The Angels

The Angels

Doc Neeson – circa 1978

“Psychopath / Young man / Dedicated to efficiency” – ‘Comin’ Down’ (John Brewster / Doc Neeson / Rick Brewster)

It is 31 December 1979: New Year’s Eve.  One of Australia’s greatest rock bands, The Angels, is playing a show at the iconic Sydney Opera House in New South Wales.  A crowd of one hundred thousand are present and the concert is being broadcast live on television.  The Angels have put on a typically barnstorming performance with theatrical frontman Doc Neeson in good form.  As one song winds to a conclusion, Doc drops to his knees…and then falls flat on his face.  Is it just a bit of showmanship?  Is it a mock display of exhaustion?  The broadcast cuts to commercials…and doesn’t return to the concert.  Bit of an abrupt way to end the show isn’t it?  Or could it be something more?  The newspapers tell the tale the next day…

The story of The Angels begins with John Brewster.  He is born John Carrington Brewster-Jones in Adelaide, South Australia.  He has a younger brother, Rick (born Richard Brewster-Jones).  The boys come from a musical family.  Their father, Arthur Brewster-Jones, was a conductor for the Adelaide Symphony Australia.  Richard Brewster-Jones trains as a classical pianist.  More significantly, John Brewster-Jones learns to play guitar listening to the folk songs of Bob Dylan.  While he is at university in Adelaide, in November 1970 John Brewster-Jones invites his younger sibling, Richard, to form a band with him.  This is The Moonshine Jug And String Band.  In 1971 Doc Neeson is invited to join the group.

Bernard Patrick ‘Doc’ Neeson (4 January 1947 – 4 June 2014) is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  “I’m very conscious of my privacy,” he says.  “I really like to keep that side to myself.”  Consequently, most of these biographical details only become public knowledge years after The Angels’ most successful period.  Bernard Patrick Neeson is the son of Bernard James Neeson and Kathleen Neeson (nee Corrigan).  Doc’s father is a British Army soldier.  Doc is the eldest of six children.  His younger siblings are: Seamus (born 1948), Anthony (born 1950), Maureen (born 1953), Terence (born 1957) and Kevin (born 1958).  The Neeson family are Catholics in a predominantly Presbyterian part of town.  Young Bernard calls himself Doc Talbot; a ‘nickname he gives himself as a cowboys-and-Indians playing kid.’

On 14 April 1960 the Neeson family boards the S.S. Strathnaver and immigrates to Australia on this ship.  Doc is 13 at the time.  The family settles in Elizabeth, South Australia.  Doc Neeson buys his first guitar with money he earns by delivering groceries in Elizabeth.  Doc attends St. Paul’s College, a high school in Adelaide.  While at that school, Doc plays in a band called Innocence.  After high school, Doc Neeson goes on to Adelaide Teachers College.  “My first career option was to become a teacher,” he acknowledges.  “[I] certainly never thought of having a career as a musician.”  But fate has other plans.  “While I was in my last year at teachers college, I got conscripted into the army.”  During the Vietnam War, young Australian men are drawn by lots based on their birth dates to do ‘national service’, a compulsory stint in the armed forces.  Bernard ‘Doc’ Neeson becomes a Sergeant in the Education Corps and is deployed to Papua New Guinea for eighteen months in the late 1960s.  After completing his national service, Doc returns to Australia but doesn’t complete his teacher training.  Instead, he enrols at Flinders University in South Australia where he undertakes degrees in film and drama, hoping to become a movie director.  While still at Flinders, in January 1971 Doc Neeson joins The Moonshine Jug And String Band.

A ‘jug band’ is a kind of hillbilly folk music act.  The name comes from blowing across the lip of a mason jar to provide an echoing woodwind sound.  Such jugs were commonly used as receptacles for moonshine booze, illegal home-brewed alcohol manufactured in the Appalachian Mountains of the U.S.A.  It’s all a long way from a bunch of university students in South Australia.  The line-up of The Moonshine Jug And String Band is: John Brewster-Jones (vocals, guitar, banjo, harmonica), Richard Brewster-Jones (guitar, washboard, jug, backing vocals), Doc Talbot [using his childhood nickname] (vocals, guitar, bass), Craig Holden (guitar), Pete Thorpe (bass, washtub, backing vocals) and Bob Petchell (banjo).  A washboard is an old-fashioned wooden rack used for scrubbing clothes but, in this musical context, it is ‘played’ by scraping thimble-clad fingers across the slats for a percussive, scratching sound.  Similarly, the washtub is also adapted for a time-keeping thump.  “We were pretty b****y awful to start off with,” admits John Brewster.

In 1973 The Moonshine Jug And String Band metamorphoses into The Keystone Angels.  The latter part of the name is inspired by a barmaid in Adelaide named Angel.  With the change of name comes a change in musical style.   The Keystone Angels play 1950s-influenced rock ‘n’ roll.  Doc Talbot – now known as Doc Neeson – explains, “We started writing songs in the jug band that ended up really suiting an electric band, so we had to form an electric band to play the songs because we realised nobody wanted to hear our songs.”  A line-up shuffle is also necessitated.  The Keystone Angels consist of: John Brewster-Jones (vocals, guitar), Richard Brewster-Jones (guitar, vocals), Doc Neeson (bass, vocals), Laurie Lever (keyboards) and Charlie King (born Peter Christopoulos) (drums).

The Keystone Angels release their first single in 1973.  ‘Keep On Dancing’ has John Brewster-Jones on lead vocals.  This is followed by the debut EP, ‘Keep You On The Move’, in 1973 which reaches the top five on the Adelaide record chart.  In 1974 comes the single ‘That’s All Right With Me’.  All these releases are on the Sphere label, an operation founded by John Woodruff – who goes on to act as The Angels’ manager for most of the band’s career.

