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The Animals and Friends
One of the most distinctive features of the re-invented Animals and Friends, is the bear-like frontman Pete Barton, who's been looking after the famous R&B band's vocal duties for a couple of decades now. Normally attired in black leather with a smattering of Native American regalia, this charismatic singer/bassist requires a notably strong image if he's going to step into the gigantic shoes of Eric Burdon it has to be said, although wearing shoes of any description on stage is not something Barton concerns himself a whole lot with. Tonight however, Pete Barton had quite a different appointment with a surgeon's scalpel and could not be there, with regular guitarist Danny Handley stepping in at short notice. What would normally be seen as a tall order, Handley made look like a piece of cake, with a faultless performance throughout and with Scott Whitley deputising on bass.
Critics like to scratch their heads whenever the Animals and Friends are mentioned, with the usual complaint that goes something like 'how can it be The Animals without Eric Burdon?' Well the fans of this outfit see it differently; if the band was known for the most part as Eric Burdon and the Animals and Eric Burdon is no longer there, then surely we are left with The Animals? I think this is how founder member John Steel sees it as he continues to occupy the drummer's seat as he did in the original line up way back in 1964.
Tonight at the Doncaster Civic Theatre, the band played to a predictable half-full house (which has more to do with Donny than with the appeal of the band) and reminded the audience of some of the hits the band are famous for such as Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, It's My Life, I'm Crying and Boom Boom. With occasional visits to the front of the stage, John Steel treated the audience to anecdotal announcements, including a fine and warm introduction to the band's keyboard player Mickey Gallagher.
'So how can it be The Animals without Alan Price?' the critics continue. Well those with short memories may have forgotten that Price left the band after barely a year in 1964 being replaced, albeit for a temporary period, by the 18 year-old keyboard player Mickey Gallagher, who stayed with the band throughout 1965. As a fine Hammond player, the young musician saw out his year with the band whilst contributing to some of that year's big hits, before finding his feet as a key player in such bands as Ian Dury and the Blockheads, The Eurythmics, Peter Frampton and even going on to play on much of Paul McCartney's 1980s output. Tonight though, Mickey contented himself by contributing some of that distinctive sound to such R&B standards as Jimmy Reed's Bright Lights, Big City, John Lee Hooker's Dimples and Chuck Berry's Around and Around.
After a short intermission, the band returned with their special guest of the evening Steve Cropper, the legendary guitarist who was responsible for just about every hit record on the Stax label in the 1960s. As the guitarist with Booker T and the MGs, a band that has subsequently become known as the Stax house band, it was only fitting to start the second set with one of that band's most familiar hits. For Stax aficionados, there are two versions of Time is Tight, the fast paced version with its distinctively slow and soulful intro and the standard version, which we all know and love. Tonight the band played a mixture of the two, with Gallagher and Cropper sparring soulfully on the slow intro, but easing into the familiar single version of the classic hit.
Running through a veritable catalogue of soul hits, all of which Cropper had a hand in writing such as Knock on Wood, which he wrote with Eddie Floyd, 634-5789 and In the Midnight Hour with Wilson Pickett and (Sitting on the) Dock of the Bay with Otis Redding, Cropper epitomised 'cool' with his effortless playing and delivery, interspersed with revealing stories of how the hits were made by some of the master hit makers of the 1960s. It would be idiotic to compare Cropper's voice with any of those aforementioned soul singers, but hearing versions of songs by their author or co-author is always a privilege, however weak the voice may be. Before waving a farewell to the audience, whilst taking a towel to his forehead and leaving the stage, the 71 year-old musician completed his portion of the show with the instantly recognisable Booker T and the MGs hit Green Onions.
After finishing with two of The Animals biggest hits We Gotta Get Out of This Place and House of the Rising Sun, both of which had the audience waving enthusiastically, Cropper returned with the band for the final encore of Soul Man, preceded by the iconic and immediately familiar guitar intro. If there are questions arising from the justification for The Animals and Friends operating as a viable band, then there certainly can't be any objection to a guitarist of the stature of Steve Cropper having a good time with a handful of enthusiastic Brit musicians. It worked for me at any rate.