Home Interviews Interview: JOHN BREWSTER (THE ANGELS)


21 min read

Brothers John and Rick Brewster are best known as part of one of Australia’s most iconic rock bands The Angels but, when The Angels are off the road, the brothers slip into their other musical identity. Simply calling themselves Brewster Brothers, the duo is embarking on a series of shows where they will be paying homage to one of their idols, Bob Dylan.


John recently took time out from his busy schedule to talk about the latest tour and the influence that Dylan has had on his song writing. “I think with both The Angels and Brewster Brothers, we regard the lyric as being a major part of what we do. The melody and chords follow but the words, to me, are really important and to Rick and to Doc, for that matter, with all those Angels songs. I think a big part of all that is the influence that Bob Dylan’s had on us all and me in particular I think. I’ve just always been crazy about Dylan.”


The Brewster Brothers have already recorded an album of Dylan songs and  have added a few more to their repertoire for this tour. “The reality is that I could probably spend three hours doing Bob Dylan songs. I know a lot,” he laughs. “You can’t do them all but we do some of his greatest songs, in my belief. The album we did was all songs from the sixties and people say ‘Well, why did you only do the sixties?’ Dylan is still relevant today and in every decade but we just did the sixties because that was the time when I was growing up as a teenager and that was a very significant era and Dylan’s music sort  of spoke for that generation in a way so I guess it is a trip down Nostalgia Lane for me.”


But they will also be doing their own material, of course. “What we do,” he explains, “is break it down into two sets with an intermission. The first set is all Dylan. And then we come back and Brewster Brothers is a bit more about everything we’ve done. Rick plays keyboards. He started off playing classical piano and then I sort of swayed him into rock n roll so he plays some keyboard and he plays guitar and we’ll do a few songs that we wrote for The Angels and a few of our Brewster Brothers songs and a couple more Dylan songs in the second set so we sort of mix it up.”


“The Angels have been incredibly busy,” says John. “Dave Gleeson joined the band two and a half years ago now and we’ve actually been working our butts off this year. We’ve done a lot of work. We did all the Day on the Green shows. There were seven of those, playing to an average of 9,000 people. We played at Clipsal, to 27,000 people. We do club shows and pub shows, all the kinds of venues that we have always done. People always talk about The Angels as being a pub band but, in fact, we did lots and lots of concerts and bigger venues and we’ve toured the world five times. It’s been a great career really. It’s had its ups and downs obviously and there have been some changes. To me, it’s an ever evolving band.”


John’s son Sam is part of the current Angels line-up, replacing bass player Chris Bailey who sadly passed away earlier this year. This is not Sam’s first time playing with the band. In 2009, he stepped in to play rhythm guitar for his father after John had a heart attack and required a bypass. He is, understandably, very proud of his son. “The Angels were on tour at the time,” he recalls, “And Rick and my son Sam just put on a set of headphones and listened to all the songs the band was playing, spent a day and a half learning them all and got up on stage and played guitar. He was incredible. He’s an unbelievable musician. I’m very proud of him. These days, he  gets to replace Chris Bailey on bass because, very tragically, Chris died in April and Sam’s actually been playing with the band now for a year because he was playing for all that time Chris was fighting that horrible bloody cancer that took his life. It’s very sad but life goes on and Sam is not there because he’s my son. That obviously gave him a look-in but he’s there because he’s a sensational bass player, a wonderful guitarist and we love having him with us.”


While The Angels are off the road, John and Rick won’t be the only band members to have other projects. “We recognise and respect the fact that Dave Gleeson is also a member of The Screaming Jets. They don’t play very often but they’re going to be doing some shows and it’s time that we pulled the band off the road for a while. That’s why we’re going to be doing the Brewster Brothers shows because Rick and I love to keep working so while we’re doing our thing, Dave’s got to do his other thing and sing in that band. And we have absolute respect for that. We’ve done twenty six brand new songs with Dave Gleeson since he joined the band. We’ve got one album out at the moment called ‘Take it to the Streets’ and we’ve got another album coming out next year. This is our 40th year and I think it’s one of our definitive albums, one of the best things we’ve ever done.”  John expects the next album to be released around May next year. “We’ll be celebrating our 40th year and that will include the release of our new album.”


