Dan Allen is a man of many talents. He’s been a guitar tech for Frank Turner, and even filled in on acoustic guitar when Frank damaged his back, playing to crowds of thousands across Europe.
He’s also a keen illustrator and well respected in his home town of Norwich, where he regularly contributes unique flyer designs for the thriving scene. Ducking Punches was once his solo act, arisen from the ashes of a former band and the desire to perform again, and it has grown into a full throttle folk punk outfit.
Working with Frank Turner has certainly had no little influence on Allen’s music, with many parallels to be drawn with the now iconic figure. He shares Frank’s ability to self-depreciate without whining and wailing, but instead with rousing, surging anthems of loss and regret.
Some pretty heavy subjects are dealt with throughout Dance Before You Sleep, and death is a regular theme right down to the four Reaper-like figures on the album cover.
On heartfelt opener ‘It’s Been A Bad Few Weeks’, Allen recalls the disconsolate words of a parent. “My son, she’s not coming back, I’m sorry, you’ve not come to terms with that”. Fittingly, closing song ‘Six Years’ is a touching tribute to a lost friend and Allen laments, “I guess it’s true what they say – only the good die young”.
Another similarity with Turner is Allen’s attempts to reach acceptance of growing older. “I woke up, on the wrong side of 25 I needed help”, rings the opening to ‘Big Brown Pills from Lynn’, a paean to self-destruction. He never feels too far away from the reaper himself as attested by hard-rocking album highlight ‘Cursed Luck’; “And death looks down on me, shakes his head and he says, I’m not taking you just yet!”
It’s difficult not to focus on the frontman when he’s undoubtedly where this band draw their strength from, but it would be doing Ducking Punches a disservice to ignore the rest of the five-piece. They are in fact a mishmash of various acts including Manbearpig, Bad Ideas, Darkened Dials and Other Half. Sophie Porter’s harmonising vocals compliment Allen’s wonderfully, and the string accompaniment throughout the album expands their sound nicely.
It has to be said, there’s some filler to be found here and there, particularly in third track ‘I Can’t See It Happening This Year’, which is very middle-of-the-road and tedious. The second half of Dance Before You Sleep perhaps loses its way a little and doesn’t really regain its earlier heights until the aforementioned ‘Six Years’ at its close.
And not all the connotations of Turner’s influence are positive. Allen does sound very similar to him and often it feels like he’s struggling to pull his structures away from those of his mentor. This is something he has to do so as not to become known by unwanted titles such as “The new Frank Turner”.
Nonetheless, there’s an audible beating heart and rush of blood behind these songs. It’s hard not to imagine Ducking Punches are going to make waves on their forthcoming European and US tours, and Dance Before You Sleep feels like the first real triumph of the UK scene in 2014.