In 1974 Bernard ‘Doc’ Neeson gets married.  His wife is a woman named Dzintra.  Doc spotted what he describes as a ‘stunning woman’ across a crowded club in Adelaide and they fell in love.  Doc and Dzintra have two sons: Daniel (born 1984) and Kieran (born 1986).

In 1976 The Keystone Angels play some support gigs for Australian hard rock band AC/DC.  Bon Scott and Malcolm Young of AC/DC recommend The Keystone Angels to Alberts, the record label and publishing house run by Ted Albert, who look after AC/DC.  In February 1976 The Keystone Angels move their base of operations from Adelaide, South Australia, to Sydney, New South Wales, where Alberts is located.  It seems to be around this time that The Keystone Angels lose the services of keyboards player Laurie Lever.  He is not replaced.

At Alberts, The Keystone Angels work with Harry Vanda and George Young.  The duo was part of 1960s Australian band The Easybeats.  George Young is the elder brother of two AC/DC members: Angus and Malcolm Young.  It is Vanda & Young who suggest their new clients shorten the name of their band from The Keystone Angels to The Angels – a change to which the band readily agrees.

In March 1976 comes the release of ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’ (AUS no. 58), the first single attributed to The Angels and the band’s first release on the Alberts label.  It is produced by Harry Vanda and George Young.  John Brewster describes this as “the first song that The Angels wrote after changing from The Moonshine Jug And String Band to a rock ‘n’ roll band.”  The songwriting credit is shared between John Brewster, Doc Neeson and Rick Brewster.  Neeson says it is a “ballad about connecting with loss” and was written after the girlfriend of a university friend died in a motorcycle accident.  “Without you near me, I got no place to go,” sings Doc Neeson.  “Wait at the bar, maybe you might show / Am I ever gonna see your face again?”  The song is notable not just for its hook-laden chorus but an odd guitar chime that almost sounds like skirling bagpipes.  The Angels make their first appearance on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s television program ‘Countdown’ in April 1976 performing ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’.  Doc Neeson, as both vocalist and bassist, dresses in a leather jumpsuit, unzipped to show an expanse of pale chest.  Two years later in 1978 when The Angels perform ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’ to a crowd in Mt. Isa, Queensland, the people chant in response to the song’s question, “No way, get f***ed, f*** off!”  This is copied by other audiences and becomes a ritual part of The Angels’ stage-show.

The Angels lose the services of drummer Charlie King, apparently due to him being absent without leave from the army.  The Angels take on Graham Leslie Bidstrup (a.k.a. Buzz Throckman) (drums) in August 1976.  The left-handed percussionist plays a crucial role in the future of The Angels.  Although Doc Neeson provided lead vocals on ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’, John Brewster-Jones is still considered the group’s usual lead singer.  Neeson recalls that, “Our drummer, Buzz Bidstrup said, ‘Let’s go with Doc [rather than John].  He’s got the worst voice in the band.’  While I was looking daggers at him, he changed that to ‘distinctive’ and the penny dropped with everyone.  We’d sacrifice sweetness for distinctiveness.  That’s how I became The Angels’ lead singer.”

In January 1977 The Angels expand to a five-piece group.  Doc Neeson relinquishes his duties as bass player to concentrate on his singing and stagecraft.  Joining The Angels as their new bass player is Chris Bailey (31 May 1950 – 4 April 2013).  Christopher Mark Bailey is born in Keith, South Australia.  His father, Alfred ‘Bill’ Bailey, and his mother, Gladys Bailey (nee Spencer), are publicans.  Chris Bailey plays with many bands over the years before joining The Angels.  Coincidentally, one of them is a group called Red Angel Panic (1968-1972, 1975-1977).  Future Angels drummer Buzz Bidstrup also puts in a stint with Red Angel Panic for a while.  With the addition of Chris Bailey, the definitive Angels line-up is assembled: Doc Neeson (vocals), John Brewster (guitar, vocals), Rick Brewster (lead guitar, keyboards), Chris Bailey (bass) and Buzz Bidstrup (drums).

In July 1977 The Angels release another single, ‘You’re A Lady Now’ (AUS no. 90).

The debut album, The Angels (1977), is released in August.  The disc is produced by Harry Vanda and George Young.  The album includes the two previous singles, ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’ and ‘You’re A Lady Now’.  For the last time, the band’s guitarists are credited as John Carrington Brewster-Jones and Richard Brewster-Jones.  After this, just as The Keystone Angels was abbreviated to The Angels, the brothers’ names will be shortened to John Brewster and Rick Brewster.  ‘The Angels’ fails to make the charts.  ‘Despite some good material [it is] no runaway success.’

Harry Vanda and George Young produce one song for The Angels’ second album but then hand over to Mark Opitz, a former recording engineer.  It is when they begin working with Opitz that the group discover The Angels’ sound.  Firstly, there is the standard Alberts Records, Oz rock, AC/DC influence.  This consists of chugging guitars and a rough and ready approach.  What distinguishes The Angels from their mentors is their adoption of elements of punk rock and new wave, the sounds coming out of England at the time.  AC/DC might pass for a rolling form of heavy metal, but The Angels sound faster and smarter.  Instead of AC/DC’s odes to beer, women and rock ’n’ roll, The Angels convey jittery urban angst.  If AC/DC’s sound can be likened to a tank, rolling across a battlefield, then The Angels are a fighter jet strafing the enemy.

