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Doc Neeson
The Voice of the Angels

The Angels - No Secrets

The Angels - No Secrets

Doc Neeson


It is with deep sadness and regret that the family of Angels singer/songwriter Bernard ‘Doc’ Neeson – loving father, family member and friend to so many – announce he has passed away in his sleep at 7.15am, today, 4th June 2014.

He has battled with a brain tumour for the last 17 months and sadly lost his fight this morning. He will be deeply missed by his family and partner Annie Souter who would all like to thank everyone for their support through this dark time.

“We love you Dad. You couldn’t have made any of your sons more proud of you if you tried. May your beautiful soul rest in peace sweet angel, fly high.” Dzintra, Daniel, Aidan and Kieran.

“Good Night, Sweet Prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” With love forever, Annie – borrowed from William Shakespeare – Hamlet


10 January 2013

To all The Angels friends, fans, venues and media. It is with deep regret and shock that The Angels have to announce that Mr Doc Neeson was admitted to hospital over the recent Christmas / New Year period. He has just been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, (brain tumour). This will require immediate intensive radiation and chemotherapy treatment and will continue for the next 6-7 months. Unfortunately, due to this, The Angels therefore have no choice but to cancel all their upcoming dates. The Angels would like to thank all the fans for their continued support and we wish Doc all the best for his treatment during this difficult time. The Angels look forward to seeing everyone again once Doc is given the all clear to return to the stage.

Doc Neeson

Descended from the Ned Kelly bloodline and the Irish High Kings of Tara, Doc Neeson has a very powerful aura. His commanding and compelling presence places him in an elite corps in Australian rock. A singer/songwriter, musician and formidable front man of rock band The Angels, he is a performer of prowess whose influence has been felt far beyond Australian shores.

What had begun in Adelaide in 1970 as the Moonshine Jug & String Band and evolved into the Keystone Angels coalesced into the juggernaut known as The Angels by 1978.

The Angels swiftly swept to double platinum with their Face To Face album setting a record of 79 weeks in the charts as the longest running album by Australian artists in Australian charts ever. By 1979 they were considered the hottest live act in Australia, attracting an audience of 110,000 to what became known as “Sydney New Year‟s Opera House Riot”.

Through the 80s and into the 90s there was always a molten Angels’ hit pounding on the radio and the multi-platinum No Exit album was in the national Top 10. Doc was hailed as “The God of Aussie Pub Rock”. He toured with international luminaries including David Bowie, Meatloaf, Cheap Trick, The Kinks and Chuck Berry, starred in leading roles in the rock opera “Paris” and the musical “Bad Boy Johnny”, and performed with Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

Before that Doc trained as a teacher and was an Army Sergeant when serving in Papua New Guinea. He held the honorary title of roving South Australian Ambassador for the Arts. He has also been initiated in the 2nd degree of the Usui System of Reiki Natural Healing.

As lead singer of The Angels Doc commanded respect from the world’s hard rock royalty including Guns ‘n Roses, Cheap Trick, Motley Crue, Aerosmith and Keith Richards, who once called The Angels his ‘favourite rock band’.

In1999 Doc was badly injured in a horrific car accident. Nevertheless, when his brainchild the “Tour Of Duty‟ concert for INTERFET Troops in Dili, East Timor came to fruition shortly afterwards he performed for the troops and a TV viewing audience of 3.4 million. But then his spinal surgeon warned him that, as a result of his car accident injuries, if he kept doing what he was doing he could end up paralysed for life, so he stopped performing with The Angels.

In 2005 Angels bassist Jim Hilbun rejoined Doc and they resurfaced with a new band “Red Phoenix”, which recorded an album in The Bahamas, including a magnificent narration by the legendary Sean Connery (“007”). Working with Jim and guitarist David Lowy, Doc breathed fire into new songs.

In 2007 he returned to the stage with DOC NEESONS ANGELS (DNA). During August/September Doc stole the show as part of the Countdown Spectacular 2 tour across Australia, and this was followed by extensive touring and the release to critical acclaim of an acoustic album, “Doc Neeson‟s Angels Acoustic Sessions” by Liberation Blue Records. It was at this time he began working with guitarist Mitch Hutchinson, with whom he still works today.

In October 2007 Doc Neeson‟s Angels performed for Australian troops in The Middle East. DNA was the first rock band ever to perform in Afghanistan and Iraq where Major General Mark Evans, Commander of Australian Forces in The Middle East, presented Doc with two medals for his military service and the honorary rank of Major.

In 2008 Doc Neeson reunited with the original Angels band and will tour nationally in July/August. There will be multiple Angel‟s record releases this year by Alberts Music to coincide with the release by Albert Music of the 30th Anniversary edition of the legendary “Face To Face” album, along with previously unreleased material and a sensational DVD of a live concert in Melbourne “This is It Folks!”

Doc Neeson

In August 2008 Doc and his songwriting partners in The Angels, the Brewster Brothers, were inducted into The Australian Songwriters Association Hall of Fame in recognition of their songwriting contribution to Australian music.

Doc plans to continue to perform in his own band and write and record new songs of his own but for the time being he is still involved with The Angels. The band toured nationally to sell-out crowds in 2009 and performed as “A Symphony of Angels” in April 2010 at the Adelaide Festival Theatre with The Adelaide Art Orchestra.

The Angels History

Now that The Angels definitive original line-up responsible for recording their first four albums are back together and rewriting the record books with a string of sold out dates around the country and their most illustrious albums being re-released in special new editions, it’s a great time to again be an Angels fan. But then was there ever a time when it wasn’t? Over more than 30 years, a multitude of recordings and several thousand live dates here and around the world, The Angels aren’t just living legends of Australian music – but very active ones. In fact such has been the reaction to them reforming you could be mistaken for thinking you had entered a time capsule and you were back in the late 1970’s before ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’ came with a chant!

Just like old times indeed when towards the end of 1978 The Angels broke an unprecedented 14 consecutive house records at some of Australia’s most popular venues including one night managing to squeeze 1956 paying customers into Sydney Stagedoor Tavern while licensed for 800 tops. In those days fire regulations were routinely ignored by promoters and fans never gave it a second thought; they were just glad to be one of the privileged who managed to make it inside – not part of the huge numbers being turned away. But now considering how American hard rockers Great White, who recorded two Angels songs themselves including ‘Face the Day’ in 1988, lost their lead singer when a total of 96 people died in a fire at a similarly overcrowded Rhode Island nightclub in February 2003, such indifference can now be seen as naïve if not misplaced.

But then if you had been there, which so many of us were, that manic, communal full-house pandemonium is something you’ll never forget or ever regret. To see the band in those prime years, following the August 1978 release of their breakthrough ‘Face to Face’ album, on its way to spending 79 straight weeks on the Australian charts, became for many of us a rite of passage that still seems like only yesterday. For those privileged to see the band before things got really crazy, those earlier gigs near the start of the journey at Sydney’s Civic Hotel or Bondi Lifesaver or maybe Melbourne’s Bananas or Tiger Lounge and Governor Hindmarsh Hotel in Adelaide, you just knew you watching a legend in the making.

Not for nothing did The Angels inspire a generation of fist-pumping punters as they progressed from smaller inner city licensed venues to overflowing crowds at the country’s biggest venues. Whether playing Sydney’s Stagedoor Tavern, Selina’s (Coogee Bay Hotel) the north shore’s Royal Antler, Melbourne’s Bombay Rock and Croxton Park, the Gold Coast’s Playroom and Brisbane’s Cloudlands Ballroom or myriad leagues clubs and the big indoor arenas, their dynamic show was perfect for the time.

“I reckon when people talk about us being the king of the pub rock bands then, it wasn’t just a matter of playing the pubs and clubs,” John Brewster points out. “We were doing the Horden Pavilion and Festival Hall for 6000 at a time, and easily selling out big university student unions like La Trobe University and a lot of one-off Town Hall gigs such as Paddington and Newcastle. We were selling out major venues in just a matter of hours after tickets went on sale purely by word of mouth, as well as headlining outdoor festivals and doing major tours with the likes of David Bowie, Meat Loaf and AC/DC. We could play the Sundowner Hotel at Punchbowl on a Monday night and put 1500 people in the room and still have a throng of people who couldn’t get in. In fact there were times where people would turn up to a venue already sold out with pre-sales – and there were as many people outside without tickets as those inside.”

Australia had never previously seen anything like it as the Sydney scene’s passion for The Angels and the other name bands of the era was repeated with similar enthusiasm around the rest of the country. It might have been the likes of Billy Thorpe, the Coloured Balls and those hard rock godfathers AC-DC that laid the early foundations for what became the dominant Australian sound for some 15 years or more, but it was the vanguard led by The Angels that really helped accelerate pub rock’s ascendancy. Supported by other high energy bands including Radio Birdman, Cold Chisel, Rose Tattoo, Midnight Oil, Divinyls, Mental As anything, Hunters and Collectors and of course INXS who used to support them – The Angels were seminal in creating a vibrant live Australian music scene unlike any previously experienced. They helped an entire generation switch on to seeing their favourite Australian acts live and in the process broke the restrictive stranglehold of mainstream radio in determining popularity and chart success. This also worked in favour of the emergence of the ABC’s Double J which got right behind local music which in turn forced commercial radio to change its tune to be more responsive to this new wave of Australian talent.

Although history has a profound capacity to be continually rewritten, no self-respecting Angels fan who was around to see the band circa 1977-1980 will argue that over the band’s 30 plus years existence – the definitive Angels line-up was vocalist Doc Neeson, Rick Brewster lead guitar and keyboards, brother John on rhythm guitar and harmonica, and the rhythm section of bass player Chris Bailey and drummer Graham “Buzz” Bidstrup. It was this legendary combination that last played together in 1981 that created and toured their brilliant album trilogy of ‘Face to Face’, ‘No Exit’ in 1979 – and a year later ‘Dark Room’. Armed with this full-frontal assault of classic songs, The Angels incendiary live shows helped take Australian music to another level domestically.

By delivering anthemic songs mostly rooted in pile driving rhythms – although they could still offer contrasting shades of controlled angst (‘Outcast’) – when aligned with the intense performance of the frenetically visual Doc; the Angels edgy shows became the stuff of legend. Even now as the band continues to be a cathartic live experience – what’s equally reassuring is how their huge back catalogue of recorded output has lost none of its dynamism and remains timeless. So as older fans welcome back the overdue reunion of five favourite sons and a new generation discover what inspired Angels aficionados around the planet, from Perth to Byron Bay, Seattle to Memphis, London to Baghdad; little wonder the band was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame back in 1998. Now it seems appropriate to revisit what special ingredients went into the mix all those years ago to create such a special musical blend. To examine a legacy as we shall see that made them a seminal influence on some of rock music’s other leading lights not unlike their original mentors and friends – AC-DC.

