Riff ready, crowd singing, rock’n’frickin’roll.
A band you can rightly call Adelaide’s own.
A band who started in Adelaide as The Moonshine Jug & String Band.
Became The Keystone Angels in 1974 and after playing every bar in town and some school discos (quite the tradition at the time), they were Chuck Berry’s backing band and supported AC/DC in Adelaide and caught the eye of Angus Young and Bon Scott who lobbied Vanda and Young at their label Alberts to sign them up and after dropping the ‘Keystone’ from their name at Bon’s suggestion, they were off.
Their debut album was a moderate success and did contain the song that would take on a life of it’s own in later years Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again (You just did it didn’t you? It’s part of the collective DNA now). A solid start the self titles debut was missing some of what had established then on the live circuit as a killer band. For the second album a rare moment of stepping aside to let a band move forward, Vanda and Young told brothers John & Rick Brewster that they should produce the follow up album by themselves. Mark Opitz was the engineer and George and Harry were close by, but it was a trail by fire by two novices in the studio. The result however was the amazing Face To Face album.
Released in early 1978 it was the moment when The Angels really found their sound, harnessed their live energy and refined their song writing chops. Packed with songs that are now considered Oz Rock classics, it was packed with incredible songs like Take a Long Line, Comin’ Down, After The Rain, Straight Jacket, I Ain’t The One, Be With You and Marseilles. With Chris Bailey on bass having expanded the line to a five piece (Rick and John Brewster guitars, Buzz Bidstrup on drums and Doc Neeson on vocals) it freed up Neeson to concentrate on vocals and an ever more theatrical stage persona. He had started wearing tuxedos and scarves to front a down and dirty pub rock juggernaut. His lyrics were pretty exotic by pub rock standards too. No other bands were name checking Renoir at the time to the best of my knowledge. They were soon the biggest draw in the country, playing ever bigger venues to ever more fanatical audiences. Seeing the band at that time was a completely electric experience. Fantastic songs, played loud and fast, with Neeson climbing lighting towers, singing songs in character while making great use of dramatic lighting.
A lot has happened since then of course, a lot that’s good, a lot that’s bad. There was acrimonious break-ups, lawsuits, competing versions of the band, more litigation, reunions more bust ups, Ultimately the sad and tragic passing of Doc Neeson in 2014.
But the Brewsters were born to play rock’n’roll and continue to play as both The Brewster Brothers and the Angels. This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the release of the Face To Face album. It’s not long since The Angels did a run of remarkable shows with The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and they return for two intimate shows at The Gov to play the classic record in full along with other classic Angels songs. There is a brand new studio recording of the classic album, featuring the current line-up, fronted by Screaming Jets singer Dave Gleeson who has been on the Angels mic since May of 2011. The CD features a bonus disc of them playing it live. Right now this Angels release is only available at the concerts on this tour.
Rick Brewster is at home in Tasmania and keen to tell Hi-Fi Way: The Pop Chronicles about action in Angels HQ.
What shall we talk about? Shall we do the tour first?
We can talk about anything you like. It’s up to you. We can talk about guitar building if you like?
Do you build your own guitars?
I’ve nearly finished my first one. If it sounds as good as I think it will, I’ll be playing it on this tour! I knew it was going to be a challenge because a guitar has to be…exact, it’s crucial for tuning and playing action. I’ve played enough guitars over the years to know how crucial those things are. I had some good advice from friends who make guitars, who looked over my shoulder along the way so that helped. Along with YouTube ha-ha. Anybody can do anything these days with a bit of YouTube.
So it’s been forty years since I bought Face To Face and was coming to see you guys play on a regular basis. It does not seem like four decades.
It doesn’t seem like that long to me either! Nothings changed. And yet everything has changed.
I watched a couple of documentaries on The Angels as a memory jogger before this chat. (including the highly recommended The Angels : No Way Get F*cked F*ck Off 2008) and there have been a lot very high, highs and a lot of very low lows.
I guess that’s to be expected in any band relationship. It is bit like being married I suppose. But all I can say looking back on it all, after all this time, is that I am glad all of it happened. Because if it hadn’t I wouldn’t be where I am today and I am absolutely loving where I am now. I love the band. I love the gigs. I like living in Tasmania. There is a lot of positive stuff that has come out of that forty years of ups and downs.
One of those ‘maybe not a good ideas’ is generally considered the band’s decision to follow a managers impatience to crack the International market by jumping ship from Alberts and signing with CBS. It ruptured their relationship with the former Easybeats and the guys behind the success of AC/DC, Rose Tattoo and others that The Angels were very much part of the musical brotherhood or family with. They have previously stated that in retrospect that was a tactical mistake.
Are any parts of that journey that you would have done differently looking back now? One of the things I thought while watching one documentary is the inter band communications weren’t as smooth as they could have been. That some problems could have been navigated more easily if you talked to each other more?
