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THE ANGELS: THE JOHN BREWSTER ‘A-Z’ INTERVIEW

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AC/DC, Cold Chisel, and The Angels are as much a part of the Australian rock music fabric as The Stones, Zeppelin, and The Who are to the British rock ‘n’ roll establishment. Sure, there are many others but there is no denying the significant contribution of those triumvirates on the rock n roll landscape of each country. One of those legendary Australian bands, The Angels is currently traveling around the country, still rockin’ the roof off on their A-Z classic hits tour. Their original voice might be gone but their songs remain the same, loud and iconic and current singer Dave Gleeson is doing a stellar job keeping the legend alive. Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips spoke to The Angels’ rhythm guitarist JOHN  BREWSTER about the past, present and future.

I saw a YouTube clip of The Angels playing in France just a couple of months ago, how was that tour?
It was unbelievable. We did the Garage in London on the Wednesday, the Thursday at the Forum in Paris and 2 nights later at a Swedish rock festival. I have never seen an audience like the Forum audience. I mean, the audiences in Australia are unbelievable but the French audience were not only roaring but they were singing Rick’s guitar solos. It was like this 500 track guitar solo going on. (see video below)

Do you remember having much of a French fan base back in the day?
We did really well there in 1980 and for some crazy reason, never went back there. You’d have to ask our ex-manager why because to me, it was completely stupid. We had such a market there and did really well in Germany, Amsterdam, sold out the Marquee in London, red-lining through France and never went back there. Don’t ask me why.

You also captured the imagination of a lot of bands and fans in LA in the 80s …
Right across the States. The band did a hell of a lot better in the States and Canada than people realise.

Do you remember much about touring there?
Some of it. It has been amazing. We are 41 years old now, the band and obviously there have been changes over the years. Dave Gleeson now sings with us and he is incredible. My son Sam plays the bass. Sam took over well before Chris died and is playing beautifully. We have a young drummer Nick Norton who plays beautifully. It might sound like I am hyping you but the reality is the band is playing with as much energy as we ever have and Dave is handling that front man role beautifully. He’s not trying to step into anyone’s shoes, he brings his own thing to the party. It’s happy days.

What did you and your brother Rick listen to growing up?
Rick was studying classical piano and in fact won the Australian Eisteddfod at the age of 16, so he was quite steeped in classical music. Dad was the lead cellist in the symphony orchestra and our grandfather was a concert pianist. So Rick was on the classical side of the fence and I was the black sheep of the family. I got into Bob Dylan when I was 13 and then The Beatles came along and The Rolling Stones and that incredible 60s era but my greatest love was Bob Dylan and still is.

Who was the first guitarist that you noticed?
The thing is, I am a rhythm guitarist and have always played guitar to sing songs to. I think that is one of the reasons it works so well between me and Rick. Rick is a soloist, whereas I am more like the engine room or whatever you want to call it. I come up with riffs and melodies. Rick does too. I didn’t get into guitarists as much as bands. The Beatles and Stones were huge for me. Hendrix came along and I loved him but didn’t get into him like Rick did. I got into The Band and bands like Free, so maybe Paul Kossoff. Of course we met AC/DC in 1975 and became friends with those guys immediately. I would put Angus Young at the top of the tree and Malcolm. Being a rhythm guitar player myself and sitting in hotel rooms with Mal swapping riffs, we used to do that. I have great memories of that. Very sad memories now because Malcolm has this very early dementia and it’s very sad. I rate those guys very highly, George Young as well.

I was at the Myer Music Bowl when your old band, The Moonshine Jug and String band played their last gig. What do you remember about that day?
You’re kidding, were you really?  My memories of Moonshine Jug and String band are incredibly happy ones. That was a very good, fun band. I guess we wrapped it up at the Myer Music Bowl because we’d formed The Angels. When I say we, it was me, Rick and Doc. Doc wasn’t an original member of Moonshine, he came into the band about a year after we formed. It was a very successful band and funnily enough, on October the 2nd they are inducting us into the South Australian Music Hall of Fame. We’re pretty chuffed about that and Doc is no longer with us but we are going to do a dedication to him on the night. Doc has been inducted into that same hall of fame posthumously. Chris Bailey will be inducted too. So you saw the Moonshine Jug and String band? How fantastic!

