I’m Not In Love With T-T-T-Twiggy (Ready Steady Go !)

In 1959 the Royal Cinema, you know it, on Gilliatt St, near my Nana’s, stopped showing films because everyone was at home watching TV. I think it was that year that my family rented our first set. I wonder what we pointed our furniture at before that. The Royal became the Star Bingo Club, a new thing allowed by an Act of Parliament which liberalised gambling. There were lots of new things at the beginning of the decade… a Labour Government, the Twist, bouffant hairdos (well, ding dong !). Philip Larkin knew the score…

” Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) –
Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban
And the Beatles’ first LP”. (Annus Mirabilis)

Yeah Man ! The Mersey Beatles, they certainly felt like a big new sexy noise for a big new post-war baby boom teenage bulge. That’s why a queue sinuated around the Star Bingo Club on a Saturday afternoon waiting for the “Teen Beat” music session to start. Live bands, records & soft drinks for the under 18’s. All down the line the juveniles, delinquent or otherwise, were chatting about the previous night’s TV programme which brought the best of the new British Beat to a living room near you.

“Ready Steady Go !” began in August 1963. The Stones first single “Come On” was still in the Top 30, the Beatles released “She Loves You”. The commercial & creative surge in British music had not been well served by the 2 TV channels (really !). Groups were shoe-horned awkwardly into light entertainment shows between the  juggler & the mother-in-law jokes. The BBC’s flagship music show played records at a “Juke Box Jury” of 4 know-nothings who decided “hit” or “miss” &…erm…that’s all. RSG surrounded the music with its young, fashionable audience, capturing some of the excitement & informality that a TV studio/schedule still often deflates. This stuff caught on. The Fab Four appeared in October (Paul judged a miming contest !) & the show got its highest audience when they took over the show in March 1964. This clip has received a sound upgrade but “You Can’t Do That” is so good it should be heard at its best. John’s finest Arthur Alexander style songwriting , George’s shiny new Rickenbacker 360 Deluxe 12-string…a B-side as well.

I missed all of this. The vagaries of regional scheduling meant that, in my provincial backwater, the early Friday evening show did not come around until after 10.30 & that was…after my bedtime…hours after! These new bands from that London, the Yardbirds, Manfred Mann, the Kinks, playing the Thames Delta Blues, I would not get to see them until they made the charts. The BBC opted for quantity over quality with a new music show based on sales. The discourse on the concourse about “5-4-3-2-1”, the theme tune, or about that group who smash their instruments (the what ? The Who !)  sounded so exciting, proof that the real fun only started when the kids were asleep. Something was happening in 1964, the RSG crew had a handle on what it was. The young production staff ditched the lip-synch & ran with a new national early evening slot which meant that I could finally see the thing.

The first young Modernist magpies about town favoured Italian fashion, New World rhythms, French cigarettes & philosophy. By 1964 Mod was more about dressing sharp, looking good on the dancefloor & while knocking over the local chemist looking for the pharmaceutical amphetamine or giving a rocker a kicking on a Bank Holiday, your getaway scooter waiting. The symbols of the next big youth movement were in place…you’ve seen “Quadrophenia”. “Ready Steady Go !” made the move from Mersey Beat to Mod giving impetus to its spread out of London up the new motorway system to the rest of the UK. I know, those original Mods viewed this dilution & subsequent commercialisation as the end of it all but, in the mid-60s, provincial British youth were better dressed, with better haircuts, than they had ever been.

RSG’s dance lessons & fashion tips were stiff & lame but there was just so much exciting new music around & whoever was booking the turns or picking the sounds was making plenty of good decisions. In March/April 1965 a roster of Tamla Motown artists had toured the UK to sparse audiences. RSG, prompted by producer & fan Vickie Wickham, filmed an hour long special “The Sound of Motown” featuring Martha & the Vandellas, the Miracles, 14 year old Stevie Wonder, the Temptations &, Motown’s only UK Top 20 act, the Supremes. Wickham’s best friend Dusty Springfield hosted the show. Dusty had been in a faux-folk trio, recorded overdramatic Euro-pop ballads but she had a heart full of soul & she was sheer class. The show was a blast of energy, a blur of hand clapping, foot stomping, funky butt Detroit Soul. We were able to match some faces to some tunes. Tamla Motown was here to stay.

This wonderful clip, Dusty getting some help on “Wishin’ & Hopin'”, her Bacharach & David US Top 10 hit, from Martha Reeves & the Vandellas is what live music TV can be & rarely is. Dusty & Martha seem to have been left to work it out for themselves & are liking what they have done. The gospel boost to finish makes for a unique performance by the Righteous Sisters.

