Singer songwriter Alan Price talks of his North East roots

PUBLISHED: 08:33 10 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:08 20 February 2013

John Steel, second right, is still touring with the latest incarnation of the band Animals & Friends, with Mick Gallagher on guitar, Peter Barton on bass and John Williamson on keyboards. Picture courtesy of John Steel

John Steel, second right, is still touring with the latest incarnation of the band Animals & Friends, with Mick Gallagher on guitar, Peter Barton on bass and John Williamson on keyboards. Picture courtesy of John Steel

The Animals were the first North East supergroup and rivalled the Beatles and the Stones in their Sixties heyday. Founder Alan Price, who arranged their massive hit House of the Rising Sun, talks to Michael Hamilton

MH: Is it nice to be back
in the region playing again?
Alan: I always enjoy playing the Gala Theatre. Durham is a nice place to play. Its a great city and of course its not far from where I was born in Fatfield.

MH: Tell me about your memories
of growing up in the North East.
Alan: We lived in Fatfield and after my father was killed in an industrial accident at BOC we moved to my grannys in Jarrow. I went to the Ellison school and passed the 11 plus and went to Jarrow Grammar School.
I had my first band there, a skiffle group called the Black Diamonds. There was a better piano player than me at the school called Frankie Hedley so I played bass guitar.
We used to go over to Newcastle and there was a hip vicar who used to have a rock n roll evening called Byker Parish Rock Club.
I remember this bunch of guys walked in one night looking like Gene Vincent & the Blue Jeans, with striped corduroy caps and blue and black striped shirts. They were called The Pagans and it was Eric Burdon and Johnny Steel.
I was asked to sit in with them and play piano because I never got a chance in Frankie Hedleys group. Burdon said: Why dont you join The Pagans? So I hung out with them a while.
In those days there was a lot of cross-fertilisation. It was like professional footballers being transferred between different clubs.
I also played keyboards and sang with Chas Chandlers group The Kontours.
We would play at the Club A Go Go in Newcastle, starting at midnight and finish at 5am.
I remember Bryan Ferry and a bunch of other kids used to come down with their sleeping bags. As we were packing up the gear they would be getting into their sleeping bags with their girlfriends for a bit of a grope.
The groups grew up with their fans. We had people who followed us around. We made our first EP at the Club A Go Go and sold about 600 around the North East.
We played the Odeon, too, which they later turned into a blooming bingo hall. We saw the Everly Brothers on tour with Bo Diddley, and the Stones were also on the bill.
The whole tour bus ended up at the Club A Go Go and we had a battle of the bands with The Stones. We had the home crowd advantage so we totally blew them away.
Characters like Mickie Most, who had Rak Records and Ronan O Reilly who started Radio Caroline, were sniffing around. It was like the gold rush.
It was a very exciting time. We became The Animals in 1963 and went down to London to play.

MH: You had amazing success overnight and broke up within a couple of years. Did success come too quickly?
Alan: For everybody, and I mean the management and record companies too, it was a totally new scene and we were just enthusiastic amateurs. The Tin Pan Alley establishment that had ruled since the end of the Second World War didnt know how to control this.
We were pitch forked into a very professional scene and I wasnt up for it. I was a very slow-moving geezer and suddenly was off to America and doing 70 flights in 70 days - and this was in the days long before people had heard of jet lag.
We would appear on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York on Sunday night then get a police escort to the airport, fly to Heathrow, then a car would take you to the station then that night you would be on stage in Liverpool - in the same make-up and clothes you had performed in in America.

MH: Was The Animals really a marriage made in hell, like youve said?
Alan: Of course, we had absolutely nothing in common. We were completely different types. None of us were from the same area. The group was greater than the bunch of individuals in it. There was a lot of talent in there but it was like a stagecoach with a horse in each corner all pulling in different directions.
We were a good group and as a band we were powerful. There was aggressiveness about us. We didnt have The Stones foppishness. We were working class and closer to whatever the blues was about.
Burdon was a brilliant artist but he wanted to be an actor. He was obsessed with films rather than being a singer. He really wanted to be James Dean or Marlon Brando.
I had the idea of doing House of the Rising Sun after hearing it on Bob Dylans first album. Burdon didnt want to do it. I had to heavy him into doing it.
If all that talent had been properly harnessed it might have been a different story. After we split up I was going to leave it all together.

