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Interview: JOHN BREWSTER

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Brothers, Angels and Demons is a concept created by brothers John and Rick Brewster of The Angels. It is basically an evening with the brothers sharing music and stories from their lives, set against a dramatic backdrop of a plane crash that provides a segue to a series of flashbacks.

“Essentially it’s a music show,” John tells me in our recent interview, “But it’s dressed up with a bit of camp and a bit of cabaret. The plane thing is just a newsreader saying that the plane’s gone down. It is just for dramatic effect but I shouldn’t give too much away… It’s actually not quite real but it just sets the whole thing up.”

However, he does relate an incident on a plane in Darwin that was all too real and very dramatic. “We had to circle the airport for about three hours I think and when we landed every ambulance and fire brigade was waiting for us to land. Fortunately, we landed safely and we were fine so we did actually have a real incident so it’s kind of based on that”.

The show is definitely a family affair, as the brothers are joined by John’s three sons, Sam, Tom and Harry (all three also musicians) .

“The show is kind of about how Rick and I grew up together in a musical family,” John explains. “Rick started off playing classical music. He’s a terrific pianist. He won the Eisteddfod in South Australia when he was sixteen and I was playing Bob Dylan songs, Beatles and Stones and stuff so I was a bit of a black sheep. Our surfie buddy Pete Thorpe decided that he wanted us to play music together so we formed the Jug Band, mainly because we couldn’t afford instruments. He played the sea chest bass; I bought a banjo and he said to Rick ‘Do you want to join the band?’ And he said ‘Yes’. He played the washboard so he went from classical piano to washboard,” John laughs. “We talk about our grandfather who was a concert pianist and a composer of symphonies. He created six hundred works, had his first concert at the age of seven and sadly died just before I was born. He was sixty two and had a heart attack backstage at the Adelaide Town Hall. We talk about him and our father who was also a musician. He was with the symphony orchestra as a conductor and finished up as Director of Music at the ABC in Adelaide. It’s not just family stories but that’s kind of the background to it.”

And now, of course, the show also features John’s three sons so there is a fourth generation of Brewsters that are musicians. “Sam is now The Angels’ bass player since we sadly lost Chris Bailey to cancer eighteen months ago,” John explains. Sam actually filled in on bass for some time while Chris was battling cancer, before officially taking on the role following Chris’s passing. “Tom plays drums and my youngest guy, Harry, is twenty five and he plays guitar. So they’re all going to be on stage with us. There will be five of us on stage. It’s going to be quite unique.”

“We talk a bit about the Moonshine Jug and String Band which is how we started playing music together. That was a hell of a lot of fun and we did really well with it. We became very popular in Adelaide. We only ever really played Adelaide apart from the Myer Music Bowl and a couple of things with Captain Matchbox but essentially that was the band we were doing when we were all studying at uni and I wrote a song called ‘Keep You on the Move’. We had a hit with it although, in point of fact, it was really a rock ‘n’ roll song. We realised that we had to form a rock ‘n’ roll band so that’s how The Angels began. There was me, Rick and Doc Neeson. We talk about AC/DC and signing up with Alberts; touring overseas and having our truck stolen. We talk about the Opera House incident in 1980 when two of the band members were knocked out.”

“When you look back on the whole life and try to represent it in a show, there’s a lot of interesting things. We’ve got rear projection going on and the Opera House was actually filmed. It was filmed from the top so we show that.” The brothers performed the show at the Cabaret Festival in Adelaide a couple of years ago to great reviews so they decided it was time to do it again and this time take the show to other cities.

“It’s funny, you know. I’ve been playing with The Angels for forty years and there’s always a little bit of a thing in the stomach,” he admits. “But there’s a comfort zone. I can walk on stage and it’s pretty easy, backed up by huge crowds.” But playing with his three boys? “I’m a bit nervous,” he confesses. They will probably be nervous too, I daresay. “They’ll probably be hearing it all for the first time,” he laughs. “We don’t really talk about it that much.”

 “And since the last time we did it, another demon has come into our life and that is the demon of cancer which has taken Doc Neeson and Chris Bailey,” he adds. “It’s very tragic and we talk briefly about those guys. We’ll do a song that wasn’t in the cabaret show in Adelaide that Rick wrote for the last Angels album we did. It’s one that’s called ‘No Rhyme, No Reason’ and it’s written about what happened to Doc and Chris. It was mainly written about Chris because Doc was still with us when we recorded that song but it fits both situations. They both died from cancer and we have found ourselves thinking about both of those guys of late; about the life we had together. It wasn’t always easy. There were some demons in that relationship I can tell you. Not so much with Chris but with Doc there certainly was but we loved each other really. There was a camaraderie there that people who form a band and get through the incredibly hard times and then they make it and they travel the world together, it obviously causes some internal turmoil. It’s just the way it happens. But  there were a lot of good times and overall it’s a fabulous memory and it’s a memory where we’re still playing it out. We’re still playing as The Angels and going great.” And they are still touring.

But he maintains that they won’t be talking too much about road stories. “There’s a good old saying in rock ‘n’ roll. What happens on the road, stays on the road!” he says with a laugh.

 

by Sharyn Hamey

Copyright © Sharyn Hamey 2014. All rights reserved

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