Saturday, 24 January 2009



From Newcastle, via a 1964 global no.1 with
“House Of The Rising Sun”
and a hero’s reception in New York…
to Bridlington, 1965 it was
a great trip for the Animals. And I
caught them at their finest…

Sharp blue high-collar suits. Short hair combed down to collar-length. No wasted movement. Eric Burdon slaps out rhythm with the palm of his hand on his thigh, Hilton Valentine sways a little drunkenly. Little more. Instead, everything focuses down onto the dynamics of the sound. And live, that’s ferocious. The Animals know exactly how to structure tension, building it to spikes of wild intensity. It was the autumn 1965. The year before had taken the group from nowhere, to a debut hit up to no.21 in May – “Baby Let Me Take You Home”, to the global smash that was “House Of The Rising Sun” hotter in July, taking them triumphantly into New York where it was also number one. ‘What’s the song about, a gambling den?’ queries my mother warily as we watch the TV-clip. ‘No, a brothel,’ deliberately provocative. ‘They shouldn’t make Pop music about that sort of thing’ she blusters. ‘It’s not a Pop song, it’s Folk-Blues’ I counter. Establishing our contradictory stances, indicating generation-defining status around a sixties single as vitally essential as “Satisfaction”, “My Generation”, “Waterloo Sunset” or “She Loves You”, a raw roots template transfigured by Alan Price’s innovative arrangement, tensioned through a tightly delineated series of escalating hard-driving emphasis and controlled screwed-down energies that might have borrowed from Dylan, yet also shocked Dylan around to the sheer potential of pure electricity. By this bleak season, the first fissures are splitting the group solidarity. Post-Price’s departure they will part-replicate the ‘Rising Sun’ formula with the chain-gang work-song “Inside, Looking Out”, and almost make it work a second time. But now, following a second year of hits, they’re launching a new line-up, after the first resented personnel change, working keyboardist Dave Rowberry in with this brief regional tour. I catch the coast-train from Cottingham station to Bridlington, after first arranging to stay over with my Aunt and travel home the following morning. I’ve got the black-label Columbia singles. I want every moment of this. The Animals aren’t posy art-school boys. They’re as northern and working class as me. With no trace of flouncey home counties decadence, theirs is the urban blues of factories that whiff of grit, lube-oil and sweat which you scrub away and mask with Old Spice and your finest threads for the Saturday Night & Sunday Morning night out binge respite from it all. Making every second a desperate primal joy… ‘cos Monday sharp you’re back on the line. They know this as well as I do. For the Animals, singles were always a different continuum. They were artfully selected Sam Cooke or Brill Building Mann-&-Weil songs (“We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” and “Bring It On Home To Me” respectively), restyled by Mickie Most for maximum concentrated impact. Albums are more a group concern, running through the kind of personalised R&B covers that first drew attention at the Newcastle ‘Club A-Go-Go’. “Roadrunner” – from second album ‘Animal Tracks’ (1965), rips from speaker to speaker around the dance-floor carried on Hilton Valentine’s scratchily descending slide. “The Story Of Bo Diddley” remains one of the best things they’ve ever done, taking its bare skeleton from the Chess original and reconfiguring it into a personal history, just as they’d creatively substituted ‘Georgia’ for a tough area of Newcastle for “Gonna Send You Back To Walker”, their debut ‘B’-side. Confused reports beamed back from American dates that they were including ‘the story of the Rock ‘n’ Roll scene in general’ as part of their set referred to this extravagantly witty take on improvised narrative, with raspy vocal snatches of Bobby Vee (‘Take Good Care Of My Bay-Bee’) and the Beatles (‘It’s Been A Hard Day’s Night’), leading up to the final verse anecdote of how the mighty Bo himself turned up at an Animals gig in Newcastle, complete with Eric’s impishly mimicked dialogue and one of the best punch-lines in Rock. It set the bar high, and there’s some argument that they never quite surpassed that debut ‘The Animals’ album (1964). They’d begun – as the Alan Price R&B Combo, by privately pressing up five-hundred four-track demo EP’s that first attracted the attention of the London majors. But by the time of the third album – ‘Animalisms’ (1966), their first for Decca recorded with a much-fractured personnel, there’s evidence that they’d musically sophisticated little beyond that EP. Placed side-by-side it’s difficult to differentiate one from the other. Also, by their third albums other bands had quit their formative covers and progressed to relying on their own material, the Who, Kinks, Smallfaces, and, of course, the Stones. Not so the Animals. That third album not only draws in “I Put A Spell On You”, already done by the spin-off Alan Price Set, and “Gin House Blues” a chart hit for Amen Corner, but the much-covered over-familiar Chuck Berry “Sweet Little Sixteen” too. Which is not to say they didn’t write. The third single, “I’m Crying”, would prove to be their only group-original ‘A’-side. Its punchily repetitive keyboard-driven build, proves masterfully powerful live, but was deemed a comparative failure – only no.6 after its stellar predecessor, as if anything could have equalled that, and their never-prolific originals were subsequently relegated to ‘B’-sides. Even so, there’s strong material there, the bluesy “Can’t Believe It” or “For Miss Caulker” are as good, and better, than most tracks thrown up by the Blues boom, the playfully personal “Club A-Go-Go” name-checking the Rolling Stones alongside idols John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson, Jerome Green and Memphis Slim, and the strident “I’m Gonna Change The World” confidently edging into counter-culture politics. On this Bridlington stage, Burdon’s ‘black’ shout is as distinctively expressive as it is compelling and commanding. His solid presence flanked on one side by Hilton Valentine’s strong lead, and on the other, by Chas Chandler’s amiably hulking form under-pinning it all with loping bass. Behind it all, sartorially clean John Steel defines the rhythmic parameters. While new-boy Dave Rowberry – fresh out of the Mike Cotton Sound, hunches and sways further stage-right over his keyboards. He’s good, but it bugs me that I’d missed the full original line-up, and don’t really forgive him that until much later, around the time the ‘Club A-Go-Go’ was becoming a trendy wine-bar, and I happened upon him in Leeds touring with the PJ Proby cabaret band. Meanwhile, personal stand-out moments tonight, though, sweatily accelerates into “Talkin’ ‘Bout You”, abbreviated to back “House Of The Rising Sun” it extends live to a mesmerising peak-crescendo only released in its full-length form very many years later. How I’d have loved to have had that unedited cut way back then. But it’s all crammed in here, in my head, endlessly reverberating as I trek the promenade-front back towards my Aunt’s.

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