Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start (Rogers and Hammerstein)
THE VERY EARLY YEARS
Back in the 1950’s when I was three years old I had an uncle, well sort of a pretend uncle who was really just a friend of the family, and he used to play the piano. His name was 'Uncle' Nelson and I was intrigued at how he could sit at this big wooden machine and make magic happen. He could play just about any song off the top of his head and the family would all join in and sing along. At such a young age this was very captivating to watch. Naturally this strange phenomenon grew on me, so after pestering my parents to get a piano they said they would only get one if I went to piano lessons. Great I thought, until the day I was taken to a piano teacher called Mrs Bell in South Shields who dropped the bombshell on me by saying I was too young for piano lessons and told me to come back when I was seven! As a young kid this seemed like a lifetime to wait, and it was.
When seven came I was taken back to the piano teacher who I remember was more interested in my hands and fingers, and she inspected them very carefully to see if I was suitable to play the piano. She then told my parents the type of piano to go and look for and only to return when they had the piano and it had been properly tuned up. I remember going with my parents to look at second hand pianos in some really grimy old dark houses to see if the pianos would be suitable and they would always ask me to get up and play something on them. I’m sure whatever it was I played wouldn’t have been impressive. Eventually we found a suitable piano and at last I could now start piano lessons.
I recently went to see the film Rocket Man which is the story of Elton John’s life. When I was watching him as a young child I suddenly realised that I was watching my own early life on the big screen. It was just as if I was watching myself when I was young. It was a very moving and surreal moment.
The piano soon became my life and I was starting to make this big wooden machine make noises that people liked to listen to and actually sing along to! I would hammer away for hours on end and guess I was very lucky to have neighbours who used to say they loved to hear me singing and playing on the piano.
THE TEENAGE YEARS
My parents were quite religious and I was always expected to go to church with them on a Sunday. And it was here in church where I would marvel at an even bigger wooden machine ..... the church organ. How could such a thing make spectacular music and also actually shake the stone walls of the building? I really needed to get behind one to do it for myself. So I started taking organ lessons from a well respected organist in the town who I remember was called Maurice Powell and he taught me how to play the church organ. Unlike a piano with just one keyboard hitting strings this had three banks of keyboards on it blowing air through twenty foot pipes and it had an array of stops (the equivalent of very big patch selector buttons of today). He also taught me how to play the bass pedal board with my feet. Well Wow, I was now on the way to making big noises, extremely big noises!
By the age of thirteen I managed to secure my first musical job by becoming the full time organist for two churches in the town. I would play four church services every Sunday as well as playing for weddings, funerals and christenings. At that time my father was also a member of the ‘Guild of the Servants of the Sanctuary’!? ... a sort of group of people who served in the churches in the area who went around singing plainsong at each other’s churches. I was invited to play the organ for them which was great because I would not only get to play the organs in all the other churches in the area but I was also very privileged to get to play the organ at St Nicholas Cathedral in Newcastle and also Durham Cathedral.
end of my time at secondary school I was an avid follower of Deep Purple and
Emerson Lake and Palmer and I was very keen to get a school band together but
it never worked. I remember being sent to see the careers offficer who only offered me three choices; an apprenticeship with the Coal Board, the Gas Board or the Electricity Board. When I told him I wasn't interestested in any of them and that I wanted to be a sound engineer for the BBC he got very annoyed and told me that I was on my own. It was only when I left school and I attended the local college
to obtain the required qualifications for a BBC apprenticeship that I met some fellow musicians and we managed to get our first band together and onto the
stage. David Sibbald I believe was the guitarist
(who is now with the Counterfeit Sixties band) and Arthur Robertson was on bass (who became the trombonist for Alive and Kicking and the Ska-Toons). We called the band Mushroom and we got our first gig supporting local
rock band Lucas Tyson at the Students Union Dance.
It wasn't long after that when I would seal my fate as a working musician.
attending the college I would always go for an under age liquid lunch to a nearby pub
called The County. Every day I would notice a bright yellow twin wheel Transit van
parked outside with the name of the band Agincourt written on it. In the pub
there was always a bunch of typical musos sitting in the corner drinking,
obviously the band themselves. One day I plucked up the courage to go over and
speak to them. I introduced myself as a keyboard player and their immediate reply
was ‘You’ve got the job!’
