Website: theangels.com.au

The last time The Angels were on stage was more than a year ago, when the annual Red Hot Summer touring festival was cancelled with nine shows still to play. It’s the longest break from touring that John Brewster can remember, and not something he was greatly happy about.

“It’s not exactly a holiday I’d prefer to have!” he says with a grim chuckle. “It’s a horrible thing. We’re ok, I just feel for the roadies.”

With restrictions lifting, The Angels are ready to go back where they belong – out front of Australian audiences, doing what he and brother Rick have been doing for the last 50 years: rocking out.

“As far as I’m concerned it’s a lifelong thing,” says the 71-year old guitarist. “I see us as pretty much the same as the blues people, and jazz, and whatever. It might have been considered a young man’s game way back, but it had only just started [then]. No one could have thought it would go on for this long! When you think about it, it’s chronological. It’s not so much fashion based. It’s just there.”

What he’s talking about is rock and roll, the musical force of nature written off as a fad that has now existed longer than most people have been alive. The Angels, who in an embryonic form once served as Chuck Berry’s Australian touring band, have been there longer than most, and while only John and Rick remain from the band that ruled the national music scene for almost twenty years, they remain active, popular and, importantly for Brewster, creative. While their reputation is enshrined in enduring classics written more than 40 years ago, they are still putting out new material.

“I think at the end of the day what wins out for us is the repertoire,” Brewster says. “We’re a lucky band because, yes, we made our own luck, but we wrote a lot of songs that people like. That’s what’s driving it, really, and the fact that this band plays those songs so well… and also, we’re still creating. We’ve had a couple of new singles out this year, an EP, a couple of video clips have been done since COVID. We keep creating new stuff. It’s sort of understood that, no matter how good the new songs are, we’re not going to get it on radio, but that’s ok because you do get it on social media, and iTunes and YouTube. It just feels good to be in a band that’s still creating.”

It’s been a decade since The Angels recruited drummer Nick Norton and Screaming Jets’ frontman Dave Gleeson into their line-up – “Where did that time go?” Brewster asks with a laugh – and 40 years since the release of their fifth album. Night Attack is less revered than the three records that preceded it, but Brewster’s main regret is his choice of equipment for the album.

“I think the song Night Attack is fantastic,” he says. “I think there’s some great songs on that album. I have to be honest and say that it’s not my favourite Angels album, but having said that, I think it’s really good. But as a rhythm guitar player, and a Les Paul player, I have to ask, What the hell was I doing playing a Strat? I don’t like my guitar sound as much as some of the other albums. Us guitarists, we’re always experimenting with new things, but what did you do that for?”

The band’s forthcoming tour is billed as the Greatest Show on Earth, as The Angels take their fans through a greatest hits package.

“We decided we wanted to get out there and play, and we always like to have a concept, so we just thought, let’s do the greatest hits and play all the songs we know people love? That doesn’t necessarily mean singles, either,” Brewster explains, “because we were such an album band. On Face to Face, every song on that album was a hit. The same with Darkroom, same with No Exit. So we’ve got a lot of songs that people love, and it sounds like I’m bragging a bit but the problem we have is what to leave out. You can’t play all night, as you’re limited by time, so this show should highlight the songs that people love.”

Every dedicated Angels fan has their own ultimate setlist and the band has always been very savvy to their audience’s expectations when curating a list of songs for a show. John reveals that along with the best known songs, there will also be a few surprises.

“We’re going to put Save Me in there,” he says, one of No Exit’s lesser-played tracks. “To me, it’s a great example of that twin guitar that Rick and I got into. The song was never a single and probably never would be because it hasn’t got traditional hook lines and middle eights and stuff, but it’s just so powerful. And we’re going to do the first song I ever wrote, which is Shelter From the Rain that’s a young man’s love lyric, if you like.”

The Angels refuse to let age weary them. Since this interview was done, the band has announced another Symphony of Angels tour from October, plus they’ll be appearing at Bluesfest and the Deni Ute Muster. Their postponed Darkroom Recharged shows kick off in mid 2022.

“It’ll only be health that stops us,” Brewster promises, “but we’re doing well. Rick and I both had health scares a few years back, but we’re in pretty good shape, and to be honest, I think Rick’s playing better than ever. He’s extraordinary, my brother. He keeps getting voted #5 all-time greatest guitar player in Australian history, and I say ‘Yes, that’s all true but he’d be nothing without me!’”

He laughs, and talks about his decision to be a strictly rhythm player in a world beguiled by lead guitarists.

“It’s what I always wanted to do,” he explains, “play rhythm guitar, because I started off playing guitar to sing songs. Then of course Doc took over as the front singer, and he was amazing, an amazing singer – as is Dave – but the thing is, for me playing the guitar was all about writing a song and singing it.”

There is, of course, plenty of praise and admiration for his brother, too.
“Rick has always been more a soloist, as evidenced by him winning the South Australian eisteddfod in his teenage years on the classical piano. He was amazing. I think I ruined his life by bringing him into the Moonshine Jug and String Band and he moved to a washboard. I have to tell you he was a brilliant washboard player too!”