Rock of ages
After four decades and the loss of their frontman, rock veterans The Angels head back to where it all began
IT’S been an incredible ride,” begins Angels guitarist and founding member John Brewster. “There have been some unbelievably good times and some not-so-good times.” That’s to be expected when you are celebrating your 40th year in a rock’n’ roll band.
It’s a milestone few bands could hope to reach in their career and one that the affable guitarist struggles to believe.
In a year of what should be celebrations for the iconic Aussie rock band, the death of former frontman and longtime friend Doc Neeson took not only the band, but the nation, by surprise.
But the music will live on as it has for many years under similar names. The Angels, the Original Angels Band, Doc Neeson’s Angels, Rick Brewster’s Angels, the Angels with Dave Gleeson...
At one point or another, for more than a decade, some form of The Angels has toured Australia.
Now it is simply The Angels. And the band, like it has time and time again, are pushing forward.
“This is the year we turn 40 but obviously it’s a sad time too as we lost Doc recently,” Brewster says.
“Despite what people say and all the press that has been reported over the years, we love Doc and we go way back to 1971 when Doc toured with the Moonshine String Band. Rick (Brewster) and I went to his funeral recently and saw some of the guys we used to play with and it was very sad. We lost Chris Bailey as well last year which was really sad... but like the music has always done, we’re pushing on.
“We’ve had line-up changes but we’re still having the time of our life playing music together.”
The hunger and passion for playing live for Brewster and Dave Gleeson is clear when speaking to the pair.
This isn’t a cash-grab “one last time” deal to take fans on a nostalgic journey, they say.
They have unfinished business, releasing two albums since Gleeson took the helm in 2011 including this year’s
“To be around for 40 years there has to be changes,” Brewster says. “The Angels as a band is about the repertoire and about staying true as a live band. We’re proud of the band and what we do to audiences and what they do to us.”
Gleeson says: “We’ve played to over 100,000 people since I joined the band and it’s just unreal. It was easy for me to join a band with this many songs but we love writing songs and coming up with ideas – and this is with a band I admired for so many years. Everyone including me is getting a kick out of what we’re doing.”
But it wasn’t always playing to thousands of people each night with the crowd screaming profanities back at them.
Brewster can recall the band’s very first shows at The Modbury Hotel as the The Moonshine Jug and String Band.
Banjo, washtub bass, harmonica and fiddle were the instruments of choice back then – but it wasn’t long before the band would evolve into what the nation fell in love with.
“Our first gig was at The Modbury Hotel. We used to do every Tuesday night as The Moonshine Jug and String Band,” Brewster explains.
“But we launched The Keystone Angels by playing the first half as Moonshine with banjos and stuff – then we’d put a curtain across the stage and set up all the electric instruments and drums and would go ‘tu-dah’ here we are. The thing was – we were f.....g terrible!
“We had a really loyal following called the Transcendental Jug Band. They were there every week and they were completely taken aback by that early version of The Angels, but they stayed with us.”
It comes as no surprise that this loyal following has continued for 40 years with the band enjoying success in all parts of the country – particularly Adelaide where they are hometown heroes.
Now, the Angels will return to where it all began when they perform at The Gov over two nights next weekend, promising fans a career-spanning set with more than 25 songs.
“Adelaide’s very special to us – this is where it all began,” Brewster says.
“When we play live now we feel like things are right. We’ve recorded songs with Dave that are his own and belong to this evolving band.
“Dave’s a huge part of the spark that keeps us going. We liken our band to a sports team – if there’s someone in that team who doesn’t want to be there it drags them down.
“For us, everyone is fired up for this band and I can’t see this fire going out any time soon,” Gleeson adds.