Animal magic

Dave Woodhall witnesses soul legend Steve Cropper plus friends.

The Artrix arts centre is a decent enough venue but fixed seating and Sunday nights aren’t usually a good recipe for a sweaty, noisy, rock’n’roll event. Then again, neither audience nor most of tonight’s performers were exactly ready for moshing and blowing the place apart.

At 7.30 on the dot the Animals take to the stage. Now down to a four piece they boast one original (drummer John Steel), Micky Gallagher who was organist from 1965 onwards and two members who might be kindly described as jobbing musicians. The songs are as great as they ever were, the delivery is as good as can be expected and John Steel comes from behind the drum stool on a couple of occasions to tell the story of how their biggest hits came about.

A brief interval later and the vacant mike stand is taken by the considerable presence of Steve Cropper. Not only is he a bit bigger than the “135lb kid” he describes from the beginning of his recording career, but this is, truly, the presence of greatness. The set list would have been impressive enough if this was a bar band playing covers; Cropper wrote them all. Time is Tight, In the Midnight Hour, Dock of the Bay, Green Onions. You get the picture?

When I’ve seen this bill before there’s always been a feeling of being short-changed as Cropper has been happy to sit back for most of the set and let the band take the lead; sitting in on his own gig if you like. This time, the two set format allows a natural raconteur to let flow.

By his own admission the Colonel isn’t a great singer, but he doesn’t have to be. The music he’s written makes up for that and although sitting down makes real adulation difficult, it feels right that rapt silence accompanies those tales of writing with Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd and Wilson Pickett, just scratching the surface of one of the most formidable back catalogues in the history of music. Who’s written as many classics as Cropper? Lennon & McCartney, Dylan, then you’re struggling.

Animals singer Danny Handley takes over for a couple of numbers, including the classic 99 1/2 Won’t Do, a new addition to the set before Cropper returns to centre stage to finish the set proper with Water and 634 5789.

They’re off then straight on again for Soul Man (Y’all name that song in two…) and a finale of Boom Boom, the John Lee Hooker song that has been a staple of the Animals set from the beginning.

Cropper later said that the unnamed album he’s currently working on will be a sensation. Whoever he’s working with will have a long way to go before they get a place on Steve Cropper’s greatest hits.