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www.therockpit.net Interview-John-Brewster-The-Angels-Nov-2011

INTERVIEW – JOHN BREWSTER, The Angels

 

By Shane Pinnegar

 


The Angels have been blazing a trail around Australia’s beer barns and clubs and festival stages for several decades now through a variety of lineups, as well as touring extensively overseas, initially under the name The Angels From Angel City, then Angel City.

 

After singer Doc Neeson was injured in a car crash in the nineties, legal action has flared intermittently as the singer struggled with his injuries and painkillers, then with the thought of the band going on tour without him. During the early 2000’s Rick & John Brewster led the band on the road as The Original Angels Band, with John assuming vocal duties.

 

Now, as we head towards 2012, The Doc Neeson Band is touring successfully, and The Angels featuring Dave Gleeson are about to show us what they can do. Gleeson, lead singer of The Screaming Jets, has been around the country a couple of times recently, first with the Whole Lotta Love Led Zeppelin Celebration, then as part of the Raise The Flag Bon Scott tribute, co-singing classic AC/DC tracks with The Poor’s Skenie. Now it’s time to see what he can do with these classic Angels songs.

 

Despite the flack the band is receiving for this latest coupling from their former singer, John Brewster, founding member of the band and, along with brother Rick, co-keeper of the band’s legacy, is excited and passionate about getting out on the road again, and looking forward to following recent single ‘Waiting For The Sun’ with some more new material...

 

 

First of all, congratulations on the new single ‘Waiting For The Sun’ – it really has an old-school Angels sound to it. Who wrote that one?

 

Well my brother Rick and I wrote that song, along with lyrics from a guy called Joe Burnham who used to play in Supernaut way, way back. We wrote it as a Brewster Brothers song, but it seemed to suit The Angels style, so we sat in the kitchen of my house with a couple of guitars in our hands and got a nice ballsy sound and came up with ‘Waiting For The Sun’

 

How did you and Dave Gleeson decide to work together?

 

Just serendipity – he lives in the northern suburbs of the Adelaide Hills, and Rick & I did a gig at a place called The House in Handorf, it’s a German town there, and we did a Brewster Brothers gig there. Dave turned up, there he was in the audience, so Rick & I said “Do you want to come up and do a few songs”, and he said he’d love to. What did we do… ‘Take A Long Lone’ and ‘Marseille’, ‘Face The Day’ – I don’t remember what else. And normally Brewster Brothers don’t do a lot of our Angels repertoire, but we did a few that night and we just looked at each other and wondered if it was worth approaching him to see if he wanted to sing in The Angels. Because Doc had left the band – he’d told us he wanted to do a solo career, and he didn’t want to be seen as singing in The Angels while he was doing a solo career. We sorta said, well no problem with that – except what we do is, we do our solo things like Brewster Brothers, Chris has Gangajang, and we’ll work it around Angels tours and special gigs that we do, but Doc said no, he didn’t want to do any [Angels] gigs – so we said “well what about us”? So basically we were left high n’ dry, so when Dave Gleeson turned up at this gig we asked if he wanted to do some shows together and he just jumped at it – he’s a big fan.

 

 

Mmm – I’ll get back to Doc later on… Dave’s style is pretty different to Doc’s – how has the reaction been from die-hard fans?

 

Unbelievable! We’ve done two shows – as Rick Brewster’s Angels, but we can now be The Angels. But it’s not ABOUT Doc – it’s about the songs. Remember we did The Original Angels Band with me singing for quite a few years and that went down great with the fans. To me our repertoire is bigger than any of us. We’re lucky, we wrote some songs that people love – and no-one plays ‘em better than us, guys! [laughs]

 

So you were never tempted to call the band something different?

 

No we don’t see any need to do that. If somebody like Doc decides to leave, that’s their right, that’s fine, but that doesn’t mean they take the name with ‘em. The Angels is our band – Rick & I started this band back in 1974, and we wrote most of the songs – a lot of people think it’s the other way round, ‘cos Doc’s the singer, but in fact we wrote them. We spent our lives as The Angels, so if he wants a solo career then that’s fine, but we continue…

 

Do you have any plans for more new music with Dave?

 

Yeah absolutely – we have some shows in Japan and look forward to 5 or 6 days sitting down and songwriting for a new Angels album. Which we can’t do with the original line-up, because Doc doesn’t want to do it – he doesn’t want to do anything new. That’s not something that sits comfortably with us, because we’ve always been about writing songs and recording them, same with Brewster Brothers, we’ve recorded a lot of songs as The Brewster Brothers. We’re songwriters – that’s all we want to do. That’s different to Doc, and he stands on his own two feet – he’s a great rock singer, he’s got that fantastic, almost Bon Scott swagger, and I love it – so all he has to do is be himself and not try to fill anyone’s shoes.