Doc Neeson puts his drama training to use as the band’s lead singer.  Bassist Chris Bailey says, “He’d psych himself up before the gig to create this persona, and he [Doc] really believed it.”  Doc dresses in a double-breasted waistcoat, tie and shirt-sleeves, looking like a card sharp from the 1930s.  He pogo-dances across the stage in a frenzy of activity, all big hand gestures and bulging eyes.  Neeson says, “When I’m on stage, something quite indescribable happens.  It’s just part of the performing excitement, I guess, but…I go to another place.”  By contrast, Rick Brewster, always the more quiet and reserved of the Brewster brothers, now displays a stone-face to make the idols on Easter Island envious.  Eyes hidden by dark glasses, face impassive, standing stock still, he calmly peels off the soaring notes of the lead guitar solos while seeming utterly disinterested.  “Rick would much rather concentrate on his guitar than move around,” according to Doc Neeson.

The bulk of The Angels’ catalogue of songs is jointly credited to the trio of songwriters John Brewster, Doc Neeson and Rick Brewster.  “We began the band really to write songs,” says Doc Neeson.  The obvious interpretation is that the Brewster brothers come up with the guitar riffs and Neeson writes the lyrics.  Rick Brewster fleshes this out, claiming, “Doc’s never been a great musician, he wrote some great lyrics…very rarely a whole song.  John and I would write riffs and music and lyrics and then we would get together with Doc…It wasn’t that often that the three of us wrote together.”  John Brewster says, “Rick and I wrote a hell of a lot of the words of the songs.”

The Angels’ second album, ‘Face To Face’ (1978) (AUS no. 16, US no. 152), is their best.  The corrosive ‘Comin’ Down’ (AUS no. 80) is produced by Harry Vanda and George Young, their final work with The Angels.  “[The sound of ‘Comin’ Down’] was a bit [too] tough for radio at the time,” notes John Brewster, “but [it] became one of our anthems.”  The hyperactive ‘I Ain’t The One’ is the first track co-produced by The Angels and Mark Opitz, and this combination co-produces the balance of the album.  ‘Straitjacket’, a song about being a non-conformist, and ‘Live It Up’, a rattling tribute to making the best of life, keep the energy levels high.  The bruising ‘Marseilles’ (US no. 109), named for a city in France, supplies the album with its title: “I’m still thinking ‘bout the south of France / Vis-à-vis vous” – the latter part roughly translates to ‘face to face with you.’  Peter Ledger’s cover painting of Doc Neeson shows the singer emerging from a mirror – face to face – and making a characteristic ‘stop’ gesture with his hand.  The song from ‘Face To Face’ that attracts the most attention is their finest moment, ‘Take A Long Line’ (AUS no. 29).  Beginning with Doc’s appropriate introduction – “This is it, folks!  Over the top!” – it builds into a Kafka-esque nightmare of interrogation, complete with buzzsaw guitars: “They pulled out his teeth and they told him to grin / He gave them a smile, pulled out a bottle of wine / And said, ‘I never existed, you been wastin’ your time.’”  The more measured and ominous ‘After The Rain’ (AUS no. 52) is featured on the 1978 EP ‘The Tour’, together with a couple of live recordings.  According to John Brewster, ‘After The Rain’ “was written with Rick [Brewster] and Doc [Neeson] in a car on the way home from a Newcastle [New South Wales] gig, about the holocaust of World War II”: “Who lies on sheets of ice? / Who pays for paradise? / After the rain.”  ‘Face To Face’ also includes some slower material.  ‘Outcast’ is about heroin addiction but ‘Love Takes Care’ is romantic and ‘Be With You’ is virtually a ballad.  “When ‘Be With You’ was first introduced on stage, everyone would leave the dance floor to go and get a drink,” remarks John Brewster, wryly.  Although ‘Face To Face’ never rises higher on the charts than no. 16, it stays on those same charts for eighteen months.  It is a slow burn, rather than an explosion.  ‘Face To Face’ defines The Angels, presenting the band’s new style of music and lyrics as well as a classic menu of Brewster/Neeson/Brewster compositions.

The rise of The Angels takes place together with a change in the atmosphere for live music in Australia.  Previously, recording artists relied on a big pop hit to attract a large enough audience to make a show at a big concert hall in a capital city economically feasible.  Now, more suburban pubs are presenting live music.  The crowds are smaller, but, given Australia’s beer-drinking culture, the number of available venues is increasing geometrically.  Instead of a tour consisting of maybe just a few shows in concert halls down the east coast, Australian bands are playing most nights of the week on the pub circuit.  “The phrase I hear most at gigs in Australia – you hear guys talking at the bar, and they’re always saying they’ve come for a rage,” observes Doc Neeson.  “They come to our gigs, or gigs generally I guess, to let something go, a sort of catharsis.  We always feel that there’s this implied confrontation between band and audience.  They’re saying ‘Lay it on!  Do it to us!’ and it’s like a veiled threat that if you don’t, you’ll get canned.”  In the late 1970s, The Angels manager, John Woodruff, forms an alliance with Rod Willis (the manager of The Angels’ greatest rivals, Cold Chisel) and Ray Hearn.  As ‘Dirty Pool’, they shake up the pub circuit though the dominance of their acts.

