THE GIRL IN THE SONG

Angels 5

Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again (R Brewster/ J Brewster/D Neeson) –The Angels 1976

 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 in 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 1960, he was thirteen at the time and the eldest of Bernard and Kathleen’s six children who all relocated from Belfast. Conscription into the army in 1968 derailed young Bernard’s teaching ambitions until he was demobbed, and by then he had changed career direction commencing English and drama studies at Flinders University.angels11There he met the Brewster brothers, Ric and John, who came from a musical family, their father was the conductor of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Ric was training as a classical pianist and his younger brother John was learning acoustic guitar, in the Bob Dylan style, whom he greatly admired. The brothers invited Neeson to join their acoustic Moonshine Jug and String Band along with Charlie King (drums), Peter Thorpe (bass), Bob Petchell (banjo, harmonica), and Craig Holden (guitar), who released the EP Keep You On The Move on John Woodruff’s Sphere label, which was a top five hit in Adelaide, and they played support on a Cheech and Chong tour of Australia.Angels 2By 1974 the band had morphed into the hard- rocking Keystone Angels, and 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 where they hooked up with production maestros Vanda and Young. Charlie King was replaced by Graham “Buzz” Bidstrup (drums), Neeson moved from bass to lead vocals, Chris Bailey was recruited on bass guitar, and at the suggestion of George Young, they shortened their name to the Angels.Angels 1They 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, and in Melbourne at The Distillery, Hard Rock Café and the Station Hotel (Prahran), 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.angels10As the band was signed to Alberts, Vanda and Young 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. Doc Neeson was sharing a house in Adelaide with the band’s manager John Woodruff (below) who told him about a girlfriend from his university days. He had arranged a weekend in a country hideaway, and each had arrived separately, she on a motorcycle, and he by car. On the following Monday she had ridden back to the city, while Woodruff stayed behind for a few more days to study. On a bend she lost control of her bike and smashed into one of SA’s ubiquitous Stobie poles, concrete and steel telegraph poles, and died instantly. Woodruff had been deeply affected by the accident, and wondered if there was an afterlife and the chance to see her again, Neeson was moved by the story about connecting with loss and mortality, and was inspired to write the lyrics and a basic melody, which he later shared with the Brewster brothers.john woodruffThey worked up some harmonies, and the song became Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again, which was first recorded in 1975 with Rod Coe at EMI’s studios. Given the subject matter of the song, it was originally conceived as a sensitive, country-inflected ballad, and at this session Ric Brewster revealed the distinctive riff he achieved with his little Goldentone amp which he overdrove to produce a bagpipe-like tone, which became a distinctive feature of the final version of the song, as it mimicked the sound of an ambulance. In the hands of Vanda and Young at Alberts, the song was given a beefy, up-tempo treatment while still retaining a hint of the pathos of the original, “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.”, references to Santa Fe and Renoir’s paintings reflected the personal experiences of Doc Neeson, and were unrelated to the original inspiration for the song.

Recorded in the legendary Studio 1 at Alberts (Syd), home to hits by AC/DC/ TMG, John Paul Young, and Stevie Wright, George Young amped up the hook-laden chorus, Doc Neeson delivered convincing lead vocals, the Brewsters’ shared harmony vocals, Neeson originally  recorded the bass on the track but George Young later replaced it with his own on the final take, and Ric Brewster’s skirl of bagpipes-like guitar riff, remained front and centre from the first recording of the song with EMI.

status quo

The Angels did subsequently have to pay an out-of-court settlement to UK band Status Quo to avoid any potential plagiarism claims due to numerous similarities between Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face and Status Quo’s 1974 single B-side Lonely Night, their lyric “Cause I never thought I’d see or hear you again”, was deemed to be similar to the Angel’s lyrics.

Ultimately the fans claimed the song as their own one day in 1983 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 (Doc below) performed the song at an INTERFET concert for the Aussie troops in Timor and got the time-honored ribald response from the Diggers.TimorThis was the band’s first chart listing at #58, and was a track on their debut album Face to Face which climbed to #18 for the band’s first top 20 hit,  but Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face  Again, and the audience reaction to it, has become a legendary chant and part of Australian rock and roll folklore.

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