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Interview: JOHN BREWSTER

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The Angels have long been one of Australia’s most popular bands. There have been numerous members along the way and some very sad losses. As rhythm guitarist and songwriter John Brewster explains in our recent interview, “It’s an evolution. It’s been an amazing journey and it’s a long one now. It’s getting close to 50 years since we had the Moonshine Jug and String Band and we are still loving what we do. We play just as passionately as we ever did. We’ve got a great band in Dave Gleeson singing up front with us and my son Sam on the bass and Nick on drums. We still feel quite young in the band and it’s a great experience. Rick and I love playing the guitars.”

John and his brother Rick are about to embark on an intimate book tour to promote The Angels book by Bob Yates. It is essentially John and Rick’s story as told to Yates, a long-time associate.  “There’s been a fair bit of work involved in getting all that happening. We’re doing two tours. We’re doing an intimate thing with my brother Rick and me and Ray Hawkins who used to be our lighting guy who’s very entertaining and he’s our MC.”  As well as the music, the shows will offer an opportunity for fans to ask questions and for John and Rick to share stories and experiences. tour we’ll take questions from people in the audience. “We’ll maybe show them how a certain song guitar riff started and how that turned into a song. It’s a bit of a voyage of discovery for us as well. I think that what we’re realising is that some of the stuff that we maybe take for granted is actually fascinating to fans and people like to hear stories now; they like to know how this happened or that happened. When we met AC/DC in 1975 for example. Well, it changed our lives. Bob Yates did a fantastic job of tracking down roadies that used to work for us, getting other people’s side of stories etc.”

“Rick and I grew up in a musical family. Our grandfather was a concert pianist, composer, he wrote a symphony called Australia Felix. We never met him. He died four months before I was born. He was playing concerto with my dad conducting him at the Adelaide Town Hall and he died backstage. I was actually there but I was in my mother’s tummy. Our father was the lead cellist in the Symphony Orchestra and he became director of music for the ABC so we grew up surrounded by musicians. My dad had parties with visiting world-renowned violinists whatever. They’d all come around to the house and they’d have a few drinks too many and we would be entertained by some unbelievable musicians. I was a bit of a black sheep. I was always into rock ‘n’ roll.”

John says that he had always wanted to be in a band, ever since he first stood in front of the mirror, ‘playing’ a tennis racket when he was twelve years old and he has been a big fan of Bob Dylan since the age of thirteen. “For me, the most incredible thing that I ever witnessed was in 1966 when I saw Bob Dylan. He played the first half acoustic and then he did the second half with the band. It wasn’t ‘a’ band, it was ‘the’ band. Not that any of us knew who they were but it was just the most amazing experience.”

He admits that forming The Angels was ‘sort of accidental’.  They started out as a ‘jug and string band’, complete with washboards. “We didn’t really have any vision of being a successful band. it was just something we liked to do for fun. Rick came in playing the washboard and he was brilliant at it so he’s gone from classical piano to playing washboard. Doc Neeson came in and the band became very successful in Adelaide and we started writing our own songs so that’s how we realised that we had to stop that band and become a rock band and, somehow or other, that whole process ended up being The Angels. I really don’t know quite how that happened.”

And they haven’t looked back since.

“Our record company Liberation have been a fantastic support to us and we wanted an album that showed a bit of our history so there’s four Moonshine Jug and String Band songs, which Doc is singing; six Brewster Brothers songs which we wrote when Doc left the band in the early 2000s and we were writing some songs for me to sing so that’s represented too; there are songs with Dave Gleeson. And there is one song Jim Hilburn sang. There’s a whole lot of stuff that represents the different line-ups and we finish with six songs that we did at the Symphony of Angels in 2010 which was a reunion of the original line-up of the band with Buzz Bidstrup and Chris Bailey and, of course, Doc Neeson. We did that with the Symphony Orchestra and they turned out great.”  There are plans to do more concerts with a symphony orchestra in the future. “It will be bigger than the previous time. We had a forty-piece orchestra playing in 2010. We have plans to do it with a seventy-five piece. Pretty amazing.”

John says that he and Rick still enjoy playing music and writing new songs. “I think it is a wonderful thing to do and it’s good for the soul of the band. We know that people come to our shows to hear the old songs but we’ve got a few new ones in there too. It’s a lot of fun. Nowadays, we play at shows like Red Hot Summer and A Day on the Green and you meet up with people who, back in the old days, you’d look side-long at because they were our competition and now we all really respect each other and love what each band has done over the years.” He is grateful to still have the opportunity to be doing what he loves at this stage of his life. “It’s a very happy experience being in a band this far down the track.”

 

By Sharyn Hamey

 

Copyright © Sharyn Hamey 2017.  All rights reserved

 

 

Full track listing of Brothers, Angels & Demons album and The Angels Book Tour dates here

Brothers, Angels & Demons Tour dates here

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