Alongside Cold Chisel, Midnight Oil, The Hitmen and Rose Tattoo, The Angels had a profound effect on the Australian live music scene of the late 1970s/early 1980s. The Angels helped redefine the Australian pub rock tradition, a tradition that had its kickstart at the hands of Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs, Coloured Balls, AC/DC and others earlier in the decade. The Angels' brand of no-frills, hard-driving boogie rock attracted pub goers in unprecendented numbers. In turn, The Angels' shows raised the standard expected of live music. After 20 years on the road, the band showed little sign of easing up on the hard rock fever.
The Angels originally formed in 1970 as Moonshine Jug and String Band, playing coffee houses and university campuses around Adelaide, South Australia. The line-up included John Brewster (guitar, banjo, harp, washboard), Rick Brewster (violin, percussion), Craig Holden (guitar), Bernard `Doc' Neeson (aka Doc Talbot; guitar, vocals), Bob Petchell (banjo, harp) and Pete Thorpe (tea chest bass). Moonshine Jug and String Band issued the independent single `That's All Right with Me'/`She Belongs to Me' and the four-track EP `Keep You on the Move' which was a Top 5 hit in Adelaide. Both records came out on manager John Woodruff's Sphere label. The band reformed in 1993 and recorded the album Rent Party (1994).
In 1974 the band turned electric and began -playing 1950s rock'n'roll/R&B material on the pub circuit as The Keystone Angels. A national tour as backing band for Chuck Berry, a standing ovation at the 1975 Sunbury festival and a single, `Keep on Dancing'/`Good Day Rock'n'Roll' (also on Sphere, 1975), all followed. By 1976, the band had toughened its sound into a unique brand of beefy hard rock and, as The Angels, they were signed to the Albert label. Vanda and Young produced the band's first single, `Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again?'/`Round We Go' (May 1976). Graham `Buzz Throckman' Bidstrup replaced Charlie King on drums in August 1976, and Chris Bailey (ex-Red Angel Panic, Headband) joined on bass in January 1977. That allowed Neeson to concentrate on his duties as frontman. With renewed vigour, The Angels issued the single `You're a Lady Now'/`Can't Get Lucky' (July 1977) and the album The Angels (September).
The Angels started 1978 with the release of the crunching single `Comin' Down'/`Live it Up' (March), which was a sign of things to come. The band cracked the national charts for the first time with the buzzing `Take a Long Line'/`Love Takes Care' (July 1978; #29 in November). Mark Opitz produced the band's watershed second album, Face To Face (August), which reached #16 in November. It stayed on the charts for 79 weeks to qualify for platinum status four times over (280000 copies sold).
By that stage, The Angels were Australia's highest paid band, attracting record crowds wherever they played. As the consummate frontman, the charismatic Doc Neeson injected a strong theatrical edge into the band's on-stage antics. The Angels were often seen as a punk/new wave outfit, yet the high energy sound, powerful guitar riffing and muscular yet supple rhythm section took the band beyond such easy categorisations.
In November 1978, The Angels supported David Bowie on his first Australian tour, which coincided with the release of The Tour EP: `After The Rain'/`Who Rings The Bell?' (live), `Comin' Down' (live). On New Year's Eve 1979, The Angels played in front of close to 100000 people on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. The night ended in a riot and rock music was banned from official Sydney New Year's Eve celebrations. Chris Bailey and Doc Neeson were both hit on the head with bottles and had to receive stitches to deep cuts.
The third album, No Exit (#8 in July 1979) produced one single `Shadow Boxer'/`Planned Obsolescence' (#25 in June 1979). Alberts also issued the 12-inch EP `Out of the Blue', `Mr Damage' (live)/`Save Me' (live), `Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again?' (1979 version)(#29 in November 1979) and the compilation album The Angels' Greatest (#5 in May 1980) before The Angels signed and American deal for five years with CBS/Epic. The first CBS/Epic album, Dark Room (#6 in June 1980), yielded three singles: `No Secrets'/`Staring Voices' (#8 in May 1980), `Poor Baby'/`I'm Scared' (live) (June) and `Face the Day'/`Public Enemy' (September). Meanwhile, The Angels had toured the USA, billed as Angel City. The name change came about to avoid confusion with the US glam metal band Angel.