When you can lay claim to a fan club that includes AC-DC and their legendary original producers Harry Vanda and George Young (ex Easybeats), David Bowie, Keith Richard, Aerosmith, Guns N’ Roses, Kurt Cobain, Motley Crue, Cheap Trick, Meat Loaf, Pearl Jam and so many Australian musicians who followed in their wake, you know you were doing something pretty special. However, for one legend their prowess proved more intimidating than inspiring – Ray Davies of The Kinks. The notoriously temperamental Davies became so paranoid by how well the Aussie band was going over in their support slot on a crucial US tour in late 1980, that just prior to playing the legendary Madison Square Gardens he had them sacked. It was a disaster not only because the band was shattered by the lost opportunity to play the famous venue, but their record label Epic (Michael Jackson’s label) was salivating at the prospect of impressing a retinue of expectant media keen to see what all the fuss was about from down under. By not playing New York’s biggest stage, arguably the single most crucial moment in their overseas career had been cruelly sabotaged as irreplaceable promotional momentum went begging. It wasn’t just losing that slot but a number of other key east coast cities were lined up as part of that tour as well. Much has been made of the episode over the years and the band isn’t reticent in giving its views on the Davies sacking.

“They threw us off the tour because they were paranoid”, a bemused but still monumentally pissed off Rick quipped. “Unlike guys like David Bowie and Meat Loaf, who were just terrific people to us, Ray Davies and his brother Dave were not gentlemen! They had already tried all the standard main act tricks like cutting back the front of house sound and our lights; telling us which bit of stage we weren’t allowed to use because Ray Davies uses that four inches of stage – any means to prevent us getting a positive response from the audience – and none of it worked! Unfortunately for them and us, the tour started on the west coast first and we already had a name there because we had been getting a lot of really positive airplay and played our own shows to packed houses in Portland and Seattle. So there were a lot of people coming to the shows just to see us, but because we were getting such a big response Ray couldn’t hack it.”

“It was a total contrast to being on tour with an absolute superstar right at the top of the tree like Davie Bowie who genuinely complimented you on your own music and welcomed you so much to his tour and invited you to dinner every night with him and his band,” John said of the opposite extreme. “Then you run into this other guy who’s freaked out. I know we were going over really well but they were the headline act with all the hits and which ever way you looked at it we were still relatively unknown – and especially in comparison to them. Anyway he can go and get fucked and we more or less told him so when we found ourselves on the same plane as him later in Australia. We had already bagged him in the press after what happened over there, so when by accident we’re on this same flight together here, Chris got this hostess to deliver him a tray with a used glass of squeezed up lemons and some ice and a note saying ‘Compliments of Angel City’.”

If Doc Neeson so presciently sang on the Bruce Springsteen inspired ode to the fickleness of success ‘Fashion and Fame’ – the band’s ultimate failure to crack the American market was also beset by other unfortunate music biz machinations beyond the band’s control. Luck and perfect timing are always as much a weapon for success as talent to burn. But twice the band found themselves the victims of internal executive upheavals at major US labels at critical times when key cheerleaders for the band were purged – and their label hopes along with them. As Daddy Cool, Skyhooks, Cold Chisel, Midnight Oil and so many others have discovered, they were hardly alone in finding US success so elusive. And yet in certain key pockets of influence, particularly on America’s west coast, they retain to this day a core fan base just as crazy about them as any in Oz.

Today what’s apparent from the buzz surrounding the band’s return to touring is just how much they’ve been missed. How in so many online fan forums and blogs you can read a multitude of heartfelt personal tributes about how much The Angels music has meant to them. In growing up with the band in one form or another; their music is virtually imprinted in their DNA as it became an inspiring and uplifting force in their lives. Hence these fans are celebrating 2008 as a stellar year as the band hits the road and we welcome a slate of new releases of some special product. This includes a newly remastered and expanded 30th anniversary special edition of ‘Face to Face’ – similarly with an expanded ‘No Exit’, ‘Dark Room’ and debut album. Also finally the much anticipated 1979 Live at La Trobe University concert DVD that was fortunately not only filmed but recorded on a 24 track mobile that provides the basis for mixing a brilliant soundtrack. So with this latest chapter now being written in the continuing story of The Angels, what better time to revisit their past and set the record straight as to how their history really unfolded up to the present.

How 70’s pub rock became The Angels original playing field

When AC-DC permanently relocated to London in 1978 to pursue their own ambitions for global success – they not only passed on their guitar amps and other gear to The Angels, but also the baton as their anointed successor in the local hard rock field. While it was an honour well-deserved, it was still only early days in The Angels success story. They were hunkering down to record their second album; and their reputation for storming live gigs had barely moved beyond first gear. In fact just a couple of months previously they came dangerously close to packing it in. Yet in what proved a remarkable transformation, by the close of 1978 they would not only be the hottest act in the country, but cap off a remarkable year as the special guests of David Bowie’s Australian tour. Like the rest of the country Bowie was blown away by their live intensity; hence during the tour while they would play a number of concurrent late night dates in their own right, he came to see them at such venues as the Bondi Lifesaver. They also had to reluctantly decline his offer to support him on his Japanese tour leg due to previous commitments.

While the ‘Thin White Duke’ had been busy reinventing himself in Berlin in 1976-1977 – even as the UK was undergoing its punk rock metamorphosis; likewise Australia’s new order was in the early throws of its own revolution. By placing a premium on exciting live shows and harder edged songs, the so-called pub-rock movement from 1978 was preparing to break out up and down the country and it was no coincidence The Angels became the new custodian of the high voltage Aussie power chord. Yet in 1970, no one could have possibly foreseen the emergence of AC-DC to become among the biggest selling bands in the history of music; let alone how a disparate collective of Adelaide university students starting a jug band would eventually morph into The Angels and help change the face of Australian rock music. This is that story.

The Moonshine Jug & String Band

When some student friends attending Adelaide and Flinders Universities in 1970 thought it would be a bit of wheeze to get together and form a band playing an eclectic mixture of musical styles, The Moonshine Jug & String Band was the outcome. Among its founders were brothers John and Rick Brewster; with Rick as a classically trained pianist and adept washboard operative, hardly cut out for the role of future guitar hero … Another colourful member was Bernard “Doc” Neeson, the Belfast-born but Adelaide-raised distant relative of Ned Kelly, as well as boasting ‘Star Wars’ actor Liam Neeson in the family tree. Doc was coming off a two-year spell of army conscription – where he rose to the rank of Sergeant, but being against the Vietnam War served as a non-combatant. Yet ironically his own father had been a professional soldier in the British Army for 22 years before the family emigrated to Australia in the early 1950’s. If they seemed an unlikely combo, their music, rooted in a mix of 1920’s blues and jazz replete with washboard, washtub bass, banjo, harmonica and kazoos, made them even more esoteric. But as their shambolic origins eventually gave way to genuine dexterity, they became a hit on the Adelaide arts scene of strange smelling coffee houses and student unions. Although busily studying to complete degree courses, the jug band whetted an appetite for bigger things. Peter Dawkins, A&R at EMI, had flown from Sydney to Adelaide and offered Moonshine Jug and String Band a recording deal. In a turn-about from normal practice the band passed on this deal so that they could form an electric band.

The Keystone Angels to The Angels

In 1974 and now emboldened by their academic grasp of the world of film, music and drama, the Brewster brothers and Doc decided to ditch the jug band and become electric warriors along with drummer Charlie King. Starting out with raucous cover versions of 1950’s rock ‘n’ roll and recycled rhythm and blues, it was only a matter of time before they would replace other people’s songs with their own. The first hint that they were putting together something special came with their appearance at the 1975 Sunbury outdoor festival where their good time rocking scored them a standing ovation and three encores from a wildly receptive audience in the tens of thousands.

Later in the year they thought they had struck rock ‘n roll gold when they were employed to act both as Chuck Berry’s backing band and support band. Undertaking a national tour with the man some credit as the father of rock ‘n roll provided them with a priceless education in Berry’s distinctive stage craft and minimalism. But they also had to put up with one of rock’s most notoriously cranky, distrustful and generally unpleasant individuals. However, another support slot that year turned out to be both a heart-warming exercise and massively beneficial to their future when they toured outback South Australia with AC-DC – playing the three hot spots of Whyalla, Port Pirie and Port Augusta. In what resembled a rock tour variation on ‘Priscilla – Queen of the Desert’ the two bands got on like a house on fire.

‘To us it was very exciting and we just hit it off really well with Bon and Angus and Malcolm – and as it turned out they saw something in us that we didn’t see at the time,’ John now recalls. Encouraged also by the reaction they got from Bon Scott and the Young brothers, they decided to try their luck in the big city by relocating to Sydney in early 1976. Soon after their arrival, the AC-DC trio bent the most famous ears in Australia – former Easybeats legends Harry Vanda and George Young (the eldest Young brother) who produced AC-DC, to come and check out their Adelaide mates with a view to The Angels joining them as part of the Vanda-Young hit factory at the Alberts label.

It was while playing one of the notorious five-hour spots required by bands booked into the infamous Chequers night club in Goulburn Street, that the AC-DC cheer squad flanked by Vanda and Young came to see The Angels, then a quartet with drummer Charlie King and Doc on bass guitar and shariong lead vocals with John. After introductions the band found themselves heading into Alberts King Street studios the following day to put down a few of their songs as rough demos with just acoustic guitars and vocals. In their quest to keep pushing their music to a more creative place as they continued to develop original material, they decided to strip back their sound and at George Young’s suggestion did away with the Keystone tag to become simply The Angels, although they were still miles away from their future high energy music. But it did the trick and within a matter of weeks they had signed a deal with Alberts; which led to Vanda and Young producing their now ubiquitous debut single – the Status Quo like nod of ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’ (released May 1976).

Today it’s a song as identifiably Australian as a pie and sauce, yet few would know that the lyrics behind the now iconic anthem arose from a fatal car accident involving a friend of then manager John Woodruff – that explains the opening ambulance like guitar motif by Rick. Bizarrely for all its contemporary popularity and notoriety as a consequence of the now mandatory audience chant of “no way – get fucked – fuck off”, the single has never been a hit despite being one of the best loved Australian rock songs and a perennial radio staple. “When you consider that the lyric content is about someone who has died – it’s so bizarre to hear the chant associated with it now because it’s so entirely removed from what the song is about,” Rick opines. Or put another way as Doc volunteers, “The simple truth is that it’s really an existential query as to what happens when or if you pass over.”

One fall-out from the single’s disappointing sales was the limited King being replaced behind the drums in August ’76 by Monty Python devotee Graham “Buzz” Bidstrup, who originally joined the band as Buzz Throckman (a character in a play he was then writing). “The truth is I didn’t think I would stay with the band very long, and I didn’t want some people in Adelaide to know I had joined what used to be The Keystone Angels,” he confesses. “But then once I got involved I needed to own up to my real name. However, by then everyone knew me as Buzz, so I became Graham “Buzz” Bidstrup, much to the chagrin of my parents.”

Irrespective of this ruse, his arrival along with that of bass guitarist Chris Bailey (not The Saints grumpy vocalist of the same name) from the start of 1977 became a pivotal point in the band’s evolution. It didn’t just liberate Doc from an instrument but put the onus squarely on him to occupy the stage in a more visceral fashion as vocalist and front man; to think more deeply about his vocal delivery as well as coming up with a more intense presentation that could make him a charismatic live talisman. His university studies proved a useful well to draw from in deploying costumes as expressive props, and still later developing use of fragmented conversation during song breaks that added yet another key dynamic to his performance. Following the release of ‘Face to Face’ – but well and truly by the arrival of ‘No Exit’ – his stagecraft and ‘mad professor’ ranting persona had fans well and truly hooked.