The Angels’ third album, ‘No Exit’ (1979) (AUS no. 8), is released in June.  The disc is co-produced by John Brewster, Rick Brewster and Mark Opitz.  This album is a slicker and sleeker effort.  If it is not the equal of ‘Face To Face’, it is very close.  “Tell me truths that have no meaning / Live in rooms that have no ceiling / Now your friends are all departed / So your secrets will stay guarded,” gibbers Doc Neeson on the frenzied ‘Shadow Boxer’ (AUS no. 25).  According to guitarist John Brewster, the song is “inspired by a guy sparring with a No Standing sign in Kings Cross, Sydney.”  ‘Out Of The Blue’ (AUS no. 29) is an unusual track with Rick Brewster on moody Hammond organ instead of electric guitar.  “You touch your pleasure curls and wait for someone to adore you,” sneers Doc Neeson in the lyrics to this song.  The ‘Out Of The Blue’ EP includes a rerecorded version of ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’ in a new arrangement that is more in keeping The Angels’ sound devised after that song’s original release.  The rest of ‘No Exit’ is largely made up of muscular Brewster/Neeson/Brewster tunes like ‘Waiting For The World’, ‘After Dark’, ‘Save Me’ and ‘Can’t Shake It’.  Cut from the same cloth are three other songs that, nonetheless, are more impressive.  The title track, ‘No Exit’, is about over-crowded pub gigs according to John Brewster – though, on the surface, it is another piece of standard Angels twitchy paranoia.  ‘Mr Damage’ is relentless and the spiralling ‘Ivory Stairs’ closes the album in fine style.

From late 1979 through the 1980s Angels guitarist Rick Brewster diversifies a bit with ‘Shoot and Run’, a photography business he runs with his wife, Bitsy.

In the wake of ‘No Exit’ The Angels maintain a demanding schedule of live gigs.  Doc Neeson sports an orange jumpsuit such as has become common garb in United States prisons in the intervening years.  The Angels play a show on New Year’s Eve at the Sydney Opera House as the 1970s draw to a close.  The next day’s newspaper headline screams, ‘Night of Terror’.  Welcome to the 1980s!  ‘Sydney’s New Year’s shambles – 267 injured – 69 arrests.’  Doc Neeson’s collapse on live television during the show is due to him being hit in the back of the head by a hurled plank of wood.  What the television cameras didn’t catch is a ‘dazed and bloodied’ Chris Bailey as the bassist is helped from the stage – blood running down his face – after he is hit by a champagne bottle.

The Angels have ambitions for success in overseas markets.  They switch from Alberts to the Epic label, an affiliate of the multi-national CBS Records.  Alberts close out their time with the group by releasing ‘The Angels’ Greatest Hits’ (1980) (AUS no. 5) in May.  The group is known as Angel City overseas to avoid confusion with Angel, a band signed to the U.S. label Casablanca.  The Australians reportedly ‘hate’ their international name, but accept it as a necessary evil.  CBS releases a version of ‘Face To Face’ for the overseas market with a different track listing to the Australian original.  This sort of tinkering continues with all the Angel City versions of their domestic releases.

‘Dark Room’ (1980) (AUS no. 6, US no. 133), released in June, is The Angels’ first new album on the Epic label.  It is co-produced by the band’s guitarists, John Brewster and Rick Brewster.  The first single, ‘No Secrets’ (AUS no. 8), is something of a surprise.  In terms of content and quality, this tightly coiled effort is the equal of the band’s previous works.  What is surprising about it is that vocalist Doc Neeson co-writes it not with the Brewster brothers, but with The Angels’ drummer, Graham Bidstrup.  The lyrics sketch out the following: “Amanda the actress waits at the station / She’s drifting with nothing to do / With dilettante steps, she’s quick to accept / The weather and times turning screw.”  The bulk of ‘Dark Room’ is composed by the more familiar Brewster/Neeson/Brewster team.  “Poor baby, too tough to talk to me,” barks Doc Neeson on the hard and precise ‘Poor Baby’ (AUS no. 72).  Rick Brewster’s keyboard skills are put to use again on the latter half of the medley ‘Wasted Sleepless Nights/Dark Room’.  This piece is also representative of the high number of songs on this album that seem to revolve around an itchy sense of mental instability.  This is true of such fare as ‘Night Comes Early’, ‘Alexander’ and ‘I’m Scared’, but the best of this clutch of ‘mad’ songs is ‘Face The Day’ (AUS no. 67): “Dagger of dawn, cold hearted day / Why does it have to be morning?/ Cover my head, staying in bed / Too late, the luckless warning,” sings Doc Neeson as the song shifts from a bruised hush to screaming histrionics.  Virtually unhinged, he pleads, “Let me keep on sleeping / Forget that I’m alone / One day of faceless living / Is twenty-four hours too long!”  The album’s closing track, ‘Devil’s Gate’, is a cartoon post-mortem encounter with the Prince of Darkness.  It is enlivened by a smoking harmonica solo by John Brewster.

Angel City tours the United States in 1980 as a support act to veteran British rock band The Kinks.  John Brewster says that The Kinks’ singer, “Ray Davies was very paranoid.  He thought Doc was stealing his thunder.”  The Angels are dropped from The Kinks’ tour.  (Note: The Kinks also recorded an album called ‘Face To Face’ – in 1967.)

In 1981 The Angels release the one-off single ‘Into The Heat’ (AUS no. 14).  “Iceman, come in from the cold,” bids Doc Neeson in this song he co-writes with Rick Brewster and John Brewster.

In March 1981, The Angels’ drummer Graham ‘Buzz’ Bidstrup quits the band ‘due to non-musical differences.’  ‘Into The Heat’ is the last recording on which he plays.  Replacing Bidstrup is New Zealander Brent Eccles (born 1954).

