'50 Not Out'… 50 Things You Should Know About The Angels

28 June 2024 | 12:13 pm | Jeff Jenkins

"A band that changed Australian music forever."

The Angels

The Angels (Credit: Gary Bradshaw Photography/Supplied)

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These days, if a band lasts for five years, it’s a significant achievement. This week, The Angels kick off their 50 Not Out tour, celebrating their 50th anniversary.

It’s an extraordinary milestone. As the book The 100 Best Australian Albums points out, “The Angels can lay claim to being Australia’s longest-lasting band.”

It’s an epic tale, with plenty of twists and turns … and a cracking new album, Ninety Nine.

If you’re coming late to the Angels story, here are 50 things you might not know about the band that Jimmy Barnes believes “changed Australian music forever”. 

They call it “The Chant”. It’s as Aussie as Vegemite and meat pies. When The Angels perform their debut single Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again, the crowd’s response is:

No way, get f#cked, f#ck off!

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The band encountered the chant for the first time at a gig in Mount Isa in 1983.

“I genuinely thought they were telling us to get f#cked,” the late Doc Neeson told The Music. Neeson leapt into the crowd and quizzed an audience member about the origins of the chant. “Apparently, he’d been at a Blue Light Disco in Sydney, where the DJ would stop the record at that point, and everyone would do the chant.

“People took it all around Australia, and it became an integral part of the song. And it’s also gone overseas. If Australians want to know if other Australians are in the room in London, they put on Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again.

The Angels were born out of a band called The Moonshine Jug And String Band, which John and Rick Brewster started in Adelaide in 1970. The following year, they played at Myponga, one of Australia’s first music festivals, alongside Black Sabbath, Daddy Cool and Fraternity.

Just as Bob Dylan went electric, so too did The Moonshine Jug And String Band. Rick Brewster put down the washboard and picked up the electric guitar at The Modbury Hotel in Adelaide in 1974, and the band was renamed The Keystone Angels.

The new band’s first big gig was supporting Cheech & Chong at Adelaide’s Thebarton Theatre in June 1974. The audience threw Minties at them.

The Keystone Angels performed at Sunbury in 1975 and also toured as Chuck Berry’s backing band, supported AC/DC on a South Australian tour, played with Ike & Tina Turner, and released a single, Keep On Dancin’, written by what would become the famous songwriting combination: Brewster-Neeson-Brewster. They performed the B-side, Good Day Rock & Roll, on Countdown.

After being recommended by Bon Scott and Malcolm Young, The Keystone Angels signed to the legendary Albert’s label. AC/DC famously hated most of their contemporaries, but they loved The Angels. 

In 1976, while recording Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again, producer George Young suggested dropping the “Keystone” from the band’s name.

After The Angels’ self-titled debut album stiffed, Vanda & Young handed the production duties to young recording engineer Mark Opitz.

Opitz knew the band 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 Angels’ second album, Face To Face, was a blockbuster, spending 18 months on the charts and going quadruple platinum.

“The revolution was here,” Opitz later declared. “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.”

Adds Aussie legend Ross Wilson: “I’ll never forget the first time I heard Face To Face. That was a breakthrough album in the evolution of Australian music.”

Take A Long Line became The Angels’ first Top 40 single, reaching #29 in 1978.

David Bowie selected The Angels to be special guests on his first Australian tour in 1978. It bucketed down at the MCG show. Appropriately, The Angels Tour EP featured After The Rain.

Legend has it that Doc Neeson was offered the lead role of Max Rockatansky in Mad Max but had to decline due to touring commitments. The role went to Mel Gibson.

The Angels’ third album, No Exit, became the band’s first Top 10 hit, peaking at #8 in 1979.

The band’s New Year’s Eve gig, for an estimated 100,000 people at the Sydney Opera House at the end of 1979, was cut short when a riot broke out, and Doc Neeson and bass player Chris Bailey were hit by bottles.

The front-page headline in the next day’s paper was Night of Terror. Rock gigs at the Opera House were banned – a ban that remained for 17 years, until Crowded House’s “Farewell To The World” concert in 1996. The title track of The Angels’ fifth album, Night Attack, was inspired by the riot.

In 1980, The Angels signed an international recording deal with CBS. A new version of Face To Face – a mix of tracks from Face To Face and No Exit – was released on Epic Records in the US under the name Angel City to avoid confusion with American glam rockers Angel. It entered the Billboard 200, peaking at 152.

No Secrets, the lead single from the band’s fourth album, Dark Room, was the band’s first Top 10 single in Australia, peaking at #8.

Marseilles became the band’s highest-charting single in the US, peaking at 109.

Angel City did shows in the US and Europe with Cheap Trick who became massive fans. Guitarist Rick Nielsen remarked, “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.”

AC/DC asked The Angels to join them for the Australian Back In Black tour in 1981. The Music’s Christie Eliezer wrote 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.”

In 1982, 13-year-old Dave Grohl attended The Angels’ Paramount Theatre show in Seattle with his dad. He is not the band’s only high-profile fan in the US.

Axl Rose says, “One of the main reasons this band [Guns N’ Roses] got together was a song called Take A Long Line.” While Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready says: “I grew up on No Exit and Night Attack. That is the Australian music that meant so much to me.” 

In 1983, Doc Neeson told the band that the Narara Music Festival would be his last gig, as he planned to pursue an acting career. But the show went so well that he decided to stay.

Underground, from the band’s 1985 album Two Minute Warning, was a Top 40 hit on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart. In 1985, The Angels appeared at the Oz For Africa concert in Sydney, part of Live Aid, performing Small Price, Eat City, Underground and Take A Long Line.

