Brigade, and his wife said 'That's the first time he has had a really good cry.' And that was just the best compliment. You know, the feeling of empathy that you hope a song brings. That was amazing.
"But that's taking you away from the joy - the joy is the main thing. The joy is that people feel transported and that whatever's going on, they've got an hour and half, two hours of sort of entertainment.
"It's not really about making a complicated and difficult and pretentious musical statement. We're not really about that. We're in to trying to take people out of themselves. And give everyone a really good time."
Americana music and English folk music are two fairly different musical genres. James explains how this unusual mix comes about: "I've always been a fan of sort of country music, but without really realising it. It seems to me that Americana as a genre evolved kind of out of country music. Because country music ended up being like sort of pop, country, shiny country pop and men with hats, and all that stuff. And they left no place for Steve Earle and Gillian Welch and Emmylou Harris and Townes Van Zandt. And so Americana kind of is, broadly speaking, American roots music. So it's very, very derived from Scottish music, Irish music and English folk music. And a collision with the banjo, which came from Africa.
"There's a long sort of tradition I guess of that. And a long tradition of music flipping backwards and forwards between Europe and America, how the Rolling Stones and the Beatles brought blues back to the UK and then supercharged it and took it back to America.
"But this idea of being in the UK but having our eyes on America. Being influenced by America but being in the UK. It's the musical landscape that we love.
"I think the problem with Americana as a genre is you can easily lapse into essentially being sort of a tribute band. Bluegrass music, for example, they are almost like set texts which are handed down on tablets of stone to be performed in a very, very particular way and they are bit dry and they are very particular and actually quite boring. And that's what we discovered actually after attempting to be a bluegrass band. So, I think this is what is great about music, is the hybridisation of things colliding.
In the music world there's really not many better places to play than in Nashville - the spirtual home of music. And to play in such a place is certainly an honour. James said: "At that time we were with a label called Union Music Store in Lewes. And the Americana Music Association have a kind of, you wouldn't call it a festival actually, more of a conference, but it is one of those conferences where loads of bands come to Nashville from around America to play. And we were selected, it's rather marvellous this, it's like being selected to represent you country at Americana music. So we were selected along with Danny the Champions of the World and Emily Barker to go and be the, you know, the representatives of our fine nation!
"And it was fantastic. We absolutely had the best time and actually our plan, at least for some of us, is to go back to Nashville at some point in the next year and make a record there. Our next album will be recorded in Nashville because there's something about it. It's like just magical. So we did a couple of showcases and some writing and just saw lots of things and just had a great time."
Police Dog Hogan have a long tradition with Lancashire and Cumbria, with James having a firm foothold in a village just outside of Carlisle. He explained: "If you go just south west of Carlisle there is actually a place called Stud Holme and it is one of those places you would see a road sign that says Stud Holme in two miles, and then you'd drive for a while and then you'd see a road sign pointing in the opposite direction that says Stud Holme one mile. And you go 'What, did I miss it?'
"We have a pretty deep affinity with the area actually because we've played Kendal Calling a couple of times, we've played a fantastic folk festival called Ireby. It's on the top of a hill, high up in the hills. It's an incredible thing and on a really great night and the sides of the big tent, holding about 1,000 people, and you are playing and you can look out 50 miles out. It's quite extraordinary.
"And also Brewery Arts Centre we've played a few times - we knew it well. What a gorgeous part of the world!"
If you don't manage to catch Police Dog Hogan when they hit Morecambe later this month, there's always the chance to catch them at any number of festivals they have penciled in for the summer. James said: "After this tour we have got a lot of festivals over the summer - and quite a lot of headlining slots. So Cornbury, Sidmouth Folk Festival, Broadstairs, Wycombe and lots of other places."
Police Dog Hogan pay their first visit to Morecambe’s popular music venue The Platform on Wednesday, March 14. The music starts at 7.30pm and tickets are just Â£16. To book visit https://uk.patronbase.com/_ThePlatform/Productions/1Z/Performances or call 01524 582000.