“There came a point where I started to perform in a formal outfit with Ascot cravat or alternatively with a bow tie, and full length black waist coat and cufflinks,” Doc explains. “This grew out of my time studying drama at Flinders University, and I adopted the idea for the costume look from German Expressionism as a means to play up contrasts or distortions. That is I wanted to act as a visual foil to the others, where the band would be dressed in pretty much black T shirt and jeans, but I was the classily dressed performer. Then as the gig progressed the clothes would start coming off and like the rest of the band I would start to look more and more dishevelled. So by the end of the show I looked like I had been on a big night out with the shirt undone and the cravat or bow tie all askew and I looked pretty fucked! Which let me tell you, both physically and emotionally I was! I would be so spent at the end of our shows that it would take me several hours to come back to normality. I used to also change into an orange flying suit worn by test pilots to close out gigs during the encore. Orange was the colour worn by test pilots who lived and worked out on the edge all the time – and that’s also where I felt a lot of my performance often was. Plus it looked very striking on stage!”

“Again going back to German Expressionism a main feature of that in performance is exaggeration, so I thought: “Well if I’m big, why not be bigger, and so hand movements came in that were really large and extended. In fact they were so distinctive that people in the audience started to copy them. So once I zoned in on the basic core of what I needed to do, which was to be big and exaggerate, then I was kinda able to do anything as long as it was big. But the beauty of that also was that if I did something small with gestures or whatever, then they stood out because it was such a contrast.” His stage persona was further shaped by his studies that delved into psychology including the theories of Carl Jung, an influential Swiss psychiatrist from the first half of the 20th century and various foreign cinema movements. He worked it into a kind of Faustian pact – where his edgy character sought to inveigle the audience into a more intense shared communion so their emotions could better connect with the lyrical themes of the songs.

“Doc would openly talk about what he saw as this challenge to come up with stuff that would be memorable, that was different and would set him apart,” Chris recalls of Doc’s creative quest to add various layers to his live performances. “Aside from the costumes and how he would use gestures with a lot of hand movement, it also led to him developing these in-between song raves which again set him apart from every other singer in the country at the time. They were always entertaining not only for the fans but the band too. It kept us on our toes because like the audience we were never quite sure of what he might come out with on the night.” He would also keep the band and his fans on edge with his sometimes gravity defying scaling of large speakers stacks to appear out of the blue atop the speaker columns having quietly departed the stage before suddenly appearing in the surprise spotlight high above the crowd.

As it transpires his between songs routine was originally born out of necessity before he began tinkering with it to turn it into such a mesmerising part of his performance. “Actually how that came about was coming up with the means by which the guys got a chance to change their guitars between songs, or say if someone broke a string,” Doc confesses. “So instead of just filling in with the usual patter of “good evening” or just going blah, blah, blah, which makes you appear disinterested to the fans, I thought it would be really interesting if I just started to do these sorts of stream of consciousness raves. Hence when I started doing that I didn’t really know what I was going to say, but thought it could also help add to the mystery and energy of what the band was doing; where it wouldn’t be just the traditional formula of song-stop, song-stop and so on, but would add instead another layer of unpredictability. Then later as it continued to develop and the fans were obviously getting off on it; I might think, “perhaps there could be something in the newspaper that day I could use as a fragment that I could work into those moments.” But most of the time, it was as I say, a spontaneous stream of consciousness.”

A 1977 Christmas present to each other – staying together

Just as Doc’s stage persona became more and more an instinctive work in progress, so was the band’s desire to produce its own unique sound they could truly call their own instead of an amalgamation of influences that underpinned their self-titled debut album (August 1977). The need became more pressing when it also failed to set the cash registers ringing and the band headed towards Christmas ’77. But now they were facing a more immediate crunch as they wrestled with trying to keep their heads above water financially. Their concern was acute enough to lead John to call a band meeting to discuss whether it might actually be the end of the road for them?

“Having called the meeting and telling the band we were financially stuffed, we then started talking about breaking up with people wondering if they should start looking for day jobs and stuff,” he says now of that pre-Christmas collective anxiety attack. “But then I said: “Hang on guys – don’t do that because we’ve now got seven weeks of solid work that takes us into the New Year. Because it’s all filled up why don’t we just do the seven weeks and then see where we stand at the end of that?” Now I know this sounds incredible but it’s absolutely the gospel truth. It was only when we got to that seventh week that suddenly things started to take off. All of a sudden people wanted to see us play that summer; and next thing you know we’re starting to get offered all the right rooms like the Bondi Lifesaver. It was only then as people began seeing us as this kind of sensational live band on the rise – that just as suddenly we were on our way.”

But when the next single ‘Comin’ Down’ (March ’78), as the last song produced for the band by Vanda-Young, also failed to connect with radio, it had everyone scratching their heads. It wasn’t so hard to figure the song was too high energy for mainstream commercial radio play; but what galled them was how the fans reacted so strongly to ‘Comin’ Down’. From the moment it made its live debut it established itself as a hard core fan favourite with its celebratory chorus making it one of the early precursors to the kind of audience participation that would soon enough become an Angels trademark. Still given radio’s reluctance a lesser band might have decided to pull back on the voltage to get that elusive hit. But such thoughts never entered The Angels heads as they continued writing new material for what would become ‘Face to Face’ – and their response for what became their pre-album July single was the defining, foot- stomping ‘Take A Long Line’, which as their first hit also introduced them to a whole new younger audience via TV’s ‘Countdown’.

When they now look back on that crucial transition period, none of the band is in any doubt as to the key event that helped finally kick-start their now patented sound. It occurred just after they had returned from a short tour in South Australia, when John came into the studio with a new song he had written. For each of them it was as if he had suddenly unlocked the combination to a vault containing song-writing bullion. Within the song’s structure was the essential missing piece to their musical jigsaw – the meshing of a muted guitar rhythm which came to be known as “nik-niks”. Rick says, “I’m sure we weren’t the first band to use nik-niks, but we adopted the technique and it became a trademark of The Angels sound.”

“After the first album, when George and Harry asked Rick and me to co-produce ourselves with Mark Opitz, a young engineer who Alberts had enticed over from EMI, while they became executive producers, we weren’t so sure we could handle it,” a then sceptical John observed of the changing of the guard in production duties. “We thought maybe they had lost interest and were abandoning us; but then they were still just down the corridor at Alberts for all the invaluable second guessing whenever we needed their advice – which was often. And then, after we came up with ‘I Ain’t The One’, which was the first song we produced under that new arrangement, everybody began to relax, knowing we were absolutely on the right path. We had gone into Alberts to record a demo of ‘I Ain’t The One’ and started cranking up this stabby guitar riff; and we all just looked at each other and said, “Fuck, this is it – we’ve got a direction.” It’s funny talking about it now, but at the time we were all jumping up and down, standing on chairs and punching the air like idiots, because everyone got really excited, including Mark Opitz. It was because we instantly knew with this kind of groove we were really on to something new and it put us on a roll. It became the template for what followed with ‘Face to Face’. I think it’s interesting over time how many people make comparisons between us and AC-DC. It is really flattering in some respects, and for sure they were a definite influence on us, but in all honestly I don’t think we sound like them at all and the niks-niks is evidence of that.”

“The nik-niks were a real discovery for us,” Rick confirmed, “because with a singer who was a mid-range vocalist, unlike a Bon Scott for example, it provided the means to make a space for Doc in the arrangement of the songs. The nik-niks were perfect because they kept the rhythm and the melody going without getting in the way. Doc had all the room he needed to get the verse across, as well as allowing us to get this whole dynamic shift when we hit the full chords in the chorus. So once we understood that technique, it was really easy from that point.” To hammer home the point Rick wrote ‘Take A Long Line’ a week later, in the slippery, sticky side of stage “band room” at the iniquitous Chequers nightclub. This was followed almost immediately by another of John’s songs and arguably still The Angels finest recorded moment – and certainly a quintessential live favourite among so many – ‘Marseilles’ which would later become such an influence on Guns N’ Roses that they would claim it helped inspire them to form a band. Thus in the space of less than three weeks they uncorked three killer Angels classics and created their signature musical template.

‘Face To Face’ unleashed a stash of classic songs, all written by the now established song-writing team of ‘Brewster/Neeson/Brewster’. Driven by a high-energy mix of muscular guitars underscored by a pile-driving rhythm section and topped off by the often manic and emotive vocals of their charismatic and hyper singer, ‘Face to Face’ also established the unique audience bonding tribalism now integral to an Angels show. Fans joyfully sang along to anthemic classics ‘Coming Down’, ‘Take A Long Line’, ‘I Ain’t The One’, ‘Be With You’, ‘Straightjacket’ and ‘After The Rain’ – while the bleak and atmospheric ‘Outcast’ and the climactic showstopper ‘Marseilles’ displayed other brilliant dimensions. After that there was no holding back the juggernaut as the follow up album ‘No Exit’ (June 1979) presented another clutch of classics, also written by ‘Brewster/Neeson/Brewster’, who have just recently, in August 2008, been inducted onto the Australian Song-writers Association Hall of Fame.

If all this helped to explain how the band went from struggling hopefuls and failed first album to the hottest band in the country in just 12 months, an image make-over soon after joining Alberts also played a key role in their transition – particularly for live purposes. But the revamped image wasn’t through some induced management contrivance, but grew out of a casual conversation between the band and George Young as John recalls. “We were just sitting around in the studio chatting with George one day when he said: “You know if you guys got your hair cut short you’d be the only band in Australia with short hair.” At the time everyone including us had long hair, so then we more or less took his advice and had our hair cut. But apart maybe from the shades, which created an air of mystery, and Doc’s wardrobe changes, we weren’t that contrived in our look. Certainly not in a Split Enz “hey look at us” kind of way! What we went after in our image was to come up with something practical with our look which we all really got into.’ Essentially the look was based around leather, jeans and T Shirts – and the brothers got to wear the shades.

