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The Animals John Steel interview by Baz Bardoe

THE ANIMALS are one of the most influential and admired bands to emerge from the British Invasion, producing hit after hit in the 60s such as We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Boom Boom, It’s My Life, and of course, The House Of The Rising Sun. Ahead of The Animals Australian tour, which kicks off on October 31 in Wollongong, Baz Bardoe chats to Founding member and drummer John Steel

Talking to John Steel, original drummer for the legendary Animals, it is hard to think of him as having been born in 1941. He sounds far younger, chuckles frequently and has an impeccable memory for the peak moments in the band’s history. Over many decades there has been plenty of changes to the band’s lineup, but he has been a constant. I began by asking him if he ever thought when the band started if it would still be going in 2018. “I tell you what”, he says, “when we first started and had our first shot at the charts…..we thought it might last two years!”

It is probably worth clarifying that there are two versions of the band currently in existence. After some contestation of the name which initially saw Steel gain sole rights, Eric Burdon has now also been allowed to use the name as well. Steel’s version has three other members – keyboardist Mick Gallagher from the classic lineup; bassist/vocalist Roberto Ruiz and Danny Handley on guitar and vocals. Given the hugely volatile nature of the band’s lineup over the years any attempt at a definitive version is probably going to be redundant, but Australian audiences are well used to this incarnation and it is a cracker –they are great players who do justice to the iconic material. “In Europe we are The Animals and Friends’”, says Steel, “but they bill us as The Animals for commercial reasons in Australia as the name isn’t registered there. This is the best lineup I have had since the original Animals….” I think he is probably right judging from clips on You Tube.

The role of a drummer in a band often goes largely unrecognised. “Drummers tend to be satisfied with their lot”, says Steel. “There is no such thing as a good band with a crap drummer! We tend to be fairly grounded people.” I proposed to Steel that drumming is a fairly physical activity so it is kind of amazing how he manages a pretty intensive schedule. (I didn’t want to say “at his age” but er…….) Steel points out that his background is in jazz so he is more technique oriented rather than having a very physical style. “I’m not a heavy metal drummer”, he says. “I am the same weight as when I was twenty! I am just a skinny guy!” It is hard to convey Steel’s sense of humour in a written article like this but he regularly punctuates his comments with a chuckle. This attitude is possibly the key to his youthful persona.

I asked John what his career highlight was. He admitted there was a huge amount of possibilities but arriving in New York with a hit single for the first time stands out. These days we are accustomed to going overseas but back then it was “only movie stars or businessmen” who took long flights to entirely different countries and it was certainly something beyond the experience of “five working class guys” from Britain. “We have done a lot of exciting gigs”, he recalls, “but our fondest memory was when we arrived in New York in 1964 with a number one hit…..we played in the Paramount Theatre in Times Square. It has a stage that rises up out of the cellar and to find yourself suddenly confronted by hundreds of screaming New York teenagers……I will never forget that. The thrill of it all was really exciting.” All these years later “The House of the Rising Sun” never fails to get a standing ovation and “We’ve got to get out of this place” has also become a “bit of an anthem”. Incredibly it was number one for almost three years on the service radio in Vietnam, which can’t exactly have been a boost for morale. With accolades and cover versions from all manner of rock royalty there can be little doubt that The Animals deserve their legendary status. “We stayed grounded”, says John. “We came from an industrial background. We took it all in our stride. It wasn’t until the late 60’s when people were taking a lot of LSD that things started to fall apart. We came from a beer drinking culture….some dived into the acid scene…..I dodged a bullet I think. You would see people lose their personality – I didn’t want to be like that.”

With an Australian tour imminent, John promises audiences will be treated to “a very tight band and you’re going to have all the hits played really well. You won’t be seeing a cabaret band – everyone is a good player.” Looking at gig footage I think he may well be right when he says this is the best version of the band since the classic lineup. He certainly seems every bit as keen as the wide eyed working class lad who first set foot on stage in New York in 1964 and couldn’t quite believe that he was well on his way to being a music legend. I can only hope I have his verve when I am er……..his age! Long live John Steel and the legendary Animals!


The Animals Australian Tour Dates:

October / November 2018
Wednesday 31st – Wollongong – Centro CBD

Thursday 1st – Canberra – Southern Cross Club

Friday 2nd – Miranda – Miranda Hotel

Saturday 3rd – Revesby – Revesby Workers

Sunday 4th – Sydney – Factory Theatre

Wednesday 7th – Rozelle – The Bridge Hotel

Thursday 8th – Adelaide – The Gov

Friday 9th – Adelaide – The Gov

Saturday 10th – Melbourne – Memo Music Hall

Sunday 11th – Melbourne – Corner Hotel (Matinee)

Tuesday 13th – Shoalbay – Shoalbay Country Club

Thursday 15th – Sawtell – Sawtell RSL

Friday 16th – Gold Coast – Twin Towns

Saturday 17th – Brisbane – Hamilton Hotel



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