The Animals with Steve Cropper

The fates can conspire against anyone, even the greats, as Dave Woodhall witnessed.

I really like the Assembly. Everything about it makes for a great venue, from the easy parking to the laid-back security. I do wish it was closer to home.


…I also wish they’d either start their gigs later or announce the start times beforehand. Once again I turned up not much after eight to find the headline band, in this case the Animals, already on stage. They’re sounding good. Shortly afterward Steve Cropper made his way to the stage to launch into the Booker T classic Time is Tight. This one’s followed by Midnight Hour, a Wilson Pickett hit that forms another immense part of the substantial Cropper back catalogue.

It’s clear that by now there are sound problems. Micky Gallagher’s organ is faulty, the sound levels aren’t right but it’s all forgotten when singer Peter Barton opens up for I Put a Spell on You, the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins number that has long been an Animals live favourite.

Eventually the technical hitches are sorted and after a few lesser-known Animals and Cropper-written tracks the gig starts to warm up nicely. There’s just one problem, though. Steve Cropper is a wonderfully charismatic man. His stories are very funny and bring the legends of the Stax era – Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett, the great Otis Redding – vividly to life.


…in a venue this size the anecdotes get lost and the audience starts to lose concentration. The rhythm of the gig gets upset and the band have a difficult job getting it back. Soul Man, with its usual “Name this song in two” preamble is lively enough and there’s a sort-of encore with Steve first half-leaving the stage then coming straight back on for one more. Naturally it’s Dock of the Bay, complete with the usual audience participation, singing and whistling along. It’s a great moment, and a great song.

Cropper leaves and the Animals storm into their traditional set-closer We Gotta Get Out of This Place, far and away the best number of the night. Anthemic, hard-driven and just what rock’n’roll should be all about. Rather than go through the usual ‘off then on for the encore’ ritual, they carry on with House of the Rising Sun, bringing Cropper back for a finale of Green Onions. Fortunately, bearing in mind how the two tunes sound, the keyboard problem has been fixed by now, and the night ends on a  high.

This incarnation of the Animals work well together, they’re fine musicians and in Peter Barton they possess one of the most under-rated singers around. Between them the star attractions have produced some of the greatest music of all time, but with so many things out of their or anyone else’s control tonight won’t be one of their fondest memories.

After the gig I spoke to Peter, who said, “Well, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. But I hope we still pulled it off. Steve helped; there’s such an aura about him, such stage presence.

“People forget that he’s nearly 70 and he’s never done much of this sort of thing before. He’d never done the Booker T stuff with another band until we started playing with him, he’d never played the Stax songs without a brass section. He’s never really been a front man but he does it.”

And whatever problems that might have beset the evening, no-one was blaming the venue. “It’s a great place. We’ve played here before and hopefully we’ll be coming back.” was Pete’s closing line

As the saying goes, better luck next time.