Sydney-based Australian hard rock band The Angels - also known as Angel
City outside their home continent - are among my top three all-time favorite
bands. They are celebrated "pub rock gods" down under with a career now
spanning over 20 years and unfortunately largely ignored in the rest of the world.
I first got hooked when a friend picked up and introduced me to their worldwide compilation version of
Face To Face
around 1980. It is my favorite album of all times (see my record collection
for a partial discography) even though it wasn't until recent years
that I was able to learn more about the band itself and finally managed to seem them live in August 1998.
Due to their low profile in Europe (where I'm from)
and the USA (where I now live) they were my 'secret tip' for years with few people I knew ever having heard
of them and the albums I was able to find being my only evidence they actually existed. That's different
The Angels center around Belfast-born vocalist and founder Doc Neeson, an energetic, charismatic madman known
for his stage antics and unmistakable voice.
They emerged in the mid-1970's with a lineup of Doc Neeson (vocals), brothers John and Rick Brewster (guitars),
Chris Bailey (bass) and Graham "Buzz" Bidstrup (drums). Later, New Zealand-born drummer Brent Eccles replaced
Bidstrup and Jim Hilbun came on for Bailey. Further lineup changes brought on Bob Spencer (guitar) for John Brewster
and James Morley (bass) for Hilbun. Both would depart again and since then the lineup consists of both
Brewsters, Neeson, Hilbun and Eccles again.
The 'classic' Angels had a distinctive, unique style somewhere between hard rock and punk with fast-paced rhythms,
short clear-cut chords, sharp vocals and biting lyrics, a style that would evolve into more mainstream hard rock
and rock later in their career. Some people tend to compare them to AC/DC which isn't entirely unjustified considering
that Angus and Bon discovered them and put them under the wings of producers Vanda & Young.
Inspite international releases and tours of America and Europe, The Angels broke into those markets only temporarily
but have left a lasting impression on the ones that cared. Great White was inspired to cover "Face The Day",
Andy Scott's reincarnation of 70's British glam rockers Sweet has done
Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again,
the late Mick Ronson recorded Take A Long Line
and Rhino Bucket employed Doc to contribute to their
Get Used To It album.
Even Axl Rose is an admitted fan who once invited Doc to accompany GNR on tour. Most recently The Melvins covered
I Can't Shake It (sic) on a Gearhead 7" single.
The Angels' roots trace back to 1971 and an acoustic folk combo called "Moonshine Jug And String Band" of which
Neeson and the Brewster brothers were members. They geared more towards electric instruments in 1974 as the
"Keystone Angels". With Bidstrup and Bailey now on board and shortening their name to The Angels, the band
garnered their first chart success in 1976 with "Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again" and in 1977 the
self-titled debut album is released.
In 1978 they follow up with "Face To Face" and "Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again"
spends 79 weeks on the charts and qualifies for platinum status four times over.
Starting with the release of No Exit
they break house records touring and win awards in various "Best of Oz" categories.
International distribution and tours follow for which they adopt the name "Angel City" to avoid confusion
and legal problems with the 60's US girl group "Angels" (or depending on who's version to believe the 70's glam band "Angel").
The 80's see The Angels with more multi-platinum bound albums - from the 1980
Darkroom and the 1981
Night Attack to the 1989
Beyond Salvation - and tours of Australia, Europe and North America but also
label and personnel changes: Bob Spencer, formerly of The Skyhooks, replaces John Brewster for the second half of
the decade and James Morley takes over the bass for Hilbun at the end.
Three videos are released by Mushroom Records Australia: "Live At Narara" (a highly energized and recommended
outdoors live show), "From All Angles 1980-1990" (a collection of music video clips) and
"Beyond Salvation Live".
In 1991/92 The Angels meet with producer Terry Manning in the USA to mix
Red Back Fever and Brent Eccles becomes the manager of the band.
Next is a remastered compilation called Evidence
and a Hard Evidence Tour EP from the tour by the same name.
But for years to follow, no new material is released as the band finds itself without
a record label. Spencer and Morley leave for their own projects, the former starting a band called The Temple Gods.
Rumors fly that the band is calling it quits and that Doc will pursue a career in acting and public
lecturing. The rumors are dismissed as the band resumes touring after a break to focus on new material:
In 1996 they return to the classic Brewster, Neeson, Brewster, Hilbun, Eccles lineup and take on the Australian pubs
and clubs once again with Rhino Bucket and The Poor in tow. They independently release a CD single titled
Call That Living and for lack of a distribution deal
sell it themselves at concerts.
