“Back in the day The Polka Dogs sounded like no one else. They were their own scene. The songs expressed something uniquely Canadian, entirely avoiding the affectations and influences of contemporary pop music. Jump cut 25 years and today’s Top Ten faux hayseed bands may have a banjo in the mix, but not the intelligence, humour, craftsmanship and authenticity of John Millard.
The Polka Dogs are a popular five piece theatre/pop/fusion band reunited after a 25 year hiatus. They were the musical engine for a number of theatre and dance projects but they also had a dedicated club and concert following in Canada and Europe which kept them touring regularly.
It was 1989 and the walls were coming down; literally in Berlin, figuratively in Toronto, where a quintet of musicians from diverse and divergent backgrounds came together in a band that challenged what bands were supposed to be. Was it pop, folk, jazz, new music, … cabaret? Yes!
Under the leadership of John Millard, who wrote the songs and the arrangements, The Polka Dogs went where no band had gone before, at least in these parts. The unlikely instrumentation of banjo, tuba, accordion, trombone and drums shouldn’t have worked, but it did. Songs about the slag heaps of Sudbury as erotic metaphors or three Dutch boys leaning against a wall having a smoke shouldn’t have worked either, but THEY did.
John Millard, banjo and vocals, Colin Couch, tuba, Tom Walsh, trombone, Tiina Kiik, accordion and Ambrose Pottie, drums created a sound that was a genre all on its own, breaking all the rules but raising cheers from audiences who understood there was something important happening there, even if they couldn’t tell you what it was.
For four years or so they trod the boards of festivals and concert halls across Canada. They ventured over to Europe where they were well received by audiences who sensed some kind of echo of the adventurous music of the Weimar years. They made two recordings- one an eclectic collection of John Millard’s songs; the other the score of an opera entitled Rat Bag, produced in Toronto by Theatre Columbus. The group disbanded in 1994 and went their separate ways until reuniting for a performance at Canwest Cabaret Festival in 2009.