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Police Dog Hogan interview part 1

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Police Dog Hogan are a high-energy and eclectic seven-piece, combining fiddle, banjo, mandolin, drums and guitars with knockout four-part harmonies in an exuberant fusing of country, pop, folk, and rocking urban bluegrass. The Sunday Times has described them as “wonderful”; the Telegraph named them one of its ‘favourite new bands”; Radio 2 called them “a band to watch” and veteran DJ Johnnie Walker praises their gigs as “just a really good, fun time”. And, having encountered them twice at Maverick Festival in Suffolk we're in total agreement! Watch out for their autumn tour.

How did you get started?
We’d all played music, written, busked and been in bands for years, but somehow playing had fallen out of all our lives. Then I started to write and record again as a solo project with no particular agenda beyond a deep need to do it. PDH started with me and Eddie Bishop on fiddle. Eddie had heard I was playing again and just started showing up in my Shepherds Bush basement. Then Tim Jepson joined us on mandolin. Next in was Pete Robinson on Dobro. That was the line-up for our first show in another basement in Shepherds Bush.

Then the band kept growing. Tim Dowling had been given a banjo for his birthday by his wife and we wrote an instrumental together, Shed Belgique, and from then on his destiny was to be the fifth member.

Next on board was Mike Giri – “the best drummer you’ve never heard of” –according to violinist Nigel Kennedy, with whom he performed. Mike and I have played together on and off since 1981 – though The Lilac Time eventually stole him from me. He provided propulsion for our first recording session at Sawmills near Fowey, Cornwall, in 2009.

Lastly, in order to play live more regularly we needed bass. Eddie’s cousin, Adam Bennette, had played with Eddie, Pete and myself in a band back in the Nineties. That made it seven and it’s been pretty settled since then.

Where does the name come from?
From a formerly serving, but now disgraced, police dog that bit a rioter in a mass disturbance near Brighton. Eddie was telling the convoluted story – a tale that has been described as a “story with death wish” – while we waited for the boat to take us to Sawmills. After several pints of Cornish Headbanger, or some such, it seemed like a good name…sober, not so much, but it stuck. Most of our early Twitter and Facebook followers were real police dogs. Rather less so now.

How do all seven of you get together and how do you write?
We’re London-based and rehearse acoustically in the same basement in Shepherds Bush we always did. Writing usually happens in smaller groups. Some songs are written individually and then the band bends them to its will. I am probably the most prolific but Pete, Eddie and Tim Dowling all bring songs to the table. We like stories and bizarreness – food, drink, death, whaling, shearing, yearning. Love. Over time the good songs find their way through and the more questionable ones die of loneliness.

You combine some superb roots music with intriguing narratives. Is that ever a difficult balancing act either live or in the studio?
Thank you. We certainly didn’t set out to be purist and we’re not good enough to be a balls-to-the-wall bluegrass band. I guess we’re the sum of a ridiculous number of influences but the story-telling tradition of folk and country keeps coming through. We’re warming up to record in February next year and this whole topic is very much under discussion. I think we have a more coherent and idiosyncratic sound emerging.

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The Insider

This column on Spiral Earth concentrates on the current and emerging artists that have caught our eye.

Dave Kushar has been writing for Spiral Earth since 2008, his tastes range from Billy Bragg to Fugazi.

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