For more than 60 years. John Steel has had the best seat in the house witnessing the impact that The Animals have had on the music scene.

Now 81, he’s still behind the drumkit for the band, the only original member left out on the road and contrary to popular belief, he’s not finished yet.

The Animals are one of the headline acts at this year’s Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival over the August Bank Holiday weekend.

“There’s a lot of talking going on that we’re on our farewell tour,” he chuckled, “but that was set up before the first lockdown. Since then I thought ‘bugger that, I’ve got two years to make up’. I’m certainly not giving up til I’ve got those two years back.”

That will be good news for the legions of fans who understand the seminal role The Animals - a bunch of mates from the North East - had on changing the musical landscape in the Sixties.


John Steel

John Steel


They were at the forefront of the so-called British invasion of America and singles such as We Gotta Get Out of this Place and It’s My Life are widely acknowledged as being among the most important recordings as far as the development of rock and roll was concerned.

“We had no idea at the time of the impact we were having,” he said. “When we first started to have hit records we just though ‘this is good’ but I just thought we’d probably be back where we started within a couple of years so I just went out to enjoy it while it lasted.

“Over the years it has become obvious that the songs we did back then have stood up so well. Young kids come to see the shows and they know all the words.”

So what is the secret?

“I suppose they are proper grown up songs,” said John. “They have got a real life edge to them; they are not middle of the road pop, that here today gone tomorrow sort of thing.”

The band’s working class roots, growing up in the North East when shipbuilding, mining and heavy industry was the natural career path for so many young men, proved to be a lasting influence.

“Life was gritty and hard so that’s the way we were with our music,” said John.

Over the years there have been various incarnations of the band which originally started with John, lead singer Eric Burden, guitarist Hilton Valentine, bassist Chas Chandler and Alan Price on keyboards.

“There’s only me left from original band that doesn’t matter because the band delivers those songs in the way they were intended to be played on stage and that’s what people get off on.

“The spirit of the band is still the same.”

It was The House of the Rising Sun which really changed things for the Animals.

“You know we did that in one take,” said John of one of the most influential singles ever recorded. “We’d often do that - just go in the studio with an idea for a song, perhaps work through it a couple of times and then record it.

“I remember Mickie Most who was producing the single calling us into the control room after that first take and saying ‘ you know lads, I reckon we’ve got a hit single’. The engineer was less sure as it was a bout four and a half minutes long and at the time the BBC wouldn’t play any single loner than three minutes on the radio.”

But The Animals got to play House of the Rising Sun on the TV show Ready Steady Go and on the strength of that one appearance the single went top 20 forcing the BBC to play it on the radio.

“That was definitely a life-changer and had a significant impact,” said John. “We must have had good ears. Whatever did then stands up today.”


The Animals

The Animals


Lockdown meant that for the first time in his musical life John was kept off the road.

“I actually went out and bought a practice kit,” he said. “I thought I’d better keep my hand in. I’d never needed to practice before as we were always working but I actually quite enjoyed it.”

But, he concedes nothing beats playing in front of a live audience.

“It’s been great to be back on the road again,” he said. “And it seems like people want to see us. We’ve done a lot of work over the past couple of months and everywhere we go get a really good reaction.

“We’re swamped with people wanting selfies at the end of the show or wanting to shake my hand so we must be doing something right.

“And we can’t wait to get to Colne. It’s been a big miss over the last few years. it’s always been a special place and we can’t wait to get back there.”

And John has a defiant message for anyone writing him off.

“At my age I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it but I just can’t believe how lucky I am. As long as I’m not embarrassing myself or the band then I’m here for however long it takes.”

The Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival runs from Friday, August 26 to Sunday, August 28. The Animals play Colne Muni on the Saturday. For full details visit