The Dreadnoughts have what genteel folk might call ‘a reputation’. A reputation they share with rakes the world over, and Blackbeard’s crew on their final night ashore. Fusing the most raucous strains of punk with all manner of grog-swilling shanties and polkas, their name alone conjures images of wanton chandelier-swinging revelry and sends stage-cleaners everywhere into cold sweats. Only emerging sporadically since 2011, their live shows have become a legend whispered in the darkest corners of taverns. But every once in a while, that legend reappears. And that it did, on 12th of August beneath the streets of Camden Town.
Things were well on their way to wild before the Dreadnoughts even surfaced. Triple-tiered support from Mario Theme-covering Space Chimp, the Poguish and puckish Black Water Country, and the funkilicious fuel-injection that is Calico Jack, saw the cider flowing free and hips swaying like rough seas. And then, naturally, The Dreadnoughts whipped up a squall. After more than a little rambling from frontman Nicholas Smith (AKA Uncle Touchy), things kicked off like cannon-fire with ‘Antarctica’. One of the more punk-washed numbers in their repertoire, it still saw its fair share of folk-filled abandon with violinist Wormley Wangersnitch and mandolinist Dread Pirate Druzil bouncing about the stage like bubbles in homebrew zyder.
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A sloop of equally rowdy offerings came line astern, including the aptly-named ‘Polka Never Dies’ and the ciderrific ‘Turbo Island’. Then keeping to a time-honoured Dreadnoughts tradition, the band ditched all instrumental for a rousing, cutlass-rattling sea shanty. ‘Roll The Woodpile Down’ saw bassist Squid Vicious using his own belly for percussion, whilst drummer The Stupid Swedish Bastard (honestly) crowd-surfed his way out to the bar, downed a Guinness and swam his way right back to the stage. All the while tapping time with a cowbell.
The revelry continued in a suitably cider-swilling fashion. A fair sprinkling of ‘Arrs’ and ‘Yarrs!’ whilst beer was doused all over the audience. And a circle-pit polka-chain hybrid swirling round the venue’s central pillar like some debauched, piratical maypole. True to their nautical origins, The Dreadnoughts created a maelstrom of the crowd.
As the minutes ticked by, the room’s collective cider-blood ratio took a greater and greater pull on proceedings. Perhaps struck by the spirit of Old Rosie herself, The Dreadnoughts swung straight-faced into a rendition of West Country anthem ‘Aider-Eh-Aider-Eh-Aider-Aye-Oh’, and took the liberty of plucking audience members ‘Goth Lady’ and ‘Backpack Man’ to try their hand at the tongue-wangling lead vocals. This drink of choice ran strong for the set’s final stretch, with the Gogol Bordello-channelling ‘Cider Road’ and the unrehearsed, rambling and authentically organic ‘I’m Two Cider’s Ago’ venturing into waters that only Somerset heroes The Wurzels have braved before.
With a final dalliance into old favourites with ‘Sleep Is For The Weak’ at the plea of Calico Jack, one last polka from their upcoming album, and a pint-raising rendition of Vera Lynn’s ‘(Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs Of Dover’, it was all a fast-fading memory. Like an encounter with some wondrous leviathan of the deep, and just as hard to believe.
A Dreadnoughts live show is not hard to describe. It’s all the finest elements of a Saturday night in Tortuga, Titanic’s party in third class, and a particularly jovial Hobbit wedding. Ideally suited to wharf-parties and middle-of-a-field cider festivals, The Dreadnoughts nonetheless know how to turn a simple stage into a pedestal, and an audience of fine upstanding citizens into rollicking rascals. When The Dreadnoughts pass through town, you can tell them by the signs they leave behind. Spiking sales of cider, sea shanties echoing in the alleyways, and dazed, gormless grins on the faces of all who saw them.