 

Do you think The Angels get the respect as Australian rock icons that you deserve?

 

Yeah, I do actually – yeah. It hasn’t always necessarily been the case and there’s a lot of misconceptions about our history. I mean, a lot of people think we went overseas and died in the arse basically, which is not the case at all - we headlined major centres in many states in America, 6 to 8 thousand seat venues, did generally well in France, England, Holland, Germany… We didn’t crack the big time, I must admit - it’s very hard to do that. If we could turn the clock back we’d probably have gone over and stayed there like AC/DC did. We tried to do all that from Australia, and particularly in those days it was really difficult. You know, you’d fly over there, go on the road, rack up a whole lot of un-recouped record royalties, then you’d come back to Australia and do shows just to get some money together to launch another assault – whereas AC/DC just went over and stayed there. We were label-mates at the time, and they went over in ’77 – but we weren’t ready, we weren’t good enough [at that stage]. It took our “Face To Face” album to get the band [to that point] and that came out in ’78, and we chose not to move over there – maybe we were too conservative, I don’t know…

 

Certainly the hair metal bands were big fans of The Angels – or Angel City [as the band was known overseas] – Great White did a couple of cover versions [‘Face The Day’ and ‘Can’t Shake It’] and various members of Guns n’ Roses cite the band as an influence…

 

Oh yeah, they used to play my song – ‘Marseille’. And I just found out recently that Kurt Cobain was a major fan of The Angels. We were really big in Seattle – Pearl Jam were fans, it kinda blows me away that Kurt Cobain was – and Pearl Jam, really – yeah we’ve influenced a lot of people, and we’re kind’ve proud of that. We’re definitely a cult band over there, but we could tour again – we may do so, I don’t know. In the meantime we’re doing really well in Australia – most of the shows with Dave Gleeson are selling out, so it’s a good sign that the band will continue and do well.

 

It was only five or so years ago that I went looking for a couple of the old albums on CD and I couldn’t find them anywhere, but there have been some re-releases [on Liberation Blue and Alberts] since then to help restore the band’s legacy a bit…

 

Yeah the thing is that the band was in limbo, and Doc opted out in 2000, for different reasons – and whatever they are, they’re his reasons and I don’t want to go into it, but we didn’t have a deal any more. As soon as we got back together and started doing shows, Alberts re-released “Face To Face”, they released “No Exit”, the first album, outtakes from all those alums, Liberation put out all the other albums from “Dark Room” through…

 

Which era of the band will the set-list for the current tour be pulled from?

 

Well all the biggies will be there, but also some songs we haven’t played for many years – ‘Save Me’ comes to mind, it’s a great song with a great lead break for Rick, we’ll do ‘Devils Gate’, I play a harmonica solo in that one and that always goes over well – I’m not much of a harmonic player but I do it for that song and it goes well [laughs]. All the big hits like ‘After The Rain’, ‘See Your Face Again’, ‘Take A Long Line’, ‘Marseille’, ‘Comin Down On Me’, ‘Face The Day’, ‘Can’t Shake It’…

 

They’re all classics – that’s a killer setlist right there

 

 

Yeah thanks, like I say, we got lucky and wrote some good songs, songs that don’t sound dated today. Even though the band’s been around since the mid seventies - we didn’t write about the era and we didn’t write much boy-girl kinda stuff, ‘Be With You’ is probably the most romantic song we’ve ever written – and it IS romantic!

 

Oh for sure – my wife and I had it in our wedding playlist earlier this year!

 

Did you? I sang it to my wife at my wedding!

 

In hindsight – I know there was that period where you left the band in the 80’s and the music they put out was a bit more “experimental” – but is there any period of the band’s music where you look back and cringe on?

 

No I don’t think I’d cringe about anything – and certainly not about what the band did when I wasn’t in it. Even though I was one of the major songwriters I never thought the band couldn’t continue without me – “The Howling” album is really good, actually, and… oh it’s so long ago I’ve forgotten the name of it…“Beyond Salvation”! I thought “Redback Fever” was a bit ordinary, so if you wanna go cringe, maybe that one. I just got that one out recently, that was the last album we did with Brent Eccles on drums. And there was “Skin & Bone” which not many people apart from Angels fans would know about…

 

I must admit – I know about it, but it’s the only album I don’t have…

 

You know, it’s actually really worth getting. It took us so long to record it – years. We’re such a dysfunctional unit I guess! I rarely listen to our old albums, but I did recently and I thought gee, it’s got some really good stuff on there. Plus it was a big album for us at the time – but sometimes you make something that just slips through the cracks and doesn’t take hold. Its funny ‘cos when we toured on that album we were selling out every night, it was a huge tour for The Angels – yet that record wasn’t selling particularly well… don’t ask me why, just happens that way sometimes…

 

Just to touch one last time on Doc before we finish up, I did notice on Facebook that whoever runs his Facebook page posts up quite regularly that he still considers himself the official singer for the band – yet you’ve stated that he was quite clear that he didn’t want to record and tour and all that sort of stuff. Do you see a resolution to this at any point?