‘Night Attack’ (1981) (AUS no. 11, US no. 174), released in November, is The Angels’ first album with Brent Eccles on drums.  It is co-produced by Ed Thacker, John Brewster and Rick Brewster.  Although this set is described as ‘a lacklustre affair’, it is perhaps due for some re-evaluation.  ‘Night Attack’ is ‘geared for U.S. audiences.  It refines the band’s boogie-fed style into a more metal direction.’  A lot of the more distinctive urban angst is gone from the lyrics but, to be fair, the punk/new wave music which inspired such an approach is rapidly passing its time on the world stage so it makes sense to change focus.  ‘Fashion And Fame’ (AUS no. 17) is also featured on the EP ‘Never So Live’, a concert recording.  ‘Fashion And Fame’ seems a worrying portent of The Angels’ fortunes: “Nobody came tonight / Empty seats tonight / Somebody said they’ll all be here tomorrow.”  ‘City Out Of Control’ is an impressive mix of dread and social commentary, complete with a grinding industrial undertone to the guitar riffs.  Although the bulk of the disc’s songwriting is credited, as usual, to John Brewster, Doc Neeson and Rick Brewster, new member drummer Brent Eccles shares a credit with the trio for the title song, ‘Night Attack’ (AUS no. 84), and the thumping ‘Talk About You’.

In early 1982 bassist Chris Bailey leaves The Angels when ‘it becomes apparent he will be unable to tour with the band in the U.S.’  Bailey will be reunited with former Angels drummer Graham ‘Buzz’ Bidstrup in Gangajang in 1984.  Replacing Chris Bailey in The Angels is American Jim Hilbun (born 1958) (bass, saxophone).

‘Watch The Red’ (1983) (AUS no. 6) is the next album by The Angels.  It is co-produced by the group and Andrew Scott.  New bassist Jim Hilbun quickly proves his worth by penning the defiant single, ‘Stand Up’ (AUS no. 21).  In the lyrics, vocalist Doc Neeson urges, “Got to make a move now / So hard to run in place / Slippin’ further from the race.”  Hilbun also contributes the ‘tortured sax solo’ on ‘Eat City’ (AUS no. 22).  Co-written by Neeson and guitarist Rick Brewster, this track savagely spits out, “Drag on a fag / Pick up the crumbs / All the little insults get too much for some,” before jeering, “Ain’t you got no true love waiting for you? / Eat city’s gonna get you.”  For ‘Live Lady Live’ (AUS no. 44), co-written by Doc, Rick and T. Haefer, the listener is advised to “Tune in past the wisdom make believe,” as Jim Hilbun’s smoky saxophone fills the air.  The more familiar songwriting team of Rick Brewster, Doc Neeson and John Brewster contribute such songs as the pacey title track, ‘Watch The Red’, the reflective ‘Easy Prey’ and a lead vocal showcase for John Brewster, ‘No Sleep In Hell’.  John comments on the band’s membership changes, “I think it’s something that happens to any band that’s around a while.  You reach a point where you’re making music that doesn’t match up to what you’ve done in the past, so you’ve got to take stock and find something new in the band.  The life of a band is like the life of a person.  You go through low spots, and then get a new lease on life.”

‘Two Minute Warning’ (1984) (AUS no. 2, US no. 201) sees The Angels move to Mushroom Records in Australia and MCA for overseas release.  Ashley Howe produces the album.  The first single, the overlapping sounds of ‘Between The Eyes’ (AUS no. 44), is co-written by guitarist Rick Brewster and drummer Brent Eccles.  They are joined by Doc Neeson and John Brewster for the flat thump of ‘Look The Other Way’ (AUS no. 55).  ‘Small Price’ is co-written by Eccles and the Brewster brothers.  The album’s other singles, ‘Sticky Little Bitch’ (AUS no. 72) and ‘Underground’ (AUS no. 56), are written by the Brewster/Neeson/Brewster team.  The best song on the album is ‘Underground’ which fuses ominous verses to a spooky chorus.

On 13 July 1985 The Angels participate in ‘Oz for Africa’, a charity concert linked into the international Live Aid shows from London in the U.K. and Philadelphia in the U.S.  The Angels perform four songs: ‘Small Price’, ‘Eat City’, ‘Underground’ and ‘Take A Long Line’.  Their set is picked up for the U.S. broadcast and attributed to Angel City.

Since The Angels have left Epic/CBS, that label closes the door with ‘The Angels’ Greatest Vol. II’ (1985) (AUS no. 14), released in September.  It contains tracks drawn from the band’s history with Epic/CBS (i.e. ‘Dark Room’ through to ‘Watch The Red’).

Founding member John Brewster departs from The Angels in February 1986.  According to one account, he is ‘fired from the band.’  Another version is that he leaves because he is ‘disillusioned after a U.S. tour with Triumph during which the headliners treated The Angels poorly.’  John Brewster goes on to form The Bombers in 1988, who release one album, ‘Aim High’ (1990).

In March 1986 John Brewster’s replacement in The Angels is announced to be Bob Spencer (born 5 September 1957), formerly of Australian rock bands Finch and Skyhooks.

‘The Howling’ (1986) (AUS no. 6) is released in October.  Steve Brown produces this album.  In the photos on the album sleeve, Doc Neeson appears puffier and more heavy-set than usual.  This is due to some extended downtime for the energetic frontman after suffering a mishap.  Unfortunately, this is a harbinger of things to come.  “Doc was a bit accident prone actually.  Always was,” guitarist Rick Brewster later notes.  ‘The Howling’ is considered a ‘more melodic effort in comparison to the previous three’ albums, with Eddie Rayner from Split Enz guesting on keyboards for some tracks.  The best of the album’s original songs may be ‘Nature Of The Beast’ (AUS no. 27): “It’s the nature of the beast / To satisfy his every appetite / He’s never worried about the cost / He never worries if he’s wrong or right.”  This song is co-written by Doc Neeson and Jeff Paris (born Geoffrey Leib).  Rick Brewster and new guitarist Bob Spencer co-write ‘Don’t Waste My Time’ (AUS no. 40).  Brewster co-writes ‘Can’t Take Any More’ (AUS no. 63) with drummer Brent Eccles.  However, the album’s biggest hit is a cover version of the 1965 Animals song ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’ (AUS no. 7).  It is also the most commercially successful single of The Angels’ career.  Although they deliver a quite effective take on the song, it is a bit ironic that a cover version is the biggest hit for a band with so much original material.  (Their most successful original song is ‘No Secrets’ which reached no. 8 in Australia, one spot lower on the singles chart.)  MCA rejects ‘The Howling’ so this disc does not get an overseas release.

