“A band that changed Australian music forever” – Jimmy Barnes
This is it, folks, over the top!
Is there a more Australian experience than seeing The Angels perform their debut single, ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’, with the crowd chanting in unison:
No way, get fucked, fuck off!
The irony is The Angels have never gone away. As the book The 100 Best Australian Albums points out, “The Angels can lay claim to being Australia’s longest-lasting band.”
The Angels have a storied history. And it’s a story that’s still being written by founding members John and Rick Brewster, and singer Dave Gleeson, drummer Nick Norton, and John’s son, Sam, on bass.
“The band is re-energised to the extent that I feel like it’s a young band again,” Rick says. “I feel like I felt when we started out.”
“We’ve survived all these years and gone on to make new music,” John adds. “Something we can be proud of.”
Thirteen studio albums, eight Top 10 albums, 17 Top 40 singles … but that tells only part of The Angels story. It’s the relationship with the audience that means everything to the band, built via thousands of gigs. An exhilarating exchange of energy. As Rick notes, “The hour-and-a-half onstage is what makes it all worthwhile.”
“A guaranteed great time anywhere” – David Fricke, US Rolling Stone
“The Angels had a profound effect on live music in Australia. Their shows raised the standard expected of live music” – Toby Creswell, former Rolling Stone Australia editor
Producer Mark Opitz knew The Angels had found their sound when he heard John Brewster playing the distinctive nic-nics guitar for ‘I Ain’t The One’. Opitz dubbed it sophisticated punk – sophisto-punk.
“The revolution was here,” Opitz later reflected. “Pub rock would now sound good on record. Just as Nirvana would kill the hair rock bands, Face To Face spelled the demise of glam pop in Australia. Rock had arrived, and The Angels were the new kings.”
“I’ll never forget the first time I heard Face To Face. That was a breakthrough album in the evolution of Australian music” – Ross Wilson
“The Angels helped re-define the Australian pub rock tradition” – Ian McFarlane, The Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop
Following the success of Face To Face and No Exit, The Angels signed an international record deal and toured the US and Europe, influencing young bands around the world.
“One of the main reasons this band [Guns N’ Roses] got together was a song called ‘Take A Long Line’” – Axl Rose
“I grew up on No Exit and Night Attack. That is the Australian music that meant so much to me” – Mike McCready, Pearl Jam
Growing up in Newcastle, Dave Gleeson – who later formed The Screaming Jets – also loved The Angels. “Their songs from the late ’70s and early ’80s are more ingrained in me than even Jets songs, because they’ve been with me since I was 12 or 13 years old.”
When Dave rocked up to a Brewster Brothers gig in the Adelaide Hills in 2011, they asked him what Angels songs he knew. “All of them,” he replied. After Dave joined them on stage, John and Rick knew they had found their new lead singer. Dave was initially reluctant, due to his reverence for Doc, but he couldn’t resist joining his favourite band.
“I’m definitely respectful of the fact that I’m not the creator of the Angels’ sound,” Dave says. “And I’m mindful of bringing that energy that Doc brought to the band. But it’s a real treat for me to be up there blasting out songs that I’ve loved since I was a kid.”
The Angels’ long-time booking agent, Tony Grace, says adding Dave to the band was a masterstroke. “You couldn’t write a better script. I held in high regard what Doc did in his generation … but Dave Gleeson was the best of the best in the current crop. He is what rock ’n’ roll and Australian pub rock stands for.”
More than four decades into their remarkable journey, The Angels remain fierce and uncompromising. They have always done things their own way. As rock historian Ian McFarlane notes, “The Angels were often seen as a punk/new wave outfit, yet the high-energy sound, powerful guitar riffing and muscular yet supple rhythm section took the band beyond such easy categorisations.”
This is it, folks, over the top! remains an irresistible rallying cry to rock ’n’ roll.
Australian rock legend Jimmy Barnes calls The Angels’ sound “powerful, aggressive and joyous”, adding, “I hope they do it for many more years to come.”
That’s the plan.
NO SECRETS – THE ANGELS TIMELINE
1970: The Moonshine Jug and String Band starts in Adelaide, with John and Rick Brewster.
1971: Moonshine Jug and String Band plays at Myponga, “a festival of progressive pop music”, south of Adelaide, alongside Black Sabbath, Daddy Cool and Fraternity.
