National tour and two new albums
A new chapter begins …
Chats with lead guitarist Rick Brewster about the music, how the industry has changed, members and the success that elevated them to Aussie rock royalty status
MENTION The Angels and generations of music fans immediately jump to their feet singing `Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’ and its extended fan response “No Way, Get F*****, F*** off, which may have been a bit crude but nevertheless it became the chant of a nation whenever the song was played live. Originally released in the 1980s the song has attracted a cult following and still today fans can’t help but respond in exactly the same way as they did three decades ago.
Last week I had the pleasure to speak with `Rock Royalty’ in the shape of lead guitarist and co-founder of The Angels Rick Brewster about the band’s 40th anniversary celebrations which have sparked a national tour and dual record release.
He said that while `Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’ generated a great deal of interaction with the fans there were many other hits in their swag of over 160 songs that also left lasting impressions. Among them were Take a Long Line, Marseilles, Shadow Boxer, No Secrets, We Gotta Get Out of This Place, Let The Night Roll On, Dogs Are Talking and Caught in the Night. Diehard fans would certainly agree.
National tour and 2 new albums
To coincide with an extensive Australian tour The Angels are releasing two commemorative albums – The Angels Volume 1 featuring their 40 greatest studio hits and Volume 2 which presents the band’s 40 greatest `live’ recordings spanning 40 years. In January they also launched `Talk the Talk’ which features all new tracks.
Rick’s brother John Brewster said the band couldn’t wait to get back out on the road and celebrate with fans. “The live shows won’t be just about the songs but also about sharing memories from The Angel’s past,” he said.
During their reign The Angels have managed to not only write and release a multitude of great rock classics but also made inroads in other areas which included trail-blazing the use of theatrical lighting in stage performances. The band was also cited by Guns N’Roses, Pearl Jam and Nirvana as having influenced their music. Today The Angels, who were originally formed in South Australia in 1974, are regarded as Aussie rock legends.
Whether touring as The Angels or Rick and John’s other show, The Brewster Brothers, their music has already been welcomed by several generations of fans and there is no doubt there are plenty still to come.
A few faces have changed over the years including Bernard `Doc’ Neeson who was The Angel’s original lead singer. Neeson was diagnosed with cancer in 2013 and is gravely ill but the band still pays tribute to him at every performance.
Dave Gleeson originally from the Screaming Jets now fronts the band which also includes John Brewster’s son Sam on bass and Nick Norton on drums. Founders Rick and John Brewster have been with the band since day one and still enjoy it as much as ever.
My interview with Rick Brewster covered everything from the band’s early days to major recording industry changes that have revolutionised the industry. Here’s what he had to say:
Question: How does it feel to back in full tour mode again?
Answer: We have never really stopped performing. Doc Neeson left at the end of 1999 and we didn’t really put the band back together with him until 2008. In between my brother John and I started the Brewster Brothers which we still do as well as touring The Angel’s original four-piece band for many years.
Question: Doc Neeson was with you when The Angel’s began. How are fans reacting to a new lead vocalist?
Answer: Great! Doc has left the group about four times. The last was about three years ago and Dave Gleeson, originally with the Screaming Jets, joined us as lead singer. We recorded the album `Take It To The Streets’ with Dave 18 months ago and then started work on `Talk The Talk’ which we released in January this year.
We’ve known Dave since the Screaming Jets first kicked off in 1989. They were often our support act on tour along with The Choirboys and The Radiators. We are loving have Dave sing with us and we have become very active on the recording scene again. It had been 15 years between albums. I think the last was 1996 when we released `Skin and Bone’. There wasn’t another until Dave joined us.
Question: You are celebrating 40 years in the industry. What are some of the changes you have witnessed along the way?
Answer: The industry has changed a lot. One of the biggest changes, however, has been the loss of venues for live performances.
In 1974 we went on the road and didn’t stop playing performing nearly every night of the week, there were just so many venues supporting live music. Then the disco era hit and venues began hiring DJs instead of bands because they were cheaper, then poker machines were more profitable than catering for an audience having a great time listening to a live band. It’s sad because as a country we should support live music. It’s a vital part of everyone’s life and we all know you can’t beat a live band.
