The one thing most people know about Police Dog Hogan, if they know anything at all, is that Guardian Weekend columnist Tim Dowling is in it. I’m not sure that Tim – banjo player and co-vocalist – ever actually names the band in his columns, but he sometimes makes reference to their gigs, usually in the slightly world weary, ironic tone that characterises the rest of his very appealing writing. Although we’re invited to read the first person point of view as that of Tim himself, we know it’s probably a lightly fictionalised alter ego given to exaggerating aspects of his life and family for comic effect, including the life of the band, who are more likely to be mentioned in the context of some near disaster: being unable to find the venue for the show, or playing to three men and a goat in Scotland, or mislaying their stash of eminently saleable souvenir tea-towels.
While we may not know much about Police Dog Hogan, Guardian Weekend readers have certainly become very familiar with Tim. Indeed, if you’re a fan like me, the appearance of each new column almost qualifies as a highlight of the week (and I know, how sad is that?). We middle-aged men treasure his perpetual air of mild befuddlement as events conspire against him; when those brave but foolhardy attempts at manning-up for DIY are rewarded only by hubris and the shrill, passive-aggressive comments of his unnamed wife – who should really get a parallel, right-of-reply column of her own – and a total lack of interest from his nocturnal teenage children, forever lost to Xbox action or gap-year travel and sighted only occasionally as they and their friends raid the fridge for an untidy late-night snack just as the adults are getting up for the day.
But if Tim’s stock in trade has become a kind of celebration of heroic man-failure (and yes, there should really be a fancy German phrase for it), with the band as yet another example of how the best laid plans can come to grief, things are going to have to change, for Police Dog Hogan are actually becoming rather popular. Check the band’s website and you’ll see their shows are starting to sell out; they’re moving up to bigger venues like St George’s, and no doubt those bulk wholesale orders for tea-towel merchandise are increasing in volume every time.
How much this threat of success is due to the hard-earned efforts of the band, their pay-off from slogging around the country playing village halls and little festivals, and how much to Tim’s demi-fame among gig-going Guardian-readers is difficult to tell. As it’s not Tim’s group but a co-op affair, one hopes that everyone remains relatively happy, although it’s hard to imagine another Dogstar: you know, the rock band featuring Keanu Reeves where despite Keanu being the sole point of interest you had to pretend he wasn’t.
And yet, as you might have guessed, our booking of Police Dog Hogan was only partly down to the band’s deserved reputation for excellent musical entertainment. St George’s icily efficient marketing team had trawled through their GCHQ-like database of concertgoers’ lifestyle-preferences and calculated just how many Bristolian Guardian Weekend-readers they had access to. A quick bit of arithmetic revealed that yes, this was a “demographic” they could work with, and the word sent out to bring in Tim and the band as soon as possible, before the paper went digital-only and the impressive Saturday circulation figures were lost. We settled on a peak Friday night slot to ensure the legion of Weekend-readers would already be humming with excitement about the imminent appearance of the following morning’s column.
The only fly in the ointment was any “reputational-damage” that might result if the show went badly and St George’s got an unfavourable mention in the next edition. A less than cheery welcome, insufficient on-stage water bottles or a sound engineer “gone rogue” were all considered and the necessary safeguards put into play. This is why it was decided that the entire operation had to be staffed by a specially brought-in cast of attractive-looking drama students under strict instructions to transfix the band with powerful love-vibes at every turn. If everything goes according to plan, the following Saturday’s column should feature an atypically fulsome tribute to the venue’s many virtues, as Tim admits that he can’t continue to pretend the band are losers any more. And yes, after the show there will probably be an opportunity to mingle and get your tea-towels bought and signed. But no more than ten per person, that’s the rule.
Phil Johnson, Senior Programme Producer
POLICE DOG HOGAN live at St George’s Bristol
Friday 7 February 8pm
Tickets £15 (plus fees)