On their first US tour (supporting Cheap Trick), The Angels had all their equipment stolen in Chicago. Cheap Trick's Rick Neilson donated several guitars in order to help keep the band on the road. Angel City was kicked off a Kinks tour, so the story went, because the band was too good! US Epic issued the albums Face to Face (a compilation of the Australian albums Face to Face and No Exit), Dark Room and Night Attack. Although The Angels rarely charted in the USA, bands like Mötley Crüe (who covered `Take a Long Line'), Guns N' Roses (who covered `Marseilles') and Great White (who recorded `Face The Day' and `Can't Shake It') have cited them as a primary influence.
In March 1981, New Zealander Brent Eccles (ex-Space Waltz, Citizen Band) replaced Bidstrup who went on to GANGgajang and The Party Boys. That same month, the non-album single `Into the Heat'/`Back on You' (later included on the compilation Greatest Hits Vol. II) reached #14 on the Australian chart. The new line-up issued the Never So Live 12-inch EP (`Fashion and Fame', `Talk About You'/`Bad Dream', `Angel') (#17 in October 1981) and the album Night Attack (November) which saw the songs moving into heavy metal territory. The album peaked at #11 on the national chart, and produced two further singles `Night Attack'/`Devil's Gate' (February 1982) and `Living on the Outside'/`Storm the Bastille' (May 1982). In April 1982, Los Angeles musician Jim Hilbun replaced Bailey, and the band toured the USA for the fourth time.
The albums Watch the Red (#6 in May 1983) and the American recorded Two Minute Warning (#2 in February 1985) were well received. Watch The Red produced the singles `Stand Up'/`Chaplain's Drum' (#21 in November 1982), `Eat City'/`Let Me In' (#22 in April 1983), `Live Lady Live'/`Live Lady Live #2' (May) and `Is That You?'/`Stay Away' (August). Two Minute Warning gave rise to `Between the Eyes'/`Dead Man's Shoes' (October 1984), `Look the Other Way'/`Run for Shelter' (February 1985), `Sticky Little Bitch'/`Breakdown' (March) and the double single `Underground'/`Underground' (live); `Small Price' (live)/`Look The Other Way' (live) (June).
Despite the strong album sales, all was not well within The Angels' camp and long-serving member John Brewster left in February 1986. He was replaced by Bob Spencer (ex-Finch, Skyhooks, Young Lions) in March. Brewster spent time with The Party Boys and then joined The Bombers.
The Angels came out of that difficult period of transition with the multifarious Howling album (October 1986) which reached #6 nationally in December. It produced four singles in `Nature Of the Beast'/`All Night for You' (#22 in August 1986), `Don't Waste My Time'/`Hide Your Face' (#25 in October), `Can't Take Anymore'/`Stonewall' (April 1987) and a tenacious cover of the Mann/Weil song `We Gotta Get Out Of This Place'/`Be With You' (January 1987) which reached #6 in March. The 12-inch version of `Don't Waste My Time' added `Don't Waste My Time' (extended mix), while the 12-inch of `Can't Take Anymore' also contained the additional track `Standing Over You'.
The double live album Liveline (February 1988) spanned ten years of Angels material. It peaked at #2 nationally, and yielded two singles, `Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again'/`Marseilles' (#6 in March 1988; the 12-inch version added `Shoot it Up') and `Love Takes Care'/`Be with You' (May; the 12-inch added `Eat City'). In May 1988 Spencer broke his wrist and 21-year-old Jimi `The Human' Hocking deputised for him on the ambitious Live-line tour of Australia. The Angels also issued the non-album single `Finger on the Trigger'/`Straight Aces' in November. Once again, the 12-inch version boasted an additional track, `Living in the Bodyguard of Luxury'.
In 1989 The Angels signed with Chrysalis in the USA, and recorded Beyond Salvation in Memphis, Tennessee, with producer Terry Manning (ZZ Top, Led Zeppelin). During that time the band, with Manning on guitar, played fun gigs billed as Dancing Richard and the Dicks and The Cow Demons. The band members were also made honourary citizens of Memphis. Halfway through the sessions, Perth musician James Morley (ex-Strawberry Blonde) replaced Jim Hilbun. On its release in June 1990, Beyond Salvation went to #1 in Australia, remaining on the charts for 38 weeks and achieving platinum sales in the process. It was one of The Angels' best albums, Manning having stripped the band's sound back to basics and brought the guitars to the fore.
It spawned four popular singles: `Let The Night Roll on'/`Junk City' (#17 in February 1990), `Dogs are Talking' backed with demo tracks by Baby Animals, The Hurricanes and Desert Cats (#11 in May, and the band's first-ever gold single), `Back Street Pick Up'/`Take It Easy' (#23 in October) and `Rhythm Rude Girl'/`Beyond Salvation', `Bitch' (live) (November). The US version of Beyond Salvation on Chrysalis featured a completely different track selection, including a number of alternative versions of songs on the Australian edition.