The two-album concert recording ‘Liveline’ (1987) (AUS no. 2) spawns another version of ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’ (live) (AUS no. 11).

‘Finger On The Trigger’ (AUS no. 34) is a one-off single released by The Angels in November 1988.  Written by guitarist Bob Spencer, the song has a locomotive chug with sweetened backing vocals on the chorus.

Bassist Jim Hilbun exits The Angels’ ranks in 1989.  Taking his place is James Morley (bass, vocals).

The marriage between Angels vocalist Doc Neeson and his wife, Dzintra, comes to an end in 1989 after fifteen years together.  Doc says, “Regrettably, because things were going wrong between us, I started seeing other women from time to time, just flirtatious dates most of the time, but one woman that I met one night at a club after a show was Kym [Moore].”  And she becomes the new woman in his life.

‘Beyond Salvation’ (1990) (AUS no. 1), released in June, is The Angels’ highest charting album in Australia, their only no. 1.  It is released overseas by Chrysalis seven months earlier in November 1989 – but fails to chart outside Australia.  While the album does very well in The Angels’ homeland, it spells the end of their overseas achievements.  The album is produced by Terry Manning.  ‘Beyond Salvation’ launches a clutch of singles.  The first of them is the hard charging ‘Let The Night Roll On’ (AUS no. 17).  Co-written by guitarist Rick Brewster, vocalist Doc Neeson and A. Miller, the song boasts, “It’s Saturday night, I got nerves of steel / I can roll all night on a roulette wheel.”  Judging by its songwriting credit, the snappy ‘Dogs Are Talking’ (AUS no. 11) must date back a little since former Angels bassist Jim Hilbun is co-credited with Brewster, Neeson, drummer Brent Eccles and guitarist Bob Spencer.  “So you got a reputation / Well, I do too, all across the nation / There are guys hanging out / To meet girls like you,” runs part of the lyric for ‘Dogs Are Talking’.  “Welcome back, good to see you again,” begins ‘Back Street Pick-Up’ (AUS no. 23).  Although it’s a forceful tribute to a floozy, the sentiment of that opening line also reflects the Australian public’s renewed fervour for The Angels.  Producer Terry Manning and new bassist James Morley co-write ‘Back Street Pick-Up’ with Brewster, Neeson and Spencer.  ‘Rhythm Rude Girl’ (AUS no. 77) is more rhythm and blues influenced with its shaking maracas, but it doesn’t stint on the guitar riffs either since it is co-written by the band’s guitarists, Brewster and Spencer.  ‘Bleeding With The Times’ (AUS no. 54) also hails from ‘Beyond Salvation’.

Doc Neeson proposes to Kym Moore in 1991.  They wed, and the marriage lasts for five years.

‘Red Back Fever’ (1991) (AUS no. 14) is issued in November.  Terry Manning, producer of ‘Beyond Salvation’, returns to oversee this disc as well.  ‘Some Of That Love’ (AUS no. 53) is full of jerking aggression.  ‘Once Bitten, Twice Shy’ (AUS no. 43) is a cover version of British rocker Ian Hunter’s 1975 song.  It’s a great composition and one that was underrated when Hunter released it, so The Angels’ resurrection of it is welcome.  “Tear me apart / In slow motion / Tear out my heart / That’s devotion,” sings Doc Neeson in the album’s most successful song, ‘Tear Me Apart’ (AUS no. 33), co-written by guitarists Bob Spencer and Rick Brewster with drummer Brent Eccles.

The Angels’ most recent album is rereleased in July as half of a two disc set, ‘Red Back Fever / Left Hand Drive’ (1992) (AUS no. 28).  ‘Left Hand Drive’ is a ‘CD of unreleased or deleted rare tracks.’  The Angels’ former label, Alberts, puts together another compilation from the group’s time with them, ‘Their Finest Hour – And Then Some’ (1992), issued in November.

Bassist James Morley and guitarist Bob Spencer both leave The Angels.  Their replacements, in January 1993, are rather surprising.  Two former members of the band, Jim Hilbun (bass) and John Brewster (guitar), return to the fold.  ‘Evidence’ (1994) (AUS no. 30) is a compilation of past hits but contains two new songs: ‘Don’t Need Mercy’ (AUS no. 75) and the acoustic ballad ‘Turn It On’ (AUS no. 77).  The Angels move to Shock Records for ‘Skin And Bone’ (1998) (AUS no. 27), produced by Rick Brewster.  This set includes ‘Caught In The Night’ (AUS no. 78), written by Rick Brewster, Jim Hilbun and Doc Neeson, the last Angels single to make the charts.

In December 1999 Doc Neeson is involved in a car accident.  He is left with blurred vision and back pain.  Given his very physical stage antics, these injuries are particularly difficult.  At a New Year’s Eve show at the MGM Grand Darwin Millennium Concert, Doc Neeson announces he is leaving The Angels.  ‘With Neeson’s departure, the band effectively ceases.’  From 2000 to 2001 The Angels do not exist.  ‘Wasted Sleepless Nights – The Definitive Best Of’ (2000) (AUS no. 22) is released.