The next thing I knew was the yellow van outside my house picking up my gear and I was out on the road with a real band playing every weekend in the social clubs around the North East. The members of that band were Steve Bell on vocals, Chris Buglass on guitar, Ray Miller on guitar, Dave Giles on Bass and Ian Hutton on drums. I was only sixteen at the time which unfortunately caused me a big problem when the band passed an audition to go away and work in Scandinavia because I was too young to get a work permit to go with them.
thing was that I was now on the road and I soon moved from Agincourt to another
local band called Mr Jump. This was a very hard working club band and we would regularly play thirty two gigs a month! This was when the social clubs were busy
every night of the week. We would also play for the strippers on a Sunday
afternoon and do ‘doublers’ on a Friday and Saturday night where we would also play at
a nightclub after we had finished playing at a social club. The band members were Les
Dodd on guitar, Roger Needham? on vocals, Billy Stevens on bass and Leonard Johnson on drums.
I then moved from Mr Jump to help in the formation of a new band called Lazy and that is where I met Martin Bland. I had seen him performing a couple of years earlier when he was in the local rock band Lucas Tyson. Lazy was a band that played songs of The Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Ace and Steely Dan and featured a lot of good harmonies. The band members were Martin Bland on bass, Cliff Stoddart on guitar, Micky Emms on guitar, ? on vocals, and Gareth Roberts on drums.
I remember we bought an old mobile shop to use as the group van which was great because it was so big that it had room in the front for two sofas as well as space in the back for the gear. The only problem was that when it was loaded up the back of the van was so low it would scrape along the road. We solved this by fitting some castors to it. Once when we unloaded it the roof got jammed under the club's underground car park blocking the road so we had to bring all the gear back out of the club and load it up again to move it out of the way.
Some years later the band Lazy renamed itself as Warbeck when singer Howard Baker joined the line up. The band changed it’s style to performing rock songs by bands such as Free, Black Sabbath, Uriah
Heep and Styx. The band did very well around the North East clubs and it had a great following. It later managed to get a recording contract for it's original songs in London.
The poster shows the first original line up of Warbeck. From left to right: Micky Emms (Guitar), Ted (Drums), Cliff Stoddart (Guitar), Martin Bland (Bass), Me (Keyboards) and Howard Baker (Vocals)
THE FOURTEEN YEAR BREAK
It was then in 1977 at the age of twenty one that I open a music shop in South Shields called Music Maker and I stopped playing in bands to concentrate on running the shop. You can read all about the Music Maker story here: https://www.facebook.com/musicmakermusicshop/
For the rest of my twenties I would concentrate on running my businesses which would include HMC (Hutchinson Manufacturing Company) a factory making sound equipment for HH, Carlsbro, Roland, Trace Elliott, Laney, and Celestion. I also operated the transport companies Frontline Express, Frontline Shipping and North East Roadfreight and also became a director for TNT parcel office.
RE-EMERGING AGAIN AS A KEYBOARD PLAYER
Even by the beginning of the 90’s I hadn’t considered going back to playing in bands because I was too busy running my businesses but the economic state of the country in the early 90’s was proving difficult for all businesses and I was ready for a change.
It was one Saturday afternoon in 1991 when my life was suddenly changed around. I was in Newcastle and I happened to go into J.G.Windows music shop just to look at the keyboards they had on display and one of them took my attention. It was the new Yamaha Clavinova digital piano. Digital was totally new to me so I curiously asked if I could try it. Bearing in mind I had never played a keyboard for the past 14 years I was very glad I was given some headphones to try it out. I hesitantly started playing it but then I suddenly took off into a world I had totally forgotten about. I was in heaven and I was also very surprised that after 14 years I could still play the piano. I hadn’t forgotten any of it. I came out of that shop a changed person and knew that I just had to get one and I also knew that I had to get myself back playing again. The next week I walked back into the shop and bought it.
