Towradgi Beach Hotel
Friday, July 4
Australia's rock community came together in grief on June 4, mourning the death of the legendary Doc Neeson. Celebrated former leader of trailblazing rockers The Angels, Neeson succumbed to brain cancer less than 18 months after his initial diagnosis.
In the spirit of survival and life after death that the band's name conjures, it is almost fitting The Angels will roll their 40th anniversary tour into Wollongong exactly one month after Neeson's death.
The Mercury spoke to Angels lead guitarist Rick Brewster just a few short weeks before Neeson's passing. Walking through town in Sorrel, about half an hour from Hobart, where he has made his home for the past seven years, Brewster spoke with enthusiasm and genuine excitement about the tour marking four decades since the band formed in Adelaide in 1974.
"We're 40 years down the road now, but it doesn't feel like it," Brewster said.
"The band has never been more energetic than it is now, thanks to the new young blood."
He's referencing Dave Gleeson and Sam Brewster, who have joined the band in recent years. Gleeson, frontman for the Screaming Jets, joined the band in 2011, while Sam, whose father John is the band's rhythm guitarist, came in on bass for Chris Bailey, who died from throat cancer in 2013.
"Sam was handed the baton by Chris. It was very fitting when Chris told us Sam was the man, that he got to choose his own replacement," Rick said.
With three out of the five members related by blood, and only the two brothers remaining of the original line-up, Rick said The Angels were now a tighter and fresher outfit than ever.
The 40th anniversary has been marked with a two-volume, six-disc collection of both live and studio recordings from across the band's history, with gig recordings from 1977 until 2014.
Choosing tracks from 40 years of recordings was not easy, but Rick said choosing a concert setlist was even harder.
"There are certain songs we have to play if we want to get out of the venue alive," he laughed. The classics are etched into Aussie rock folklore - Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again?, No Secrets, We Gotta Get Out of This Place.
"But we also like dragging out some obscure songs that haven't been played much live. There's never enough time to do as many songs as we would like to, because we'd be there for hours if we did."
The anniversary tour, the big CD release, the pomp and ceremony - it might seem like the band are resting on their laurels and happy with the past, but Rick says that is far from the truth. The Angels released new album Talk The Talk earlier this year, and reinvigorated by the new blood in the line-up, are gearing up for a whole new chapter.
"The longevity comes down to new material. If we stopped writing, that would be the end of the band, but we have never had more drive to write new stuff," Rick said.
Rick singles out an early Angels tour with AC/DC, and supporting David Bowie, as highlights of his time in the band; but he says for Dave Gleeson, just being in the band is a highlight.
"Dave likes telling the story of his first band in Newcastle being an Angels cover band," Rick said.
"One night they actually got to support us. I don't remember this, but he does, and he said they had to change their whole set around because they were playing our songs."
Gleeson has been in the band for three years, but the Neeson legacy still hangs heavy over The Angels. Neeson was still battling cancer when Rick spoke to the Mercury, and Brewster paid tribute to both men.
"We used to say the band was about Doc. He would come up with amazing things performing, and Dave is the same. They both get inspired by the music, and things just happen on stage," Rick said.