In 2001 Rick Brewster, John Brewster, Jim Hilbun, Chris Bailey, Graham Bidstrup and Brent Eccles reunite as The Angels – but Doc Neeson is noticeably absent.  This configuration of the group is short-lived and disbands in 2001, the same year in which they come together.

From 2001 to 2006 Rick Brewster, John Brewster, Chris Bailey and Graham Bidstrup work together under the name of The Original Angels Band.  They put out ‘Live At The Basement’ (2005), an independent release distributed by MGM.  In 2006 there is the EP ‘Ivory Stairs’.

In the meantime, The Angels’ former vocalist Doc Neeson is facing some hefty medical bills.  To help him out, in December 2003 Doc Neeson’s Angels are assembled for some gigs.  This outfit consists of Doc Neeson (vocals), Peter Northcote (guitar), Alan Mansfield (keyboards), Jim Hilbun (bass) and Peter Clarke (drums).  This mutates into Red Phoenix in May 2005: Doc Neeson (vocals), Peter Northcote (guitar), David Lowy (guitar), Jim Hilbun (bass) and Fab Omodei (drums).  The presence of David Lowy is a bit of a novelty since he is Chief Executive of the Westfield group of shopping centres.  The band releases one album, ‘Red Phoenix’ (2005).  Doc Neeson institutes legal action to prevent the Brewster brothers, Bailey and Bidstrup from using the name The Angels and that is, at least partly, why The Original Angels Band shuts down in 2006.

In August-September 2007 Doc Neeson takes a version of Doc Neeson’s Angels on tour with the Countdown Spectacular 2 show, featuring various veteran acts that appeared on the ABC’s old TV program, ‘Countdown’.

In October-November 2007 Doc Neeson’s Angels carry out a ‘Tour de Force’, a series of shows for Australian troops deployed overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.  The group’s line-up for this trip is: Doc Neeson (vocals), Dave Leslie (guitar), Mitch Hutchinson (guitar), Sara Graye (bass) and Mick Skelton (drums).

In April 2008 the legal row that has divided The Angels is resolved in the best possible way: the classic Angels membership of Doc Neeson (vocals), John Brewster (guitar), Rick Brewster (guitar), Chris Bailey (bass) and Graham Bidstrup (drums) reunites.  The reunion takes place at the suggestion of Doc Neeson’s manager, David Edwards.  A ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentary titled ‘No Way Get F**cked F**k Off’ (2008) about the ‘uneasy reconciliation’ is directed by Ben Ulm.  By 2009 the reunion is basically over, though that doesn’t become official until 2011.

The Brewster Brothers Trio releases ‘Wounded Healer’ (2009) in January.  It consists of some new material and some reworked old Angels songs.  John Brewster suffers a heart attack and undergoes a quintuple bypass in 2009.

In April 2010 ‘A Symphony of Angels’ is held at Adelaide Festival Theatre.  Doc Neeson, John Brewster and Rick Brewster appear with the Adelaide Art Orchestra to present The Angels’ music in an orchestral style.  Also in 2010 Doc Neeson begins a solo project, playing some semi-acoustic shows with former Angels bassist Jim Hilbun.

In May 2011 Rick and John Brewster begin working with vocalist Dave Gleeson.  David Sean ‘Gleeso’ Gleeson (born 1968 in Newcastle, New South Wales) first came to widespread public attention in 1989 with Australian hard rock band The Screaming Jets.  Billed as The Angels With Dave Gleeson, this version of the band consists of: Dave Gleeson (vocals), Rick Brewster (guitar), John Brewster (guitar), Chris Bailey (bass) and Nick Norton (drums).  In June 2011 the EP ‘Waiting For The Sun’ is released by The Angels With Dave Gleeson.

In 2012 The Doc Neeson Band plays some shows.  The former Angels vocalist now has a group consisting of: Doc Neeson (vocals), Mitch Hutchinson (guitar), Mark Fenwick (guitar), Justin Bunch (bass) and Dave Roberts (drums).

By June 2012 the legal fight between members of The Angels classic line-up has started up again.  Drummer Graham Bidstrup states, “What has happened is three members of the band [John Brewster, Rick Brewster and Chris Bailey] have taken it on themselves to take control and basically not engage with Doc [Neeson] and I.”  John Brewster retorts, “We are The Angels; we continue as The Angels.”

By this time Doc Neeson is living with his partner, Annie Souter.  It is known that Doc has a third son, Aidan, but the identity of Aidan’s mother is unclear.

‘Take It To The Streets’ (2012) (AUS no. 24) by The Angels With Dave Gleeson is issued in September.  The album is released on the Liberation label.  It holds a cover version of the 1978 Elvis Costello song ‘Pump It Up’ as well as such reworked Angels pieces as ‘No Sleep In Hell’ (from ‘Watch The Red’), ‘Small Price’ (from ‘Two Minute Warning’), and ‘When The Time Comes’ (from ‘The Howling’).

By November 2012 Doc Neeson is touring with a band calling itself Angels 100%.  This group is: Doc Neeson (vocals), Bob Spencer (guitar), Jim Hilbun (guitar?), James Morley (bass) and Graham Bidstrup (drums).

Long-time Angels bassist Chris Bailey is diagnosed with mouth and throat cancer.  Realising his time is limited, Bailey marries his partner Josie O’Reilly.  She is an actor-comedian, who is the mother of his son.  Chris Bailey dies from throat cancer on 4 April 2013.  He was 62 years old.

At the same time that Chris Bailey’s death looms, Angels vocalist Doc Neeson announces on 10 January 2013 that he has been diagnosed with a brain tumour.  On 26 January 2013 Neeson is presented with an Order of Australia medal (OAM) for his services to the music industry.