As soon as I got home with the keyboard I put an advert in the Newcastle Chronicle saying ‘Keyboard player available’ and within a few days I was off for an audition with a local band and got the job. So within about two weeks of first seeing that keyboard in the shop I was out performing again. I never waste time when I want to do something! That band was called Fragile and we performed in the social clubs around the area giving me time to catch up on some keyboard practice.
It was a Saturday morning in the winter of 1993 and I was in the back shop of the Music Maker shop when the phone rang. I answered it and the caller asked to speak to me. He said his name was Hilton Valentine and he said that he used to be in a band called The Animals. He told me that he was looking for a keyboard player for some ‘Animals’ shows that he had coming up in Germany and asked if I would I be interested. I said I was, and he invited me over to the Pheasant pub in North Shields for an audition on that coming Monday. I must admit, the only song I could recall by the Animals at that time was House of The Rising Sun and now all of a sudden I was actually going to audition for that same band in two days time.
This was in the days when shops were closed on Sundays so I had to dash along to HMV and buy a couple of Animals CD’s to avoid making a fool of myself. It was only when I closely listened to their songs that I realised Alan Price had his very own unique style of playing which I would quickly have to try and copy to make it sound authentic. When I arrived at the audition I was not only met by Hilton the original Animals guitarist, but also Chas Chandler the original Animals bass player and John Steel the original Animals drummer. Also present were members of local R&B band The Alligators who were there to make up the rest of the band. The audition went quite smoothly and I managed to get through all of the songs. I remember thinking to myself at the time that they would probably get back in touch with me some time later to let me know if I did or didn’t have the job. But to my surprise Hilton took me over to see Chas where Hilton asked him what he thought about me. Chas looked at Hilton and said ‘He’s the man for the job’. Hilton smiled and said ‘Okay Steve, If you're happy then I'm happy, so let’s run through the set again’, and that was it, I was in their Animals band.
Chas told us that he would have loved to be in the new line up of the band but unfortunately due to health reasons he would find it too difficult to go on the road again so the rest of the band was made up from Alligators member's Joss Elliott on bass, Robert Kane on vocals and George Fearon on guitar.
At first it was only supposed to be for a couple of shows in Germany but by the time those shows came around other shows had also started rolling in for the band. For the very first shows the band performed under the name of Hilton Valentine’s Animals because at the time we were uncertain about using the original Animals name for the band just in case it caused any problems with Eric Burdon. George came up with the idea of calling the band Animals II and so this name was also used in the very early days. I remember Hilton would carry a piece of chalk or a sharpie on him and where the band had been advertised simply as ‘The Animals’ he would write a big ‘II’ after it on the posters. The name had always been a dilemma in the band because Chas, Hilton and John wanted this to be the continuation of The Animals band. So in 1994 John decided to call Eric on the phone to ask if he minded the band using the name of The Animals. Eric’s answer to John was apparently ‘Johnny, You’s were just as much The Animals as I was’ and said he didn’t mind us using the name. So from 1994 onwards 'The Animals' were officially back on the road again, not only in music but also in name.
were great days. I got to tour abroad playing shows in Germany, Belgium, France
and Scandinavia. I got on really well with Hilton, we became soul mates and together we shared
all the problems and dilemmas that came along with running the band.
John was pretty quiet in the early days, sort of taking a bit of a back seat, but unfortunately bad feelings had been brewing between John and the Alligators members and out of the blue in the summer of 1995 came the announcement that Joss and George had been fired. Luckily Robert and I remained in the band but we were struggling to find suitable permanent replacements for Joss and George. We brought in Graham Hill the bass player from the East Side Torpedoes and temporary guitarists George Whiffen and Tony Ions. Unfortunately Graham had other commitments and he couldn't commit to all of the shows so I suggested two local musicians who I had worked with in the past to come in as permanant members, bass player Martin Bland (Warbeck and Lazy) and guitarist Steve Dawson (Blueprint). They were both auditioned and became members of the band for the next five years.
In those next five years it became a great band and this new line up of The Animals toured all around the World. We went to Australia, New Zealand, Dubai, Jakarta, Bangkok, Singapore, Japan, Abu Dhabi, Manila, Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Canada and the USA as well as touring extensively around Scandinavia and Europe. The longest tour we did lasted for three and a half months starting with a 28 date tour of Poland, then on to Asia and Australia for 4 weeks and ending up with a 6 week tour of the USA. We also released quite a few recordings over the years with the most notable being the Animals last ever official CD 'Interesting Life' which has now become a collectors item.