Bernard “Doc” Neeson joins the Moonshine Jug and String Band.
1974: The Moonshine Jug and String Band goes electric and becomes The Keystone Angels at a gig at The Modbury Hotel in Adelaide.
The Keystone Angels support Cheech & Chong at Adelaide’s Thebarton Theatre. The audience throws Minties at them.
1975: The Keystone Angels perform at Sunbury, tour as Chuck Berry’s backing band, support AC/DC on a South Australian tour, play with Ike & Tina Turner, and release a single, ‘Keep On Dancin’’, written by Brewster-Neeson-Brewster.
They perform the B-side of the single, ‘Good Day Rock & Roll’, on Countdown.
The Keystone Angels sign to the legendary Albert’s label – after being recommended by Bon Scott and Malcolm Young.
1976: While recording ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’, producer George Young suggests dropping the “Keystone” from the band’s name.
The band relocate to Sydney.
‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’ is released as the band’s debut single.
Drummer Charlie King leaves the band and is replaced by Graham “Buzz” Bidstrup.
1977: Bass player Chris Bailey joins, allowing Doc to focus solely on being the frontman.
The band’s self-titled debut album, produced by Vanda & Young, is released.
1978: The Angels support Meat Loaf on his Australian tour.
‘Take A Long Line’ becomes the band’s first Top 40 single, reaching #29.
Second album, Face To Face, produced by the band and Mark Opitz, is released. It peaks at #16, spends 79 weeks on the charts, goes quadruple platinum and is later featured in The 100 Best Australian Albums. “Face To Face was where it all came together in the studio … there was nothing superfluous in the songs’ arrangements, everything perfectly measured for maximum rock ’n’ roll thrills.”
Peter Ledger wins Best Cover Design for the Face To Face album at the King of Pop awards.
Doc is reportedly offered the lead role of Max Rockatansky in Mad Max, but has to decline due to touring commitments. The role goes to Mel Gibson.
The Angels are selected by David Bowie to be special guests on his first Australian tour. The Tour EP, featuring ‘After The Rain’, is released to coincide.
1979: Third album, No Exit, is released. It’s the band’s first Top 10 album, peaking at #8.
The Out Of The Blue EP, featuring the third studio version of ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’, peaks at #29.
The band’s New Year’s Eve gig, for an estimated 100,000 people at the Sydney Opera House, is cut short when a riot breaks out in the crowd and Doc and Chris are hit by bottles thrown on stage. The front-page headline in the next day’s paper is: Night of Terror. Rock gigs at the Opera House are banned – a ban that remains for 17 years, until Crowded House’s “Farewell To The World” concert in 1996.
1980: The Angels sign an international recording deal with CBS. A new version of Face To Face – a mix of tracks from Face To Face and No Exit (‘Take A Long Line’, ‘Marseilles’, ‘After The Rain’, ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’, ‘Shadow Boxer’, ‘Comin’ Down’, ‘Out Of The Blue’, ‘Can’t Shake It’, ‘Waiting For The World’, ‘No Exit’) – is released on Epic Records in the US, under the name Angel City, to avoid confusion with American glam rockers Angel. It enters the Billboard 200, peaking at 152.
‘Marseilles’ becomes the band’s highest-charting single in the US, peaking at 109.
The Angels receive a Countdown Producers Award (for continued co-operation, enthusiasm and professionalism) at the Countdown Music Awards.
Angel City do their first US gig, at the Roxy Theatre in San Diego. They also do shows with Cheap Trick. Guitarist Rick Nielsen becomes an instant fan. “They’re like an AC/DC with strange lyrics. Their music is a bit more theatrical with more ups and downs, more emotion; not emotion, but strangeness.”
Alberts release a best-of album, The Angels Greatest. It reaches #5.
‘No Secrets’ becomes the band’s first Top 10 single, peaking at #8.
Fourth album, Dark Room, is released, peaking at #5 in Australia, 37 in New Zealand and 133 in the US.
US tour with The Kinks (The Angels are kicked off the tour for being “too good”), followed by European shows with Cheap Trick.
1981: AC/DC asks The Angels to join them for the Australian Back In Black tour. Christie Eliezer writes in Juke: “The reaction to The Angels was so phenomenal on some of the shows that observers muttered the tour could well have been billed as a double-header.”