The late Chris Bailey is replaced in The Angels With Dave Gleeson by John Brewster’s son, Sam Brewster (bass), in 2013.  The Angels With Dave Gleeson go on to issue the album ‘Talk The Talk’ (2014).

In March 2014 Doc Neeson releases a solo single, ‘Walking In The Rain’.  It is a cover version of a 1979 song by Flash And The Pan, a recording alias for The Angels’ former mentors, Harry Vanda and George Young.

In May, two compilation albums are released from The Angels’ history: ’40 Years Of Rock – Vol. 1: 40 Greatest Studio Hits’ (2014) (AUS no. 23) and ’40 Years Of Rock – Vol. 2: 40 Greatest Studio Hits’ (2014) (AUS no. 38).

After an eighteen month battle with brain cancer, Bernard ‘Doc’ Neeson passes away on 4 June 2014.  He was 67.  Drummer Graham ‘Buzz’ Bidstrup says, “He came across as this menacing dark character but, as we all know, he was a gentle giant [He was six feet, four inches (1.93 metres)], well read and well spoken, with impeccable manners, everything that was diametrically opposed to his rock persona.”  Rick Brewster says, “Doc stood out as one of a kind, a totally unique performer.”  John Brewster says, “[Doc was] one of the great frontmen of all time, a dynamic, demonic and artistic and imposing performer.”

Rick Brewster, John Brewster, Dave Gleeson, Sam Brewster and Nick Norton tour as The Angels in 2015.

The Angels’ history stretched from Adelaide, South Australia, to the Sydney Opera House and on to international stages.  Their classic line-up was Doc Neeson (vocals), John Brewster (guitar), Rick Brewster (guitar), Chris Bailey (bass) and Graham Bidstrup (drums).  The three albums recorded by this configuration of the band – ‘Face To Face’ (1978), ‘No Exit’ (1979) and ‘Dark Room’ (1980) – represent the Angels’ best work.  The Angels ‘mixed a punkish proto-metal musical style grounded in boogie-based hard rock with an energetic and partly theatrical live performance.’  They ‘delivered raucous hard rock [and were] among the longest-lasting and most beloved bands ever to emerge from the Australian pub circuit.’

Sources:

  1. ‘The Daily Mirror’ (Sydney, Australia newspaper) – ‘Night of Terror’ – no author credited (1 January 1980) p. 1
  2. wikipedia.org as at 20 September 2015
  3. ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ (Sydney, Australia newspaper) – ‘The Demons in the Angel’ by Stephanie Wood (25 June 2012) reproduced on smh.com.au
  4. aussiebands.com.au – ‘The Angels’ by Tony Senatore – as at 21 September 2015
  5. angels.com.au – no author credited – as at 22 September 2015
  6. ‘Countdown’ (Australian Broadcasting Corporation television program)- Doc Neeson interview conducted by Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum (1980)
  7. stpauls.sa – as at 24 September 2015
  8. adelaide.edu.au – information re: Adelaide Teachers College – as at 24 September 2015
  9. ‘Australian Story’ (Australian Broadcasting Corporation television program) ‘A Very Good Rascal’ (Doc Neeson) (29 April 2014) – transcript reproduced on abc.net.au
  10. ‘The Angels – Their Finest Hour – And Then Some’ – Sleeve notes by John Brewster (Sony Music, 1992) p. 3, 5
  11. ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ (Sydney, Australia newspaper) – ‘Doc Neeson: Livewire Performances Fuelled Angels’ Success’ by Anthony O’Grady (5 June 2014) via (2) above
  12. ‘The Big Australian Rock Book’, ‘The Angels’ by Toby Creswell (Megabooks, 1985) p 17, 53
  13. lyricsfreak.com as at 25 September 2014
  14. ausmetalguide.com – no author credited – as at 24 September 2015
  15. ‘Music Business and the Experience Economy: The Australian Experience’ (2013) – Edited by Peter Tschmock, Philip Pearce, Steven Campbell, p. 139 via books.google.com.au
  16. ‘The Angels’ Greatest Vol. II’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (CBS Records Australia Limited, 1985) p. 2
  17. Internet movie database – imdb.com – as at 23 September 2015
  18. metrolyrics.com as at 25 September 2015
  19. discogs.com as at 25 September 2015
  20. newsrecord.co – ‘Interview with John Brewster of Australian Rock Band, The Angels’ by Adrian Peel (10 March 2015)
  21. ‘Herald Sun’ (Melbourne, Australia newspaper) – ‘Confidential: Sad Farewell to an Angel’ by Luke Dennehy, Jackie Epstein, Nui Te Koha (12 June 2014)
  22. news.com.au – ‘Doc Neeson’s Angels vs Rick Brewster’s Angels in Simultaneous Tours’ – no author credited (8 November 2012)
  23. ‘Herald Sun’ (Melbourne, Australia newspaper) – ‘Death of an Angel’ by Kathy McCabe (5 June 2014) p. 11
  24. allmusic.com, ‘The Angels’ by Jason Ankeny as at 21 September 2015

 

Song lyrics copyright J Albert & Son Pty Ltd with the exceptions of: ‘Poor Baby’ (Spirit Music Group); ‘Into The Heat’ (ATR/Tumbleweed/Rondor); ‘Fashion And Fame’, ‘Eat City’, ‘Live Lady Live’ (all three ATR/Catsongs/Rondor); ‘Stand Up’ (Not Just Music/Tumbleweed); ‘Nature Of The Beast’, ‘Let The Night Roll On’, ‘Back Street Pick-Up’, ‘Tear Me Apart’ (all four Universal Music Publishing Group); and ‘Dogs Are Talking’ (EMI Music Publishing, Universal Music Group, Spirit Music Group).

 

Last revised 7 October 2015

 

 

 

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