Feathering the nests… How Kleptocracy feeds the rich. Interview with Ferocious Dog’s Ken Bonsall

Kleptocratic rulers often treat their country's treasury as a source of personal wealth, spending funds on luxury goods and extravagances as they see fit.

Interview by Adrian Hextall

I first discovered Ferocious Dog as a result of some fantastic support slots with favourite band The Wildhearts. Their brand of folk driven rock music, coming from the same school of music as Brighton’s own Levellers, is perfect for those that like to bounce at a gig. Having seen them multiple times since, ‘bounce’ sums up the vibe at a Dog’s concert and it’s fair to say that once they’ve got their musical hooks in you, then you’re in for the long haul. 

And it’s the long haul that matters with Ferocious Dog. Not only do they entertain, they also educate. Artists will all claim to have messages that need to be said about particular topics but very often those topics affect a small minority and the rest of the listeners can struggle to connect. Thankfully Ferocious Dog like their name suggests, go hard for the difficult things in life, the topics that need to be discussed, the things that impact all of us on a daily basis. This is music not for the 1% but for the 99% who seemingly give their hard earned money to the 1% who use it to feather their own nests and those of their closest friends, associates and business interests. 

I’m joined by leader singer and founder Ken Bonsall whose views on life the universe and everything are fascinating, insightful and more often than not, more than a little contentious. Contentious? Well, read on and you be the judge. There’s no clickbait here, just an honest and open conversation with solid reasoning and we can’t ask for more than that. 

Surrounded by more dogs than the local shelter, Ken appears on our Zoom call full of the joys of Spring. The band (as we speak) are about to head out on tour to support the new album and he’s as fired up as ever with his views on music, life and politics. The title of the new album ‘Kleptocracy’ isn’t your everyday phrase yet it resonates when you head off down the rabbit hole to do a little more digging about the meaning behind the name. It’s an impact that Ken is pleased it’s having on people. 

“Everyone has heard of plutocracy, democracy, and people would naturally assume that we live in a democracy but there’s nothing democratic about it. It’s a complete facade that we live in democratic times. It’s a democratically elected government with a revolving door of people that are getting away with anything and everything. Take the track and trace [fiasco] and PPE mess. They got members of the family to put forward proposals to deliver products and gave them the contracts making a fortune out of us. All this taxpayers money is just going upstairs to the establishment, supposedly to help pass laws to govern the land but in reality they’re just stealing our money. It’s even more blatant at the moment. Take Rishi [Sunak] – he tries to talk about working class values, he hasn’t got a clue. Not a clue. He can’t understand anything of what’s needed because he’s only in it for the money, which I why I came up with Kleptocracy as a title to help raise raise people’s awareness.”

If you think Ken’s views are nothing more than say, a typical socialist, who will always find fault with the current Conservative Party regardless of what they are trying to do for the country then you’ll be surprised by his open and reasonable approach to how he thinks people should approach how they vote for different parties at Election times. 

“I’ve always been a strong believer in [democracy] and if the you see something good with the Tory’s and you think it will work for you then let them do some some more, because what’s gonna happen next time if they get voted out? Well, the radicalized Labour party won’t give you a socialist government. It’s like Jeremy Corbyn, he got too close. He scared the system. He absolutely made them petrified because it was the biggest working class party in Europe. It just shows you that they have to reform the Labour Party to get elected. So, you know, you can look at the political system now. It’s just all flawed. Odds are Labour is going to get in next time, no doubt about it. But you just get a watered-down version, one that’s still toeing the line for the establishment.

You know the older I get, you’ve been there. You’ve seen this many Governments, you think nothing’s going to change. If it changes, they have one term where nothing is really ever going to change its just blue to red to blue to red and the same people that are just doing it for the the upstairs people, The Establishment. They always win. You think you’re going to get a democracy but you’re not, because there’s bigger things at play in the political system. And I think it’s just like a mask that is portrayed by the media. The older you get the more you do understand it, no matter what you did,  you keep putting your vote in a box and it feels like a waste of time.”

As we dive into the detail about how the system is broken, Ken eludes to the fact that the first time he was able to vote for the working class party, it was when Tony Blair became Prime Minister. “Princess Tony” as Ken refers to him, showed what happens when the Labour Party moves away from working class ideals and moves towards to the centre ground previously occupied by the Conservatives. Now he notes that history is simply repeating itself. Current Labour leader, Sir Kier Starmer, feels like that santitised version of the party he grew up supporting.  One telling commentary that he’d observed recently was that Politicians should, like racing car drivers, be seen to be wearing the logos of all of the businesses that support them. That way you’d know exactly who’s putting the money into the party , the campaign, the pockets etc.. of the people you may be about to vote for.

“There’s a lot of money coming from Israel, into the Labour Party. It’s no wonder then that Starmer is going to get in. You know, he’s towing the line for the UK and for America, so he is not going to upset the system. He’s not a socialist.”

If you want more evidence about the state of the ruling parties around the work and just how those in charge are managing to play the system to feather their own nests, the look no further than the recent story about Southeast Asia’s biggest ever fraud.

Amounting to $12.5 billion and embroiling some of Vietnam’s top bankers and officials, it culminated in a court in Ho Chi Minh City handing a death sentence to Truong My Lan, who since 2011, enlisted to handle the merger of the troubled Saigon Joint Commercial Bank, or SCB, with two other lenders in a plan overseen by the Vietnam Central Bank, had been using SCB as her own personal bank account, embezzling billions via illegal loans to herself and confederates through thousands of shell companies at home and overseas. The verdict is the first death sentence for a private businessperson for financial crime.

