I have a soft, fuzzy spot in my heart for bands with animal performers. The genre is often categorized as a mere novelty but, in my opinion, it should be considered as nothing less than it actually is: artistic genius.
I’m sure the first band of this category that will to come to mind for most is the notorious deathgrind band Caninus, once fronted by pit bulls Budgie and Basil. There is also Hatebeak, the Baltimore death metal band with Waldo the African grey parrot as its lead singer. Both groups released a likeminded split EP in 2005 on Reptilian Records.
Of the non-metal variety, Beatle Barkers was a parody record from 1983 that used animal sounds (mostly human barking) in place of the vocals on Beatles covers. Similarly, acts like popular holiday favorite, Jingle Cats, as well as its 1950s predecessor The Singing Dogs, manipulated animal noises to serve in lieu of vocals. There’s even something now called Whalestep, which has me at a loss for words.
But let’s not forget about the musical groups that are made up entirely by animals. Thai Elephant Orchestra is a rotating cast of up to fourteen elephants in Northern Thailand. Improvised on heavy-duty versions of traditional and mostly percussive Thai instruments, the ensemble has released three records to date and the music is actually quite beautiful. One of the more recent additions to this list is Tuna and the Rock Cats, the traveling feline circus band made up of five cats and a chicken. The Rock Cats play every instrument of your average rock band and, as you would have guessed, their live shows are more of a performance art.
Thai Elephant Orchestra’s self-titled debut record from 2000
Tuna and the Rock Cats
Now that we are all on the same page, I wanted to pay tribute to probably the most famous, yet often overlooked animal musician of our time: Seamus the dog. As the story goes, David Gilmour was caring for his friend’s German Shepherd at some point in 1971 while Pink Floyd was in the studio recording their sixth studio album Meddle. The dog, whose name was Seamus, belonged to Humble Pie and Small Faces frontman Steve Marriott, who at the time was on tour in the United States.
Steve Marriott with his dog Seamus
Seamus was a dog who responded well to music and as a result, had previously performed a small role barking in the background of Small Faces’ 1968 cut, The Universal. The members of Pink Floyd were quick to act upon the musical capabilities of their new canine friend when it was discovered during recording that Seamus could howl in tune with their instruments. Acting on the bizarre opportunity, the band quickly wrote a twelve-bar, slide guitar blues track for Seamus to “sing” over. Additional instrumentation and Gilmour’s lead vocals were later added. Meddle was released on Halloween of 1971, with “Seamus” closing out side A.
Critics have panned “Seamus” as one of Pink Floyd’s worst songs ever written, claiming the spoof to be dispensable to both the record and the band’s discography. In response to such objection, Gilmour defended the track, once stating that “It wasn’t really as funny to everyone else [as] it was to us.” Perhaps due to song’s unpopularity or the unavailability of its backing vocalist, the group and Gilmour have never played “Seamus” live in concert. That is, with the exception of in their monumental concert documentary, Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii.
Live at Pompeii was filmed over four days in October 1971. The primary focus of the film is Floyd’s psychedelic concert set in an ancient Roman amphitheater somewhere in Italy. Since the recording coincided with the release of Meddle, most of the songs included on the original version of the documentary were from the new record. The film was re-released in 1974 to include footage of Pink Floyd while recording The Dark Side of the Moon at Abbey Road Studios.
The song “Seamus” made its way onto Live from Pompeii in the form of a segment titled “Mademoiselle Nobs.” The scene presents the song in altered form with David Gilmour playing harmonica and Roger Waters on blues guitar. Laying beside the two is a howling Russian Wolfhound, Nobs the dog. Nobs was a female Borzoi who belonged to Madonna Bouglione (daughter of circus director, Joseph Bouglione). At the request of the band, Madonna brought Nobs to the studio during shooting so they could re-create Seamus’ performance for the documentary. The scene was shot outside of Paris.
More after the jump…