Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again (H Vanda/G Young) 1976 and Take a Long Line (B Neeson/J Brewster/R Brewster) 1978 and Shadow Boxer (B Neeson/J Brewster/R Brewster) 1979 –The Angels
Adelaide’s Angels were one of the seminal forces who shaped the great tradition of Aussie pub rock throughout the 1970’s and 80’s, they followed the great traditions of Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, the Colored Balls and AC/DC and were contemporaries of such beer barn boogie bands as Rose Tattoo, Cold Chisel, and Midnight Oil.
Bernard Patrick “Doc” Neeson was part of an Irish emigrant family who relocated to the outer Adelaide suburb of Elizabeth (SA) in 1971, conscription into the army in 1968 had derailed his career ambitions until he was demobbed and commenced English and drama studies at Flinders University. He met the Brewster brothers who were classically trained and became the bassist in their campus band, the acoustic Moonshine Jug and String Band which comprised John Brewster (lead vocals/guitar), Rick Brewster (guitar), Peter Christopolous (drums) and Laurie Lever (keyboards).
By 1974 the band had morphed into the hard- rocking Keystone Angels, initially this caused them to lose their existing fan base who were more attuned to washboards, kazoos and banjos than electric guitars. But they persevered and secured support act spots on national tours by Chuck Berry and AC/DC, appeared at the last Sunbury Pop Festival in 1975 and in 1976 relocated to Sydney and signed with Albert Productions.
Lever had departed and Christopolous had been replaced by Graham “Buzz” Bidstrup, Neeson was now lead singer and at the suggestion of Harry Vanda they shortened their name to the Angels.
They were delivering a raucous and infectious brand of pub rock at such Sydney venues as the Bondi Lifesaver, the Royal Antler at Narrabeen and the Stage Door in the city, at these locations fire, safety and health regulations were generally ignored, as mostly male punters crammed in for a session of drinking and fist-pumping pub rock.
As the band was signed to Alberts, Vanda and Young wrote and produced their debut single in 1976, Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again which came to epitomize the beefy, manic, muscular, boogie-rock for which the band would become famous.
Yet surprisingly the song had originally been written as an acoustic ballad about grief and loss inspired by the suicide of a girlfriend of the band’s manager John Woodruff. The song was rearranged and given an up-tempo treatment by Vanda and Young while still retaining a hint of the pathos of the original inspiration for the song, the guitar riff even mimics the sound of an ambulance siren “Trams, cars and taxis, like wax-works on the move/ Carry young girls past me but none of them are you/ Am I ever gonna see your face again.”
Ultimately the fans claimed the song as their own one day at a concert in Mt. Isa when in response to the chorus line, which is the title of the song, the crowd responded, “no way, get fucked, fuck off!’. In an era that preceded the internet and text-messaging, the speed with which this chant was taken up by the Angels audiences was staggering.
This crowd participation became an essential part of the Angels live shows and created an awkward moment for Governor-General Peter Cosgrove, President Ramos Horta, and Bishop Belo when the Angels performed the song at an INTERFET concert for the Aussie troops in Timor and got the time-honored response from the Diggers.
This was the band’s first chart listing at #58 but the song and the audience reaction to it has become a legendary part of Australian rock and roll folklore.
In 1977 bassist Chris Bailey was recruited so freeing Neeson up to focus on delivering lead vocals and developing his manic stage persona. Neeson was an actor who sought to imbue the band’s performances with the intellect, antagonism and drama of surreal art, theatrical lighting, and the use of shadows, which all became important aspects of an Angels live performance.
The pounding Take A Long Line was released in July 1978, Doc gives fair warning of what is to come when he opens with the line “This is it folks…Over the top,” and the band shifts frenetically into high gear.
Rick Brewster had developed the basic riff backstage at Sydney’s Chequers nightclub and Neeson has conceded that Dylan’s word imagery on Subterranean Homesick Blues had influenced the lyrical structure and timing of the composition.
Take A Long Line became a defining moment for the group, at #29 it was their first top thirty hit. The debut album from which this song was lifted was Face to Face which charted #18 and sold 280,000 copies, the Angels had momentum and Doc Neeson was emerging as a charismatic front man who could by turns be dramatic, histrionic, demonic, and beguiling, but always fascinating.
The band was becoming more autonomous, writing their own songs, the Brewster brothers were quality riffmeisters and Doc Neeson was a creative lyricist, they had co-produced their first album with Mark Opitz and were focused on their next single, Shadow Boxer which would be lifted off their second album No Exit.
Shadow Boxer was another high energy, up-tempo outing, Neeson’s vocal attack was impressive, the song was inspired by a person the band members had seen sparring with a No Standing sign in Sydney’s Kings Cross. The lyrics reflect the sense of desperation, alienation and abandonment felt by those who struggle with mental illness, homelessness, and loss of self-esteem. Shadow Boxer charted at #25 and the album No Exit took the group into the top ten for the first time when it climbed to #8.