But unfortunately all good things can somehow come to an abrupt end, and it did. There had been a lot of back biting going on in
the band in the latter years, Hilton and John were also having problems between themselves, and then Robert suddenly announced that he was leaving the band to join Dr
Feelgood. All these problems unfortunately spelled the end of a great band which was a massive shame because Hilton and John did a very good job of successfully resurecting The Animals band and it was destined for a great long term future. What happened back then should never have happened because the band broke up simply due to misunderstandings between it's members. I really loved that band and would certainly jump at the chance of doing it all again.
AFTER THE ANIMALS
SOUNDS OF SMOKIE
I ended up having a hard time financially after the Animals band split up and Peter Barton who was the manager of The Animals band offered me the job playing keyboards for Alan Silson the original guitarist from Smokie in his band called The Sounds of Smokie, which also featured Jeff Brown from The Sweet and Tremeloes. Once again I was back working in a pro band. It also had great 'Smokie' harmonies. We toured this band mainly around Ireland, Scandinavia and Germany.
CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVED
It was at this same time that I was also offered the keyboard job in Peter Barton’s other band called Creedence Clearwater Revived which was a very successful Creedence tribute band. We did many shows in the UK and abroad including some massive shows in Russia, Germany and Italy.
Alan Silson came under massive legal pressure from the original members of Smokie by performing
with his own band. Unbeknown to all of us Alan had apparently signed an agreement when
he left Smokie which stated that he could not perform in any other
band that had the name Smokie in its title! Peter Barton was also coming under
pressure from John Fogerty of Creedence who was not happy because our band was attracting too much International attention, so both of these bands came off the road more
or less at the same time with Peter Barton then going on to form the band Animals and Friends with John Steel and Dave Rowberry.
ANIMALS AND FRIENDS
I did perform with John Steel again for some shows in Poland in their new Animals and Friends band when Dave Rowberry was unavailable but sadly no more shows followed.
Over that time I had more or less become the resident keyboard player for Peter Barton's Rock Artist Management agency and I also became involved in some of the operations of his agency, but unfortunately everything suddenly ended overnight again and I'm still baffled to this day as to why.
In 2003 I fully expected (as I had been promised) to get my job back with John Steel in his Animals and Friends band when his keyboard player Dave Rowberry suddenly died, but unbelievably the job was given to Mickey Gallagher who had temporarily stood in for Dave Roberry when Alan Price suddenly left The Animals in 1965. Not wanting to hang around I decided to answer an advert for a keyboard player for the No 1 Eric Clapton Tribute band Classic Clapton. I had previously heard all about Mike Hall and his band After Midnight which performed Clapton songs very well. I remember watching a television documentary about him and I was eager to meet him in person. It was a surreal feeling when he answered the door to me and invited me in... it felt as if Eric Clapton had invited me into his house. That was when I realised that Mike has an incredible persona akin to Eric Clapton himself and this is why his tribute band Classic Clapton has become so successful. It is not just because of the great music he plays, when he walks on stage I'm sure the audience feel they’re seeing the real man himself.
I toured the theatres throughout the UK with the band for nearly two years and we even played a festival out in Estonia. I really enjoyed playing the Clapton songs because it was a breath of fresh air for me having to perform the parts previously played by such keyboard greats as Billy Preston, Chuck Leavell and Chris Stainton.
THE TONY LIDDLE BAND
In 2005 I left
the Classic Clapton band to join The Tony Liddle Band, which was a Rock band that had vocalist Tony Liddle at the
fore. I did this because we had both planned to form an Animals tribute band together to play in Europe because
Tony had also been the vocalist in The Animals with Hilton Valentine and John Steel. The band at that time was to be named Animals III, as a follow on to Animals II, and although I started the promotion for the new band it unfortunately never got off the
ground and instead we continued to play in the clubs around Yorkshire and Tyneside performing Rock music. Tony's band at that time also featured Harry Hill on drums and Gram Mitchell on guitar.