Buzz Bidstrup leaves the band, replaced by Brent Eccles.
The New Zealand-only EP Into The Heat is released.
The Never So Live EP, featuring ‘Fashion And Fame’, is released, peaking at #17.
Fifth album, Night Attack, is released, peaking at #11 in Australia, 14 in NZ and 174 in the US. The title track was inspired by the Opera House riot.
1982: Recovering from an eye operation, Chris Bailey cannot fly to the US for the start of the Night Attack tour. He is replaced by Jim Hilbun, who becomes the permanent bass player when Chris leaves the band.
Teenager Dave Grohl attends the Paramount Theatre show in Seattle with his dad.
1983: The Angels play at the Narara Music Festival. Doc tells the band it will be his last gig as he plans to pursue an acting career, but the gig is such a success, he decides to stay. The show is filmed and The Angels – Live At Narara is later shown on Channel 9 and simulcast on Triple M.
The band encounters the infamous “No way, get fucked, fuck off!” chant for the first time – at a gig in Mount Isa.
Sixth album, Watch The Red, is released, peaking at #6.
1984: Seventh album, Two Minute Warning, is released, on Mushroom Records in Australia (peaking at #2) and MCA in the US (peaking at 201).
1985: US tour with Canadian hard rock band Triumph.
‘Underground’, from Two Minute Warning, is a Top 40 hit on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart.
The Angels appear at the Oz For Africa concert in Sydney, part of Live Aid, performing ‘Small Price’, ‘Eat City’, ‘Underground’ and ‘Take A Long Line’.
Epic release The Angels Greatest Vol. II, which peaks at #38.
1986: John Brewster leaves the band – his last gigs are at Melbourne’s Myer Music Bowl and The Palace in St Kilda on January 27. He is replaced by Bob Spencer (ex-Skyhooks).
Eighth album, Howling, is released, peaking at #6 in Australia and #10 in NZ.
American band Great White cover ‘Face The Day’ on their second album, Shot In The Dark, and release it as a single. It charts in the UK, peaking at #97.
1987: A cover of The Animals’ ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’ becomes the band’s highest-charting single, peaking at #7 in Australia, and #13 in NZ.
A Newcastle band named Aspect, fronted by Dave Gleeson, supports The Angels at the Cessnock Supporters Club. They have to write new original songs before the gig as most of their set list usually consists of Angels covers.
1988: A double live album, Liveline, is released, peaking at #2 in Australia and #13 in NZ. A live version of ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’ is released as a single and reaches #11. As The Angels author Bob Yates notes, “These were the songs that defined the perfect night out for any red-blooded suburban Aussie kid during the previous 10 years. The soundtrack of their youth.”
Bob Spencer breaks his wrist during the Liveline: This Is It Folks – Over The Top (Then Now And Everything In Between) tour. With six weeks of the tour to go, he is replaced by Jimi Hocking, who would later join The Screaming Jets.
After one show on the Liveline tour, a punter tells Jim Hilbun: “Last time I seen youse guys, youse were shithouse. This time youse really carved it.” The Angels form a cover band called Youse Guys and do a Thursday night residency at the Crows Nest Hotel in Sydney.
Live At Narara is released on video.
1989: Axl Rose, Slash and Izzy Stradlin join The Angels on stage at the Whisky a Go Go in West Hollywood to perform ‘Marseilles’.
Jim Hilbun leaves the band, replaced by James Morley.
While recording in Memphis with producer Terry Manning, The Angels do gigs as Dancing Dick and the Richards and The Cow Demons.
Chrysalis Records release the band’s ninth studio album, Beyond Salvation, in the US and Japan under the name The Angels from Angel City. It is a mix of new songs and re-recorded old songs (‘Dogs Are Talking’, ‘Rhythm Rude Girl’, ‘Let The Night Roll On’, ‘City Out Of Control’, ‘Junk City’, ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’, ‘I Ain’t The One’, ‘Who Rings The Bell’, ‘Can’t Shake It’).
1990: The Australian version of Beyond Salvation is released, featuring eight songs not on the international release. It becomes the band’s first number one album, topping the charts in June. It also becomes the band’s biggest chart hit in NZ, peaking at #3. Five singles are released from the album: ‘Let The Night Roll On’ (#17), ‘Dogs Are Talking’ (#11), ‘Back Street Pick Up’ (#23), ‘Rhythm Rude Girl’ (#77) and ‘Bleeding With The Times’ (#54).