In 1997, The Angels embark on the continent-wide acoustic "Lounge Lizard Tour", reinforced on vocals
by Angry Anderson (Rose Tattoo) and Ross Wilson (Daddy Cool, Mondo Rock). They play acoustic versions of each band's songs
with the corresponding band member responsible for vocals.
At the end of September 1997, Australia's largest indie label Shock Records announces the signing of the band to a
worldwide, long-term recording contract. Soon afterwards the single
Caught In The Night is released and receives nationwide
airplay and chart success. A second single Northwest Highway
follows in February 1998. The band performs a few low-key gigs around Sydney (billed as Skin & Bone)
to practice the material from the new album
Skin & Bone which sees the light of day in March 1998 and
features the songs from the singles and nine brand-new tracks. The new material is showcased around the entire
continent in July and August 1998 together with a reunited Rose Tattoo under the heading "All Hell Breaks Loose".
They also are chosen to appear in the Jane Campion movie "Holy Smoke" where they perform "I Put A Spell
On You" in a bar scene. Towards the closing of 1998, The Angels are inducted into the ARIA Hall Of Fame, release
the single My Light Will Shine and take on
a mini-tour of Southeast Australia including a stop-over at the 25th anniversary of Mushroom Records in Melbourne and a
special benefit gig for flood victims. Skin & Bone is voted as one of the Top 5 Aussie records of
the year. 1999 is the year of the "Liveline" digitally remastered reissue with bonus tracks that is celebrated
with the "Liveline '99" Australian tour but 2000 sees another band hiatus and in 2001 Doc officially quits the band
for good, following a car accident that leaves him in ill health, and the remainder of the members scramble to
possibly continue under a new name. However, the latest news indicate that this will not happen after all.
Images and text taken from Liveline LP color booklet.
||Doc Neeson (lead vocals): "The Mad Irishman" founded the band with Rick and John.
Was the original bass player. Regular casualties include stages, mics, crew, himself and things mechanical.
Loves room service, decent monitors & the sun on the left. Hates odd room numbers and elevators.
Does anyone really know him?|
|Rick Brewster (guitars, backing vocals): Clasically trained pianist/washboard player.
Was band's drummer for first three weeks. Vaguely remembers "Casey's Chequers" as
The Angels first gig... winter '76. Collects phone boxes. Says Beethoven convinced him not to move on stage.
Has a hand in everything but prefers an S.G.
||Brent Eccles (drums): Joined The Angels on 26/3/81 after lunch. First gig was the
Manning River Hotel, Taree. Plays Gretsch & Zildjian. Collects radiograms and papers. Puts out the weekly.
Is hopeless with keys, lighters and airport alarms. Usually keeps it together.|
|Jim Hilbun (bass, vocals, sax): Joined the band after bribing Rick and Brent
with bottles of beer. First live gig, Fresno California 8/4/82. Jim plays a five string Steinberger,
destroys Rick's sax, screams his guts out, sweats a lot. He's a consummate graffitist. He writes on everything.
||Bob Spencer (rhythm guitars, backing vocals): First live Angels gig - 26/3/86.
Plays havoc with his '63 red Gretsch (or any Gretsch) his Les Paul Jnr & Harmony Monterey.
Rarely seen without a guitar. Always goes for a blow after gigs. Guitar amps hate him.|
|John Brewster (guitars): Integral part of The Angels till last gig (27/1/86 - a double
at the Myer Music Bowl & The Palace). Loves driving & driving! Rejoined band in 1993 for departing Bob Spencer.
||Joined The Angels in 1977 on bass. Not identical to the namesake vocalist of The Saints. Left the band in 1982. Jim Hilbun took over.
||A.k.a. Graham Throckman, Buzz Throckman, Graham Bidstrup. Original Angels drummer. Left in 1981 after recruiting Brent Eccles (formerly of New Zealand's "Citizen Band") as a worthy replacement.
||At only 21 years of age, replaced departing Jim Hilbun in 1988 until 1993 when Jim Hilbun and John Brewster (for Bob Spencer) rejoined the band.
Read The Official Angels Biography as provided by the Eccles
- Sep 12, 2001: The Angels are no more. During a hiatus that started in 1999 with Brent tending to family matters
in New Zealand, the official Web site went offline and then Doc announced to a tabloid in mid-2001 his resignation from the band due to
continued pain and depression following a car accident. Oddly, the established music press and media never picked up on those news and the band
management has so far not released an official statement. For a while it was hinted that the remaining members would continue under the new name
"Band Of Angels" with Jim Hilbun on vocals but nothing came of it. Your best bet for news and follow-ups
is the Yahoo group. Jim Hilbun is a regular contributor and Bob Spencer pitches in.