THE UK LEGENDS
In 2006 I received a call from Martin Bland who had been in many previous bands with me. He was looking for a keyboard player to join up with him and two other musicians that I also knew from Lancashire, Simon Van Downham and Geoff Hammond, who were at that time performing together in a band as Lieutenant Pigeon. They had previously performed a show in 2006 in Poland under their keyboard player's name of The Legends but they had since fallen out with him and he was preventing them from using his Legends name again. Although my first show with the band was under the name of Lieutenant Pigeon this band was in fact to become the nucleus for me to form the UK Legends band in 2007. The theme for the band was inspired by the fact that all the band members had been members of famous British bands such as The Animals, The Move, and The BeeGees, plus we had all worked with musicians from other famous British bands such as Smokie, Thin Lizzy, John Miles and Joe Cocker. Collectively we were able put together a show performing the hits of all these british bands, and thats why I named the band UK Legends. At first I wasn't expecting to see big audiences for it but at the first show in the Spodek Arena in Katowice we walked out to an audience of 17,000 people. And all the following shows continued to pull similar sized audiences for us all around Poland.
When the band was featured on MTV in Poland we became famous in our own right, often being stopped at service stations and in the street by people asking for our autographs. The UK LEGENDS became a household name in Poland, and at one point we had that much work in Poland performing at all the town festivals we were almost living there.
UK ROCK LEGENDS
by 2014 the work in Poland had started to slow down due in part to a decline in the Polish economy so
we decided to start performing with the band in the UK. I decided that we should perform under the name of UK Rock Legends for the shows in the UK as I thought it would be a more suitable name for it particulary because the band featured Graham Hunter who was known for his rock guitar playing. It was so funny when we started doing this. One of our first UK shows was in a local
bar in my home town after being pestered by the bar owner to do it. What he didn’t
realise was that we were all used to performing at big outdoor festivals and
here we were about to perform the same show in his bar! Apart from the fact our
equipment took up most of the floor space, quite a large crowd of people had also turned up to see the band. When we kicked off, the band was so loud that all
the glasses started falling off the shelves and the ornaments started falling
off the walls onto people’s heads. But
we went down well and everyone loved it and we soon started making a name for ourselves on the local band scene. Hearing of the popularity of the band the UK social clubs soon started booking the band where it did very well for quite a few years. I decided to change the name of the band back to the UK LEGENDS because the clubs were saying that having the word 'Rock' in the name was putting people off by presuming we would be a heavy rock band.
In 2021 the band changed its name to The Sensational Rock Legends and it now features Howard Baker on vocals, Graham Hunter on guitar, Graham Hill on bass, George Waters on drums and me on keyboards.
SONGS OF SMOKIE
This band was basically the UK Legends very own tribute to the band Smokie. Having worked with Alan Silson in the past, and the UK Legends having Bernie Lowery ‘The voice of Smokie’ on vocals, it gave me the opportunity to put quite an impressive Smokie tribute show on the road. The show was very popular in Poland and Scandinavia and it performed regularly at the Butlins 70’s weekends. It was great for me as a keyboard player to play the music of Smokie because there are a lot of important string arrangements within most of the songs. In the 1970's when Smokie were in the charts the BBC orchestra was used heavily in a lot of recordings made by the bands that were performing on TV.
People ask me why I am not performing very often as the UK Legends any more. Well it’s for quite a lot of reasons, but primarily it’s because after running the band for over 18 years I wanted to relax a bit more with my family and every weekend was being taken up with travelling and gigs. Also the on-stage volume from some of the members of the band at the shows was getting far too loud, something that is not good for any keyboard player. The band members also insisted on playing detuned which messes up my perfect pitch and I just wasn’t enjoying performing my UK Legends shows with them anymore. (You can read more about problems of playing detuned if you have perfect pitch here)
In 2021 I decided to change the line up of the UK LEGENDS band and the band now features the legendary musicians: Howard Baker on vocals, Graham Hunter on guitar, Graham Hill on bass, George Waters on drums, and myself on keyboards. The UK LEGENDS band also now performs under the name of THE SENSATIONAL ROCK LEGENDS.