I used to see you guys a lot back in the day but I don’t recall hearing the audience refrain to Am I Ever Going To See Your Face Again back then …
Why you don’t remember from back then is because we stopped playing the song. We got tired of it. It was our first single and when we released Face to Face and No Exit, all that stuff was cutting edge back then and we kind of saw ‘Face Again’ as a bit old hat. Now of course we don’t see it like that, it is a huge song for us. The funny thing is that we didn’t play it for years and we were up at Mt Isa playing a gig to 3 or 4 thousand people in their town hall. We finished the show and they were calling for encores, they wouldn’t leave. It was the first time we had ever played there. We had a quick conversation in the dressing room and someone suggested we do ‘Face Again’. We thought, shit, do we remember it? We thought, we’ll be fine, let’s go out and do it. So we do the song and 4 thousand people yell out, no way, get fucked, fuck off. It blew us away. We thought, what the hell was that. That was the first time we became aware of it. We then put the song back in the show. We went across to Cairns and made our way down the east coast and everywhere we played, the same thing happened. We went across to Perth and Adelaide and it happened there. So this was something which happened unbeknownst to us. Now of course, you can be 6, 60 or 76 and they all do it.

And that was without social media or the internet…
Yes, you’ve hit on it. It was like bush telegraph back then. We are talking 1983 when we did that concert and there was nothing like that … no mobiles, it was incredible. The thing is that, we think it’s funny … it doesn’t actually relate to the song. The song is actually about a sad subject. It’s about a girl who was killed in a car accident. What I do love is the larrikin Australian. That is a great example of that larrikin sense of humour that Australians have. It’s like ‘it’s a long way to the shop if you want a sausage roll’ and that song Living Next Door to Alice, where they’d go Alice? Who the fuck is Alice? I don’t know if that happens in other countries? Consequently. I love it that they do that to our song.

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You toured with Chuck Berry and David Bowie. Did you get to meet those guys?
Well Chuck Berry, I was his bass player. He would just pick up a band in Australia. We did Keystone Angels with Charlie King on drums with Rick and me and we played with him. I played the bass but wasn’t allowed to play any bass runs so it was very boring. I mean, it was great to be on stage with Chuck Berry but he was hard work, let me tell you. But he’s Chuck Berry and has influenced so many rock and rollers … John Lennon, ourselves, Angus Young is a huge fan.

And Bowie? What are your memories of that tour?
The greatest tour I ever did. He was so gracious and loved The Angels. He chose us, we weren’t just put on his tour. I remember doing the Bondi Lifesaver on a night off from the Bowie tour and Bowie and his entire band came to our show. They were right down underneath the stage in what we call the punter barrier between the audience and the stage. They were there for the whole show. We had 1800 people in a room that was licensed for about 500 and there was Bowie and his band. There was Carlos Alomar, Adrian Belew, wonderful players and they loved The Angels. What a tour that was.

Has your gear changed much over the years?
No, I feel a bit like Charlie Watts who was once asked about new technology and he said, yeah I have something new, I got a new snare skin! It’s a bit like that for me. I have been playing my old Les Paul for donkey’s years. But having said that, I am actually playing a Telecaster at the moment. I have put a little ’59 humbucker pickup in it so you get the humbucker sound. I got the Tele because when we went overseas, I didn’t want to take my old Les Paul with me, it’s pretty rare and valuable.

Where did you get it?
I bought that in Los Angeles in 1985. We’d just had our truck stolen. We had two trucks stolen in The States, one in the 1980 in Chicago and then again in 1985. Devastating it was. I still miss the Gold Top Les Paul that was stolen in 1980, that I used for Face to Face, No Exit and Dark Room. I’d give anything to get that guitar back but I never will. We had a show that night the truck was stolen. We had nothing and were doing a live to air broadcast from a place called The Palace in Los Angeles. We had a sell out crowd and no gear. I went down to a second hand guitar store. I think it was called Voltage guitars. There was this Les Paul hanging on the wall and I just pulled it down and strummed a few chords. I sounded right. I plugged it in and made sure it actually worked. It sounded great, so I bought it and it has been with me ever since.

How did you get such a chunky guitar tone?
I guess it is in the fingers but it’s a bit more than that. We bought AC/DC’s Marshalls in 1977 when they went overseas. That to me was one of the most significant things about The Angels sound because we’d had pretty awful amps before that. When we bought Angus and Malcolm’s Marshalls, we got that sound. It’s a combination of that and Rick’s 1957 Epiphone Sheraton and my Gold Top Les Paul, a great rhythm section and that was The Angels. We still get great sound. I tend to use a Vox AC30 most of the time now. I just love the open back thing, it spreads around the stage. We probably don’t play as loud as we used to. We used to play louder than death and now ‘nearly’ as loud as death!

