NO Australian band has had been forced to have more name changes than The Angels.
Co-founders John and Rick Brewster, along with many of the men and women who worked with the band over their 40 year history, have documented their indelible contribution to the Australian songbook and the internal conflicts which became headlines in recent years in The Angels, a new book by Bob Yates out today.
After a stint as the Moonshine Jug and String Band, they relaunched their rock career as the Keystone Angels in Adelaide in 1974.
While they achieved stratospheric success in Australia as The Angels throughout the second half of the 1970s, they had to change their name to Angel City when launching their career in the US in 1980 to avoid legal conflict with an American glam rock band called Angel.
But the ultimate confusion for fans of the much-loved band came when their late frontman Doc Neeson quit in 2000 and the band splintered into competing versions variously called Members Of The Angels, The Original Angels Band, Angels 100% and The Angels with Dave Gleeson.
There was one glorious reunion of the line-up featuring Neeson, the Brewsters, Chris Bailey and Buzz Bidstrup in 2008.
But the Brewster brothers were occasionally cast as the villains in The Angels ranks, which have included 13 musicians over four decades, for daring to continue to play the songs they helped to write and record.
It was the same dilemma which had faced AC/DC, INXS, Dragon and other bands who wanted to continue despite the absence of a celebrated frontman.
“At the end of the day we stopped and asked ‘Why can’t we continue our band?’ If other people don’t want to be in it, that’s fine, that’s their choice,” John said.
“Doc wanted to do his own thing. We had our songs and the name of the band, which is obviously incredibly important.
“The struggle for the name was way less than you think. It never went to court. It was a lot of stirring up by others.”
The pair clearly miss Neeson and their late bassist Bailey, whose lives were claimed by cancer in recent years.
John’s son Sam now plays bass and the band remains wildly popular as a live act with Screaming Jets singer Dave Gleeson serving as its singer for the past six years.
But the book is as much a history lesson on the dramatic influence of pub rock on Australian culture as it is an attempt to set the record straight about their infighting.
They reveal champions from David Bowie, who took the band on his Australian tour in 1978 as The Angels’ second album Face To Face with its hits Marseilles, After The Rain, Take A Long Line and I Ain’t The One dominated the rock airwaves.
John said he knew the band were big when he could hear the album being played at backyard BBQs all over his inner western Sydney neighbourhood.
“I lived in Concord when we released Face To Face. We had done the David Bowie tour and that took the whole thing through the roof.,” he recalled.
“It was just coming up to summer and you could walk out your front yard on a clear night with no wind and hear Face To Face blaring out of almost every house or backyard BBQs.
“No one ever recognised me in a supermarket anyway, without the dark glasses. We loved that. Doc would get a bit more accosted than we would.”
The Keystone Angels performing in the 1970s
A superfan recently unearthed live concert footage of the band’s early incarnation as the Keystone Angels, who were signed to seminal independent label Albert Music after being championed by AC/DC brothers Angus and Malcolm Young.
“It is the first time I have ever seen film of the Keystone Angels performing,” Rick said.
“I have spent a lifetime kind of wondering what Angus and Malcolm Young and others saw in us to cause them to call their brother George and Harry Vanda to check us out and sign us.
“We looked utterly ridiculous but we had a good feel. And you can see the beginning of Doc’s character that he revealed about four years later.”
The book is out now and the Brewsters kick off a music and reading tour in late August with all dates via theangels.com.au
Originally published as The Angels open up about internal strife