Breaking the mould

Change could also be found in Rick’s singular approach to his role as lead guitarist. Just as Doc would put to use his dramatic sensibilities to evolve his stage presence, Rick’s classical background played a crucial part in his determination to break the mould of conventional guitar hero. “Naturally, we wanted to be different in our approach to music and our image,” he volunteered. “Hence Doc’s stage presence was unlike anybody else in the country and I think the same thing with myself. In those days it seemed that every lead guitarist in the world was doing pretty much the same thing. They were invariably long-haired, dressed in tights and leaning back against the monitor stacks, while ripping off incredibly fast lead breaks with a strategically placed fan blowing their hair around. So I wanted to do anything I could to get away from that sort of cliché – to look and play differently from that. So I went to the opposite extreme with short hair and standing stock-still. It was perfect for me because I came from a background where my father (an orchestra conductor and lead cellist) used to constantly say to me when I was at home practising the piano: “Let your fingers do the talking; there’s no need for body movements,” and “Make the melody sing!” So it suited me down to the ground not to move, and in fact it got to the point where it became so comfortable that I found it difficult to do anything else. People used to stand in front of me and do anything they could to make me react – eating lemons and onions were pretty standard; removing items of clothing sometimes … but I had no problem keeping a straight face. Often I didn’t even notice – the road crew would tell me after the show, “Did you see that chick pulling up her top!” Fans recognise me as “the guy who never moves” more than as a guitar player …”

In another contrast John as rhythm guitarist saw fit to be more active in moving around the stage inter-acting with the rhythm section and Doc, and also helping emphasise more dramatic moments standing beside his brother. But as he dryly noted – Rick’s still-life pose was a smart move in more ways than one. “The rest of us would come off stage absolutely rooted, while Rick would be ready to go off and party. I couldn’t help thinking how he came up with a good one with that standing still routine!” As a visual foil offsetting Doc’s manic presence, with Rick producing all kinds of typically brilliant solos such as the building crescendo climaxing ‘Marseilles’. Fans could only look on in wonderment at a guitar hero looking for all the world as if he might be plucking a Ukulele!

The rhythmic buzz-saw precision of the majority of songs underpinned the need for Buzz and Chris to help hold the whole thing together with their rock steady partnership. Such was the simple power of Buzz’s drumming that on observing his set up, David Bowie’s drummer ditched his bells and whistles kit and went back to Buzz-like basics to drive the Bowie beat in 1978. As for Bailey whose melodic technique comes to the fore in the ambient intros to songs like ‘Outcast’ and ‘Be With You’ on ‘Face to Face’ while offering an amazing contrast in his muscular playing on the more typically riff-rich classics like ‘Take A Long Line’, ‘Straight Jacket’ and ‘I Ain’t The One’ – has there ever been a better bass player in the country? Certainly Buzz is the first to extol his flair and technique. While Chris will light-heartedly mock his brilliant opening bass playing on ‘Be With You’ as a dip of the fret to the mother of all bass lines by famed session player Herbie Flowers on the Lou Reed classic ‘Walk On The Wild Side’, “Yeah, some people have mentioned the similarity with Herbie Flowers on the song, which there is, but I can tell you they had to use two basses to get that sound and I did it with one.”

Chris Bailey certainly doesn’t need mimicry to make his case. “The thing about Chris is; how many bass players can actually do what he does with the beat on time all the time in our full-on songs, and then come out with these cameo bits that could make Paul McCartney weep? The reason why he keeps popping up so noticeably when you listen to our songs is precisely because he does sound so god-damn good!” In keeping with that fans should listen to his exemplary playing at the beginning of the bridge to ‘No Exit’ and any comparison with the ex-Beatles bass master is not at all out or order. “Having Buzz and Chris as the rhythm section was amazing and I don’t think I’m being big headed when I say that the five of us then were a very complete band,” is John’s verdict. “We all lived through some great experiences together and everyone played and loved their part in that story – and now here we are getting the opportunity to do it together again.”

Of their many songs that showcase all aspects of the band from the crunching guitars to Doc’s vocals and a rhythm section on top of its game, ‘Marseilles’ has always been a live tour-de-force. Chris relishes it as a challenge to the band’s virtuosity and the fact it’s such a daunting song for others to attempt. “I have to say whenever we play ‘Marseilles’ it’s like putting on an old comfortable pair of shoes,” he claims. “Once the rhythm section starts up you just absolutely nail it. But I know a lot of musicians used to watch us play it and think this could fall over so easily – which is why I think not many people have tried to emulate it.” It was a big favourite of Guns N’ Roses who used to play it in their set and cited us as a major influence on them – and of course later played it with the band in Los Angeles. To Buzz ‘Marseilles’ represents a kind of perfect culmination of everything the band was about at the time it was recorded, and no surprise it served so admirably as the fans preferred finale at their gigs as Rick and John really put the pedal to the metal in the exhilarating outro!

“It’s a real showstopper when Rick takes over on guitar to give a show a good ending and send people home really happy,” Doc says of the song that allows him to indulge his high school French interaction with the audience. Buzz theorises that Rick’s amazing facility for melody in his solos can be traced to his being taught as a classical pianist before he was ever in a band. “When Rick did pick up the guitar it wasn’t just about playing fast, but playing the right notes,” he reasons. “And yeah this song just brains everybody whenever we play it.”

In fact Rick makes a surprising admission as to just how much this classical training did impact on him when it came to working out his guitar parts – but perhaps not in the way most of us might assume. In his early years of writing Angels songs he found that, rather than sitting there working out the parts on his guitar, he would instead literally be making mental notes! “I would write the solos in my head while in the shower or sitting in a hammock – it seemed quite natural to do that without a guitar in my hand. First I’d think about it and then sing or hum it to myself, and it was only then I’d go and get a guitar and try and play it. Again, from my classical background, I approached a guitar solos with a view that it was an integral part of a song and should be written as such (“Make the melody sing!”). If you play a Beethoven Sonata you play the notes exactly as he wrote them – improvising is unthinkable. And so, many of my early solos were written that way and remained that way night after night. I would whip myself if I missed a note! Learning to improvise was a very gradual and scary process for me.” As for Chris’s view on Rick’s style of playing, he figured that where overwhelmingly the guitarists’ of their generation grew up basically recycling Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, his colleague simply by-passed all that.

French lessons from the girl next door!

As to how John Brewster came to write ‘Marseilles’, while titillating three generations of Angels fans with his classic double entendre about the French girl next door, he confesses that because it came not long after the juncture where the band had been so close to giving it away, he’d been dreaming about taking flight. “It was actually written in my purple Renault at a time of being unsettled and feeling like “just get me out of here”. So then that led me to start thinking about where better than the south of France and ‘Marseilles’ appealed as the right location that worked best in the song. But the truth is I’ve never been to ‘Marseilles’ – so imagine my surprise when later someone said to me it was a bit of a shit hole! I know we get a lot of comment from fans who love the lyric “get my French from the girl next door – teaching me night and day” – which was just me trying to be cheeky. I’ve been asked often if there really was a French girl living next door, but I think I will just leave that to people’s imagination, to borrow from Bob Dylan’s ‘don’t bother to explain’ manual!”

If Australia had been originally slow on the uptake to recognise a debut classic single with ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’, the release of ‘Face to Face’ helped put everything to rights. Not content with quadruple platinum sales and touring with Meat Loaf in 1978, they were already looking ahead to material for their follow-up album before the year was out. It was during the period after the release of ‘Face to Face’ the band found it was attracting an unlikely regular fan to their gigs. Cold Chisel’s principal songwriter Don Walker, after seeing them several times, felt it necessary to explain to John Brewster the reason for his attendance. “It wasn’t purely as admiring fan, but also, as Walker modestly said considering his own achievements, to understand how they went about structuring their songs where he felt they broke the mould in the complexity of certain song arrangements.” Walker’s candid admission was typical of an admirable trait among Australian bands of the time who shared a welcoming recognition of each other’s strengths. Just as The Angels owed a direct debt to AC-DC and Vanda and Young, young bands like Flowers/Icehouse, Mi Sex, Australian Crawl, Mental As Anything, The Reels, Divinyls and INXS as one-time support bands can trace their own lineage in being exposed to thronging Angels crowds as part of their own subsequent induction into the first division.

An historical footnote, pre-dating the release of ‘Face to Face’, involves a curious episode that has almost passed into urban myth. Is it true the band were approached to have the songs that would form the album, instead incorporated into the soundtrack for ‘Mad Max’ that launched Mel Gibson’s Hollywood career and a whole movie genre. “Yes it happened and it was turned down,” John confirms. He said their management vetoed the proposal to place these songs at such a critical juncture in their career in what was reckoned at the time to be “just another bikie movie”. Now while it’s easy to be wise after the event and automatically assume this was somehow a monumental opportunity lost – given the huge international success of ‘Mad Max’ and the doors it could have opened for them – was it such a wrong call? Given the instant success of the album on its own merits, try imagining the loss of identity of ‘Face To Face’ as we have come to know it? And try imagining the film with those songs included … So maybe history did both the movie and the album a favour by not interfering with either. Mind you, one album later, director George Miller could hardly have gone wrong if he had included ‘Mr Damage’ in ‘Mad Max 2 – The Road Warrior’ – that would have been real synchronicity even by Carl Jung’s analytical standards!

In the summer, early 1978, just as the band were taking off in a big way in inner Sydney venues then 2JJ, still an am station staged a big outdoor concert at St Leonards Park, North Sydney which was recorded by the ABC using their outside broadcast van. The Angels were a big hit on the day and the song ‘Live it Up’ on Face to Face came from that recording. This event may have given 2SM a good reason to start giving the band airplay with the single ‘Take a Long Line’.

If hitting the road was still the band’s preferred failsafe test lab for helping whip their songs into shape, it also opened their eyes to a veritable cornucopia of worldly experiences that then fed into their song narratives. Yet intriguingly, the greater their success the more their songs seemed to darken their worldview. While ‘No Exit’ unleashed a fresh wave of fist pumping “Angelmania” with the typical pounding urgency of ‘Mr Damage’, ‘Shadow Boxer’, ‘Waiting For The World’ and Ivory Stairs’, the band was also stretching its wings via the brilliantly arranged title song that managed to be both full-bore dynamic and moodily evocative by turns. With still more distinct shades of blue provided by the addition of Rick’s Hammond organ, that made ‘Out of the Blue’ and the gothic ‘Dawn Is Breaking’ such rich and atmospheric additions to their song cannon add the confident blues swagger of ‘Can’t Shake It’ and this was a band offering its most complete musical palette yet and a more than fitting successor to its celebrated older brother.

“When we released ‘No Exit’ part of the planning for our stage show was the lighting”, says John. “Rick, Doc and I, along with our brilliant lighting operator, Ray Hawkins were so into our presentation that we would sit up all night talking ideas that would continue to give our shows a different look and feel to other bands. I remember Rick, Ray, our wives and I actually assembling the rain lights that became the prison bars and setting them up at 4am on Ray’s back lawn. We had such a great team around us – Ray on lights, Ashley Swinfield, who had by now been with us for years, on sound and Bob Daniels on fold-back. These guys toured with us around the world in 1980 and they were fantastic!”

Meet Mr Damage

In an album chock full of highlights on ‘No Exit’, Doc’s disquieting spoken bridge in ‘Mr Damage’ offered us one of the band’s finest studio moments, while live it took on a life all of its own for punters. It perfectly captured heaven and hell concurrently competing for your attention. In demonstrating their growing arrangement genius, with Doc’s manic “rap” gorgeously contrasted by the use of simply strummed guitars to heighten the air of agitated menace, it became another showstopper in every sense of the word. Given its title and Doc’s overall mad master of ceremonies live shtick, it had people concerned for his actual state of mind. “Yeah, people would come up to me after gigs and ask what I was talking about in my between songs raves because I’m sure many of them thought I was perhaps on the edge of madness,” he says while chuffed that the intensity of his performance could leave people wondering? “I think quite a few people used to think I was ‘Mr Damage’ because they thought I’d gone over the edge.” Rick recalls the countless number of times he was asked, “What is Doc on?!”

