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Animals out on the prowl again; Pete Barton, lead singer of The Animals, will be performing The Best of Rhythm'n' Blues in Liverpool next week. Penny Fray reports.

STEPPING into the shoes of a great singer is always difficult, but even more so when the performer in question is sixties legend Eric Burdon.

Through the phlegm and smoke of his Tyneside upbringing, the lead singer of the Animals managed to capture the sounds of the Mississippi Delta.

With his ocean-deep voice and stage charisma, he packed venues such as the Down Beat Club in Newcastle, mirroring the interest that the Beatles sparked in Liverpool's Cavern Club and The Stones at London's Marquee.

So, Pete Barton was understandably worried about replacing Eric when the band re-formed in 1992.

"It was a demanding job and people wondered whether I could rise to the challenge, " reveals the 40-yearold from Clitheroe in Lancashire.

"But I think you can do anything you want."

So, when critics started to describe his low pitched tones as Burdonesque, he was delighted. "It's a huge compliment, " he says.

Next month though, he will get an opportunity to meet the great man himself. Eric will be flying from his Los Angeles home to do a few gigs with them. His first performance being in Chester on May 7.

The Animals first established themselves as a band to reckon with in 1964, when they released Baby Let Me Take You Home, which charted after only a couple of days.

The band's name was a tribute to a friend of their producer Jackie "The Animal" Hogg, who drowned. "He was a leader of a Hell's Angels tribe called the Squatters who didn't have bikes, " says Pete. But House of the Rising Sun became their major classic. It was number one in the UK, then in the United States, where it remained in the top slot for more than three weeks and sold over a million copies.

Pete was barely a toddler at the time and his interest in rhythm'n'blues emerged much later as a teenager.

He started performing in the seventies and, over the past three decades, has been in a number of wellknown bands, including The Swinging Blue Jeans, Eric Haydock's Hollies and The Mind-benders.

More recently, he was lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist with Smokie and a member of the final line-up of legendary Midlands band, the Move.

BUT his involvement with The Animals came about by fluke.

He was playing with one-hit band Lieutenant Pigeon in a Newcastle pub, when he spotted a name and number scribbled on a mat.

Curious, he picked it up and saw it was Hilton Valentine's signature.

"I wondered if he was the Animal's guitarist and called, " he says.

"I discovered he wasn't doing much and told him that he had to get back out there and perform. So, we contacted John Steel and Dave Rowberry and went back on the road.

They hadn't realised there was still a market for sixties bands.

"They were obviously nervous about coming back and explained that they wanted to do it on a credible level. Unlike other bands of their generation, they didn't want to prostitute themselves for the money and play in places like church halls and bingo clubs."

Over the last few years, the band have inducted into the prestigious rock and roll hall of fame in New York, released a compilation album of their greatest hits and headlined concerts around the world, including countries like Australia, Japan and the Middle East.

Peter claims they have reconfirmed the band's status as one of the greatest rock, rhythm'n'blues bands of all time.

"Fans arriving at the North Wales Theatre can expect everything that they'd want from a brilliant concert, " he says. "In Birmingham, 2,000 people turned up, some of them barely 18-years-old, saying they really digged the music."

Like many musicians of his generation, he is scathing of modern bands and believes there is a market for live acts like The Animals.

He says: "A lot of these pop groups are highly marketed and usually perform with a tape in the background.

One modern musician I do admire, but don't necessarily like though, is Robbie Williams. He does it the old way, while The Animals don't know any other way of gigging."

The Best of British Rhythm 'n' Blues show features The Animals, Cliff Bennett, Zoot Money and Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames at the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, on March 21

CAPTION(S):

ROCK LEGENDS: the 2002 Animals line-up, with Pete Barton taking Eric Burdon's place, second left AS THEY WERE: The Animals in the mid-1960s
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Mar 15, 2002
Words:744
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