On 18 February 1990, The Angels, along with Midnight Oil, Split Enz, Crowded House, Jimmy Barnes, Noiseworks and v Spy v Spy played to over 40 000 people at the Earthquake Relief concert in Newcastle. In February 1991, The Angels issued the double single pack `Bleeding with the Times'. It contained two previously unissued tracks from the Memphis Beyond Salvation sessions, `Bleeding with the Times' and `Blood on the Moon', plus two remixes from the Howling album `Don't Waste My Time' and `When the Time Comes'.
The band's thirteenth album, Red Back Fever (December 1991), produced the singles `Some of that Love'/`Mercury Blues' (October 1991), `Once Bitten Twice Shy'/`Don't Break Me Down' (January 1992) and `Tear Me Apart'/`Tear Me Apart' (extended mix) (#33 in July). Mushroom reissued the album in July 1992 as a double CD pack with Left Hand Drive (an album of rare and previously unissued material) in time for another extensive national tour, the Alcohol and Violence Tears You Apart tour.
In 1993 John Brewster and Jim Hilbun returned to the fold, replacing Spencer and Morley. Spencer formed The Temple Gods with Liam Shields (vocals), John Conomos (guitar), Rick Grant (bass) and Peter Heckenberg (drums; ex-B.B. Steal, Black Cat Moan) with whom he issued the album Tempted (October 1995).
The Angels' sixteenth album, Evidence (December 1994), was a `Best Of' collection with two new tracks, `Turn It On' and `Don't Need Mercy'. The tracks were issued as CD singles in November (`Don't Need Mercy'/`The Zoo-Name Dropping-Bow Wow', `Stay Away') and March 1995 (`Turn It On'/`Man There') respectively. `Turn It On' and `Don't Need Mercy' also turned up on the Hard Evidence Tour CD EP (April) along with two other recent cuts, `Spinning My Wheels' and `Blue Light'.
At the end of 1995, The Angels announced their impending split. The Farewell Tour went so well that the band decided to stay together and continued touring throughout 1996. Finding themselves without a record deal, The Angels issued their next CD single, `Call That Living' (July 1996) independently. In July 1997, The Angels set off on the Lounge Lizards tour (playing acoustic instruments) with guest singers Angry Anderson and Ross Wilson. By that stage the band had commenced work on a new album for release in 1998.
At the start of 1998, The Angels signed a new recording deal with the Shock label. The band’s next CD single, ‘Northwest Highway’, came out in February. The new, high-tensile album, Skin and Bone, followed in March. It took The Angels back into the national Top 40 with a #27 placement that month. July found the Neeson/Brewster/Brewster/Hilbun/Eccles Angels line-up on the road with Rose Tattoo for the All Hell Breaks Loose! tour. It was the first time the two veteran bands had played together since 1983. The Angels capped off a very successful 1998 by being inducted into the Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame (alongside The Master’s Apprentices). A new CD single, ‘My Light Will Shine’, followed in November.
Interest in The Angels continued into 1999 when Shock released the 10th anniversary issue of Liveline (Definitive Digital Remastered CD Edition) (September). The original, 20-track double LP had been bolstered by four additional cuts for the 1992 double CD version. Now with the addition of a further 10 bonus, previously unreleased tracks (recorded between 1981 and 1983), and with all 34 tracks remastered by Don Bartley at Studio 301, the album stands as one of the finest live documents by an Australian band.
Shock also reissued in September, on home video release, The Angels Live at Narara. Recorded in January 1983 at the Narara Festival by experienced rock film director Bernie Cannon, the video featured the band delivering an absolutely blistering performance. The video boasted remastered sound by Digital Pictures. To coincide with the live CD and video release, The Angels undertook the Liveline ’99 Australian tour throughout October and November. They also made an appearance, as a bar band (playing a cover of ‘I Put a Spell on You’ and ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again?’), in Jane Campion’s feature film Holy Smoke starring Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel.
Doc Neeson also took part in the Tour of Duty concert, held in Dili, East Timor (December 1999) in honour of the Australian Peace Keeping Forces and the embattled East Timorese people. Also appearing were Kylie Minogue, John Farnham, The Living End, Gina Jeffreys, James Blundell and the Dili All Stars. Neeson sang a rousing ‘Am I Ever Gonna See your Face Again?’, backed by The Living End.