In fact as Rick explains it was actually a real life fan that inspired the song. “We met this guy with lots of tattoos called “Damage” at the ‘Comb and Cutter’, a pub in Blacktown, in early 1979 when everyone was literally hanging from the rafters because the gig was so jam packed. He was introduced to us backstage after the gig, and I was immediately impressed by his name – it was perfect for a melody I had been working on. All the way home that night I started writing ‘Mr Damage’ in my head and couldn’t sleep until I was satisfied that I had a song. I played it to the guys the next night in the heavily graffiti’d box called a dressing room at the Stagedoor Tavern. It was, in retrospect, the perfect setting for ‘Mr Damage’ to enter the band’s repertoire … possibly the sleaziest venue we ever played, with 4 times the legal limit of punters crammed into a dark L-shaped room, the band pumping it out in the middle under the chronic dripping of condensation from the low ceiling and the fire escape chained and padlocked to prevent any freeloaders from entering.”

If the “mad Irish” singer was sucking fans into his Mephistophelian netherworld with the manic ‘Straight Jacket’ offering yet another disconcerting song in theme and as a highly visual costume prop, it was all consistent with a lyrical theme that placed the typical Angels song in a dark and ominous place. Their world was an increasingly “bleak” and anxious proposition. The human condition as reflected in their lyrics was confronted by subjects dealing with genocide, fear and paranoia, desperation and alienation – thematic signposts to a confused and unforgiving world bent out of shape by the not always welcoming the pursuit of ambition, love, wealth and happiness. Where you could as easily end up lost on “skid row after dark” as deal with the hypocrisy of living “in an apartment tower with no technology!” And when love did deign to take care of its own, unlike some romantic idealised world, it’s seldom-smooth sailing. In an Angels lyric there wasn’t room for a conventional “boy loves girl story”. Take ‘Be With You’ – its lyrical conceit becomes an anguished plea within the context of a pained realisation that love hurts. Clichéd love songs were for other writers.

According to John who co-wrote ‘Be With You’ with Doc, in describing it as one of the very few love songs they were writing at the time, he said they were much more preoccupied with stark imagery and dark lyrics as such. “When it was first played on stage everyone would leave the dance floor to go and get a drink, which had us all wondering what we were doing? But then it subsequently became one of the crowd favourites as everyone joined in and sang the whole song with us – if not to each other!”

“I think the best way to explain what we did once we came up with the musical direction, was that rather than taking a conscious decision that we were going to write bleak lyrics – this is how it’s going to be, it was much more a case of evolution,” Rick suggested. “There were other songs being written then that didn’t make it because we felt they didn’t quite work, either lyrically or musically or both. George and Harry often had a valuable opinion to offer, too. I have always liked dark and depressing lyrics so that was what I tended to write. The songs of mine that did survive – well, they were mostly in that vein. I will never forget after ‘No Exit’ came out and my mother listened to ‘Dawn is Breaking’ in her living room. She turned to me and said, “Rick, is there no hope”? There is a classical influence from both John and me. We were exposed to a lot of classical music when we were growing up and this comes through in the dynamics and variations on the chord progressions and melodies. We often wrote sections of the songs where the dynamic went down – we used to call them “breakdowns”, where the song would become more moody and atmospheric. And we would write completely different chords for the solos so they took the ear on a musical journey. This gave us another dimension and a depth beyond a lot of other ‘straight ahead Rock and Roll’ and satisfied our natural inclination towards more interesting arrangements. It’s why we were so pissed off when Epic signed the band in 1980 and chose to pick just the hits from ‘Face to Face’ and ‘No Exit’ and release it as the first album overseas. They even called it ‘Face to Face’! So the new audiences never got to hear the whole ‘3rd dimension’ of the band and the original magic of 2 great albums – songs like ‘Outcast’, ‘Dawn Is Breaking’ and ‘Skid Row After Dark’.”

How many fans at the time would have picked up on all the nuances of a song like ‘After The Rain’ by contrast with the more literal but contrary imagery of ‘I Ain’t The One’? “I think whether or not fans get ‘After The Rain’ as being about the Holocaust, or even interpret it as acid rain, running through so many of our songs is what you might call an intellectual theme, without us trying to be preachy,” Doc said of the intentions behind their lyrics. “There was a continuing theme to do with having a concern about humanity – and ‘After The Rain’ was one such song. It was exciting for us to write songs that could say so much like that, but in a fairly concise way.” Seeing and hearing them do ‘After The Rain’ in 2008 with its elongated introduction has not only made the song even more poignant now but it sounds better than ever. And if the band did become almost painfully pedantic about getting the words just right, ‘After The Rain’, such self-flagellation was well worth the battle. “I can still vividly remember the debates we would have on long trips in the car with John and myself sitting in the front and Doc in the back, and while one sang the guitar parts and the others the lyrics, we would debate for hours just one word in that song.”

“I don’t know if people can fully appreciate how we would take hours and hours, and days and weeks and weeks to work on a song to get it right,” Chris says in agreement on their propensity towards perfectionism. “We were dedicated to getting something absolutely unique, solid and different about each new song.” To further hammer home that point, Buzz reckons they ended up with 14 different versions of ‘Marseilles’ before they were satisfied.

When John touched on the evolution of ‘Be With You’ from struggling orphan to one of their live highlights, it also highlighted the extraordinary inter-action with fans who would join in singing along. It’s a totally unique shared rite of passage that has never ceased to amaze and delight the band. “Whenever we were playing songs where the audience would join in the lyrics, it was always very emotional for them and us,” Doc says. “It was kinda like we were combining as a tribe. It was quite a buzz to know that people liked or cared enough about a song to know it that well that they almost felt part of the band or the performance. But it wasn’t just that they knew the words – it was the way they joined in. They weren’t just necessarily singing back to the band, but singing to each other and bonding in a special way that they probably seldom did anywhere else – unless maybe it was at a football match!”

There’s a riot going on!

The public clamour for all things Angels reached its loudest and certainly most widely publicised crescendo on New Year’s Eve of 1979 at the ‘Turn of the Decade’ concert. Coming on just before midnight to see in the new year, 1980, at the Sydney Opera House steps before an estimated 100,000, the band’s red hot reception from a now impatient and trapped crowd at the front created a media firestorm which resulted in an almost decade long ban on rock music at the Opera House precinct.

Because of a long bill of other acts climaxing in the midnight slot for the headline act, the huge crowd was surging at the front in anticipation of the band’s late appearance with those near the stage having nowhere to go. Because of the elevated stage height as an additional security measure, fans tried in vain to scale the stage to get out from under the crush. Both Doc and Chris were hit and stopped in their tracks by flying missiles, thrown in frustration by angry people who’d been pushed down to the front and couldn’t move or see the stage, and the concert ended there and then in total mayhem. Only moments after Chris was hit in the forehead by a magnum champagne bottle, Doc was smacked in the back of the head by a large piece of Masonite torn off the stage apron (advertising ‘Natural Gas’) and thrown like a Frisbee. It could have been far worse than it was if some hadn’t been helped on to the stage by the band. Rick recalls, “I was blissfully unaware, dodging cans as they went past my head and playing on, until I realised I was the only one still playing.” Both Doc and Chris were knocked out cold and the following day the TV news bulletins led with “Riot at the Opera House” storylines complete with slow motion footage of Doc’s dramatic collapse, first into a kneeling position and then flat on his face, spread-eagled on the stage. If Doc and Chris came away with sore heads, rock music got two black eyes for what Doc now maintains was entirely the fault of city hall.

He says, “As a result of that semi-riot, the Sydney City Council put a ban on rock music featuring in concerts there for years, with Lord Mayor, Alderman Nelson Meers, blaming the rock bands for what happened. But I would categorically say it was the city’s poor management of the event that allowed far too many people to be crowded into a confined space, and with no exits. There was totally inadequate provision for allowing people to get out or be able to go to the toilets. So a lot of the fault was the council’s very poor organisation that prevented people being able to move about. That’s what caused the missiles to come hurtling on to the stage. The Lord Mayor just passed the buck.”

For them to be blamed for a concert gone wrong in this way has always rankled with the band. But if their luck ran out at the Opera House, Brisbane’s now long-gone and much lamented Heritage listed ‘Cloudland Ballroom’, with its unique “sprung” dance floor, gave them a most fortunate reprieve from near disaster when a heavy overhead lighting truss collapsed and almost took out the first couple of rows of fans at the front of the Brisbane stage.

Rick recalls just how close they came to tragedy, “We were playing in front of more than 3000 and we were fortunate somebody wasn’t killed. The front lighting truss broke in the centre and collapsed above the heads of those near the front of the stage, and all that stopped it from breaking completely was one single 3/8th bolt as it hung down precariously in this big V formation. So you had all this heavy equipment hanging a foot or so above their heads, and only prevented from snapping in two by this one bolt. What made it so surreal though was that we were halfway through ‘Comin’ Down’ – actually singing the chorus “looks like it’s coming down on me” when it happened. It was like the well-known scenario of the ‘soldiers marching on the rickety footbridge’.” Synchronicity again!

While the band was busy blitzing domestic box office records and further swelling record collections with their now potent mix of high energy or new wave rock and smouldering mid-tempo burners, they had several major overseas record labels jostling to sign them. Sadly, they finally left Alberts and their mentors George and Harry and signed worldwide to the Epic label (home of Michael Jackson), which was the major offshoot of CBS Records, then the world’s biggest record company. In the early months of 1980 they undertook a promotional tour of Europe and North America which included support dates with Cheap Trick, while in the States they also did a string of dates playing smaller venues in their own right. It was while on one of those dates, having said goodbye to Cheap Trick in Detroit, that on the morning of their Chicago debut they had their rental van containing all their gear hi-jacked. Rick and John in particular were devastated by the loss of some irreplaceable guitars. As it turned out Rick Nielsen, Cheap Trick’s guitarist, who had become firm friends with the band, heard of their plight via his local radio station and drove almost 150 kilometres that same day to come to their rescue with his own gear. This bad luck was a portent of the misfortune and misfires that would dog their numerous American campaigns, some of which might have been avoided if it wasn’t for the politics and industry machinations that bedevilled and hobbled their stabs at the U.S. market.

Angel City is born and only the lawyers are happy

For a start they found themselves promoting ‘Face to Face’ as their American debut when it was actually comprised of songs from both it and ‘No Exit’. This was a real slap in the face of their artistic freedom. But the real clinker was having to tour as the renamed Angel City because it was felt they needed to avoid possible confusion (and lawyers), with a minor league US glam band called Angel – let alone a defunct 1960’s girl band also called The Angels. All of this combined to do them absolutely no favours. Everywhere they played on that first American tour they had been overwhelmingly received. As well FM and College radio was getting right behind ‘Marseilles’ as their favourite album track, but no sooner was it looking likely to take off on the back of being picked up by 180 U.S. stations, than they had to reluctantly return to Australia to prepare for the release of their eagerly awaited fourth album. In retrospect it wouldn’t have been impossible to postpone their Australian plans to give themselves every chance to strike while the iron was hot in North America, but the decision to return home proved a calamitous mistake.