The groups at “Teen Beat” was the first live music I saw. I think that I was a little underwhelmed at first, it was hardly the Swinging Blue Jeans was it ? Now I remember them as good bands from around the North of England who were ahead of those Top 20 fans. The reference point was the first LP by the Rolling Stones, released in April 64 (May in the US as “England’s Newest Hit Makers”). They all played approximate versions of “I Just Want To Make Love To You”, “You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover” & surprisingly the soul-jazz groove of Phil Upchurch’s “You Can’t Sit Down”. Y’know if you saw a young bar band playing these songs tonight you would be impressed with their good taste. That was then, 1966 was Now ! & every group was expected to play some new songs.

“Knock On Wood”, “Hold On I’m Coming”, “Mr Pitiful”, this was the new canon. Motown was perhaps a touch too much what with the harmonies & the choreography…at the same time. The music made at Stax Records  was raw, even more basic when there was no horn section, just 4 young energetic kids could fill the dance floor with  these tunes. In September 1966 RSG handed over the show to the label’s figurehead Otis Redding. It was a case of light the blue touch paper & retire to a safe distance as Otis, backed by the Bar-Kays, made a compelling case to be considered as the most exciting act in music. Blue-eyed soul Brits, Chris Farlowe & the great Eric Burdon were invited along & joined in this clip of the closing “Shake”, Sam Cooke’s soul stormer. Eric never looked happier & rightly so. Years later I carried a video tape of this show around, ready to share the greatest 30 minutes of music TV ever. When Stax brought their tour to the UK there were full houses everywhere because people wanted a bit of what they had seen on RSG.

Then, in December 1966, the plug was pulled. Mod probably was past its sell-by-date, the Beat Boom was over but British music was as vibrant in 1967 as it had ever been. The commercial TV network were having none of it, having cancelled the other music show “Thank Your Lucky Stars” in June. Just 2 weeks before RSG ended the UK TV debut of Jimi Hendrix tore up the rule book & knocked us sideways. I had seen the Byrds, the Lovin’ Spoonful, for the first time on the show, I was going to have to dig a bit deeper to see the Doors or Jefferson Airplane because ITV would be not be helping. I would too, no longer get my weekly fix of Cathy McGowan, the Mod Dolly Bird next door who so successfully replaced the stiff DJs for hire with a naturalness, an enthusiasm & well, take a look, we were all a little in love with Cathy.

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Geordie Love Beads (Eric Burdon & the Animals)

Eric Burdon did not hang about after the demise of the original Animals. There were a couple of singles in 1966 which were promoted by a band which was now called Eric Burdon and the Animals even though one, “See See Rider”, was an old track & the other was from a solo LP of covers (3 Randy Newman songs !) backed by the Horace Ott Orchestra (No, me neither). It was in 1967 that a run of distinctive, even sensational, 45s, all composed by this new band, established a new direction for Eric & brought more success.

Eric had some things to get off his chest. About his childhood, “I met my first love at 13, she was brown & I was pretty green” in “When I Was Young” & then his years as a star in “Good Times”, “when I think of all the good times that I’ve wasted having good times”. This direct confessional style, undoubtedly influenced by his use of L.S.D. & patchouli oil, contrasts with the more allusive, even obtuse lyrics of much of the “Love Generation”. Burdon embraced this new emotionality with a lack of guile, an almost naive candour. Back in Northern England 2 teenage boys (drug-free) appreciated such a straightforward reaction to the new ideas from a fellow Northerner. We loved Eric Burdon & the New Animals.

The band were up to the job as well. Vic Briggs’ distorted tremelo (huh !) intro to “When I Was Young” is classic acid-rock. Multi-instrumentalist John Weider went from ragas to rockers. This was a muscular psychedelicism, a working class reaction to new freedoms & new experience. Having said his piece Eric began to write about his hippie friends.

“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” wrote Mark Twain. There is more than a touch of rose-tinted spectacles about “San Franciscan Nights”. Still if you were going to Northern California in 1967 the flowers in your hair & the free love would keep you warm. It’s unrealistic, a little credulous but that’s hippies for you, you gotta love the innocence. “San Franciscan Nights”, the band’s biggest hit is charming, a couple of years ago we were listening to this on a 60s radio show, the DJ let it run out & said, “that’s the coolest song ever”. We may have laughed but we did not argue. BUT, the song seems to have been removed from the Internet. So, “Good Times” it is then.

The group played at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. The psychedelic Animals stormed it with the hippies, their attack a good fit with the aggression of the Who & Jimi Hendrix (an honorary Brit). Eric, of course, wrote a song about it. “The Byrds & the Airplane Flew” (ouch !) & a lovely quote from the former’s “Renaissance Fair”. This single was not released in the UK. Two young fans knew which dark corners of the radio dial would be likely to play the tune. I can often struggle to remember what I had for dinner two nights ago but the memory of hearing “Monterey” for the first time is palpable…strange.

With the confidence gained from decent sales & the acceptance of a new audience the band recorded a lot of material. In January 1968 they released an epic 2 part single which was over 7 minutes long.