‘Let The Night Roll On’ is the first Mushroom single released on CD.
The ‘Dogs Are Talking’ Australian single also features three unsigned bands, including Baby Animals. ‘Break My Heart’ is Baby Animals’ first release.
The ‘Dogs Are Talking’ NZ single features two unsigned bands, including Shihad. ‘Down Dance’ is Shihad’s first release.
The Angels tour Australia with Cheap Trick.
1991: Great White cover ‘Can’t Shake It’ on their fifth album, Hooked.
Tenth studio album, Red Back Fever, is released, peaking at #14 in Australia.
1992: A new single, ‘Tear Me Apart’, is used as part of the National Drug Offensive Alcohol and Violence Campaign. The Alcohol and Violence Tears You Apart tour also features Rhino Bucket and The Poor Boys.
Red Back Fever is reissued as part of a two-CD set with Left Hand Drive, a collection of rarities.
The compilation Their Finest Hour … And Then Some is released.
James Morley leaves the band.
Bob Spencer leaves the band.
Moonshine Jug and String Band reunites for some Adelaide shows.
1993: Moonshine Jug and String Band records the Rent Party album.
The Angels ask John Brewster to play at the City of Cycles Ball in New Zealand. John re-joins the band, and Jim Hilbun also returns.
Terror Australis Incognito tour with Judge Mercy and The Poor.
1994: A best-of album, Evidence, is released, featuring two new songs, ‘Don’t Need Mercy’ and ‘Turn It On’. The album peaks at #30.
The Barbed Wire Ball tour also features The Screaming Jets.
1995: ‘Turn It On’ is released as a single and the band does the Never Before and Never Again acoustic tour.
Hard Evidence tour, and release of The Hard Evidence Tour EP.
The band announces plans to split, but a farewell tour goes so well, they decide to stay together.
1996: Independent single ‘Call That Living’ is released, available only at gigs.
1997: The Lounge Lizards tour also features guest singers Angry Anderson and Ross Wilson. Angry calls it, “The loudest acoustic band in the world.”
The Angels sign to Shock Records and release the single ‘Caught In The Night’.
The second Barbed Wire Ball tour also features The Screaming Jets and Horsehead.
1998: Release of the 11th studio album, Skin & Bone, which peaks at #29.
The Angels are inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame by Angry Anderson.
The Angels perform at the Mushroom 25th Anniversary Concert at the MCG. ‘Dogs Are Talking’ is featured on the Mushroom 25 Live album.
1999: The Angels appear in the Jane Campion film Holy Smoke, starring Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel. The band performs ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’ and ‘I Put A Spell On You’.
The Liveline album is remastered and repackaged, featuring 10 bonus tracks.
Doc is injured in a car accident on the way to rehearsals for the Liveline 99 tour.
Release of Greatest Hits – The Mushroom Years.
Doc organises and performs at the Tour of Duty concert for the Australian troops in East Timor. Doc is awarded the Australian Services Medal.
The Angels perform at the Darwin Millennium Concert on December 30.
2001: The ‘Band of Angels’ (the Brewster brothers, Chris Bailey, Buzz Bidstrup, and Jim Hilbun on vocals) perform at Gimme Ted, a benefit for Ted Mulry in Sydney.
An article in New Idea headed “An Angel No More” reveals that Doc has left the band as he continues to recover from his car accident.
The Brewster Brothers start playing live, doing covers and acoustic versions of Angels songs.
Grinspoon cover ‘Take A Long Line’ for the Sample People movie, starring Kylie Minogue.
2002: Shock release The Complete Sessions 1980 – 1983, a four-CD set gathering everything from Dark Room to Watch The Red.
2004: The Brewster brothers, Chris Bailey and Buzz Bidstrup tour as The Original Angels Band.
Rugby league character Reg Reagan (Matty Johns) covers ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’ as ‘Am I Ever Gonna See The Biff Again’, credited to Reg Reagan & The Knucklemen. The single features John Brewster on guitar. It’s a bigger hit than the original, peaking at #11 and going gold.
2005: Live At The Basement, recorded by the Brewster brothers, Chris Bailey and Buzz Bidstrup, is released, credited to The Original Angels Band.
