MEET THE Animals and you find five r-and-b purists. That’s all they want out of life — to play blues. It was this dedication in r-and-b which brought them together. They heard each other play in Newcastle’s darkened cellar clubs, where the noise was loud and hypnotic and flooded out into the narrow grimy street above. This is where they met. Played together often just for kicks and free drinks.
Ten months ago they drifted together. Organist Alan Price formed his Combo. They all attacked their numbers so viciously, so excitingly, so eagerly, that their fans called them “animals”. And the name stuck. They took a chance and came south. Almost immediately they hit the jackpot. They were true bluesmen. Who are these five searching Geordies? How do they see themselves? Let organist Alan Price tell you…
YOU GET to know your friends well when you’re with them 24 hours a day. You get to know their habits — good and bad. But you learn to live with them.
This was our biggest problem when we first started.
Once the group almost broke up because we were so tired and irritated with each other. We got on each others’ nerves and argued over the slightest little thing. Chas would sing the same song, ‘Anna’, over and over. He’s a lousy singer anyway, but this repetition needled us.
One day we all started shouting at him, and each other.
We are all five different people. Clashes were inevitable. The only thing that held us together through those days of fatigue and argument was our music and our ambition.
We know each other better than our parents do. We know each others’ tastes, likes, dislikes, pet hates, secret dreams. It’s a bit frightening being with four guys who know you maybe better than you know yourself.
How well do I know them? Well, maybe I’ll have the blues and just want to be by myself when Chas for no obvious reason will say: “Come on, man, I’ll buy you a steak,” And I feel great. He knew.
We can all go into a studio cheesed off, biting each others’ heads off. Maybe we feel we didn’t play well enough on our last date. Then we meet Mickey Most, our recording manager. He talks to us for half an hour, cracks a couple of jokes, tells us about someone else’s real troubles, and we’re smiling, ready to get on with the session. Mickey gets the best out of us.
He has faith in us, our music. Knows what we’re trying to do. He had eleven big hits in South Africa when he was over there for a few years, so he knows what he’s talking about.
We taped ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ in one take. We just started playing, and it was there first time. Mickey was jumping around in shirt sleeves, running his hands through his fair hair, smiling and laughing.
He ran out of the control box and yelled: “Stop. Don’t touch it. It was great. You’d never be able to do anything better to it!”
And he was right. It went to the top in a few weeks.
R-and-b is the biggest thing in our lives. It’s more than just playing the blues. We feel them. We attack our songs. Like to create an atmosphere. We improvise all the time.
ERIC BURDON, our singer, is great at this. He has an amazing depth and sensitivity. He’s an artist, so I think maybe this has something to do with it. He can feel things the rest of us can’t. We can only see his back when he’s singing, he grabs the mike, leans down to it.
When he breaks, he wanders off round the stage, even walks right off someplace and we keep playing until he gets back.
Says Eric, “You can feel it when we’ve got a good audience. It’s like they’re up on the stage playing with us. They move along with us all the way. It’s the most exciting feeling in the world.
“It’s an emotion. A drug. You’ve just got to have more. In between these moments of inspiration we’re continually trying to find the next one.”
He analyses everything.
He’s short, stocky, hard as nails. Nine months heaving bricks on building sites around Newcastle did that for him. Very arty. Wears calf-length suede boots specially made for him by a Soho firm. Usually sports Bohemian-type ties.
Eric is the rebel, the nonconformist. I don’t think it’s deliberate. Forced upon him really. Maybe he’d had it a bit rougher than the rest of us have.
He’s rather bitter, and gets cynical sometimes. He studied for five years at the Newcastle College of Art. Says the first four were one long rave. He didn’t do much at all.
Adds Eric, “I didn’t mind it so much in the winter because it was somewhere to go. But in the summer, my mates and I used to skip classes and shove off to the coast. I’d tell the masters that I was going on a sketching trip, but we’d just laze around the beach all day.
“Then I’d get home at night, dead beat, and sit for hours drawing sketches from photographs and postcards to hand in the next morning as my day’s work.”