With the official address defunct, contact the band c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Feb 7, 2001: The Angels eGroups.com community has now officially been annexed by the Yahoo! empire. All the old eGroups
links are automatically redirected. The group features are essentially the same and the contents have been carried over. Existing
eGroups users are guided through an account conversion process when accessing the community site for the first time. New
users are as always encouraged to join the list (established in July 1998). Just click the nifty button:
- Sep 5, 1999: Shock Records now has their own
Angels artist page with a bio and album info.
- Feb 12, 1999: The album "Liveline" has been re-released! The CD is digitally remastered, features
10 live bonus tracks and two booklets with lots of pixies and updated liner notes.
- Aug 11, 1998: The Angels have distribution in France! Eric Coubard's "Axekiller" label
has released Skin & Bone over there. This opens the possibility of a tour but as of yet no one is taken away to
- Aug 10, 1998: This is it folks - I FINALLY saw The Angels live in concert. After having tossed the idea around since
our return from Oz, an insanity check and a look at my piggy bank I decided it was time for drastic measures: Ask my
boss for another week off, book a flight to Sydney, catch The Angels six nights in a row, fly back and return to work the
next day. It all worked out and I live to tell in my special trip diary titled
Backstage With The Angels.
- Jun 22, 1998: My wife Sandi and I finally made it to Australia (and back) for almost a month.
It was the first visit for me and I loved it while Sandi had been there before and still loved it!
We were hoping to catch a few Angels gigs in late May but the gods of postponementia and airline non-refundables
had it we wouldn't.
Yet, Helen and Brent Eccles were so kind as to meet us for dinner, gave us posters and autographed singles and Doc Neeson
gave us a call while we resided in lovely Jamberoo (pop. 540, cows counted seperately) and enjoyed the hospitality
of Russell & Hely Moran who are Angels veterans (130+ shows and getting married to "Be With You" - cheers!)
and daughters Simone & Rachel who are future Angels veterans.
It was a blast to hear Angels on the radio, finding their records in abundance in many record stores and just
generally being around people who didn't radiate blank stares at the mention of the band.
Thanks to all involved!
- Mar 2, 1998: New album Skin & Bone is released!
The artwork features photography from Jim Hilbun which was shot in the remote North West of Australia.
- Nov 16, 1997: To kick off the new tour The Angels play a private show on a boat cruising Sydney Harbour.
The three-hour event featured a 90-minute gig and mingling with the roughly 100 guests, most of which were fans
that had won a contest sponsored by Triple M Radio.
- Sep 30, 1997: Shock Records -
Australia's largest and strongest independent record
company - signed The Angels to a long-term, worldwide recording deal.
Sound samples in Windows WAV format, 11kHz 8-bit mono
...they put him aboard a well wound whirlwind,
pulled out his teeth and told him to grin,
he gave them a smile, pulled out a bottle of wine
and said "i never existed you been wasting your time"
'Take A Long Line'
...people massing in the streets, trampled heads beneath their feet
children playing with the dead, silver spoon stained with red
watching through a widow's veil as Caesar desacrates the holy grail...
'Dawn Is Breaking'
I was fortunate to conduct the following interview via e-mail in October 1997:
- Martin: Have you ever recorded and released anything as the Keystone Angels?
Angels: 'Good Day Rock 'N Roll' on the Sphere label
- Martin: What exactly was the reason for the name change to Angel City
in Europe and the US? What's the deal with the awful moniker "The
Angels From Angel City" that was used here for a while?
John Brewster: A band in the US called Angel stopped us using The Angels.
Brent Eccles: Our record co. theorised that as some people knew
us as The Angels and some knew us as Angel City - then the name The Angels From Angel City was a good idea..........
- Martin: What brought about the transition from the folksy Moonshine Jug
& String Band to The Angels?
John Brewster: We were starting to write songs that were really
rock songs and trying to fit them into a jug band, plus our first
taste of a hit with Moonshine's 'Keep You On The Move' spurred us on.
- Martin: What were your major tours of Europe and the USA?
John Brewster: 1980 - England & Europe twice, USA twice.
1982 - USA. 1985 - USA.
- Martin: What do you think are the main reasons you are huge on your home
continent but - as far as I can tell - almost only known to insiders in Europe and the USA?
John Brewster: We did well in regions of France, NW of USA, Chicago etc. but never cracked the continents
- it's very hard to do touring from Australia.