 

It’s hard to see. It’s an interesting point that he seems to be making there, that he considers himself still in band, when he told us that he wasn’t interested in being in the band – or at least not being in the band for years. And I have that in writing. And I’m not going to give in to commenting on why he’s done it and have an argument – it’s that simple. It’s not the first time he’s wanted to go off and do something solo, regardless if it’s ill advised. But look, you can’t stop someone if that’s what they’re gonna do – if he doesn’t want to be seen as being the singer in The Angels – and he stated that [it’ll be for] at least one or two years, maybe longer – and this band is our lifeblood. You know, we have to live – Chris Bailey has got a baby, at the tender age of 59 he’s finally got a son [laughs], and his son is one year old and has got to be fed, you know. The Angels is our career - we put our lives into this band, we’re no different from Angus and Malcolm from AC/DC, except they’re a helluva lot bigger [laughs]. Nah I love those guys and wish them well – they’re friends of ours… and we made our mistakes along the line…

 

But getting back to Doc leaving the band – that’s what he did, he left the band. And we said “Look, Doc, if you leave then we’re going to have to find another singer”, and he said “You can’t do that without me”, and we’ve had legal advice and yes we absolutely can. He’s had plenty of opportunity to change his mind and come back, but he’s chosen not to, so what’s been posted there I would challenge…

 

Do you think that the mudslinging – and just to clarify, I haven’t heard any mudslinging from your side of the fence – but I have heard a bit from some people who are close to Doc – do you think it damages the brand name?

 

[Pauses] Mmm it’s interesting. If you were at the two shows we did with Dave Gleeson recently you would say there was no damage to the brand name what-so-ever. They were a huge response to Dave and the band. My own opinion about Facebook is that it’s a great opportunity for some people to make a big noise. It’s pretty in-house though, I don’t think it’s representative of The Angels fans at large. Maybe Doc’s fans? If they think we’ve done the wrong thing by Doc, then I can’t change their mind, I’m not going to be jumping on [to Facebook and arguing]. We stand tall and proud of our band, and the band continues. Doc chose not to be there. The spin that has been put on it is wrong – he was advised in writing long before it was announced to the public, and he chose not too be a part of it. It’s that simple.

 

Does it tarnish the brand name? Maybe it does, but I don’t think it’s representative of 1% of Angels fans – we have a huge fanbase, we’re going out on the road and selling out venues again and again. We have a proud heritage and we play the larger pubs and clubs around this country and we’re proud of that. We also play concerts, we did The Symphony of Angels thing with the symphony orchestra in Adelaide, and I think all these things we do just elevate the brand – and it is a brand, and that’s why we don’t call ourselves something else. It’s The Angels. That’s who we are.

 

Well we can’t wait to hear those songs played live again, and it’ll be interesting to see what Dave can bring to them as well.

 

You know, I can only gush about him – he’s fantastic, he is such a great singer, a really good guy and a bundle of energy. Little bit younger than us [laughs] but he makes us work harder too, he’s great.

 

We saw him with the Whole Lotta Love Led Zeppelin Celebration last year, and the Raise The Flag Bon Scott show recently – he’s just manic!

 

You gotta go back to when you first formed a band, and what caused that to happen. My brother Rick, he’s an incredible musician, incredible guitarist and keyboard player. He’s got a Bachelor of Agricultural Science degree – he could’ve gone on with a career in that, we could have all gone on with a career in whatever field, but you have this amazing passion for music. And that’s what sustains us today – we obviously do it for a living, but we honestly love what we do.

 

It shows…

 

Thankyou [Laughs]. I think on ‘Waiting For The Sun’ – the new single – it shows. We’re not just going through the motions, that passion is there – you can’t pretend that, you’ve either got it or you don’t.

 

 

For sure. If you could go back in time and magically be part of the creation of any album that inspired you, what would it be?

 

Probably “Blonde on Blonde” by Bob Dylan… I think it’s unbelievable!

 

Ahh a classic – my favourite Dylan album

 

Oh you and I are getting along very well, aren’t we!