Founding member John Brewster exited the band at the start of 1986. He was replaced by Bob Spencer (ex-Skyhooks). Brewster would re-join in 1993.

In 1986, American band Great White covered Face The Day on their second album, Shot In The Dark, and released it as a single. It was a chart hit in the UK.

The Angels’ 1987 cover of The AnimalsWe Gotta Get Out Of This Place became the band’s highest-charting single, peaking at #7 in Australia, and #13 in NZ.

In 1987, a Newcastle band named Aspect, fronted by Dave Gleeson, supported The Angels at the Cessnock Supporters Club. They had to write new original songs before the gig as most of their set list usually consisted of Angels covers. Gleeson would become The Angels’ lead singer 24 years later.

After one show on the Liveline tour, promoting the band’s 1988 live album, a punter told bass player Jim Hilbun: “Last time I seen youse guys, youse were shithouse. This time youse really carved it.”

The Angels formed a cover band called Youse Guys and did a Thursday night residency at the Crows Nest Hotel in Sydney. While recording in Memphis the following year with producer Terry Manning, The Angels also did gigs as Dancing Dick and the Richards and The Cow Demons.

In 1989, Axl Rose, Slash and Izzy Stradlin joined The Angels on stage at the Whisky a Go Go in West Hollywood to perform Marseilles.

Chrysalis Records released the band’s ninth studio album, Beyond Salvation, in the US and Japan in 1989, under the name The Angels from Angel City.

The Australian version of Beyond Salvation was released in 1990, featuring eight songs not on the international release. It became the band’s first number-one album. 

Beyond Salvation’s Let The Night Roll On was Mushroom Records’ first CD single.

The Dogs Are Talking Australian single also featured three unsigned bands, including Baby Animals. Break My Heart was Baby Animals’ first release.

Twenty-nine years after the Dogs Are Talking single, The Angels covered Baby Animals’ One Word, while Baby Animals did The Angels’ Marseilles.

The Dogs Are Talking NZ single featured two unsigned bands, including Shihad. Down Dance was Shihad’s first release.

Great White covered another Angels song, Can’t Shake It, in 1991.

The Angels’ 1992 single Tear Me Apart was used as part of the National Drug Offensive Alcohol and Violence Campaign.

In 1995, the band announced plans to split, but a farewell tour went so well, they decided to stay together.

1997’s The Lounge Lizards tour also featured guest singers Angry Anderson and Ross Wilson. Angry called it, “The loudest acoustic band in the world.” The following year, Angry inducted The Angels into the ARIA Hall of Fame.

The Angels performed at Mushroom’s 25th anniversary concert at the MCG in 1998. 

The Angels appeared in the Jane Campion film Holy Smoke!, starring Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel, in 1999. The band performed Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again and I Put A Spell On You.

Mick Ronson’s final solo album, Heaven and Hull, featured a version of Take A Long Line, with Mott the Hoople’s Ian Hunter and Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott on vocals. In 2000, Grinspoon also covered Take A Long Line for the Sample People movie, starring Kylie Minogue.

In 2004, rugby league character Reg Reagan (Matty Johns) reworked an Angels classic as Am I Ever Gonna See The Biff Again. The single, credited to Reg Reagan & The Knucklemen, featured John Brewster on guitar. It was a bigger hit than the original, peaking at #11 and going gold.

A 2008 tour saw a band reunion, with the press release announcing: “The quintessential Angels line-up will be touring for the first time since 1981: Brewster, Neeson, Brewster, Bailey and Bidstrup.” The tour was filmed for the documentary No Way, Get F*#ked, F*#k Off!

Doc Neeson announced he was leaving the band in 2011. His last Angels gig was at Summernats in Canberra on January 8. The Screaming Jets’ Dave Gleeson became the new Angels singer. Drummer Nick Norton also joined the band.

The band has had five drummers: Charlie King, Graham “Buzz” Bidstrup, Brent Eccles, Nick Norton and Tom Brewster.

In 2013, I Come In Peace, written by Rick Brewster and Ross Wilson, was Joe Cocker’s final single. The Angels’ version would later appear on the Talk The Talk album, the band’s second album with Dave Gleeson.

Doc Neeson died of a brain tumour, aged 67, in 2014. The following night, Guns N’ Roses paid tribute by covering Marseilles at their Las Vegas show. “This one’s for Doc,” Axl Rose said. “From The Angels to the angels.”

In 2010, The Angels were granted a Lord Mayoral Town Hall reception in Adelaide – the only band apart from The Beatles to receive the honour.

The band’s documentary, The Angels: Kickin’ Down The Door, was chosen as the opening night film for the 2022 Adelaide Film Festival. And the Adelaide City Council has honoured the band with their own lane. The Angels Lane is located off Gawler Place, near the North Terrace cultural precinct.

Dave Gleeson announced he was leaving The Angels in 2023, to focus on The Screaming Jets and his Triple M radio commitments.

“Being a part of such a legendary legacy will always be one of my great achievements,” he said. “John, Rick, Sam and Nick will always hold a special place in my rock ’n’ roll journey. Rock on and see youse on the road.”

Drummer Nick Norton became the band’s new lead singer, while John Brewster’s son Tom joined on drums, meaning the band now has two sets of Brewster Brothers – John & Rick and Sam & Tom.

The Angels’ first album with Nick Norton out front, Ninety Nine, is released to coincide with the band’s 50 Not Out tour, which kicks off in Melbourne on June 28.

This is it, folks, over the top!