No way in their wildest dreams would this the original line up of Aussie legendary rock band The Angels think they would be touring 30 years on and playing to sell out venues.
The original line up of Doc Neeson (Vocals), bookends The Brewster Brothers Rick (Guitar and Keyboards) and John (Guitar and Harmonica), Chris Bailey (Bass) and Graham “Buzz” Bidstrup (Drums) have done just that to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of one of their finest albums The Darkrooms.
The tour was/is (one never knows how far this may go!) not only packing out venues with rock starved punters. Such is the enthusiasm the tour has created it is being filmed for a documentary.
I was able to grab a minute of John’s time backstage at the Rooty Hill RSL gig in Sydney’s west to get the low down on the Angels resurrection. John honestly and frankly told how it was incredibly difficult to pull the band back together and how he and brother Rick wanted to have the original line up back for many and many years but there were still issues between the members - who owned what and all that sort of crap as John put it and lawyers being brought in! At the end the band took a long hard look at themselves and thought “what are we doing? Why don’t we just get back together again and play!” John explained the original break up and how they went about mending the split. “Sometimes business and petty stuff gets in the way of what we are really about! When this band walks on stage there’s the magic, off stage there’s band meetings and people thinking they are business experts and trying to interfere with management.” John prefers to let management do their job and says every band has a similar story. Using the American band The Eagles he says “They don’t even talk to each other, we were never as bad as that, we actually get on pretty well. There’s camaraderie that exists between us a bit like a bike club - we’ve done the road together! Only it was in an EH Holden wagon and not on two wheels”.
John was making reference to the lengths and turmoil the band went through on their early tours. Back then it wasn’t the jetsetting lifestyle it was a 1964 EH Stationwagon which John had brought new and sold to the band 10 years on in 1974 for the handsome some of $400.00. The wagon made for the band’s second home and the wagon was put through 100,000 miles (approx 160,000 km) in just 18 months due to the band’s busy schedule up and down the east coast. “She didn’t miss a beat!” John says “That’s what it was like back then, we just went out there and just did it. I’m kind of proud of that! Looking back I don’t know how we actually did it!”
Just imagine this, there were no freeways back in the day, the boys would finish a gig in Melbourne jump in the EH and drive directly to Sydney to do a five hour set at Checkers Goulbourn Street - for a lousy $100.00.
With all they’ve put in and the quality of song and they’re live performance it beggars the question why werent the Angels a worldwide phenomenon like their good friends AC/DC. John has his own little analogy and it goes like this “It’s a bit like the space shuttle, you have this little window of opportunity and if you miss that window you just bounce off.”
The Angels did tour the US, England and Europe headlining many of the gigs and playing to up to 10,000 people in certain regions whilst in other regions playing in 1000 seat clubs and generally selling out. The cost of touring the US and the rest of the world was huge and they never made any money out of it. John puts the reasons they never made it big – when other big bands left to take on the world they went and lived there whereas the Angels tried to do it based in Australia and back in the 70’s and 80’s it was too hard logistically.
The Angels used their Aussie road crew on tour. John described the caravan as a bunch of Aussies on the road, pioneers in a way after AC/DC and the Little River Band only the former two did crack the market with hit singles. The Angels tour wasn’t a complete waste and the band did break through with their hit Marseille that was played on 180 radio stations across the states. John admits the Angels could have made it, nearly did they came really close!
With an average age of 60, John and the band aren’t worried about the title of Grand Dads of Rock. In true rock star fashion these seem timeless and have that rock and roll Peter Pan agelessness about them both on stage, their music and the fact that Chris Bailey becoming a father for the first time at 59! If that ain’t rock and roll!
A charming aspect (as John put it) of Rock and Roll is if you write songs that aren’t here today and gone tomorrow they’ll last forever and who really knows the formula it really is to make a classic? “We didn’t write songs for an era - we wrote songs. It might sound wise in hindsight but we didn’t think that we just wrote songs that seem to have actually lasted. I think “Take a Long Line” for example sounds as fresh as it ever did and the same may be said about “Marseille”. Our audience and fan base spans from 18 to 60. I think part of the reason the songs have lasted the test of time is due to the fact we didn’t write too much about young boy meets girl.”
John is pleased with the sound and says “We still play great and play with as much passion as we ever did and I hope to do this for the rest of my life!”
John now 60 years of age had a health scare and admits you can’t have a rock and roll lifestyle and not. John had to have a quintuple by pass after a heart attack whilst on tour. Seeing the lighter side John say’s “I think that’s all you’ve got five and they are all bypassed” adding “I consider myself a very lucky human being with three fantastic sons, a beautiful step daughter and a wonderful wife!” John isn’t about to slow down any time soon, when not playing with the Angels John is sometimes joined by his sons on stage with brother Rick in their other project touring with the Brewster Brothers.
The 30th anniversary tour is actually the anniversary of the legendary “Darkroom” album which in many ways John regards as their best but admits it may not be to everyone’s taste with its dark lyrics but musically thinks it was a brilliant record. The Darkroom was also one of their more significant albums and the first by the band for the Epic label in America.
The consensus within the band on this tour - lets not do songs off the Darkroom album and talk about it, lets do the whole thing in sequence. But the format was to be changed to accommodate some of the band’s better known hits between sets and with so many hits the band still has a barrage of their classics to finish with after the Darkroom album set.
Still, after all these years John and the band take nothing for granted and credits the audience for their performances saying “Seeing the audience tonight and every night we play and what they give us back is absolutely precious and we are never blasé about or nor do we think we are big deals, we just think of ourselves as good people who are proud of our country and proud of the people in it!”
I had to ask “even when the audience scream at you No way get fucked fuck off?’
“Isn’t that fantastic?” John replied “There’s something about Australians, we have that knack of coming up with stuff like that and we can play to a crowd of 6 year olds to 60 year olds and they’ll all join into the chant No way get fucked fuckoff!”
The boys have still got it!
A long time fan, I’ve been lucky enough to see the Angels many times over the past 30 years both indoors and outdoors and whilst writing this piece for OzBike, had the privilege of seeing two of their Sydney gigs the first at Revesby Workers in the south and the following week at Rooty Hill RSL and the verdict from punters was How good was that ? With punters leaving the venue smiling and comparing notes. From the time the boys make their way on stage you can feel the mood in the room and when Doc makes his way to the microphone you can see the anticipation on faces. You have to bare in mind the crowds at these gigs lay testament to the broad appeal of their music with ages anywhere from 18 (we hope!) to (I was going to say 80 and I’m sure there is some 80 year old fans but for all purposes we will say 60!) Most all knowing the songs and singing along and mimicking Doc’s movements and to think the Angels with an average age of 60 still can bring the crowds to a frenzy and play just as well and put as much into the show as they did 30 years ago. Shows these boys should be congratulated!
All it took was a few familiar cords of some of their other hits such as Shadow Boxer, Am I Ever Gonna to Get Out of this Place and Am I Ever Gonna See your Face Again - the audience was whipped into a frenzy. The audience participation probably the highlight with Doc’s keen eye able to select three hot blondes to dance on stage. OzBike and myself would like to thank the Angels, in particular John Brewster for taking time out of their busy schedule. I’m sure I speak on behalf of the many Aussie fans Thanks for the music!