What about pedals? I imagine you’re not that huge on pedals?
I have never used a pedal in my life! I’ve got a great guitar, a lead … I actually use a transmitter/ receiver these days but really … just a great amp and a great guitar.

All the great bands have great guitar riffs and The Angels had many… how hard did you work at the riffs? Did they mostly just come naturally?
I think the best ones came naturally. Things like the opening of After The Rain, that came to me in a hotel room pretty immediately. Marseilles, same thing. I wrote that in about 20 minutes. I think sometimes the best songs do come quite quickly. I think if you have to work at a riff it may end up sounding like you did. We’ve got a song on latest album Talk The  Talk  that we have done with Dave Gleeson, which I am really proud of by the way. I reckon it is one of the best albums we’ve ever done. We were in the studio and had recorded all of these tracks and Rick said, does anyone have any other ideas? I used to walk around the house with my little Mini Maton, playing this blues riff. I started playing that and we recorded it and twenty minutes later we had it recorded. I gave a CD of it to Dave, went away and he came back a  week later with this fantastic song. When it happens like that, these spontaneous things, they are the kind of songs that live forever I think. We’ve got  a lot of songs which do fortunately, that is why the band is still out there playing and why we still get huge audiences. I think your repertoire is bigger than the individuals in the band. The audiences love Dave Gleeson now, they don’t make comparisons. Doc was Doc and Dave is Dave.

Is there a song which is closer to your heart than others?
It’s an interesting question because I could look at it from different perspectives. I wrote Marseilles and that is internationally our biggest song ever followed closely by Take A Long Line which Rick wrote. Those two songs are big for me but my favourite song at the moment and probably forever will be, is Skid Row After Dark which we recorded for the No Exit album. That to me was a really good example of Rick and me collaborating on a lyric and chord progression and we really loved the song. It was never a single but we’ve been playing this A to Z tour and it’s a song I look forward to playing every night. I mean I look forward to playing them all really.

So the A-Z tour … surely you don’t have songs beginning with each letter of the alphabet? How are you getting around that?
By lying basically. It’s like poetic license. I mean, Be With You is under ‘U’! No Exit is under ‘X’. Am I Ever Going To See Your Face is under ‘Y’ for ‘Your’. When you try to do a song which starts with every letter, we found that so many songs begin with ‘S’… Shadow Boxer, Save Me etc so Shadow Boxer is under ‘B’ for boxer. Every letter is represented.

You were always one of our hardest working bands. Did you need to rehearse much?
This band is so funny. We all live all over the country. We get on a plane and go and do the gigs. We could put one of the old songs into the set and say OK, let’s play Ivory Stairs for example. They’ll do their homework and virtually just go on stage and play it. We’re just a really tight unit. So we really don’t rehearse. When we do that sort of thing, it’s to work on new songs. To me it is a big part of our life that was very difficult in the 90s with Doc to record new songs. He really didn’t want to do it. Dave is just so open to it. I am not meaning to make comparisons between Doc and Dave but that side of our creative life has opened up again. We have done two new albums with Dave. We’re not doing one this year but we probably will next year. That’s a really important part for me, yet I know that people who come along and see us play want to hear all those old songs. That’s Ok, we sneak a few in.

You’re touring through to the end of September, then what?
I reckon we will do some Brewster Brothers things. We enjoy that. We’ve been doing some shows with my three sons on stage, so there are 5 Brewsters on stage but it’s really good. I love it. I sit on stage with my acoustic guitar. That’s all I do in the Brewster Brothers is play acoustic. I have my son Harry and Rick trading off guitar solos. Rick sits down in the Brewster Brothers because he plays keyboard and guitar. I have my son Sam playing bass and my other boy Tom on the drums.

http://theangels.com.au/

The Angels remaining A-Z dates

Thursday 27th August 2015
Woombye Pub, SUNSHINE COAST QLD
www.thewoombyepub.com.au

Friday 28th August 2015
Acacia Ridge Hotel, ACACIA RIDGE QLD
www.acaciaridgehotel.com.au

Saturday 29th August 2015
Beach House Hotel, HERVEY BAY QLD
www.beachhousehotel.com.au

SEPTEMBER 2015
Friday 4th September 2015
Chelsea Heights Hotel, CHELSEA HEIGHTS VIC
www.chelseaheightshotel.com.au

Saturday 5th September 2015
Shoppingtown Hotel, DONCASTER VIC
www.shoppingtownhotel.com.au

 

Here’s The Angels performing in Paris in June this year

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