From my, hopefully, more adult perspective if a band had a track which already included flanging, aeroplanes & gunfire and they were thinking of adding bagpipes, I would advise against it. My 15 year old self  loved the everything but the kitchen sink approach of “Sky Pilot”. It was anti-war, against the hypocrisy of a religion which gives its blessing to troops before they go out to kill people. It was both right on and far out…at the same time…still is.

This run  of 45s are simplistic hippie statements (“includes Indians too”) with some very distinctive acid rock. In the USA the Vietnam War was causing a polarization of the generations. Eric Burdon & the Animals records were played on the radio & were so straightforward that you had to go…well yeah ! The band were a little too prolific. In 1968 they released 3 LPs, one of which, “Love Is” is a double & there were diminishing returns. 1967’s “Winds of Change” was a cherished record of ours at the time. If I can find some interesting clips of the future Police guitarist, Andy Summers’ short time with the band then I’m not finished with Eric because those records were a little crazy, Prog-rock Johnny Cash covers…anyone ?

Eric was caught in a whirlwind for a while & the band finished. He still though had a good reputation and any music he made would be given a hearing. It was not long before he was back in the charts with an L.A. funk band as he declared War.

Geordies Go America (The Animals)

In 1964 American music was in thrall to the  British upstarts who swarmed across the Atlantic in the aftershock of the Beatles. Many, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Herman’s Hermits, the Dave Clark 5, were pretty disposable, that’s how pop music is. In September of that year the first non- Mop Top British #1 was a record which set a new standard of  innovation & quality for this music explosion. “The House of the Rising Sun” is a traditional American folk-blues, it has been recorded by the greatest of that country’s artists, I first heard it on Bob Dylan’s first LP. In the hands of the Animals, Newcastle’s very own R&B heroes, the song became a pulsating pop record. From the opening guitar arpeggio (huh !), Alan Price’s palpitating organ & the impassioned vocal by a pocket rocket Geordie with an extra-ordinary voice, the track is instantly recognisable and an instant classic. I’m not going to include the song here, we all know how it goes. The Animals made some memorable records after their triumphant entry and here’s one of them

In the North East of England, Eric Burdon grew up with a passion for American music. Like Van Morrison in Belfast he wanted to sing like Ray Charles or John Lee Hooker. For both of these young men emotion came before technique. The Animals were a wild, raving live band covering Hooker, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley (Live at the Club A-Go-Go 1963…mmm !). “Rising Sun” was their 2nd single recorded with a young producer, Mickie Most, a mean motor scooter & a bad go-getter more interested in making records that sold than creating art. This collision, the rawness of the Animals, the pop sensibility of Most resulted in a sound which kept the band in the charts all over the world for 2 years.

The Animals did not write their own material & this caused a couple of ripples. “House of the Rising Sun”‘s arrangement had been credited to organist Price. When the royalty cheque arrived, (carried by 4 big guys), others in the band got a reality check instead. Price was out…musical differences ? Yeah right. The wilder blues jams of their LPs did not make for commercial records, “Bring It On Home To Me” a Sam Cooke tune, “Don’t Let me Be Misunderstood” a song written for Nina Simone, were given smart soulful arrangements which featured Eric Burdon’s magnetic interpretations. there were other hits too.

The story goes that Mickie Most rang the Brill Building, New York’s song-writing factory, in search of songs for the Animals. That one call yielded “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” (Barry Mann & Cynthia Weill), “It’s My Life” (Roger Atkins & Carl D’Errico) and “Don’t Bring Me Down” (Gerry Goffin & Carole King) all hits on both sides of the Atlantic.

I have always thought that the experience of all of these young British provincial men, born in a war, raised in an austere country (food was rationed until 1954), suddenly gaining access to the benefits and the temptations of stardom  in the richest country in the world must have been surreal for them. Promoting “It’s My Life” the Animals are dressing well, looking cool & not taking it too seriously. These young Geordie men were now world travellers, exposed to new ideas. They were not too happy about the constant touring and the songs they were being given to record. The band left Mickie Most to record in the USA with Tom Wilson.

“Inside-Looking Out”, a work song polished by Burdon & bass player Chas Chandler, was not a big hit but was more representative of how the Animals wanted to sound. Who can blame them ? This live TV appearance shows what a great band they had become. All 5 members are making a contribution here. The ill-advised band uniforms aside this is great 60s music. It was to be their last recorded 45, the irresistible “Don’t Bring Me Down” came later but was from an earlier session. Their manager, Mike Jeffery, the owner of the Club A Go-Go, was suspected of appropriating the band’s earnings & the band were falling apart. Drummer John Steel went back to Newcastle, guitarist Hilton Valentine discovered L.S.D & Chandler discovered Jimi Hendrix.

Eric Burdon was left with his reputation as a great blues shouter but had no band. he was far from finished. It was still only 1966 & it had been a short, strange trip. The Animals are not always placed in that pantheon of British groups along with the Beatles, Stones, Kinks & the Who. Their powerful blend of blues, soul & pop was influential & produced some great music.