Despite the clear indication in the programme and on the tickets that the ABC is a standing gig, Celtic Connections persists – year upon year – in turning what is one of Glasgow's best rock'n'roll spaces into a dingy morgue, with umpteen impractical long rows of stackable, uncomfortable seating on the flat in front of the stage.
Taken together with what seems a cheapskate lighting rig and pre-show music that lapses into silence at times, the effect is to turn a vibrant room into a something resembling a hospital waiting area. Small wonder that both support band, Lancashire bluesmen The Stumble, and the main attraction both wander on stage to absolutely no recognition whatever and have to gee the crowd up from there.
Having won the rights to The Animals name over some of the more famous musicians that have passed through the band's ranks, veteran drummer John Steel has Mick Gallagher by his side. As Steele explains, he was recruited as a whippersnapper to take over at short notice from Alan Price in 1965, but is rather better known as an Ian Dury sideman in The Blockheads. Newer recruits Pete Barton (bass and vocals) and guitarist Danny Handley complete this incarnation, which plays the back catalogue, from Baby let Me Take You Home and Don't Let me Be Misunderstood to (eventually) House of the Rising Sun, in fine style, Steel's playing belying his years and both Gallagher and Handley on fine soloing form.
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When they are joined by Stax records guitar king-pin Steve Cropper, these Animals cheerfully change their spots, becoming his backing band, with Gallagher, in Booker T mode, thrust to the fore alongside Cropper. There are obvious sonic gaps in these recreations – In The Midnight Hour misses the horns, Dock of the Bay more practised backing vocals – but a bigger difficulty is the leaden pace of some of them. Many of those who have eschewed the seating clearly want to dance, but the music never quite impels them to – and Cropper's fondness for lengthy introductory anecdotage doesn't help.