“It became easily our most played song on radio in America, and was really taking off there when due to other commitment we had to return to Australia,” John confirmed – while agreeing it proved a dumb decision. “We were going over big with all our audiences and there was this really strong street vibe building for us – particularly up and down the west coast. Add to that radio also giving us a kick along and you needed to be around to really make the most of the opportunity to start getting things moving sales wise – but instead we went home, and home was different at this point because we had no Sydney based production company anymore due to us leaving Alberts, George and Harry, Fifa Riccobono and our co-producer Mark Opitz – another dumb move! When I think of how many gigs we would have done with AC/DC worldwide (just like we did in Australia) it still grates. Anyway it wouldn’t have done us any harm back home to stay put for another month or two to see if we could have really capitalised on the momentum just then. So yeah it does sort of eat away at you later not knowing what might have been if we had done things differently.”

So as ‘Marseilles’ was still cranking up the KRQ airwaves on heavy rotation in San Francisco, the band was an ocean away making final preparations for promoting and touring in support of the June 1980 release of ‘Dark Room’. It would prove to be the last album recorded by today’s reunited band. It spawned their biggest hit single yet – the number one ‘No Secrets’, penned by Neeson and Bidstrup. Doc says the lyrics were based around a real-life encounter he had with a young woman called Amanda to whom he had given a lift after her car broke down. “Although she was a complete stranger to me and she had no idea who I was, she proceeded to tell me her life story including her aspirations to become an actress as we drove. It was really impressive the way she just held nothing back emotionally. I found it extraordinary to have someone reveal such intimate details about themselves. So then I made notes of the conversation and used those as the basis for the song that tells her story. It also hit home to me how when men talk to each other, it’s always about more generalised and safe subjects; where women are much more inclined to talk about their feelings.”

To this day ‘Dark Room’s’ further refinement of the more ambitious moments of ‘No Exit’ entirely succeeded on its own terms with songs like ‘Wasted Sleepless Nights/Dark Room’ and the throbbing blues closure of ‘Devil’s Gate’ – and of course the inimitable ‘Face The Day’. According to Rick, because Doc would fill notebooks where he would write down masses of single lines and phrases, at various times he or John would trawl through them with Doc while working on a new song. John recalls, “After coming up with the music for ‘Face The Day’ I collaborated with Doc on the lyrics, lifting out certain lines of prose from his notebooks. The song is about paranoia or fighting an imaginary enemy and being stranded – “black visions and danger signs” and being choked up in the city.”

In discussing the sentiments behind the song that resonates with fans (see the end of this bio) Doc recalled an interview with Angus Young where he said AC-DC wanted to write like Chuck Berry. “Basically that meant ‘sex and drugs and rock n’ roll’ and although I love AC-DC, I felt as a writer and someone expressing my own views – it was a great opportunity to talk a lot about things that other people didn’t,” Doc figured. “To be able to talk about things that distressed people, or even normal day conditions that could be as basic as saying “I don’t want to face the day”!” As became evident from such a simple declaration – a classic song was given life and as we shall subsequently discover, gave a bunch of hung-over American college boys the perfect frat house mantra to kick off their days.

The success of ‘No Secrets’ and ‘Dark Room’ and yet another string of sold out dates, again underlined their astonishing domestic popularity, but the North American market, in all respects the final frontier remained a priority. Returning later that year they found that to a large extent the earlier momentum built up at radio by ‘Marseilles’ had now dissipated, although the vibe on their live reputation and prowess continued to build. But when they ran into The Kinks king hit and yet again were stopped prematurely in their tracks, in many ways it was the beginning of Epic starting to lose its nerve in North America. Between being blind-sided by Ray Davies and Epic’s failure to stay the course in selling the band and the unwelcome confusion caused by the name change, The Angels have long felt a sense of injustice at how their cards were dealt. Sure AC-DC remains one of the world’s biggest ever success stories, and Men At Work, Air Supply, INXS and Savage Garden have topped their charts, but it’s still no consolation knowing they were hardly alone and that overwhelmingly North America has resembled an elephant’s graveyard for the vast majority of Australian music.

Elusive fashion and fame

While pre-Kinks the band was understandably optimistic that, regardless of a schizophrenic North American identity, they would ultimately prevail. But trying to make it with one arm tied behind your back was anything but ideal. Hence when it came time to record what became the ‘Night Attack’ album in 1981, Buzz not keen on another foreign adventure stood down to be replaced by Kiwi Brent Eccles. Buzz would subsequently become drummer with the very successful Party Boys whose star-studded changing guest line-ups would come to include such luminaries as Joe Walsh from The Eagles and Mick Fleetwood – founder of Fleetwood Mac. ‘Night Attack’ was an intelligent continuation of the band’s hard rock motif, with the almost cheeky punk edge of the title song distinguished by a blinding Rick solo. But it was ‘Fashion and Fame’ with its ironic Springsteen subtext that qualifies it as another classic, and yet again demonstrated The Angels were still the ring masters of their own “nik-niks”.

John and Rick wrote the music for ‘Fashion and Fame’ before John and Doc ended up hammering out the lyrics while they were touring around in a hire car. Although about a fictional character that’s no longer a star – as Doc explained it was prompted by being on the wrong end of a clash with Bruce Springsteen. “It’s a very funny story where while we on our first American tour, we were set for a night out on the town in Columbus Ohio with the local record company rep who had promised to treat us to a big fancy dinner and stuff. At that time we were pretty skint, being on the road and keeping to our allowance, so we were really hanging out for a decent meal. But then, just as we’re all getting ready and looking forward to what lies ahead, the rep calls us to apologise and blow us off, because Bruce Springsteen had just unexpectedly lobbed in town and now he had to entertain him. So while the rep’s gone off to lavish his expensive meal on ‘The Boss’, we were having a much more modest meal in this little diner with laminex tablecloths. So it got me thinking about how one minute you’re this star, and the next minute you might as well be tying Bruce Springsteen’s bootlaces! So the song encapsulates our disappointed “Tonight … nobody came, Fame, Fashion and Fame” – and that became the chorus.”

In early 1982, when it came time to undertake yet another American tour, with the US release of ‘Night Attack’, it was an American, Jim Hilbun, who replaced Chris Bailey at short notice for the first stage. Chris was recuperating from eye surgery (possibly due to injuries from the New Years Eve concert end of 1979) and couldn’t fly for the time being. He rejoined the band for the second stage of that tour but was unhappy for various reasons and decided to quit on returning to Australia. Jim was then asked to join full-time; he accepted and relocated to Sydney. Interestingly Chris would go on to reunite with Buzz in 1984 to help form another iconic Aussie band GANGgajang – whose ‘Sounds of Then (This Is Australia)’ remains one of the greatest of all Aussie rock songs.

With the new rhythm section of Eccles and Hilbun, the revamped Angels carried on and delivered 1983’s ‘Watch the Red’, which was considered to be the band’s most left-field album to date. Undoubtedly, Doc’s caustic tale of a “calorie attack” – the cutting ‘Eat City’ was a highlight of an album that while perhaps transitional, showed a band unafraid to experiment. If being snubbed in the U.S. for Springsteen ultimately proved beneficial; Doc found even stranger inspiration for penning words to ‘Eat City’ after playing a gig in Madison, the capitol of Illinois. “I went for a morning stroll down the main street from our hotel to have a look at the Capitol building which was a famous landmark. As it happened they had dug up the street to resurface it all, so it was quite weird looking into shop windows from a much lower height than normal. So then I look into this coffee shop and from my viewing level seated immediately in front of me, all I could see were these four women in their mid 20’s from behind. And from this lower angle, I was confronted by the sight of four big overflowing arses spilling out from their seats. And they were all eating these tall glass nut sundaes with great dollops of cream just piled on top. So I got this immediate flash of how they were living and breathing examples of a cream laden dairy food chain at work! Hence the chorus is about people who use comfort food to their eventual physical discomfort. Let’s face it – it’s basically a song about lard arses!”

Such penetrating insight into the bottom fed culture of larger than life mid-western American ladies deserved more than just sending their audiences home happy – the sheer size of the North American market meant without a massive and expensive push from their record company, you were always going to struggle. Following internal executive upheaval at Epic, the band became a casualty, although this blow was softened when soon after the band began a long and fruitful relationship with Mushroom Records in Australia. Reflective of the inroads they had already made into the American market, another major American label MCA came calling with all sorts of grand promises to break them overseas which included convincing the band to take up residence in Los Angeles for several months in 1984 to record ‘Two Minute Warning’. But the end result saw yet another failure to launch at retail level. The title might have been prophetic with its ironic sense of foreboding, and lyrically the material proved to be even more downbeat than usual with its nightmarish visions of nuclear catastrophe and a world gone mad. Unfortunately their disappointing sales and yet another label beset by a management clearing out, which is part and parcel of the American corporate culture, saw them again without an American home.

This frustrating failure was the cause of a lot of angst within the band and it directly led to John Brewster’s departure, to be replaced by one-time Skyhooks guitarist Bob Spencer in early 1986. “I was frustrated because I didn’t think ‘Two Minute Warning’, an album that cost a fortune to record, stood a chance of being a hit in the US, particularly as the record company, MCA, had obviously lost interest in it. We toured into regions where the band had been a major act selling 5,000 to 10,000 seats at our concerts, to supporting another MCA band – Triumph! They weren’t doing so well so the record company thought we’d be good for sales. We were reduced to a tiny bit of the stage, playing while the audience were coming in, half a dozen lights and the sound turned down whisper quiet. Yet another dumb move for our US assault! We had to tour Australia again and again just to pay back bank loans taken out to pay for the US tour and shortfall on the album. Subsequently I became hard to get along with and began to lose interest. The guys in the band were right in asking me to leave. They needed the injection of some new energy.”

Rick remained and John, who had been such a major contributor to their songs and with Rick formed that unique twin guitar attack, by leaving showed just how much the American campaigns meant in the scheme of things and being dropped became such a bitter pill to swallow. While John’s absence became more a lengthy separation than final divorce, as the band carried on touring and recording, John, like Buzz, joined The Party Boys and proved his value when he and fellow band member Alan Lancaster (Status Quo) co-produced their biggest hit and number one single – a cover of the obscure John Kongos ‘He’s Gonna Step On You Again’ in 1987.

“No way – get fucked – fuck off” makes it to Hollywood

If ‘Two Minute Warning’ was a radio misfire locally as well as in the States, then fortunately the 1986 ‘Howling’ album was a more than solid return to form and covered a lot of ground musically speaking. It was notable for providing the band’s first and only cover version hit, a classic remake of the Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil penned ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’ made famous by The Animals. It sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday, and when you see them perform it now on tour it’s one of the highlights as Doc works the crowd into a frenzied call and response. Of course by the mid 1990’s the band would see a new live audience response phenomenon develop when the infamous “no way – get fucked – fuck off” would accompany the playing of ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’. In one respect it reached its apex with a unique first for the band when they filmed a live pub scene for the 1999 Jane Campion directed movie ‘Holy Smoke’ starring Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel. The Oscar winning director of ‘The Piano’ was such a fan of the band she had them playing the ubiquitous first single complete with chant, while she did an Alfred Hitchcock by including herself among the extras filmed enthusiastically responding. In 2008 the chant has lost none of its audience potency when the band unleash it to the point where it’s doubtful any crowd would remotely allow them to leave the stage without first getting to share in this tribal communion.

