The Animals were one of the most important bands in the British Invasion. Whilst The Beatles and Rolling Stones were the headliners, The Animals were the backbone of blues! With their legacy undeniable, Australia is in for a treat when original members John Steel and Mick Gallagher along with Danny Handley and Scott Whitely bring The Animals live experience performing all their greatest hits in Australia starting this week.
The Animals boasts some of the greatest songs in popular music history such as The House of The Rising Sun, We’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, It’s My Life, Don’t Bring Me Down and Boom Boom to name a few and Hi Fi Way: The Pop Chronicles had the privilege of speaking to founding member John Steele about the tour.
Another Australian tour for The Animals, you must be pumped judging by initial ticket sales?
I am indeed, always a pleasure. Only just back from two weeks in Sweden and five weeks in Germany and we are already forty one gigs in to the year.
Do you still enjoy the grind of touring now as much as you did way back when?
Oh yeah and I probably wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy. It is a different experience now of course but is always enjoyable and a lot of fun. The band is really nice to get on with and we get on well on and off stage. It’s a laugh and a total whirl! It hasn’t been that long since we were last here for some shows, some three years ago. It was mostly on the eastern side, similar to this tour coming up. It seems like ages ago though.
Does it amaze you when you look back at the legacy of these songs and how much they continue to shine on?
Well yeah, it something that I’m pleased we had such good taste in those days to write such good songs and still stand up all this time later. I’ve often said this that I’m really pleased that there’s nothing we have ever done that I wished we hadn’t. We did some bloody strong songs and I call them grown up songs because they had such a hard edge to them such as We Got To Get Out Of This Place, It’s My Life and Misunderstood. All those songs had such depth to them they were never trivial pop songs.
The songs don’t sound tired or worn out and that must be a measure of a really good song?
That’s right! Indeed, yeah! Everywhere we play there’s a strong sprinkling of young people and I don’t know if they have been listening to our songs all their lives or whatever the reason but they come to see us. We’ll come out and sign CD’s and do a bit of a meet and greet thing and some of these folks are just teenagers in their early twenties and you can tell that they are blown away because the band still has such energy that the enjoyment comes across as well. These young people are really blown away by a good live band.
It must be so pleasing to see that generation change with older fans now bringing their kids to the show and they bring their own kids?
That’s right, it’s fantastic! I have got to say that I was never satisfied with main stream pop music. Eric, the rest of the guys and myself, my gang in those days we would go back to jazz, blues and stuff that had been recorded twenty to thirty years before, it seemed like a completely different world back then. Now, it’s the same thing with us! People coming out to see their heroes and they weren’t even born then. I’m very happy with that situation.
What are some of your best memories of the band starting out in the sixties?
It was pretty exciting to find us five working class Geordies from Newcastle, working class people didn’t go flying off to America or Australia or wherever. Only rich people or film stars could do that and to suddenly find ourselves in a short few months from leaving our home town to moving to London we had this number one monster record, it was number one everywhere we went and then the next thing we were flying off to New York to do our first gigs in the States.
When I first met Eric, I was fifteen and all our influences had come from across the Atlantic from blues, jazz, rock ‘n roll, movies and all of that. It was incredible for us to go there and not just be humble visitors, we were in the public eye. We never would have believed a couple of years before that was possible. It did happen and that was exciting stuff.
Were the line-up changes over the years just part and parcel of being in a band?
I think we were pretty lucky and every band has a few line-up changes over the years. I don’t know if we were lucky or not but having someone fresh coming in to the band makes you have a different slant on things. When we play nowadays there’s only Micky and me from the sixties. I was there from the start and I have two young guys, one has just turned forty and almost a teenager for us! Danny is the lead singer and guitar and sounds great. It’s all fresh and we have a hell of a catalogue to choose from. Every night we obviously play all the big hits but there is a whole raft of album tracks and b-sides that we can shuffle around every night so the set is never quite the same. Danny would gauge the audience vibe and say let’s do Boom Boom or any of those album tracks. It keeps it lively and thinking we haven’t done that for a few weeks.
It must be hard fitting everything in without playing for five or six hours?
It is never a challenge in the sense that the core songs we have, there’s about a dozen of them, ten or twelve that are universal hits but then the other ones we find might have been released in France, for example, then others like I Put A Spell On You is one of our favourite songs and still is. We’ve dabbled and change the arrangement a little bit and have also resurrected Ray Charles Night Time Is The Right Time which is really going down well. It’s stuff like that that we’re bringing in to the set and refreshes everything making it a whole lot of fun.
Do you think there will ever be a reunion with Eric Burdon or has too much time passed?
Yeah, I think that is the way it is really. Eric has been living in California for a long time now, Chas died in 1997, Alan Price quit the band in 1965 and has always gone his own way since then. I think there is very little chance of there being a reunion. We all did get together in 1983 and did a tour which was mainly North America and Japan and that took the whole year of 1983. That is the last time you would have seen the original line up of The Animals on stage together.
Do you enjoy playing these hits night in night out knowing how much they mean to people?
It is really satisfying to get that reaction and it seems like we never have a dull night. People are always on their feet by the time we play House Of The Rising Sun. The songs still stand up so well even after all this time. I’ve never been embarrassed by anything that we have recorded or wished I had never done that. We’ve been lucky in that respect with such a good batch of songs.
Are you disappointed when you look at the state of the industry today and what is considered to be popular?
It just washed over me to be honest, it does appeal to me and was never intended to appeal to people of my age. If it appeals to people of my age they must be doing it wrong. Every once in a while, I’ll listen to the radio and say that is alright. I did that with Amy Winehouse and Adele and someone pops up and I’ll go wow that’s catchy. Generally speaking the industry I just don’t understand it a lot of it. The digital stuff does not hit here right in the chest. There is still plenty of stuff to listen to without having to bother, every generation has got its own songs and particular brand of music. I just enjoy what I do and just on with it!
Interview by Rob Lyon
Be sure to catch The Animals on their Australian tour…