Yeah…possibly. A lot of that stuff is down to personalities. If you look at Doc for instance, he was a loner. Unless you go right back the Jug Band days when he was pretty much one of the guys, But over the years he withdrew into himself and that made communication pretty difficult. So there is probably some truth in that. Some of the decisions we made may or may not have been good ones. But as I say, it’s all part of the road that has brought us to where we are.
It was different times then too I guess. Blokes didn’t talk to each other about feelings in the 1970’s..
Unless you are siblings! John and I certainly did (laughs). That’s why the original Face To Face album took so long to record, because we had so many arguments to get through. We’d argue about the arrangements, changing words here and there. All the stuff that goes into writing, arranging and recording a record, getting the sounds right. It was amazing. We would argue so bitterly that people would leave the room and think we were going to break up. It took us a year to finish it. SO when we went in to the studio to do this new version of it, we were done in two days!
You have been playing those songs for a long time…
Well we have and there were no arguments to be had. We just played them how we play them on tour. It was easy and effortless and enjoyable. The same with the live version, it was just one night at The Bridge Hotel is Sydney and we nailed it. So we decided to do the two discs studio and live on the Face To Face Recharged CD which people can get at the gigs.
That is exclusive to the gigs isn’t?
That’s right…unless you live in Belgium (laughs) . We had a number of people from Belgium, Germany, France, England and America emailing us going ‘What can we do? We can’t get to a gig!’. So we have sent some overseas for those people. It was be a difficult and expensive commute for them otherwise.
One of the things I find fascinating about the recording of the original Face To Face album was that Vanda & Young just threw you in the deep end and told you to produce it yourselves.
That’s right, it was the beginning of John and me as producers. We didn’t quite know what they meant at the time. We just thought they had deserted us (laughs). They hadn’t at all. They were just up the corridor and any time we got stuck on something, we’d go and get their thoughts. It was a really good thing they did for us. They were worried they would inject too much of their own sound into The Angels and they could see we were developing our own thing. They were right and that is exactly what happened. With Face To Face we hit a home run.
The first record is a good record, but it didn’t really capture what the band really was, especially live.
It was a band finding their direction is how I’d describe it. Face to Face we had found it.
There was such a great run of Angels albums, I remember thinking ‘How can this be better than the last one’, but I guess you were playing all the time, refining the songs and the sounds and always getting better as musicians and producers.
Well we felt exactly the same. Every record we would go ‘Well what are we going to do now? How are we going to top that? It really put the pressure on. You have management, record companies, going ‘we need a new album soon, cause Face To Face has been out for a while now…’. But it was probably more the internal pressure within the band. John and I pretty much started working on the next album as soon as we finished Face to Face, even before it was released. Everybody was asking ‘is it going to be as good as Face to Face?’.
Well No Exit was next so the answer was yes.
Well we are going to re-record No Exit next, in the same way we did this one. I can’t wait to do it.
I’m always interested when bands do the ‘classic’ album shows if there were any songs you haven’t played for decades or had to relearn from scratch?
There might have been a couple…actually only one. I don’t think we ever did Live It Up at all. It wasn’t a studio recording, it was from a gig in 1977 at St Leonard’s Park. We liked it and chucked it on Face. We didn’t really have to re-learn it because it’s the sort of song you hear once and you’ve learnt it again. John didn’t want to do it of course, because it’s got harp on it. He just wants to play guitar and not have to worry about the harmonica. He is a great harp player.
Dave Gleeson is such a good fit with The Angels. What has his involvement brought to the line up of the band?
The obvious thing is he is a great singer and a great front man. And you can probably tell from just seeing him that he is also a great bloke. He is good fun to have around. He is very committed to doing what he does, both with us and The Jets. The guy works his arse off in both bands. But one of the best things is that we have recorded two new albums with this line up of the band (Take it To The Streets 2012 and Talk The Talk 2014) and Dave got involved in writing some songs, lyrics and a couple of melodies. Which he has never really done before and it turns out he is a great lyricist.
Were the shows you did with The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra recorded?
Absolutely. Every instrument, all the choir and the band of course. We are in process of mixing that now. It was also filmed, eight cameras. So I’m looking forward to seeing that too. I’ve heard some of the mixes and it’s turned out stunning.
I understand that mostly working with an orchestra can be a handful as they are highly regulated and down tools on the second that it’s a tea break. Where rock’n’roll bands are the exact opposite. It’s a lot about feel and instinct, jamming and so on. Which you can’t do with an orchestra. How did those things work together for you guys?
They are a bit like clockwork. It’s not something we had to worry about at all. We just did our thing. Obviously we had to learn the correct arrangements. So there was no room for improvising, lengthening or shortening anything, which happens quite often in a live situation. But it all had to be exact, but the conductor Rob John, was the go between. He speaks both languages and he was amazing. He worked with the orchestra and with the band and was able to interpret between the two really smoothly.
The Angels Face ll Face : 40 Years On tour hits The Gov on November 16 (limited tickets available) and 17 (SOLD OUT). Tickets from The Gov.
Interview by Ian Bell