June issue #183


Eric Burdon & The Animals dream of California in 1966
Mike's Pith & Wind
Other versions
My first band, The Chants, later rebranded Chants R&B, didn’t know it at the time, but despite the prevailing hype they were simply a ‘cover band’. They didn’t know it because the term, even without today’s derogatory connotations, had yet to be invented and was anyway redundant primarily because all the bands in those days were cover bands - even after The Beatles had arrived, most of the bands in Christchurch were still purveying their Shadows’ schtick with their matching pink Stratocasters and fancy steps. I guess they were reluctant to relinquish their ‘tribute’ for what was surely a fad that was bound to fade away as quickly as it had exploded into the public’s consciousness.
The Chants won a couple of band competitions playing Beatles’ stuff, one of them even before we had settled on The Chants as a name, but we were already moving into the output of the Stones and other more obscure English ‘rhythm and blues’ bands and our securing a residency at the Kingbee Kellar (later The Stagedoor) meant we had a guaranteed audience of young mods who would follow us down any and all of our preferred musical paths.
One of those UK bands whose repertoire we plundered was The Animals. I remember seeing a film clip of the band uncomfortably miming House of the Rising Sun and marvelling at Eric Burdon’s acne-scarred face - I also remember the subsequent rush by local bands to acquire Vox organs just like Alan Price’s.
Alan Price was an exceptional player mind you, but the rest of the Animals, apart from Eric Burdon (who later famously described himself as an ‘overfed, long haired leaping gnome’ but was so much more than that) were competent rather than outstanding players, putting their versions of American blues songs well within reach of beginners like ourselves.
The Animals’ version of The House of the Rising Sun a ‘traditional’ folk song (i.e. in the public realm), still sounds an exceptional pop record mostly due to Burdon’s vocal bravado and Price’s playing - the pair carried the band to a position of breaking in the States before the wheels fell off. (I think it was Price’s reluctance to travel by air that scuppered thoughts of the original band's US success, although I remember a pic of the organ-less band in Billboard magazine where they’d adopted the American penchant for low-slung guitars).
One of the more unusual songs they released in 1965 was Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, which I thought was one of theirs at the time, although it was a superior song to their usual releases. The Chants probably covered it at the Stagedoor, but I can’t honestly remember.
One evening I had dropped off Chants’ drummer Trevor Courtney at his girlfriend’s place and was alone for a few minutes in my Gran’s Holden EK. I turned on the radio to while away the time - and in the next few minutes my musical world was changed. It was such a different arrangement it took quite some time for it to dawn on me that I knew the song - it was Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.
I was so overwhelmed that if I’d been standing up I would’ve sunk to my knees. As it was I was slumped in my seat in shock and awe at the arrangement and performance of a song that until this moment I thought I knew. The arrangement was diametrically opposite to the Animals’ hit single version - glacial in tempo, elaborate, sophisticated and orchestral for gawd’s sake and the female singer’s reading intimate and controlled, but at the same time disturbing. The end result for me was that this version was infinitely more passionate and dramatic than The Animal’s version.
Of course, it was Nina Simone and her version of Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood had hit me square between the eyes and gone straight to my naive soul. I wasn’t even aware of Nina Simone until that moment, but I credit her with opening my eyes and ears to the potential for artistic expression in pop music.
Oddly enough, it turns out that hers was the original version of Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood and her single had been released a full year before The Animals’ version – it apparently wasn’t a hit for her so maybe that’s why I hadn’t heard it till that moment.
She didn’t write the song, even though it sounds as though she might have – it could even be interpreted as some sort of personal manifesto. (The B-side of the single was a song called Monster, which I’m not familiar with but might also tend to back-up the manifesto theory).
It turns out the song was actually written by a chap called Horace Ott (originally uncredited) with his writing partners, Bennie Benjamin and Sol Marcus, who wrote four other numbers for Nina’s 1964 album, Broadway-Blues-Ballads. Horace Ott was also the arranger and conductor for the entire album. As they say, who knew?

Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but Eric Burdon also figures in the following thoughts on Other Versions, this time other versions of original band line-ups.
I have to confess that I was very pleased when Jimmie Nicol went home and we in Christchurch got the original line-up of the legendary Beatles with Ringo reinstalled on the drum stool. And when, after half a dozen or more support acts, The Beatles finally materialised on stage (for their fastest thirty minute set of the Australasian tour), I was thoroughly satisfied just to be looking at the band of my dreams and drinking in just the way they looked in their silver-grey suits with the contrasting collars and (shockingly) longer hair than I had ever seen them sporting in magazines.
I really wanted all my musical heroes to appear with the original line-up intact, and I was lucky to see bands like The Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys’ with line-ups intact, but it wasn’t always the case.
Like The Animals for instance. Alan Price wasn’t with the band when I saw them at Festival Hall in 1967 and neither was the rest of the original band. In fact, they weren’t even billed as The Animals – they were now Eric Burdon and The New Animals and, on this unlikely package (loved the packages) they were touring with Dave Dee, Dozy, Mick & Tich and Paul & Barry Ryan with a couple of local bands.
They had a single charting When I was Young (which contains the immortal punchline 'And I was so much older then, When I was young’) that reached #2 in Australia. It didn’t do as well as that in other markets though and it was another single, San Franciscan Nights, that got them the ticket to famously appear at the Monterey Festival
Eric and the band had relocated to California in 1966 after the original band had dissolved and although this band was keyboardless, it boasted two guitarists with contrasting looks and styles - the dark-haired Jewish-looking John Weider played violin in addition to guitar, (as seen on the When I was Young clip) which I’d not seen before, although Jimmy Paige played his guitar with a bow when he appeared at Festival Hall with The Yardbirds.
The band was writing the material jointly at this stage and they were free-falling into an experimental psychedelia phase. The band’s late appearance on stage that night (blamed by the hapless Stan Rofe on the drummer, who’d reportedly locked himself in his hotel room) reinforced the anarchic feel they projected with their music.
Even though I had no preconceptions about the ‘new’ Animals I thoroughly enjoyed the band’s Festival Hall appearance in 1967. The inherited band name gave them a platform to launch something almost entirely unrelated to the blues-based era of the original Animals and the Monterey appearance gave Eric Burdon carte blanche to take his new direction as far as he liked.
Sometimes challenging expectations can be a good thing for everybody concerned. Sometimes, no matter what you’ve got invested in the memory of an original version of a song or of a band, another version or even a completely new version may turn out to be stronger, more life-changing than the original.
I’m still glad I saw the The Beatles with Ringo though.
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Sagrada familia looking like a fairy-tale castle
Dick's Toolbox
Sagrada familia
The year is 1980 and my wife and I are in Barcelona a city that was still a long way from seeing the 1992 make-over that the Olympics will bring. It is grey, dirty, replete with a gypsies begging and picking pockets. Overall it is rather depressing. The Franco era had ended in 1975 but the feeling that the orthodoxies of the regime were still oppressively in place were not overcome by the pornographic magazines displayed everywhere and the abundance of adds for cheap liquor. Both these traits were aptly brought together in the unlikely product of Fockink gin, a product of the Netherlands widely displayed above the graffitied walls usually covered by political posters from an incredible number of political parties. There were always a large number of grey people on the streets, not happy just being there. Las Ramblas was not a joyful throng of humanity but rather a milling dirge of people wondering what was going to happen next.
We were travelling on a very limited amount of money per day which meant that sometimes we stayed in insalubrious places. The first in hotel would have been terrific except it was right on the waterfront where the trucks and trains came to load and unload at four in the morning; but when you arrive in a foreign city by train at around midnight not speaking any Spanish it was the only bet. The second hotel, which was only a dollar a night more and nearer the Picasso museum was seamier but a least quiet. My description was that it was a dark, damp and decaying dump but not the worst place we ever stayed in – an honour that goes to ‘The Diplomat’ in New York.