Off the back of the success of ‘Howling’ the band threw themselves into more touring as they continued to remain a formidable box office success everywhere they played. At one point Doc shattered a kneecap after a little too much fan over exuberance saw him pulled accidentally from the stage into the crowd, but like a trooper he decreed the show must go on! He proceeded to spend the next couple of months plonked centre stage in a barber’s chair while giving real life form to ‘Mr Damage’! Mushroom were keen to document the band’s live shows which led to a long overdue double CD ‘Live Line’ being released in 1988. Captured in a series of top line shows dating back to 1983 through to 1987 – the band’s bulging catalogue of classics were showcased in all their blitzing glory.

Eventually encouraged to take another crack at overseas by Chrysalis Records in 1989 – the band ensconced themselves at Ardent Studios in Memphis, the home town of Elvis, for three months to record with legendary Led Zeppelin engineer and ZZ Top producer Terry Manning. While recording they also took the opportunity to play a few gigs locally and unquestionably this Memphis inspired experiment hit pay dirt when the subsequent album ‘Beyond Salvation’ proved another high water mark for the band. It went to number one upon its release by Mushroom in June 1990, and for once America had finally paid back some of the dues long owing to the band. The album served up four hits including ‘Dogs Are Talking’, that features Bob Spencer on lead guitar, and ‘Let the Night Roll On’.

Doc described ‘Dogs Are Talking’ as a sexual rites of passage song in the vein of so many Chuck Berry songs about cars such as ‘No Particular Place To Go’. “I guess sex for so many of us growing up happened in the back seat of a car,” he volunteers! “The “dogs” are those disapproving gossips and prudes who probably missed out and can only bitch among themselves because they never made it to the car! But for those who did they’re saying to those who didn’t, “Who cares, get fucked, get a life”. So I guess this was our car song?”

Perhaps as a harbinger of the good fortune that lay just around the corner for ‘Beyond Salvation’ before its release at home – the band stopped off in Los Angeles to do a special one-off show at the legendary Whisky A Go Go club. Before a packed house with Chrysalis turning out an industry VIP audience, the band stripped the paint off the ceiling before they arrived at the end of the set with the crowd launching into an immediate war cry of “more”. It was at this point that arguably just about the hottest band on the planet at the time, and fully paid up members of The Angels fan club – Axl Rose, Slash and Duff of Guns N’ Roses, and the inimitable Angry Anderson, made their way through the crowd to join the band for a rousing finale.

To absolute pandemonium from a normally ‘seen it all before’ audience, the assembled supergroup proceeded to rip into an extended encore of several Angels classics including Guns N’ Roses own favourite ‘Marseilles’. Rick still recalls the looks of incredulity and exhilaration as the hardened Whisky crowd was going off. But that’s about all he does remember of the night as The Angels and their exalted fan club spent the next several hours comparing notes and swapping mutual admiration and god only knows what else! Suddenly America didn’t seem such a struggle at all!

However, such one-offs are illusory and again the band in the much wider scheme of things met with more American indifference to ‘Beyond Salvation’ at radio upon its release. But by then, helping to put these setbacks into perspective, they needed to look no further than the start of 1990 in the wake of the Newcastle earthquake. A frequent attraction at the city’s major venues over the years, along with Midnight Oil, Crowded House and other top acts they played a benefit Earthquake Relief concert to more than 40,000 in February, after the inner city was subjected to widespread damage and serious loss of life that struck on December 28, 1989. After that any American setback was small beer by comparison.

As if their American campaigns were nothing more than bad dreams, the band carried on rocking all over Australia over the next few years in-between recording. The band had always been a prodigious worker via touring, with Buzz estimating that in 1979 even while carrying on recording, they spent something like 300 nights on the road. Entirely understandable though, when it’s taken into account that the clamour for the band to play live has always been nothing short of extraordinary.

In November 1991, the release of ‘Red Back Fever’, with its distinctly Australian title seemed an almost calculated raised finger to American industry indifference. But at least their own Government appreciated their musical legacy when the album track ‘Tear Me Apart’ was selected to help spearhead an expensive Federal campaign aimed at educating the public against alcohol fuelled violence. Then in 1992, Mushroom released an interesting limited edition twin CD curio whereby it coupled ‘Red Back Fever’ with ‘Left Hand Drive’ – an album of rare B-sides and other unreleased material. Then in 1993 with Bob Spencer and Hilbun’s earlier replacement James Morley departing the line-up, Rick, Doc and Brent Eccles thought the time was right to extend an olive branch and welcome back John Brewster and Jim Hilbun. They again hit the road for extensive touring around Australia and also played New Zealand. This reunion instantly connected with Angels fans that saw them selling out a succession of tours under such esoteric banners as ‘Terra Australis Incognita’, ‘The Barbed Wire Ball’ and ‘The Hard Evidence Tour’.

But then what followed was a strange period of limbo on the recording front. Alberts had already, in 1982, released a best of compilation ‘Their Finest Hour’, and Mushroom also issued its own retrospective compilation ‘Evidence’ in 1994. Helping distinguish ‘Evidence’ was the inclusion of four previously unreleased songs, which was further supplemented by a ‘Hard Evidence’ Tour EP in 1995. However, when subsequently the band and Mushroom couldn’t come to terms over recording a new album, the band sought and received a release while they concentrated all their efforts on still more touring.

Come July 1997 they varied the live formula by taking a leaf out of The Party Boys playbook by putting together the sardonically titled ‘Lounge Lizard Tour’, featuring heavyweight guest vocalists Angry Anderson (Rose Tattoo) and Ross Wilson (Daddy Cool-Mondo Rock). Their VIP guests did their own sets backed by The Angels in unplugged mode – and as usual the venues were full. Things were also firing again on the recording front when they signed a new deal with Shock Records, which led to their first new studio album in almost six years in 1998. ‘Skin and Bone’ was well received by fans but undoubtedly the highpoint that year was their induction into the ARIA Hall of Fame. They also made a special appearance for their old label at Mushroom’s modestly titled 25th anniversary ‘Concert Of The Century’ at the MCG in November.

Kylie Minogue proves she’s true blue!

While they weren’t to know it at the time ‘Skin and Bone’ would be their final studio album before the band was forced to call it quits. But then how could Doc know the incredible fate that would befall him when the end of the millennium promised him and The Angels so much. While they were going to see out the New Year with a big millennium bang in Darwin, Doc was also busy on his own volition organising a special pre-Christmas present for Australia’s peacekeeping troops in East Timor. But just two weeks away from the concert he had his whole life turned upside down when he was involved in a traffic accident. Having stopped to pay a toll on his way home to his Blue Mountains home after returning from Melbourne where he had been in rehearsal with John Farnham and his band, a truck coming up behind him failed to notice he was stationary and rear ended him. At first he thought he was lucky to escape with just a very bad case of whiplash, but then in the next couple of days as he underwent intense pain and discomfort he was given seriously bad news. Medical examination showed he had suffered a variety of injuries to his neck, back and legs including a dislocated shoulder and it was only through a combination of grit, painkillers and a refusal to heed medical advice that he managed to make it on to the concert stage in Dilli and to finish the remaining dates of the current Angels tour. But it was the beginning of the end for him as a live performer for years to come.

“There was no way I was going to miss the ‘Tour of Duty’ concert I had put together as a Christmas thank you to our troops. There were about 10,000 people inside and outside the concert area because all these curious locals turned up – but about 5,000 were troops – men and women. John Farnham was there, Kylie Minogue, The Living End, James Blundell, Gina Jeffreys and the Dili Allstars – it was just a really great cast of Australian artists who gave their services. Anyway we were going to close the show with an all-in ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’, but because the show was being beamed live back to a massive Australian audience of something like three million, the TV people made us substitute another song because they knew the chant would be impossible to shut down. But as it turned out they were running late anyway when they had to cut the feed back to Australia, so when we got to the end of the show we did the song anyway and we had all these Aussie soldiers shouting out “no way – get fucked – fuck off” and John Farnham just had this flash and said “ok we’ll turn it around – you sing the song and we’ll answer it” and as they sang and we answered I looked across the stage and there was Kylie looking like a petite princess enthusiastically singing “no way – get fucked – fuck off”. The way the song has now found its way into our culture is something that really delights me, and a really cool example of Australian larrikin humour – and it sure came through loud and clear that day.”

Doc then soldiered on to fulfil the New Year’s Darwin gig before he had to accept his doctor’s advice that unless he now gave away performing he risked being permanently crippled. Because there was no formal announcement as such and Doc only let it drop in a magazine interview that he was now retired a couple of weeks later, this came as something of a shock to the rest of the band at the time. It was undoubtedly a strangely low-key, if not deflating, way for such a high-octane band to finally let the air out of its tyres. But then The Angels have rarely conformed to the orthodoxy of the day. Doc would then spend the next several years in rehab while trying to overcome not only severe and seemingly unremitting bouts of pain, but also battling his own demons with depression that had him contemplating ending his life before he finally managed to begin to put his life back together.

As for John and Rick, after taking some time out to rethink what direction they wanted to head off in with their next venture, after getting back together with Buzz and Chris to play at a Ted Mulry Benefit concert in March 2001, it led to the four of them undertaking sporadic touring around Australia over the next few years as The Original Angels Band. Shock Records also came to the party with its issue of ‘The Complete Sessions 1980-1983 that was a four volume CD set that covered the band’s recordings during the period covering ‘Dark Room’ and ‘Watch The Red’. But the brothers’ main preoccupation from around 2002 until the present has been their own largely acoustic driven vehicle – The Brewster Brothers. This entailed them performing a clutch of brilliant new songs that were released as the marvellous ‘Shadows Fall’ album in 2006, with some talented friends helping out in the studio, and then, in 2007, Brewster Brothers ‘Live at Port Fairy’, featuring special guest Jim Conway on harmonica, as well as the now firmly embedded Paul Robert Burton, on stand-up bass and percussion.

That same year Liberation for the first time collected up all the bands hits through various labels and released ‘Wasted Sleepless Night – The Definitive Greatest Hits’, which also spawned a companion DVD video clips compilation that gathered together promo videos along with selected live and TV performances. Liberation also re-released eight albums recorded between 1980 and 1991. The Original Angels Band also released a stirring ‘Live At The Basement’ CD in 2006.

Doc made a return to touring again in 2003 as Doc Neeson’s Angels, before putting together a new band Red Phoenix in 2005 which toured and recorded a self-titled album at the famous Compass Point Studio in the Bahamas, where he reunited with ‘Beyond Salvation’ producer Terry Manning. Gradually feeling more physically comfortable back on stage, he followed up the success of the Angels hits album for Liberation, by recording in 2007 an unplugged solo album as part of its ‘The Acoustic Sessions’ series of Australian music luminaries reinterpreting their classic songs. He also toured Doc Neeson’s Angels in August and September as part of the Countdown Spectacular 2 revival shows, and then spent time late in 2007 touring the Middle East on a ‘Tour de Force’ bill with other Australian entertainers playing to troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait. His long-time connection with the military going back to his national service days and in gratitude for his East Timor work, saw him awarded an Australian Services Medal personally presented by Lt. General Peter Cosgrove, then head of the armed forces.

