Sunday, April 06, 2014

Tea towels and dogma - interview with James Studholme from Police Dog Hogan

“MIDDLE aged man band” Police Dog Hogan enjoyed their Arlington Arts gig so much last year that they’ve been persuaded back to Newbury for a more intimate date at ACE Space on April 26. Frontman JAMES STUDHOLME tells CATRIONA REEVES why 

CATRIONA REEVES: There’s quite a lot of musicians in Police Dog Hogan; I hope you realise that you’re going to be a bit crushed on the ACE Space stage!

JAMES STUDHOLME: We’ve recently pared down to a six piece because our guitarist has moved away - but anyone who plays with us is a Police Dog in perpetuity, just not currently on active service. Sometimes we bring a guest trumpeter along, but maybe we’ll leave him at home for this gig!

When my friend, the DJ Johnny Walker, heard that we were starting up as a seven-piece, he said “you’ll never make any money”. But the more people there are in the band, the more fun there is to be had.

CR: I’ve heard that the band runs to a set of rules known as “Police Dogma”: what do these involve?

JS: They were based on the rules of bluegrass - mainly that we don’t involve any instruments that you can’t carry to a microphone. The original idea was that we would play around one microphone, but we quickly realised that wasn’t practical. It’s different in America, where musicians grow up with that way of doing things and are highly skilled at it, but we soon converted to a more conventional set up.

We’re still basically trying to stick to the bluegrass soundscape - we still haven’t involved a piano in the band - but the pure bluegrass style is quite restrictive, and of course we’re English, so we haven’t applied the rules religiously.

I guess that we’ve broken our own rules to get to a more interesting place. We’re probably more in the folk than the rock world, but there’s no real road map. We’ve been called “urban bluegrass”, “townbilly” and “Anglicana”, but I think our banjo player Tim coined it best with “middle aged man band”.

Our pop heritage is Slade, T. Rex, punk and The Smiths, and that’s all in our music, along with the country music thread. But we don’t want to be singing about highways and truck stops - our songs are about the A39 and Knutsford Services. 

CR: You’ve all got successful day jobs [Studholme heads up film company Blink Productions, responsible for Cadbury’s drumming gorilla and two of John Lewis’ Christmas ads] - but do you harbour dreams of jacking it all in to be full-time rock stars?

JS: Rock and roll stardom is every schoolboy’s fantasy, and we were all musicians in a previous life before we made our livings. Where we are now is a really nice spot - It’s basically a supercharged hobby; I guess the term is “semi pro”. We are now being offered more gigs than we can do in a year, and it’s nice to be able to pick and choose.

The big thing that we’re in this for is the songwriting and recording, and the success of the live shows is an unexpected surprise. When we tour, we realise that people are coming to see us who don’t know us personally, which is great. 

Like all bands, we started with a few friends and family members coming along and shuffling a leg. I think it was a relief for them when we started to get a following of our own; it meant that they didn’t have to come along to every gig!

CR: Your big selling merchandise item is a tea towel featuring the faces of band members. I hope that you’re bringing a load to ACE Space; I think they’ll sell rather well to the regulars.

JS: The tea towels seem to have developed a following of their own. They are sensational quality - larger than most, and very absorbent. People buy one, then come back for more! We’re still fractionally ahead in record sales, but I can see a day coming when the tea towels take over.

Fortunately we’re recording a new album in May, so our Newbury gig is part of a little run of dates to give us a chance to play the new songs before we go into the studio. So, hopefully, we should be able to keep the music just ahead of the tea towels, in terms of popularity.

CR: Police Dog Hogan’s banjo player is The Guardian’s weekend columnist Tim Dowling. Do a lot of readers come along to check out the band?

JS: Tim’s column is predicated on everything in his life being awkward and going wrong, so when he mentions the band it tends to involve humiliating disasters. Certainly in the first 18 months I can’t imagine that anyone reading about us in his column would have been tempted to see us live!

Luckily we started to get quite favourable internet noise, and it seemed that last year quite a lot of people were coming to check out if Tim could play. He’s actually a very talented musician, and I like to think that we’ve converted a lot of his followers to our cause.

CR: Is being in Police Dog Hogan as much fun as it sounds?

JS: It certainly is. The band is built on longstanding friendships - some of them up to 35 years - and all the shared memories and feelings that come with that. It makes the songwriting process an absolute joy. We’re looking forward to the ACE Space gig. It should be a riotous evening.

* Police Dog Hogan play at ACE Space on Saturday, April 26, supported by The Pottingshed Band. Tickets cost £12 from Hogan Music [no relation to the band] or £14 on the door. Tea towels should be available on the night.

* First published in the Newbury Weekly News in March 2014

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