 

[both laugh]

 

Actually Rick & I just did an album of Bob Dylan songs as Brewster Brothers. We play a couple of songs like ‘Just Like A Woman’, ‘Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright’, we sometimes do ‘Love Minus Zero’. And people would come up and say that they loved the way we do Bob Dylan, and we picked up so many Dylan songs over the years we thought, why don’t we go and do an album of them. So we went to this fantastic studio in the Adelaide Hills called Mixmasters – just a wonderful studio. Great guy who runs it is a magnificent engineer, and three days later we had the album. It’s available from The Brewster Brothers website – www.brewsterbrothers.com and we’re very proud of it – it turned out great! Sometimes you go into the studio and the magic happens, and every time that happens, you think “Oh we know how to make the magic happen now”, but sometimes it just doesn’t [laughs].

 

There’s no rhyme nor reason to it – [recording this album with Rick] was just magic, Rick played the bass, I sat down to play the acoustic guitar and vocals, we did all of that just live, went from song to song to song, added a few overdubs and it just sounds like a band.

 

[John talks at length about his passion for Dylan’s music and even seeing him live in 1966, the tour where people actually stormed out when he played electric, in defiance of his status as a so-called “folk hero”. ]

 

Those people [who left] must have looked back and kicked themselves later on for missing Dylan playing ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ – it’s unbelievable!

 

Absolutely! Finally John, what for you is the meaning of life?

 

The meaning of life for me… [thoughtfully] welllllll… I dunno. Oh gee – you’ve thrown me. You’re asking me to be deep & meaningful while sitting here on the front lawn on this beautiful sunny day, looking at the sea right across the road here in South Australia. I have three fantastic sons who are all musicians, one step daughter, my wife Sue, we live in this wonderful spot and… well, that’s part of the meaning of life for me!

 

And just trying to stay in touch with all the reasons you did this thing in the first place – for me, that’s very important too. You know, staying with the music – it’s a continuing process to write new songs and get out there to play for people. That’s what it was about right back in the very early days.

 

And I can tell you that the meaning of life takes on a more profound place in your head and your heart when you go through what I went through [John suffered a heart attack in late 2008 and underwent a 5-way bypass operation. His son Sam finished The Angels tour in his place. At the time John was quoted as saying Sam was “the obvious choice, since he learned all the songs in the womb”].

 

I was very serious there for a very short time, and some wonderful people saved my life, and if you didn’t realise it before, you realise how much people mean to you, family and close friends…

 

The funniest thing is, I was lying there, mid-heart attack, and my golf swing came into my head! I’m like “what the hell am I thinking about my golf swing for?”! [laughs] It just goes to show what an addiction that game is…

 

Well I realised that when your publicist was adamant that we couldn’t have this interview yesterday as you were on the golf course!

 

Ah well, yes – Wednesday – that’s what I do! That’s the thing though – there’s been some stress obviously, all year, with all this stuff going on [with The Angels], and I go out there on Wednesday and I play golf with people who have nothing in common with me at all – and we sit around and have a glass of wine and some nice conversation at the end of the day, and any of this shit going on about the band or whatever, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s relaxing and recharging, so important.

 

Thanks very much for your time John – it’s been great. I can tell you that a lot of people in Western Australia are very excited to be seeing the band again!

 

Well thankyou – Western Australia is very special to us, and I can tell you that the band is red hot!

 

TOUR DATES:-

 

10th Nov FLY BY NIGHT, Fremantle WA
11th Nov CHARLES HOTEL, Perth WA
12th Nov ENDEAVOUR TAVERN, Lancelin WA
13th Nov RAVENSWOOD HOTEL, Ravenswood WA
19th Nov GOVERNOR HINDMARSH, Adelaide SA
23rd Nov THE JUNIORS – KINGSFORD, Kingsford NSW
24th Nov DAVISTOWN RSL, Davistown NSW
25th Nov CANBERRA STHN CROSS CLUB, Canberra ACT
26th Nov BELMONT 16FT SAILING CLUB, Newcastle NSW
1st Dec COMMERCIAL HOTEL, South Morang VIC
2nd Dec FERNTREE GULLY HOTEL, Ferntree Gully VIC
3rd Dec CHELSEA HEIGHTS HOTEL, Chelsea Heights VIC
4th Dec MACS HOTEL, Melton VIC
8th Dec MARLIN HOTEL, Ulladulla NSW
9th Dec PENRITH PANTHERS, Penrith NSW
10th Dec DEE WHY RSL, Dee Why NSW
15th Dec REDLAND MULTI SPORTS CLUB, Brisbane QLD
16th Dec NORTHS LEAGUES CLUB, Brisbane QLD
17th Dec TWIN TOWNS SERVICES CLUB, Gold Coast QLD

 

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