Sixties British Legends The Animals’ are in Australia for their Greatest Hits Australian Tour including a stop in Adelaide at The Gov. Britannia Ruled the airwaves in 1964. In the front ranks, marching in formation behind the Beatles were The Animals who became the second British band to top the American charts after The Beatles. Featuring original member John Steel alongside Danny Handley, Bobby Ruiz and Barney “Boogie” Williams, music fans can expect a fantastic concert of the Best of The Animals including – House of The Rising Sun, We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, Boom Boom, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, I Put A Spell On You, It’s My Life and more! Hi Fi Way spoke to John Steel about the tour.
Must be a relief to be finally back out there touring again and be in Australia?
Oh, yeah, yeah. I mean, like everybody that, that feels like the last two years, it’s been a rough time for everybody. This year we’ve been pretty busy and we finally got this Australian tour underway having flown out last Sunday after three cancellations.
How did you get through the Covid years? Did you take on any new projects or just making most of the time to relax?
A bit of both. I’ve got a bit of a good side garden to look after and I’m in the country so I got on with that. I bought myself a practice drum kit, with practice pads, you plug in and put your headphones on and you can hear yourself playing. It’s not like being on a real kit. When the pandemic started, I thought this thing could run for a while and I didn’t want to lose my chops. I thought I’d better get some practice in, and that’s what I did, a little bit of that every day.
On the flip side, did you find that having that time just to relax helped to freshen up after the constant touring?
Not really. I really, I really, really miss playing and being on the road with the band. It’s an important part of my life and like everybody had, there were so many restrictions. Nobody did go out and nobody could go to restaurants, bars, so I didn’t enjoy it at all to be honest. I just managed to find things to fill the time in with, but, I was just all the time itching to be back on the road again. I’m glad to say that’s what’s been happening this year. We’ve been busy in Europe and I’ve been really enjoying it.
Were you a bit sort of rusty on those first shows back and was it an emotional experience getting back out on the road again?
To be honest, it wasn’t rusty at all. We didn’t even have any rehearsal time. We just got on stage and played live… it was a blinder. Everybody just locked in immediately. It was great!
It feels like a long time ago with the last Australian tour back in 2018, do you have plenty of highlights tour memories from last time?
Oh yeah, it’s one of my favourite countries for touring for all kinds of reasons. It’s always usually going to be in your summertime especially when it’s getting in to winter here. The hospitality is great, people are friendly, the food’s great, the wine’s, great beers. I just love the place, it’s just good fun.
Were there any shows that stood out as being sort of memorable?
It’s getting difficult to remember things like that these days. Everything kind of blends in together to an overall vibe. Gosh it was 2018 when we were last there! I’m eighty-one now, I’m still fit and I’m still playing and I’m still enjoying myself. I can’t remember lots of things that happened in recent years. I can remember clearly what happened way back in the fifties and sixties. You hear that from old people , you can’t remember what happened yesterday. I just like playing in Australia. It’s a good place to tour and always have enjoyed it.
Last time we spoke you mentioned that your singer Danny has this knack of finding some Animals gems tucked away in the archive to try out on tour? Have you had a chance to find anything like that for this tour?
Danny keeps delving into the old catalogue saying we should this and try that. We always have a one or two fresh numbers in and shuffle them around a bit. We’ve also got a new keyboard player very recently since the lockdown. Mick Gallagher, who was the keyboard player last time we were over there is retired now. A very good friend of Danny’s who is called Barney Williams, is an absolutely brilliant player. He’s like Alan Price was in his prime, a real two-handed player. He’s bringing a really fresh feel, improvises and we’ve been going any direction when Barney’s taking the solo. It’s added another dimension and it’s quite exciting for me to be doing that. Mick as good as he was, pretty much the arrangement as arranged, whereas Barney will take the arrangement as a framework and then just extemporize from that. It’s a different style of playing, which takes me back to the original Animals with Alan Price who was the same kind of guy, just flying by the seat of his pants, playing with both hands. If you see the band this time, you’ll see a different fresh feel to it.
Does that make every live show a unique experience? Does that style of playing bring the crowd in to it more?
Yeah, it does! That’s what I’ve been finding because we’ve been quite busy this year so far in Europe generally, playing the usual venues, our usual stomping grounds, which is northern Europe, Scandinavia, Holland, Germany, Belgium, even Albania and Poland! We’ve been kicking around again. It’s been great to be back on the road and whenever we play, you’re always going to hear a lot of the songs that you heard last time because have to play those hit singles and well-known songs. We keep freshening it up as I say, and with Barney on keyboards, even the songs that we play all the time have a slightly different feel to it because he brings something fresh to it.
Does it still amaze you the power of the legacy that the music of The Animals keeps creating?
That’s something I’m really proud of. It’s something that we didn’t consciously at the time we recorded those songs, we just like liked the stuff, recorded it and played it. None of us thought back in those days that these songs would last fifty years. I’ve always been proud of that, proud that we made what seems to be considered the definitive versions of certain songs, like House Of The Rising Sun, We Gotta Get out of This Place, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood and It’s My Life. Anybody of any generation of any age seems to be able to identify with those songs, even today. It’s something I’m really proud and pleased about.
It must be that ultimate compliment as well when you see the crowd smiling and singing those songs back to the band?
It is, it’s fantastic especially when a lot of them are young people who were weren’t even born back then, they know all the words to those classics. They’ve been hearing them all their life and I get a really kick out of that.
When you look back on your career with the animals, what period of time always of stands out most for you when you reflect on it?
I’ve got to admit it’s those first couple of years when everything was new. Five working class Geordie lads from a provincial industrial city in the north of England. From being a hot band in Newcastle where we all played, suddenly within a few months to be jetting across the Atlantic to play in America, which in those days was like going to another planet because only rich people in film stars could afford to fly back and forth to America. Here we were going to the spots in the place where all our inspiration seemed to come from rock and roll, blues, jazz. That was a very exciting time and that’s the most memorable period for me. Everything else has been great, but that was something special.
We’re looking forward to the band coming back to Adelaide and playing at The Gov.
Oh yeah, I love The Gov. That’s a great venue. It’s one of our favourite venues in Australia, so I’m glad we’re going back there. Looking forward to that.
Interview By Rob Lyon
Catch The Animals on the following dates, tickets from Metropolis Touring…