Animals: Sure, We’re Really Animals!

THE TITLE ‘ANIMALS’ was given to the group by Radio Caroline chief Ronan O’Reilly, who felt it summed up the group’s wild attitude to rhythm-and-blues music. The youngsters who flocked to see the Alan Price Combo, as it was then, thought the name a good one and the tag stuck.

Animals? Sure. We’re really Animals!” mumbled Eric Burdon, arising from a nourishing plate of cornflakes in the early bright, around midday, in his new flat above London’s Scotch of St. James Club. He says he got it there so they only have to carry him upstairs! He was joking, of course.

“I like it, because our music is raw, uninhibited material,” Eric went on. “It’s untamed and wild – exactly the type of basic emotional appeal which can be described as Animalistic.

“It’s also true of our approach and attitude to life. We’ve never been too concerned with the sophisticated way of life. Civilisation has tied itself up in a red tape of hidden meanings and flowery language for simple feelings and actions. We just try to be a little more honest about it, that’s all.”

The Animals are essentially nocturnal creatures and ‘breakfast’ is a word you won’t find in their vocabulary. Most of the group tumble out of bed around noon. Afternoon’s are strictly for working purposes – they don’t really come alive until the late evening and early mornings. Beings of the night are our rhythm-and-blues boys.

“Mornings for me usually start around 12.30 p.m.,” admits Eric. “I get up and take a look at the major disaster area I laughingly call an apartment, chuck out all the dead bodies from last night’s party and check my diary for interviews, photo calls or recording sessions.

“It might mean a few minutes off to dash down to my tailor’s for a stage suit. Mind you, like most animals, I’ve a suede coat and a pair of jeans so tight they’re almost a second skin. But on stage you’ve got to make the effort!”

Bed at Six!

Following the exertion of having got out of bed and driven about London in his Mustang, Eric will return home around six o’clock and jump back into bed for some sleep, especially if there is a gig to be played that evening. If there is no booking he usually gets up about 8 o’clock and goes down to the Ship pub in Wardour Street.

“It’s fast becoming an out-place,” said Eric. “We went there in the beginning because it was quiet and near the Marquee Club, where we played quite often. Now it’s full of birds and agents, both trying to book you! But we still go down – habits die hard with us.”

From the Ship it’s a short taxi ride to clubs like the Scotch of St. James or its offshoot, the Kilt, where the Animals join friends like Zoot Money or Chris Farlowe.

But how far does the Animalistic instinct go in the group – when do good manners take over from instinct? How do the Animals treat their ‘mates’…the word they use for girlfriends.

“I believe in the Japanese attitude towards women,” said Eric with a grin. “‘Six paces behind me and mind your manners, or I’ll chop you up for firewood with my own hands!’ That’s the way to keep them in their place.

“Seriously, I suppose we are as courteous to the opposite sex as anyone else these days, when women are shrieking for equality with men in one breath and crying out for the privileges of being the weaker sex the next!

“If I see a girl standing on a train or bus and she’s wearing high heels, which are very tiring, or carrying a parcel, I’ll stand. And I get up for the elderly. But if she’s young and healthy with flat heels, she can stand as well as I – unless she happens to be a good-looking chick, of course!”

How do Animals feel about their real-life counterparts?
“Horses, man! I dig horses!” Eric declared. “When I was still at Newcastle College of Art I helped deliver tea in a horse-drawn van. The horse’s name was Nobby, a most intelligent animal. When the driver walked off down the block, he’d just give a whistle and old Nobby would tear off in the opposite direction!”

Like most wild Animals, Eric believes in freedom for beasts that are born free and he hates to see birds caged or anything imprisoned.

“Zoos are really sick,” he thinks. “I wouldn’t be seen dead in one now. Have you ever taken a long look at those animals. The bear that paces around its cage, swinging from one foot to the other with its great head swaying to and fro like a pendulum. Always looking for a way out.

Lion Rug

“The lion, a beautiful majestic creature, reduced to a living rug, just lying in a cage with nowhere to move – just waiting for the next meal, like a machine that needs oiling. And all those people gawking and poking, taking along kids who don’t understand. Sick places – zoos!”

Animals in films Burdon hates to see as well. And anything which smacks of a phoney sentimentality or puts the wrong emphasis on an animal.

“I saw an Alsatian dog last night being coddled like a human being. It was being given drinks in a pub – that’s sacrilege for a start – but the owner was talking to it like a child. There are enough people in this world deserving of more attention through neglect of others without pampering animals. Amen!”

“Have you ever had any pets?” I asked.
“No, but I used to hunt cats with a slug gun behind my house in Newcastle after dark,” Eric admitted. “I was a wicked kid.”

Although Eric hates to see any kind of cruelty to animals, he admits that hunting and fishing both appeal to him.

“One of the most exciting times I had was shooting jack rabbits from a jeep in California,” he told me. “But when we saw a couple of deer, which were fair game, I wouldn’t let anyone shoot them. Contradictory kind of individual, aren’t I?”

Eric is also a patron of the bull ring when he can get along.

“Bull fighting is a tremendous spectacle. Where else can you see a man facing death in the arena?” asked Eric.

Another of Eric’s more violent passions is a love of the stock car racing they indulge in on the west coast of America.

“They just have six cars in an arena and let them fight it out,” said Eric. “The last car still going is the winner. Nearly all the cars drive backwards as it’s far easier to put yourself out of action in a head-on smash. Once your radiator goes you’ve had it.”

Finally I tackled our Animal about feeding time. What does an Animal eat?

“Eat? Eat?” queried Eric, screwing up his face in a concentrated effort to remember. “We’re very big on curries,” he said at last. “Curries and cornflakes, but never together.”

The Animals are a hard-living, hardworking group. Many of their opinions are not shared by the majority of us, but they live their lives in an honest, open fashion.

“Freedom and the right to express yourself – those are the most important things in our life,” Eric concludes.

© Keith AlthamNew Musical Express Summer Special, Summer 1966

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