The Newcastle band that would conquer the world - and their breakthrough 60 years ago

Newcastle band The Animals jetting off on tour in September 1964
Newcastle band The Animals jetting off on tour in September 1964 -Credit:Daily Mirror

Sixty years ago - and a short story on page five of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle noted that "Newcastle’s own rhythm and blues group, The Animals, have entered the top 20 with their first record. Baby Let Me Take You Home jumps nine places in this week’s chart to number 19".

In the event, it was the national breakthrough moment for the young five-piece Tyneside band who, for a while, in the early to mid 1960s would rival The Beatles and Rolling Stones in terms of popularity on both sides of the Atlantic. Before Sting, before Mark Knopfler, before Lindisfarne, before Brian Johnson and before Sam Fender, The Animals were the North East’s biggest musical export.

Formed in 1963 by Walker-born singer Eric Burdon, The Animals had already carved out a burgeoning reputation in Newcastle as the electrifying house band at the Club a’Gogo, the hip music venue on the city’s Percy Street that would go on to earn legendary status, hosting some of the biggest emerging names in rock music.

For Burdon and his working-class Geordie bandmates, Alan Price (keyboards), Chas Chandler (bass), Hylton Valentine (guitar) and John Steel (drums), 1964 was the year when their worlds would be turned upside down. If Baby Let Me Take You Home was a promising debut, the follow-up single just a couple of months later would go nuclear.

The Animals on tour in the UK in July, 1964
The Animals on tour in the UK in July, 1964 -Credit:Mirrorpix

The band’s inspired take on the traditional folk song House Of The Rising Sun, telling of a person’s life descending into ruin in the city of New Orleans, roared to the top of the charts in the UK and USA.

By July 1964, The Animals’ first return visit to the region after hitting number one was sparking fan hysteria and making page-one headlines. Hundreds of screaming fans greeted the band at Newcastle Central Station as they arrived in the city to perform a concert.

The Chronicle reported: "The group had arrived on Platform 9 when the crowd, which had swelled to more than 1,000 boys and girls, broke through the police cordon outside the platform barrier, forcing the band to run for it."

The Animals would also famously take the blues back to the country of its birth, as part of the ‘British Invasion' that took the United States by storm. They appeared on the legendary Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 at the start of a heady two-year period when they enjoyed huge hits at home and abroad with the likes of We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Bring It On Home To Me, Don’t Bring Me Down, and I’m Crying.

In November 1965, the Chronicle updated its readers on the band’s huge success in faraway America. It wasn’t just Liverpool’s Fab Four who were causing a stir. "Crowds of screaming teenagers greeted The Animals when they appeared throughout the day in a series of shows at The Paramount Theatre, Times Square, New York. Police erected crash barriers in the streets leading off Broadway, but reported no trouble from the mainly female fans who contented themselves with shrieking and throwing stuffed animals, papers, sweets and programmes."

The Animals reunited in 1983 - but it was a short-lived affair
The Animals reunited in 1983 - but it was a short-lived affair -Credit:Newcastle Chronicle

In another report from the Big Apple, it was claimed they had earned a then-astronomical $50,000 during a 10-day American tour. But not everything was plain sailing as it was noted that the band members’ broad Geordie accents mystified some of their new American audiences.

The pace was frantic and the pressure of constant touring, recording, personal appearances and TV sessions began to take its toll. In 1965, when Alan Price left the group due to personal and musical differences, the first and most successful incarnation of The Animals came to an end.

A group called Eric Burdon and The Animals would follow, but that group had pretty much dissolved by 1969 as Burdon progressed his career with the band War. There were short-lived reunions of the original band, in 1975 and 1983, but the glory days of the mid 1960s were behind them.

Over time, there were reports of disputes over money and royalty payments – a thorny subject that would rumble on for decades. Former friendships had long since frayed.

In 2016, ahead of a homecoming show at Newcastle City Hall, Eric Burdon said: "The last time I saw Alan Price was at a 1983 reunion show. At that time I was willing to forget about the past and set the record straight. We collectively asked him if he was ready to start sharing future royalties for House of the Rising Sun. When he refused, that was the last time I ever spoke to him."

Sixty years on, however, The Animals remain one of the greatest and most successful musical voices ever to emerge from our region.