THE ANIMALS are one of the most influential and admired bands to emerge from the British Invasion. THE ANIMALS will return to Australian stages this November, bringing with them more than 50 years of iconic rhythm and blues rock.
Founding member and drummer John Steel will be joined by Mick Gallagher, the bands original keyboardist, Danny Handley on guitar and vocals and Roberto Ruiz on bass and vocals, as they perform all the classic hits including We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, international fan-favourite Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, It’s My Life and House Of The Rising Sun. John Steel reminisces about the shows they played at The Gov last tour whilst talking with Hi Fi Way: The Pop Chronicles.
It must be a huge buzz to be at return, back to Australia again for another tour.
Yeah, it’s great. Especially Adelaide, with The Gov. I love that venue.
What stands out most from that tour?
I think probably the Adelaide gig. I’ve got to say it because we played two nights there last time, and we’re booked for another two nights, we’re really looking forward to that one but generally speaking Australia’s a great tour. For us, everybody’s so friendly, the hospitality is wonderful, good food, good weather, good wine, good beer. What more could you ask for?
Exactly. All I remember is the big smile on your face. You just couldn’t wipe it off. You just seemed to be right up there in your element on the drums.
Oh, yeah. There’s nothing better. I really enjoy when the band’s really cooking, and the audience is good, and the club is good, the venues got everything together, nothing finer. I really enjoy myself. Like you say, I can’t stop laughing.
Were you pleasantly surprised by the audience? Particularly here in Adelaide, playing two sold out shows, that must be a good feeling?
It’s absolutely a good feeling. I do feel it anyway, anywhere in the world to play to a good full house and a good venue, nothing finer. We tour all over the place. We have a great time. Generally speaking, it’s pretty much the same story. We seem to get a crowd of people that come who are a mixture of people who were around in the 60s. A lot of young people who have picked up our music come to check us out. What they get is a really good live band having a good time.
In terms of the rigours of touring, how do you keep up with that? How do you keep up with that without falling apart, literally?
Well I’m pretty fit, I’ve got to say I’m very pleased. I’ve got to be fit as I’m a drummer and it’s like a physical workout every show. That’s probably what keeps me feeling as young as I do. I’ve got to admit I don’t burn the midnight oil as much as I used to do back in the day. I like to get at least eight hours sleep at night. There’s a point where I think, to the younger guys in the band, I just say, “Okay, party on I’m just going to go and get my head down.” Just get some sleep that’s the main thing. You can maybe burn the midnight oil for a night or two but then it begins to tell on you. I’ve learned how to keep everything in moderation.
Is this tour about the greatest hits or are there a few other surprises in there?
No, but I mean every once in a while, Danny our lead singer, lead guitarist, great guy and really good at both jobs, but he also loves the music of the 50s and the 60s. He sort of burrows around in our back catalogue of The Animals stuff, and keeps coming up with … “We have never done this song before. We should be doing this song.” He keeps dragging stuff out, stuff I’ve forgotten I’ve recorded. And we’re like, “Yeah! This is good. Come on, let’s do it.” We’ll have two or three songs at least, you haven’t heard before when we come back to The Gov. That always keeps the set fresh.
Absolutely, does it take a bit of practising of those songs that you might have forgotten that you recorded?
No, it all comes back surprisingly easily, surprisingly quickly. It’s wired in. There’s a song that was originally a Ray Charles song, but The Animals recorded it as an album track, I think, way back. Danny said, “You’ve got to do this.” We tried it out and straight away it was on the money. It’s been going down really great, and it’s called, The Night Time is the Right Time. It’s a show stopper. There’re at least another three songs like that, that we will be doing that’ll be fresh. We hope we’ll not bore the audience because they’ve seen us twice before.
Do you feel an enormous sense of pride that these songs still keep on keeping on and that they’re not tired or wearing thin?
Yeah. They are a brilliant bunch of songs, a lovely repertoire. I think the strength of it is the songs have quite a dark edge to them. They’re grown-up songs. Every generation can identify with, We’ve got to Get Out of this Place, It’s My Life, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, because they have that universal appeal. They’re not just pop songs. They’re story songs. They are the sort that resonate with people and human experiences.
What do remember about that first time you met Eric Burdon? Did you ever think that it would take you on the journey that it has?
I remember just clear as day the first time we met. We were both school dropouts, but we were from different parts of the Tyneside area. We met on the first day of the new year in Newcastle College of Arts, where we went to avoid having to work for a living. Neither of us had any qualifications in anything and limited talent in art. We managed to bluff our way into art school. I just happened to turn around and say, “Anybody here like jazz and blues?” This voice, “Me! Me, man!” That was Eric and we hit it off straight away, that was the beginning of it all. We were young. We quickly formed a band. That was 1956, and we had a band up and running by early 1957. That was it, from then on it just gradually evolved into what became The Animals. It was a great experience.
What sorts of music were you listening to back then particularly, when you were starting to think about writing that very first album and that very first single?
We were listening to jazz before rock ‘n roll really took a hold, the Dixieland jazz was the dance music of the young kids, playing in church hops and bars and things like that. Everybody was jiving to New Orleans music. So that’s what we were doing. That was pretty soon overtaken by rock ‘n roll. By 1956 rock ‘n roll was the music of youth culture. That’s when we were listening to Little Richard, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, and, well Elvis obviously. One of the first things that really blew everybody’s socks off was Elvis Presley’s, Heart Break Hotel in 1956. Everybody said, “What the hell is that!” It was a phenomenal change from anything else that had been in the pop charts before then.
Also, there’s an outbreak of a music called skiffle in the UK, which was a spin-off from traditional jazz. It was played on acoustic guitars and washboards, and all sorts of primitive instruments. It became very commercially successful. A guy called Lonnie Donegan had massive success with it. The first thing was, Rock Island Line and that became a number one hit in England. All of us guys, we were fifteen-year old’s, “We can do that.” You get a cheap guitar and learn three chords and you’re in a band. The whole generation was doing that. We didn’t realise it at the time but that’s what became the 60s pop movement. The Beatles, The Stones, The Animals, Spencer Davis, all of these bands were doing the same thing. Forming a skiffle group and learning three chords and that was the foundation what began the beat generation of the 60s.
Is there anything left in the back catalogue that could make its way onto a special compilation? Are there any plans maybe to do a new single?
We’ve tried bits and pieces over the years. Every once in a while we say, “We should do something original, come up with an original song.” I don’t know, either we’re playing crap numbers or nobody’s interested, but it doesn’t seem to catch anything. Whereas the stuff that came through from the 50s and 60s is still as important to me now as it was then. That’s the stuff that comes across when we play live to audiences, whatever age, whatever generation. When we do that stuff that we recorded and played back in the 60s. That’s the one that hits the spot. We think, “Oh.” You could record an album of original material and people say, “No I don’t want to hear that. I want to hear House of the Rising Sun. I want to hear, We’ve Got To Get Out of This Place.” So that’s what we do, we just play what we love doing and it seems to be what the audience really wants to hear as well.
Interview by Rob Lyon
Catch The Animals on the following dates…