Alone whilst the number is huge, one person managing this could be seen as an exception but Lan was tried alongside 84 defendants, including her husband (who was sentenced to nine years in prison), close relatives, 45 SCB staff (including three executives given life prison sentences), 15 former officers from the Vietnam State Bank, three officials from the Government Inspectorate and one from the State Audit Office. Once corruption sets it, it doesn’t take long to grow very deep roots. Everyone feathering each others nests on the assumption that they’d remain undetected. I believe at one point, the value of loans to Lan accounted for over 3/4 of all loans made by SCB. 

“I think what most people have is a working-class person’s way of looking at. I mean, I’d love to be the richest man in the world because then I’d think well, I don’t need all that. I’ll never be able to spend all that money so I could use that money to help people. We don’t think like people who simply crave money. It’s their legacy. So in your life, you think about how much good did you do? How many people did you help, give up your spare time to be a volunteer for this, or volunteer for cancer research or anything to volunteer to help people. That’s your legacy.

Their’s is all about how much money do you have? Making your lasting legacy that will follow you when you are done, all based on wealth. And that’s the trouble, that’s the capitalist system. It’s gone back to Victorian values where the people at the bottom the Working Class People have got less and less and less but the people at the top are getting more and more and more. You ride this crest of a wave, making millionaires, multi-millionaires and then billionaires because they crave that the legacy that says when they die, well, he was worth so many billion.”

If the content and material that drives the concept behind the album seems to be a little heavy and not conducive to the ‘bounce’ mentioned at the beginning, then fear not. Ferocious Dog is one of the few bands that knows that entertainment is first and foremost what needs to be delivered with the messaging to follow once the public have been hooked in. There’s no point in having a message if no one is listening but if you crowd a crowd by the ears and make them dance, then they’ll more likely listen to what you’ve got to say and for over a decade now, with albums like ‘Red’ and ‘Fake News & Propaganda’, that’s exactly what they’ve achieved. 2021’s ‘The Hope’ whilst entertaining was quite the sobering affair, dealing with tragedy, loss and grief as much as it did wth politics. Powerful and unrelenting, it still managed to entertain whilst raising awareness again and also educating people, men especially about why speaking to others, talking about your problems and not hiding them away is key to be able to deal with what the world throws at you. 

If ‘The Hope’ was a little dark and more than a little tough then ‘Kleptocracy’ is a return is the harder faster punk fueled sound that first brought the band to our attention around 2013. The upbeat delivery of the music draws us in with ease, making the messaging and storytelling so much easier to embed within each song. 

“I’m glad you said that,” acknowledges Ken, “because that is exactly what I set out to do on this album. When you listen to songs like ‘Blood-soaked Shores’, it’s in a major key and it’s the sort I want to see people jumping about on St. Patrick’s Day to, drinking pints of Guinness with big red smiles on their faces, but the subject matter we singing about is deadly serious and it’s around a war song and it’s so hard listening.

We’re Ferocious Dog. We want people to come to our shows and go away happy, but we still want to drop that message so that one, ‘Blood-soaked Shores’ is a happy song but the messaging is around the fact that, from a pacifist’s point of view, war is futile. The fact that after all these years, we still haven’t learned from our mistakes and we still send us kids out, you know to fight wars. History is long enough now, to show that we don’t really achieve anything other than making millions for these companies that progress wars. We as a country are one of  the biggest war mongers that the world’s ever known. Nowadays, America is doing well, but they’ve got a lot of history to catch up on compared to Britain.

Do you realize the suffering and pain, the little people who have been squashed, you know, just because we had more guns. More more money that supported the old British Empire came from the slave trade. I try and teach bits of history in our music because that history is never taught from the from the point of view of the losing side. I’ve often said before because we play from an Irish point of view, If I had been born in Belfast and raised Catholic I would probably have joined the IRA. Think about those people… there is a foreign army on your streets, telling you where and where not to go. You’ve got roadblocks everywhere, you won’t put up with it. You’d fight against these foreigners and get them off our streets. But we see it how we’re told to look at it and then look at it from their point of view.

We’re not always right, you know, we shouldn’t have been in their country. Look at Ukraine, we’ve not learned a thing. [We listen to what we’re told to believe] so everybody backs Ukraine now. I drive around I see Ukraine flags flying. Did you know that they have the most far-right Nazi government but nobody questions that. They don’t think about the fact that Russia was bending over backwards not to have a war with Ukraine, but then again 50% of the population are Russians. So it seems what we did in Ireland saying that we’re looking after people in Northern Ireland, the Protestants, is exactly what Putin is doing with the Russians who live in Ukraine.” 

Whether you agree or not with the viewpoints that Ken offers for consideration, you can’t deny that he’s there to make you think a little bit harder than the click bait headlines that you see on social media. The messaging that comes that makes you believe what you own government wants you to believe. The same government who aren’t really doing it for the people but are as mentioned above, firmly entrenched in kleptocracy, where the only ones that benefit are those already in power. 

Ferocious Dog head out on tour this week, starting at London’s 100 Club. Dates below and ticket info at https://ferocious-dog.co.uk/live-events/

For more info on the band – click here: https://ferocious-dog.co.uk/#band


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Photo Credit: Chris Rugowski

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