But 2007 also culminated in legal argy bargy that had been going back several years between Doc and the other Angels regarding respective use of the Angels name becoming more serious. It had been originally agreed the quartet could tour and record as The Original Angels Band while he would have the right to be billed as Doc Neeson’s Angels. But whether it was opportunist promoters or other gremlins causing confusion, Doc became aggrieved when he believed the agreement was being contravened and the two parties ended up slugging it out via a Supreme Court action. But the presiding judge prevailed on them earlier in 2008 to settle their differences in private mediation, as opposed to their lawyers going toe-to-toe, to settle their costly litigation. The fog of recriminations dissipated when they finally did get together again in the same room and cleared the air.

Settling their differences removed any remaining hurdle to a long overdue reunion. So when it was announced in May that the quintessential Angels would again be touring for the first time since 1981, it wasn’t only the fans feeling an enormous sense of relief. Now re-energised and various side projects put on hold for the time being, they hit the road with a documentary crew in tow to capture the historic occasion for a future SBS documentary. How appropriate then that in the 30th anniversary year since the release of ‘Face To Face’, they’re back with a vengeance selling out venues to make a special year in their long history even more memorable. As part of that process, Alberts and Sony have put together a specially remastered and expanded edition of ‘Face to Face’ with five previously unreleased tracks taken from their legendary 1979 live concert at La Trobe University, as well as further special editions of ‘No Exit’, ‘Dark Room’ and the first album. Add to that schedule a feature packed DVD of the La Trobe concert in full Dolby Digital and surely there’s never been a better time to embrace the good Doctor’s own advice – “this is it folks – over the top”!


Why The Angels international mojo was stopped in its tracks!

While it’s easy enough to write off the immensely disappointing failure of The Angels to make it internationally as just another Aussie band unsuited to overseas tastes, that’s a simplistic and fatuous conclusion for a variety of reasons. At every opportunity when they had the chance to win over fans playing live to international audiences, they did just that. They converted a generation of true believers wherever they played, and not just in North America, but the U.K., France and Germany too. Yes they failed to connect at retail in America, but live it was a very different story. They received rapturous receptions playing in key markets such as California, Seattle and Portland in the north-west, Chicago, Memphis, Boston and various Canadian cities. That should have been more than enough encouragement to convince a label to keep the faith, but they were mugged by the corporate machine that underpins the fickle nature of the American record business.

“Unfortunately our first two American record deals were with companies that underwent management purges where you would see executives come and go,” Doc explains. “Suddenly you found the people who were behind us were gone and we lost our base of support. So when a whole new pile of people come in, the new A&R guys have bands already they wanted to push and they didn’t know much about us. So the labels just basically said “see you later”. So we fell through the cracks in the sense that they didn’t give us the kind of support I think we really deserved considering we had gone from first playing clubs that held 500 to playing venues that held 5000 and 10,000 and you could really feel the momentum building. So twice we found ourselves climbing up the ivory stairs only to go sliding down them as they said, “forget the contract” – and that was it.”

“So then we would be back in Australia where we had to start all over again in our desire to want to crack America – and a good part of us being so keen, was the knowledge the fans at our American gigs were really into what we were doing. But at record company level we just never got the kind of long-term support you really need. So it was very frustrating and at times we came very close to breaking up because we were so disheartened by it all.”

But their failure found its roots not only in overseas labels unable to stick fat and confusion over their band name, but as Doc notes – the record companies inability to get a proper handle on their music and thereby failing to exploit their true market demographic. As the disappointed fan heading up the introduction to this biography stated – the great mystery was why the band never clicked in the American market – when clearly it wasn’t their music holding them back …

In that vein there’s a wonderfully heart-felt testimonial from Minneapolis based editor/author Bill Tuomala’s music webzine Exiled on Main Street at where he’s equally baffled as to why American success ultimately eluded The Angels/Angels City.

‘The general sentiment about their lack of stardom in the United States was shoulda coulda,’ he wrote. As well as including the thoughts of a local radio jock in a sidebar as to the confusion caused by the name change in North America, Tuomala in an introduction to his article also nostalgically recalls the huge fondness and enthusiasm with which a frat house wing of his college buddies adopted ‘Face the Day’ as their rallying “unofficial Morning Hangover wakeup song”!

The Angels From Angel City

Every month I get my MOJO magazine in the mail. Every month I ready myself to see an article on “The Angels From Angel City.” Every month I am denied.

I was first exposed to Angel City in my mid-eighties dorm days back in good ol’ Walsh Hall at the University of North Dakota. The guys in the suite across the hall, three of whom were from Grafton, ND, had grown up in the shadow of hard rocker CITI-FM out of Winnipeg and had been exposed to Angel City via CITI. I was told that Angel City were Canadian. It made sense as the dudes across the hall also raved about other Canadian bands such as the Queen City Kids, Streetheart, and the Headpins. The Angel City song we rallied around was “Face the Day” – its refrain of “I don’t wanna face the day / the day / today” made it an unofficial Morning Hangover wakeup song. The band were cult heroes on the basement floor of that section of Walsh, deservedly so. Their sound was straight-ahead-rhythm-with-two-tough-guitars atop which the singer – a sort of Bon Scott with less whiskey and presumably better manners – could paint his paranoid worldview.

After college, I moved to the Twin Cities and sometimes heard the Angel City song “Marseilles” on KJ104-FM. Around the same time, Great White covered “Face the Day,” which was played on the same station. (In my opinion they topped the original by speeding the tempo up a notch and adding more crunch to the guitars.) Hearing these songs made me wonder what had become of Angel City. Every couple of years hence, I would think: What ever happened to those guys? How come I never see their albums in the stores? The memory of their sound combined with the elusive availability of their albums combined to make them the sort of band whose mystique increased over the years.

Aren’t we all searching for that band like this? The one we just missed? That band who was right under your nose for a while, but you never took the time to delve into? Then the years go by, their albums are out of print, and they become a wistful name that you drop around your college buddies with which to score a smile. With Angel City, the idea of this edgy, guitar-and-drums-driven rock ‘n’ roll band that was virtually unknown to the masses around me was all too appealing. Throw in that somehow I found out that Angel City were not Canadian but really Australian – from halfway across the world – and they remained an itch I wanted to scratch.

The formative days of my acquisition of Angel City music didn’t come until much later – in 1999. I bought a used copy of The Best of Great White 1986-1992, which had their version of “Face the Day” on it. This kicked off my curiosity again, and via surfing the Internet I was able to find some info-crammed Aussie fan sites. I had been under the impression that Angel City had just existed for a few years in the early eighties; when actually they had started in the mid-seventies and continued to record and perform until the late nineties. They were regarded as one of Australia’s most-beloved bands. The general sentiment about their lack of stardom in the United States was shoulda coulda. I think they split up last year, but I entertain the mystery of them still being out there somewhere.

Author – Bill Tuomala

But US fandom wasn’t just restricted to a discerning public or media converts like Tuomala. There were many influential music industry types who rated the band, including an enviable clutch of household names as mentioned earlier. Their impact was also bought home conclusively to Buzz while at a WOMAD festival in Seattle in 2000. He struck up a conversation with a leading Seattle promoter, who without realising his Angels history, proceeded to ask what had happened to this great Aussie band he used to promote in Seattle that was still so revered and talked about with great affection among the North West hard rock music cognoscenti.

“It’s funny that we never made it in the accepted sense of selling records in America, but its amazing how many times I’ve come across people who saw us play in the States and who really rated us,” Buzz says now of their influential if small American footprint. “Whether it was other bands or people at radio or even a promoter, and now when you look at how we are discussed via the net, its easy to see how we did impress a lot of people who really rate us more than 20 years after they saw us. One of our biggest markets there for live shows turned out to be Seattle, who just loved the band. Which is really interesting when you think back now to what later came out of there starting with the rise of grunge rock.” Buzz raises an interesting point of conjecture in consideration of their impact on Seattle in the early to late 1980’s. Could it possibly be that a Kurt Cobain made it to an Angel City gig, or bought their records? Well according to Doc Neeson – people who knew Cobain have told him that not only was he into the band, but that he was known to say to them on occasion: “I want to give it an Angel City feel” – and of course why not?

It’s not hard to argue there’s nothing particularly alien about The Angels music that shouldn’t excite a more mainstream American market, but history confounds such acceptance. Surely the phalanx of classic songs from that album triumvirate between 1978 and 1980 or the brilliant sounding ‘Beyond Salvation’ are well-suited to the conventional tastes of the average American music fan who loves their rock served up with all the lashings that make for great music? More so males over the age of 16 who would soon enough embrace the grunge milieu? You must be doing something right when fans liken you to a brilliant cross of AC-DC meets the Sex Pistols – although clearly being more accurately classified is no piece of cake! Little wonder then the band still find it jarring they never got the breaks they felt their music deserved. Not so much being deprived of a similar AC-DC level of mega-stardom and astronomical sales – that would be over the top. But being more than an influential footnote in the CV of other celebrated overseas rock bands and a cult band to American fans is hardly to be sneezed at.

“When I look back now on the band after all these years, I just marvel at what a great band we were and I don’t think we as a band understood it fully then,” Doc reasons. “I think when we went overseas people at the record companies were a bit unsure what to do with these Aussies, even though I don’t doubt we were world class. In America they like to put types of music into boxes, and we got one reviewer who said we were a “new wave, hard rock, new romantic band”. The guy just didn’t know where to categorise us. But the audiences got it because to them we were just rock ‘n roll. I think for the industry itself, given American sensibilities, they just found us difficult to pigeonhole.”

Unfortunately, such failure of imagination and the other limitations imposed by the American record business has seen millions miss the bus in appreciating one of the greatest rock bands not just in Australian history, but in all music. One thing’s for sure though – The Angels reformation as a live band and the slate of new releases gives a lot of younger people the chance to newly discover just what they’ve been missing. And as for those old farts who don’t need a nudge to understand why The Angels continue to glow in the dark – it just matters they’re still around to ring our bell!

Ross Stapleton – August 2008

The Angels - Long Line

The Angels Long Line

The Angels - Shadow Boxer

The Angels - Shadow Boxer

The Angels - Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again

The Angels - Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again

The Angels - Backstreet Pickup

The Angels - Backstreet Pickup


No Secrets
We Gotta Get Out Of This Place
My Light Will Shine
Long Line
Shadow Boxer
Backstreet Pickup
Be With You
Out of the Blue
Love Takes Care
I aint the one
Face the Day
Big Star
Face Again
Be With You
Who Rings the Bell
Face the Day
Hard Sell

Red Phoenix
Lonely With You
Running Like A Cat
Big Star
Land of Illusion
Blind Faith

and many more .....

Media – Audio

Doc Neeson

The Angels
We Gotta Get Out Of This Place

Red Phoenix - Wavelength


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The Angels - Long Line
The Angels - Shadowboxer
The Angels
      - Am I Ever Gonna See Your
      Face Again
The Angels - Backstreet Pickup

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