Brent Eccles: because we spend more time here. (In Australia)
- Martin: Are you successful and recognized on the Asian continent at all?
- Martin: How do you feel about being compared to AC/DC? A lot of people
I play Angels music to for the first time draw that comparison while I think AC/DC is blues-based and
you were more punk influenced in the beginning.
Brent: Fair comment - though I think both bands are blues based. I don't mind at all being compared to AC/DC.
John: AC/DC would have had some influence as we were from the same stable.
Rick Brewster: We did many tours with AC/Dc in the mid 70's, so the comparison is hardly suprising.
The punk influence came later.
- Martin: How did the collaboration with Rhino Bucket on "Burn The
World" come about?
Brent: It came about through producer Terry Manning who we had
both worked with - though I think it was Rhino Bucket's idea. Doc did his lines down the phone.
- Martin: Do you see yourself as an Australian band who plays Australian
rock or as a global band that just happens to come from Down Under?
John: An Australian band who plays global rock.
Brent: Just as an Australian band.
- Martin: What influenced and inspired the fascinating lyrics to songs like
"Dawn Is Breaking", "Mr. Damage", "Take A Long Line"?
Rick: 'Dawn' - how dark and hopeless a picture can we paint? 'Mr.Damage' - a punter from one of Sydney's bikie
gangs - a big fan, always came to the Comb & Cutter Hotel when we played there.
His name was 'Damage' in typical bikie tradition. I wrote the guts of the song the night I met him.
'Long Line' - how obscure a lyric can I write and still tell a story?
- Martin: Who would you state as your musical influences?
John: Rolling Stones, Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Band, The Sex Pistols, Motown, Woody Guthrie, AC/DC
Brent: Creedence Clearwater Revival
- Martin: Who are your favorite current or upstarting bands?
John: Smashing Pumpkins, Wallflowers, Spiderbait
Brent: Spiderbait, Shihad, The Poor, Ammonia
- Martin: What is your most and least memorable experience as a rock musician?
John: Least - the first Angels gig supporting Cheech & Chong. Most - the 'Turn of the Decade'
concert at the Sydney Opera House new years eve 1980.
Rick: Most - watching Bonn Scott rewrite 'She's Got The Jack' on stage night after night.
Least - playing a piano solo in Chuck Berry's backing band (who hasn't?).
Brent: Most - playing in The Angels for 17 years. Least - The Wizard of Oz showcase in Los Angeles.
- Martin: Graham "Buzz" Throckman, Graham Bidstrup, Buzz Bidstrup
- one and the same person or no?
Rick: Ask him/them
- Martin: Rick, what is the story behind the "Walter..." T-shirt?
Rick: Sooner or later it all comes back to Disneyland.
- Martin: How do you feel about the Internet as a medium to promote bands
and keep in touch with the fan base? A welcome technology or a curse for artists?
John: You're welcome. have a nice day!
Brent: A great way to keep in touch with people all around the world and much easier then any other way.
- Martin: Anything you would like to say to your fans in Europe and the USA?
Rick: 'Skin & Bone' is coming
Brent: Hang in there....we're coming.....I Think.......
- Martin: Well, without the Internet, this interview wouldn't have happened.
Thanks guys and special thanks to Helen Eccles for accepting and redirecting my questions!
Reprinting with permission only, please.
About This Page
The bio up to 1992 is compiled from an extensive magazine article and the little
but growing knowledge I have myself. It is not complete and possibly not quite
correct (I couldn't figure out the lineup changes and if I could, I probably couldn't
fit it in a decent sentence). What happened after 1992 I tried to fit together from a few newspaper clippings,
e-mail correspondence and the info the albums provide and is probably lacking.
I am interested in hearing from anybody with additional info about the Angels or
who just wants to say that he or she, too, is an Angels fan (a somewhat pointless
statement for Australian visitors, I guess, but us here on the "outside"
are few and far between...).
Special thanks and credits go to David Williams in New Lambton for
sending over the huge bio article and an original concert poster and setlist, not to mention getting
Bob Spencer to get in touch with me! More special thanks go to Russell & Hely Moran whose great kindness made them send
more things than I can list in this space and to Paul Miller who sent exciting concert tapes and a poster!
Cheers to Helen and Brent Eccles and the whole band. You're too cool and too kind!
Additional thanks go to the other amazing and interesting people who have written since I've put this page up
and who I otherwise would never have met.
Vote for this page and/or the band on the Australian Music Charts:
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Last updated May 17, 2003 by Martin Mathis, e-mail lastbandit.com
visitors since May 8, 1996