2006: Wasted Sleepless Nights: The Definitive Best Of peaks at #22.
The Brewster Brothers release their debut album, Shadows Fall.
2007: Doc Neeson’s Angels release the Liberation Blue album Acoustic Sessions, featuring acoustic versions of Angels songs.
The Countdown Spectacular 2 tour features Doc Neeson’s Angels.
Doc Neeson’s Angels do 13 shows for the Australian troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait, as part of Tour de Force. Major General Mark Evans, the commander of the Australian forces in the Middle East, presents Doc with the National Service Medal and the Australian Defence Medal.
Release of the Ivory Stairs EP.
Wasted Sleepless Nights: The Definitive Greatest Hits is released on DVD.
The Brewster Brothers release the album In Concert: At The Port Fairy Folk Festival.
2008: Doc returns to the band. The press release announces: “The quintessential Angels line-up will be touring for the first time since 1981: Brewster, Neeson, Brewster, Bailey and Bidstrup.”
The tour is filmed for the documentary No Way, Get F*#ked, F*#k Off!
Deluxe reissues of The Angels, Face To Face and No Exit.
The DVD This Is It Folks – Over The Top is released, documenting The Angels’ performance at La Trobe University in 1979.
John, Rick and Doc are inducted into the Australian Songwriters Hall of Fame.
2009: The Brewster Brothers release Wounded Healer, featuring a new version of ‘Face The Day’.
The Angels, Rose Tattoo and The Screaming Jets do the Australian Monsters of Rock show at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre on Anzac Day.
The Angels By Request tour allows fans to choose the set list via the band’s website.
2010: Face To Face is featured in the book The 100 Best Australian Albums.
The Symphony of Angels show, at Adelaide’s Festival Theatre, sees the band team up with the 30-piece Adelaide Art Orchestra.
2011: Doc announces he is again leaving the band. His last Angels gig is at Summernats in Canberra on January 8.
The Screaming Jets’ Dave Gleeson becomes the new Angels singer. Drummer Nick Norton also joins the band. They release an EP, Waiting For The Sun.
The new line-up makes its live debut, at Sydney’s Annandale Hotel on June 30.
Greatest Hits, which also features nine live songs, reaches #26 and is certified platinum.
2012: Take It To The Streets – the band’s 12th studio album and first in 14 years – is released. It peaks at #24. The band also releases a new live album, Live At QPAC.
A Day On The Green tour with Baby Animals and Hoodoo Gurus.
2013: Chris Bailey dies of throat cancer, aged 62.
John Brewster’s son, Sam, joins the band on bass.
Doc Neeson is awarded an Order of Australia medal (OAM) for his services to music and the community.
‘I Come In Peace’, written by Rick Brewster and Ross Wilson, is Joe Cocker’s final single. The Angels’ version will later appear on the Talk The Talk album.
2014: The 13th studio album, and second with Dave Gleeson, Talk The Talk, is released, peaking at #46.
The three-disc 40 Years of Rock – Vol 1: 40 Greatest Studio Hits reaches #20. 40 Years of Rock – Vol 2: 40 Greatest Live Hits is also released.
John and Rick Brewster are inducted into the South Australian Music Hall of Fame.
Doc Neeson dies of a brain tumour, aged 67. The following night, Guns N’ Roses pay tribute by covering ‘Marseilles’ at their Las Vegas show. “This one’s for Doc,” Axl Rose said. “From The Angels to the angels.”
2015: The Angels tour UK and Europe, including the Sweden Rock Festival.
Moonshine Jug and String Band, and Doc Neeson and Chris Bailey are inducted into the South Australian Music Hall of Fame.
2016: The Angels and Dave Gleeson are inducted into the South Australian Music Hall of Fame.
2017: The Angels book, by Bob Yates with Rick and John Brewster, is published by Penguin Random House.
Brothers, Angels & Demons, a 36-song collection, is released, featuring the last songs recorded by the Brewster/Neeson/Brewster/Bailey/Bidstrup line-up, at the Symphony of Angels show in Adelaide in 2010.
2018: The second Symphony of Angels show sees The Angels team up with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, at the Festival Theatre, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Face To Face.
2019: The Red Hot Summer Tour with Suzi Quatro, Baby Animals and The Screaming Jets.
Symphony of Angels at the Sydney Opera House and Melbourne’s Hamer Hall.