Music was always in the blood for the Brewsters. “Dad was the lead cellist in the symphony orchestra here,” John explains, “And then went on to be the director of music for the ABC in South Australia. Rick played piano and he was incredible. He won the South Australian Eisteddfod at the age of sixteen and he probably was heading for a career in it but something happened in the late sixties. I used to go surfing with my mate Pete Thorpe and then we’d go to parties and have a few beers and I’d get an acoustic guitar out and sing The Stones or The Beatles and we decided to start a jug band.” Pete played the washtub bass and then we went to Rick and said ‘We’d like to start a jug band and we’d like you to be in it.’ And Rick said ‘Well, ok’ and so he went from playing classical piano to wash board and I’ve got to tell you, he’s an incredible wash board player. He’s just a complete musician. So that’s how it all started and Mark Holden’s brother Craig came into it early in the piece and he was singing and playing guitar and we were all singing and Spencer Tregloan came in with the banjo and there were a couple of line-up changes and Doc Neeson joined the band, probably about a year after it formed, maybe eighteen months after it formed and then it went from there and evolved into The Angels, with just Rick and Doc and me. They were good days.  We have our big concerns about Doc right now because Doc’s not well, as you know.”


The change from being a ‘jug band’ to becoming a ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ band happened, says John, because he had written a song called ‘Keep You on the Move’. “We recorded it as a jug band,” he explains, “but it was really a rock song. The thing is, it was actually successful. We had a No. 4 hit in Adelaide. It was only released in Adelaide. It went to No. 4 on the charts and I think it gave us a taste for what could be. I said to Rick ‘We should start a rock band.’ and Rick agreed and I went to Doc and we stayed up all night talking about the pros and cons and I don’t know whether I talked him into it or he already thought it was a good idea. Then we spent the next four years touring around Australia in the old EH Holden Station Wagon, as poor as church mice and actually having a great time, just building up a following and eventually the thing just exploded. I think The Angels lasted because we didn’t write songs that were teeny bopper songs or whatever. It was a rock band and I think rock survives. I’m kind of proud of it. We’ve got so many songs that people love and we do a really good job of doing them but to us it’s just as important to do new songs as well even though when we play live, we can’t really do very many new songs and I understand that. I mean, I put myself in the shoes of the fan. If I go to see The Rolling Stones, I’m not interested in hearing their new songs… maybe a couple… yes, that’s fantastic but you go there to hear the songs that you love and so, we never disappoint.” They originally called themselves The Keystone Angels – probably, John says, because they came from a zany band that played music from the early twenties. They were into things like op shops and Mae West and WC Fields and The Keystone Cops. “I was doing film making and drama at Flinders Uni. Doc had just come through Flinders Uni, doing drama. And so we were into all that sort of stuff and I think that’s why The Keystone thing happened with The Angels; because of the Keystone Cops.”


The Brewsters recently performed at a benefit concert for Chris Bailey and John is very proud of the response the concert drew from fans and musicians alike. “For the Chris Bailey Tribute night in Adelaide, we had Don Walker and Ian Moss play with the Brewster Brothers. That was pretty special. It was a great celebration of Chris Bailey. It was sad that he died three weeks before the concert but we raised a lot of money for his little three year old son and his wife so they can go on and have a bit of financial stability for a while and it was an incredible celebration of Adelaide actually because we all came from Adelaide: The Angels, Cold Chisel, Swanee, most of Gangajang and we all played and then other friends who didn’t grow up in Adelaide but they supported us like James Reyne, Diesel, Wilbur Wilde, Peter Beagley, who was in Chris’s first band Headband and it was just an amazing night. We had two thousand people at the Thebarton Theatre and so many generous people who donated their time; really busy people who just went out of their way to help. I think it said a lot about Chris Bailey. And it said a lot about Adelaide. I’m glad that he knew about the benefit concert. It was very special for him.”


by Sharyn Hamey

Copyright © 2013 Sharyn Hamey All Rights Reserved


For more information about the Brewster Brothers and full touring details, please visit http://brewsterbrothers.com.au


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