The reason that we were in Barcelona was primarily to see the architecture of Gaudi who, in those days, was not on the general tourist route - unless you were on a serious art and architecture bash of three months duration. But even then Gaudi was just coming into wider focus as a couple of his buildings featured in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film ‘The Passenger’ which starred Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider, the latter who played and architecture student in Barcelona in a butter-free manner. In the 1980’s some of Gaudi’s’ buildings were quite neglected and inaccessible - the Casa Mila was a bingo hall covered with neon signs.
My knowledge of Gaudi was largely confined to the references in Jansen’s ‘History of Art’, the large art history bible that steered thousands of students across the international galaxy of stuff that you were meant to know. But the trip was also informed by a friend of ours Norbert Loeffler who lectured in Art History and came up with an adjunct visiting list of out-of-the-way galleries across Europe and the United States. It was he who said that if you saw one thing in Europe it was Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.
And he was right, but we were very fortunate to see it in a way that nobody does today. There were no buses, no tourists and just three workmen gathered around a brazier keeping warm in what would be the nave of the building. In several broken languages we asked if we could explore the place. They had no issues or no insurance worries so we climbed over everything, piles of stone rough-cut or partially worked and even up the four original towers. These were the only ones built at the time and which had just been recently capped. We left as the sun set and it was too dangerous to continue.
My handwritten notes just said’…. Worth going 12,000 miles to see. The most incredible building, or bit of a building, I have ever seen. Kept looking up and going boggle. Went up the towers and more boggle.‘
(I found four slides as well all of which look like they have been walked on by somebody in hob-nailed boots. )
We returned in 2004 and had no trouble in finding the building in a city that was now clean, bustling and the image of modern Catalan Spain. We just followed the hundreds of buses and the thousands of tourists. 122 years after construction started the Sagrada Familia was now a destination for every tour of Barcelona and every ship that docked in the port.
Now over 4.5 million visitors pay between 17 and 38 euros ($27.50 and $61.50) each to tour the cathedral-sized church every year and most of them will be there on the day you arrive.
There were many ways in which it was a more informative experience. The architectural models were on display and the place was being worked on so there was more to see but even then I thought that the new bits were not really in sympathy with the original. The difference in sculptural and architectural style was differing more and more from what I imagined the original intent was. When Gaudi was working on the building a sculpture was worked on, then hoisted into place to see if it looked right in the context of the building. If it seemed in the slightest way incongruous it was brought down and reworked until it fitted. Progress was slow, it grew organically especially as the building was funded by inadequate donations after Gaudi died after being hit by a tram.
All his was brought back to my mind after a news item that caught my eye. The Barcelona City Hall finally had issued a work permit for the unfinished church 137 years after construction started. Barcelona officials said there was no record the 1885 plans were granted or rejected. Now permission is secured, it is hoped the church will be completed in 2026, a century after Gaudi's death.
Barcelona officials said the city will be paid 4.6 million euros ($7.4 million) in fees under an agreement negotiated with a foundation devoted to completing and preserving La Sagrada Familia, the money also going to improve connectivity with the Barcelona metro so that more people can go and look.
Over 4.5 million visitors pay between 17 and 38 euros ($27.50 and $61.50) each to tour the cathedral-sized church every year which is more than 12,000 a day but it is estimated that 20 million tourists stand outside to marvel at the bell towers.
When the building is eventually finished it will no doubt be magnificent – but I don’t think that it will be a genuine Gaudi - but rather a tribute to the dedication of thousands of donors, architects, engineers and craftsmen who have completed a slightly Walt Disney version of the original version.
Very few will have seen what we saw many years ago, will never have seen the ragged towers soaring into the sky, lonely in their magnificence. The vestiges of hope defiant after more than 100 years. Waiting.
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