And, for a young band looking to start a career, you can’t beat a live audience. Instant feedback is so crucial to learning your craft and we were lucky we had that everywhere we went. You can go home after a gig and say `hey that didn’t work but that song did’ … and it was so important for our future. Financially too the lack of venues makes it hard to support yourselves. It is really hard now.
Another major change is in the technology of recording. It has got to the stage where anyone can buy cheap recording software and record at home with microphones very successfully. We couldn’t do that. We had to rely on a studio for quality and it was all done on analogue tapes. Home recording was on cassettes and 8 track analogue machines which were quite expensive and still not studio quality. So we produced only `demos’ from home. The word demos got phased out because suddenly it became sound quality and releasable. Studios went from $4000 a day to $1200 a day. However, I think they are still a crucial part of recording for a rock band. Everyone can get together and play. We never recorded a whole album at home, only some guitar solos.
However, nothing beats setting up as a band and doing it in one hit in a studio with a good engineer. These days there are more professionals who know what they are doing. They have always been good in studios but out on the road we used to insist on having our own sound engineer and take him everywhere even overseas. But these days you can go anywhere and get a recommendation on a sound engineer and 9 out of 10 times they are great.
It was the same with lighting technicians. We were instrumental in innovations for lighting and changing the persona about a band while they were on stage. A friend, Ray Hawkins, was involved early in our career – he was a university student studying politics. We asked him to have a go and knew we had a serious theatrical light show going on. Split Enz was a band we saw doing this too as something different. Then Mi-Sex put on a good light show.
Question: How many songs have you written over the years?
Answer: I guess around 150 or 160 for about 14 studio albums each with 12 tracks … and that includes songs written for the Brewster Brothers – me and John.
Question: What has happened to former members of The Angels?
Answer: Our bassist Chris Bailey past away from cancer a year ago. John’s son Sam took over his role in the band. While we were recording the Talk Album, although not well enough to go out on the road during those last 6 months Chris joined us in the studio and played on five of the tracks.
Doc Neeson is also still very ill. He was diagnosed 18 months ago with a brain tumour and is gravely ill. We acknowledge him every time we play. Doc has left the band four times since 1983. It was never due to illness. Our thoughts are with him.
Question: What’s it like to tour these days?
Answer: We can take or leave the travel – endless hire cars, motel rooms, air travel. I call all these things modern touring. It is so different to the old days when we used to leave home and not return for 6 weeks to three months. It was more like being in the Navy!
Question: What has been your most memorable song?
Answer: Most fans would probably pick `Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again?’ because they even made up their own chant to that. It just surfaced at a gig we were doing one night and caught on … the rest is history.
I have other favourites like `Take A Long Line’ and `Marseilles’. They represent the style of music we stumbled across in 1978 which became our sound. As a young band learning the ropes we were striving to find a unique style and sound. It was really when John wrote `I Ain’t The One’ that we discovered the unique sound. `Take A Long Line’ became our most successful which is no secret but that was our first. We knew we had our own sound at last and were not copying anyone else.
Question: Why do you think you have become so successful?
Answer: It is a credit to the songs more than anything. Our songs have stood the test of time. It’s a great feeling to perform at concerts like `On The Green’ and have audiences aged 8 to 80 knowing all our songs. It’s amazing!
Question: The latest two-volume album releases sound like they could become collector’s items. What does it mean to you?
Answer: The Anniversary Albums Volume 1 and 2 are full of recordings that spanned the whole history of The Angels. Not too many bands are still around 40 years later. I still feel exactly the same when I get up on stage as I did back then. That shows we love what we do.
Rick added that he also wanted to take the opportunity to acknowledge the efforts of all the musicians who had been members of the band over the past four decades, as well as everyone who contributed to all their albums and tours and also the fans. They have helped shape the band and kept the creative juices flowing. We are proud of the band and we intend to keep rocking for many years to come.