Check us out at one of our shows. The shows are shown on my Concerts page.
ANIMALS III (ANIMAL TRACKS) and The Animals Greatest Hits Show
When I was performing the UK Legends show back in 2014 I also managed to finally create my 'ANIMALS III' tribute band which I had previously intended to put on the road with Tony Liddle back in 2005. After checking all the legal channels for naming the band ANIMALS III and creating the branding and presentation for the new band I called a meeting with all of the proposed band members. Along with Tony, this band would now also feature George
Fearon and Martin Bland who had also been members of The Animals in the 1990's. This now gave my previously planned Animals III band four band members who had all previously been members of The Animals with Hilton Valentine and John Steel. Although I was still working hard with my UK LEGENDS band at the time I spent the next two years heavily promoting my ANIMALS III band around the world until I managed to secure the bands first show in 2016 in Denmark supporting Slade. I have succesfully continued to tour with my ANIMALS III band up until 2021 when the name was unbelievably stolen off me by an ex band member who is now using my registered ANIMALS III name for his own band and has even made a fake copy of my ANIMALS III website which I have had published since 2014. To avoid the resulting confusion this was causing with the public I updated my ANIMALS III name to 'ANIMAL TRACKS' in 2022 and we are now currently performing 'THE ANIMALS GREATEST HITS SHOW' at theatres and venues around the UK,
Scandinavia, Belgium and Spain.
I love being a part of the Animals heritage bands because I still enjoy playing all of those great Animals songs that I spent so many years of my life performing all around the World. Having been the keyboard player for The Animals for so many years it is also what I am also Internationally recognised for.
Check the band out at one of our shows. The shows are shown on my Concerts page.
In 2019 I was trying to cut back my work when I came across an advert for Classic Clapton again needing a keyboard player. It was over 15 years since I was a member of this band and I really enjoyed it. I wasn’t sure whether to apply or not but I thought I would give Mike a call because I hadn't actually spoken to him for a few years. As soon as he answered my call he said ‘Hi Steve... Do you want the job?... It’s yours if you want it’. I said I would come to see him but by the time I got there he had already told the other applicants that the job had been taken, so once again I was back in the band. I’m enjoying playing all the Clapton catalogue again and it’s great change performing in theatres again compared to playing the social clubs and holiday camps with my UK Legends band. You get so much more respect from an audience that have paid to see you. Plus it’s always an early finish.
Check us out at one of our shows. The shows are shown on my Concerts page.
THE BLUE FLAMINGOS
This job came totally out of the blue (excuse the pun). Years ago back in the 1970’s I worked with a singer called Howard Baker in a band called Warbeck and I hadn’t really heard from him since way back then. Fourty years later he sent me a message saying that he was looking for a keyboard player for a stage show he was doing and asked if I would be interested. We met up for a beer and I told him that I was trying to retire, but this show did sound very interesting as it was also theatre work and we would be performing songs from the early 1960’s that were big hits in the UK and the USA. I somehow said yes and ended up in this band as well. I never realised how complicated some of these old sixties songs were. Their arrangements were so weird I think the songwriters must have been on something when they wrote them. For a keyboard player the songs are quite a challenge because most of the arrangements feature full orchestration with multiple strings, brass, pianos, organs and vocal parts in them, but luckily that’s where my multi-layer Kurzweil keyboard comes to the rescue. So much for retiring, but I do always like a challenge.
Check us out at one of our shows. The shows are shown on my Concerts page.
When I’m not performing with the bands I still like
to go out and play the keyboards with other musicians and bands.
Now and again I get the chance to dep for a local band Barely Human of which I once used to be a full time member. I also record in the studios with other bands and artistes as a session player as well as recording sessions over the internet and undertaking various projects with many other bands and musicians.
With many theatre shows already lined up for the Sensational Rock Legends, Animals Tracks, The Animals Greatest Hits Show, Classic Clapton and the Blue Flamingos, plus all the other festivals and club dates I have, it looks like I'm going to be busy - so I somehow think my retirement will just have to wait a little bit longer.
Please check out my 'Concerts' page which is always kept up to date with all the future shows that I will be doing with my bands.