Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Angels - Doc Neeson (RIP)

One of the most recognisable voices in Australian rock 'n' roll, Doc Neeson, died today from a brain tumour, aged 67. He fronted iconic Oz pub rock band The Angels, and will forever be remembered as both a gentleman, and a rock 'n' roll pioneer.

I had the good fortune of interviewing him for Melbourne's Inpress in 2008 - the story, for which Neeson was in great form, is below.

The Angels - Doc Neeson

You've forgotten who The Angels are, haven't you. No way, get fucked, fuck off. Ah, that's the way, of course you'd remember, who could forget? Although, there were until recently, a lot of people out there, both fans of The Angels and anyone else vaguely interested in rock ‘n' roll, who never thought they'd see their faces again.  The Angels, I'm talking about here, the original Angels. 

Those were good times my friends – the rock ‘n' roll attitude of a genuine pub rock band in full swing, Doc Neeson talking charge, the brothers Brewster (John and Rick), Chris Bailey and Graham 'Buzz' Bidstrup backing him up, and then some. Yeah, they were good times. And then, in 1999, disaster struck as Neeson was involved in a serious car accident, and to put it bluntly, everything for the band went to hell.

Where did The Angels go? Detractors might have said there was no way, they got fucked, they fucked off. Those in the know however, lived in hope of a reunion, a make up, a reincarnation of the original Australian band who walked tall and proud during the ‘70s and ‘80s, bringing entire audiences to their knees in beer-soaked appreciation of the music that has made these five rockers icons in their own right.
And now, there's light at the end of the tunnel. The clouds have parted and the sun is shining through, oh hallelujah and glorious day, the original Angels have reformed after ten years apart – ten years of, firstly, painful rehabilitation for Neeson, then rivalry, then bitterness – ten years of no real Angels. To obtain a sense of perspective then, let us review: the band didn't reform after Neeson's accident, rather they split, with the Brewsters, Bailey and Bidstrup going one way, and Neeson the other. 

Everything came to a head last year, legally, and at that point, even the most ardent of Angels fans wouldn't have been too optimistic about seeing the original five up on a stage together again. “The reason we split I suppose, was because I had the bad car accident, it wasn't just splitting just for its own sake,” confirms Neeson himself.  “So those guys went on and called themselves The Original Angels Band, and when I was able to get back into things again, I went out as Doc Neeson's Angels.

”But we had an agreement not to use the name, The Angels. And The Original Angels Band, I found, were quite often getting advertised as The Angles, so I had to tell them to stop it,” he goes on with a laugh.  “And that caused a fair bit of friction... I don't know, it may have been the promoters responsible and not the band, but regardless I had to ask them to stick to the agreement. So anyway, that did have some friction about it, but with this anniversary coming up, we thought, well, why not get back to the music and focus on that?"

Simple really, although after the dramas, it almost seems unbelievable.  “It's probably to everybody's amazement, everyone involved is kinda going, 'Oh, who'd have though it?'," chuckles Neeson. "Never say never."
Never say never indeed, although this isn't just a random reformation. It is, as Neeson alluded to, the 30th anniversary of the release of the band's seminal 1978 record, Face To Face, one of The Angels' most popular releases, featuring tracks like ‘Marseilles’, ‘After The Rain’ and ‘Take A Long Line’. 

“You can thank Alberts Music for that really," Neeson says of the reunion itself.  "This is the 30th anniversary of our album, Face To Face, and they'd (Alberts) been working on putting out a fair bit of really interesting product from the band, and they were doing a special release around the anniversary, so they asked us would we get together. 

“I guess the overall feeling was, ‘Well, we’re really proud of this album, and we'll put our differences behind us and get out and play the album to the fans again’. I'm not sure what other reason, well, I guess we're getting together for the music, you know? I'm not sure what else might have drawn us back together again, but the music has always been a key issue for us."
I venture that Face To Face, the reason this is all happening albeit 30 years down the track, would have been an incredibly important record for the band back then, given it was their second record, and one they needed to nail to prove themselves. "This album, Face To Face, actually broke some new records. At one point, it was the longest running record in the charts, it was in the charts for 78 or 79 weeks," Neeson remembers. 

"And we had George Young and Harry Vander producing this record, obviously they were with the Easybeats, so we had this whole rock heritage thing... that rock thing the Easybeats had, the torch got passed along to us. Of course, it's gone on. So this album meant a lot to us then and it does now.

"That album was pretty much the album that defined The Angels' style too," Neeson goes on. "We created our own guitar sound, the rhythm section found a way to work with the guitar so the band got all focused around the rhythm guitar. And then with great songs and a distinctive vocalist, well... you could say that pretty much all the Alberts bands had that – AC/DC, Rose Tattoo, even the Choirboys. I think we helped to define an Australian sound." 

I ask you, what better reason to reform one of our greatest rock bands, than for the anniversary of the release of a record which helped define the Australian rock ‘n' roll sound? People should be excited, the band certainly are.  The question remains though, will there be a life for the Angels after this national reunion / anniversary tour?
"I don't know," is the honest response. "I think it's fair to say that there might still be some tensions there, I don't think it's realistic to think that after strains in the relationship, it's necessarily all going to be easy, but I don't see any major problems there. We're trying to put our troubles behind us, and that's all good, so let's put our focus on the music. The proof of the thing will be when we actually get up and start touring." There you have it folks, straight from the Doc's mouth. And you think all this is bullshit?  No way... well, you know the rest.

Samuel J. Fell

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