The day he passed his finals — he can put the letters NDDRSA (National Diploma of Design, Royal Society of Arts) after his name — he met one of his tutors, a sour guy, in the corridor.
He asked Eric what he was going to do when he left college. He expected Eric to say he was going to be an advertising agency executive or something, but he blew a fuse when Eric said he wanted to be a singer!
But what really makes Eric bitter is what happened to him after he left college and looked for a job. Here he was, fully-trained with a diploma to prove it, but could he get a job? Not on your life!
He came to London expecting with his qualifications it wouldn’t be too hard. But he finished up on the dole.
“I must have tried every agency in London,” he recalls. “But it was always the same answer. ‘No vacancies here old man.’ Eventually I had to go back to Newcastle and get a job as a labourer. Then I was a postman for a while.
“Makes me mad to think you study for five years after leaving school and nobody wants to know. And yet kids are told they’ve got to study if they want to get on in life!”
Even then, Eric was rebellious. He was articulate and intelligent, but did things his own way despite what people said. He was suspended three times from college, partly because he used to miss night classes by singing blues in clubs at nights.
Once he climbed the floodlight stand at Newcastle United football ground during Rag Week and left a stuffed tiger on top. The police made him climb back up again and take it down.
We call him Workyticket, because he’ll talk about anything. Especially blues and racial segregation. He reads anything about them he can lay his hands on. He says that his big ambition is to go to the States and sing the blues with his idols — Jimmy Witherspoon, Joe Turner, Bob Dylan, John Lee Hooker and the rest of them.
He’s a wonderful artist. Doesn’t have much time to sketch or paint these days, but he’s full of ideas. First free time he gets he swears he’s going to do some work. He designed the interior of the Club A’Go Go in Newcastle when he was at college.
HILTON VALENTINE, he plays lead guitar, drives our blue bandwagon. It’s done 25,000 miles in just over three months. Only thing that holds it together is the dirt and the lipstick smeared all over it by our fans!
He’s a fantastic driver. He can get more out of it than anyone. He’s not reckless, but very calculating. Everything he does he thinks about first. So we all trust him enough to know we’re safe with him at the wheel. Well, that’s what he keeps telling us anyhow!
He’s very strong-willed. He has to be to drive so much at night when you’re as tired as he is. While we’re all dozing in the back, poor old Hilton’s fighting back the tiredness at the wheel.
“I like driving at night,” he says. “I don’t mind it really. Did most of my driving at night along twisting narrow roads in Northumberland when I was learning.”
He’s lean, and looks a bit frail. Likes laughing. When he does, his body shakes. Could do with a healthy sun tan. On stage, he gets excited when he feels we’re flying.
Stamps his foot heavily on the floor. Bends his head over his guitar and sways like he’s in a trance. The girls love it. I honestly don’t think he hears them, though.
We call him The Thrifty One because he’s careful with his money. We kid him about it. He smiles to himself and tells us: “I’ll be driving round in a Cadillac when you’re all begging for pennies outside the Labour Exchange.”
He’s no fool. What he wants to do is invest in a night club somewhere and book nothing but r-and-b bands. Bring over the real stuff from the States.
Used to be a machinist, but couldn’t stand the work.
At one time, you could always find Hilton down in the Club A’ Go Go or the Downbeat sitting in with the band or leaning on the juke box listening intently to every record that came on. If you spoke to him when he was listening to a disc, he’d put on he’d bite your head off. Eventually, we all just waited for him to talk to us.
Hilton says that he got his musical education with the rest of us playing for the Squatters. They’re the North’s sort of weirdies. They dress in tight jeans, have long hair like the people who used to follow trad bands down south.
They were real r-and-b fanatics, those Squatters. They used to like it wild. One guy carried a big stick and wore a huge floppy white hat which used to come down over his eyes.
He’d go to a dance in some country town, get up on the balcony and dive off like Superman into the crowd. Then he’d get thrown out. Oh, he was wild!