MH: What happened then?
Alan: I was approached by the manager of the Club A Go Go and he told me to put a band together. It didnt have to be anything extraordinary.
I wanted to keep control of it like we never did with The Animals and work out of Newcastle. But it was dreadful because its not the centre of the country and if you were doing gigs all over the country and trying to get back to Newcastle afterwards everybody was wrecked. So eventually I had no choice but to move to London.
But I had a nice period when I played with my mates in the North East and we would go and play football on the beach, then go to the pub and get wrecked. I spent a lot of time drinking, it has to be said, which was always part of the culture then.

MH: Do you miss the North East?
Alan: In a sense I miss it but you make a new life for yourself. I left the North East effectively in 1963 so Ive lived down south for 47 years now.
I played Newcastle City Hall last year and the city doesnt seem to have that quality I remember of old Grey Street and Northumberland Street. Now everything is pedestrianised it seems to have lost its vitality. The planners have let the place down.
If I ever get a bit of time up here I have a wander around Jarrow. Where I used to live in Russell Street is the start of the Tyne Tunnel now. And I sometimes go to visit Fatfield where I was born.

MH: Do you have a favourite song from all the hits you have written?
Alan: I suppose I Put A Spell On You, which was my first major hit, and Jarrow Song. The director who made the television documentary for Omnibus said: You have to write a song about the Jarrow March.
I said I didnt want to because it was just after the miners strike in the Seventies and it would get me into trouble politically. But he took me the George pub in Fatfield where my father used to drink and I sat down and wrote it in five minutes. It was all in my head already. Because my father died when I was young I was around a lot of women sitting around the kitchen table gossiping and I just soaked all this stuff up. I picked it up like mothers milk.

MH: Youve had a few Animals reunions too.
Alan: As soon as we got back together again we realised why we had split up in the first place! But remember,r we were bigger than The Stones in America in 1964. We immediately followed The Beatles to No. 1 there. We were playing the Paramount Theatre in New York and we got a telegram. It said: To The Animals. Congratulations on being No.1. From The Beatles (the group)
It was nice to be inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. It was an acknowledgement that we were part of the big British musical invasion in the States.

MH: You had some big hits with Georgie Fame. Do you still see him?
Alan: He lives out in Scandinavia now. But he still tours and plays with his sons these days. Hes got an OBE. No such thing for me. The closest I get to an honour is that the Queens official photographer is a fan. Im still persona non grata with the Establishment!

Review: Alan Price, Durham Gala Theatre

Alan Price is widely acknowledged as one of the most talented musicians to come out of the North East.
It was his hypnotic organ-dominated arrangement of House of the Rising Sun that brought The Animals overnight success to rival The Beatles in their Sixties heyday.
He'll be 68 later this month but he is still regularly touring the UK and Europe - as well as having a regular monthly residency at the Bulls Head in Barnes near his London home - and playing greatest hits from his 50-year career.
Back on home turf at Durham Gala Theatre he acknowledged, with a series of wry gags, that his audience tends to be 'of a certain age' nowadays. And he readily admitted he couldn't quite hit the high notes he once could in his prime.
But the quality of the musicianship - he also had the brilliant Zoot Money augmenting him on keyboards and the accomplished Bobby Tench on guitar - hasn't withered with age.
Price was clearly happy to be bringing it all back home to County Durham, entertaining an appreciative audience with plenty of banter between the songs, almost like a vaudeville entertainer.
Appropriately enough he kept The Animals biggest hit, House of the Rising Sun, and another huge Seventies hit, Jarrow Song, until the end and his fans exited slowly but happy.

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