Way back in the 80s when I was a mere teenager just beginning to investigate The Clash’s back catalogue I remember seeing the name English Dogs painted on the back of a punk leather jacket and thinking it was the ideal name for a punk band. I didn’t get to hear them for around ten years (no youtube in those days) – could the music live up to the name? When I finally got to hear it, it turned out that their debut release the Mad Punx And English Dogs 12” was overall probably the best punk EP of the 80s(my opinion of course but I don’t think I’m alone). Even if they’ve never matched it in their confusing, tangled on-off history, this release got them their place in punk history.
English Dogs started out in Grantham, home of a certain Maggie Thatcher. Like contemporaries such as GBH, they took the influence of the harder 70s punk bands, but were tighter with a beefier guitar sound. Unlike some they also wrote memorable songs, instead of relying simply on speed and volume. What I suspect made them really stand out was having a genuinely bonkers frontman in Wakey, or Walrus as he was also known early on, probably due to being on the large and whiskery side. He fits on the frontman spectrum somewhere between “lovable eccentric” and “drug crazed maniac” and he found novel ways to get the attention of a audience – eg throwing eggs in the faces of punters between songs.
They were signed to Clay Records, also home of Discharge and GBH, and Mad Punx was released in 1983. With a fine production by Clay records supremo, Mike Stone, it feature 6 songs, 5 of which had titles with words like “death” and “kill” in the title, apparently by accident(“It was a surprise for us when we first saw the EP” – Wakey). However this was not a depressing listen – the songs here were energetic, with a black sense of humour and a slight edge of madness. Max The Millionaire opens with the what for me is best bass intro ever; Psycho Killer, their best known song, is a manic, thrash punk singalong classic with one of the best dumb-but-brilliant choruses ever (“Psycho killer on the loose again – demented brain in constant pain!”); Free To Kill features the kind of riffing that no doubt saw some old 77 punks tutting that this was just metal with spiky hair; and Left For Dead is a singalong anthem about being on the receiving end of a beating based on the real life experience of bassist Wattie at the hands of “an aggrieved boyfriend who had a head like Spike in Tom and Jerry” (Wakey).
Side 1 – Max The Millionaire / Psycho Killer / Free To Kill
and from Side 2 – Left Me For Dead
A full length album Invasion Of The Porky Men followed. It wasn’t quite up to the same standard, partly due to a weaker production, but then what is? It still featured some classic tracks
Soon afterwards Wakey departed to take up a travelling lifestyle that he maintains to this day. New vocalist Adie joined along with an additional guitarist with the unlikely name of Gizz Butt, who seemed to fancy himself as some kind of spiky haired Eddie Van Halen. The band went from punk with a metal influence to bona fide metal. Unlike many of their contemporaries English Dogs seemed to have some success in the metal field (signing to a Music For Nations subsidiary, getting played by Tommy Vance) although this was not to everyone’s taste – “people would cross the road sniggering and pointing “it’s English Dogs”” claimed Wakey, but then he does have a vivid imagination. Despite their burgeoning reputation as axe-twiddlers, English Dogs split before the end of the 80s.
English Dogs relaunched in 1993 with a mixture of both line ups at which point the band history started to look like a particularly messy Pete Frame Rock Family Tree, a tangled web of splits, reunions, changes of vocalist with Wakey rejoining, leaving, rejoining, leaving, and now fronting his own version of English Dogs. In fact if Pete Frame were to try he would be able to identify 3 entirely different bands without a member in common that have existed at different times under the name English Dogs. The current version, featuring Wakey as the only original member, have just released a promising sounding EP called Get Off My Fucking Moon, but Mad Punx And English Dogs is still the definitive record (cue howls of derision from metal fans).
(Quotes from interview with Wakey in Product fanzine, 1999)