If those hairies didn’t like what the pianist in a group was playing, they’d just climb on the piano and walk along the keyboard! Or open the lid and pour beer inside!
These were the kind of audiences we used to play to.
CHAS CHANDLER, our 6ft. 4in. bass guitarist. We call him “Our Conscience”. Thinks deep. Not as outspoken as Eric. He’s 24, the old man of the group. Worries about our schedule, whether all the gear’s on the van, if the act went down well. Never refuses to sign an autograph. Feels bad about it if he does.
“I hate hurting people,” he says. We believe him. Worked in the shipyards as a fitter and cutter.
Whereas folk singer Bob Dylan’s protest songs make Eric thump the table and start him off on a long stream of biting cynicism, Chas will sit and think about the words and the meaning of the song.
He reads a lot of books on World War I. It’s his favourite subject. If he’s not trying to sleep in the van, he’s reading a book about the War.
One time he was reading about a particularly bloody battle in which thousands of men were killed on both sides. He suddenly cried out: “What a waste!” And read out long passages to us.
At first we were going to laugh it off. Then we saw how horrified he was, and just sat there listening to him.
He digs calf-length boots too. He had six pairs made for him by the same people that made Eric’s. Never wears anything else these days. Goes in for hipster trousers and red shirts.
Chas thinks audiences are tame these days, that there aren’t enough r-and-b fans. He wishes — all of us do, come to that — more kids were lively ones. Anxious to do great things. He reckons they’re too cool.
“Before, the kids used to go mad when they liked music, they’d jump around and really show how they dug the music. Now, they just stand there like a lot of dummies. What do you have to do to make them clap? Cut your throat?” he asks. He gets quite worked up about it sometimes.
JOHNNY STEEL played trumpet before he switched to drums to join the group Eric had when they were at college. He worked as a technical illustrator and later as a wallpaper salesman. But he didn’t like selling. Says it was hard on his feet!
“All I ever wanted to be was a musician, so I chucked everything just so I could play fruity stuff in a restaurant band. Then I joined the combo because it was playing r-and-b, the real jazz, soul music.”
He’s very quiet. Doesn’t say much for himself. All he wants to do is play r-and-b. When he can’t do that, he eats and sleeps. Has a quick smile which spreads all over his face.
When we got to the top spot with ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ his folks sent him a telegram congratulating him. He had to get out of bed to answer the door for it.
We were still out celebrating at the Ad Lib club with the Stones, the Hollies and the rest of the clan. When Johnny told us about it, he was quite embarrassed, he doesn’t like to be at the centre of things, just likes to amble along.
He’s a good listener. If we have anything troubling us, we always seem to finish up telling Johnny our problems. He sits quietly like an undernourished Buddha.
We call him The Detached One. For he’s the only one who ever manages to sleep in the van. Just stretches out over the gear, closes his eyes and he’s off. Bet he’d even sleep soundly through an H-bomb explosion, then he’d wake up and wonder where everyone went! He just switches off whenever he wants to and goes into his own little private solitude.
ME? THEY call me The Moody One. But I wouldn’t say that I’m moody. I was the leader of the group to start with, but I don’t see that any one should be the leader now. We’ve got road managers to take care of all the gear, agents for bookings, managers to see we’re fixed up all right. And that’s it. We don’t need a leader off stage. We’ve all got our own lives to lead.
The only way I stand out is that I do most of the arranging for our records. On stage, we usually improvise, so there’s no need for any arranging there. No, I’m just one of the Animals and like it like that.
I used to be an Income Tax Officer, and I’ve found this a little embarrassing since I became a professional musician.
It taught me a lot about people and how to handle them. Most of the people I came into contact with were usually nasty and insulting.
I thought I knew how to handle them, how they would react in certain situations, what they would say, what they would do.
But I think if being with four guys for months on end, day and night, has taught me anything, it’s tolerance. We’ve had arguments but we have learned to respect each others’ judgements and opinions. Get on with each other.
We’re the happiest bunch of bluesmen on the scene… as you can see.
© uncredited writer, Rave, August 1964