“We were going to do the music for Dune and buy a cow-shaped dairy farm”: If you know how Henry Cow got their name, please tell the band

Henry Cow
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When naming a band, what kind of thought process results in the title Henry Cow? As percussionist Chris Cutler told Prog in 2009, no one can remember. And while the group never considered getting a cow as a mascot and calling it Henry, they did have a brief flirtation with a related idea.

“Nobody connected with the band now remembers why on earth we came up with it. I know there’s a story that we based it on Henry Cowell, the 20th century American experimental composer; his widow has even gone around telling people this is actually true. But that’s just a myth.

The reality has more to do with the fact that, when we started in 1968, we were less serious and more of a Bonzo Dog type of comedy bluesy outfit. We wanted a name that was suitably silly. And so we came up with Henry Cow.

Probably the members of the band sat down and threw ideas around, and this one just stuck. Let’s face it – it’s very memorable and does get people to do a double take.

There was a suggestion that the name should be changed, but it didn’t get very far. By then, we all believed the name was defined by what the band sounded like, rather than the reverse. So there were no negatives attached to having the name at all.

As science fiction fans might recall, at the end of 1974 the famous Chilean film director Alejandro Jodorowsky was commissioned to make a film version of the classic Frank Herbert novel Dune. He was going to hire ourselves, Pink Floyd and Magma to do the music in three equal portions – one for each planet mentioned in the book.

On the back of the money we thought we were going to earn, we were ready to purchase a large dairy just outside of Stevenage in Hertfordshire. From the air, it looked like a cow! We were going to turn it into recording and rehearsal rooms.

As far as I’m aware, nobody ever thought Henry Cow was an individual!”

Malcolm Dome

Malcolm Dome had an illustrious and celebrated career which stretched back to working for Record Mirror magazine in the late 70s and Metal Fury in the early 80s before joining Kerrang! at its launch in 1981. His first book, Encyclopedia Metallica, published in 1981, may have been the inspiration for the name of a certain band formed that same year. Dome is also credited with inventing the term "thrash metal" while writing about the Anthrax song Metal Thrashing Mad in 1984. With the launch of Classic Rock magazine in 1998 he became involved with that title, sister magazine Metal Hammer, and was a contributor to Prog magazine since its inception in 2009. He died in 2021