News People Vale Doc Neeson
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Vale Doc Neeson

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Am I ever gonna see your face again?

Sadly no, for Bernard “Doc” Neeson passed away after an 18-month battle with a brain tumour.

Anyone aged under 40 will shrug at the news – and understandably so – because The Angels never fulfilled their talent. They never became the Pearl Jam to AC/DC’s Nirvana, but they weren’t alone in that regard. INXS aside, no other Australian band of that era managed to reach beyond Australia’s shoreline.  

To hundreds of thousands of people in the 1980s who crammed into pubs and clubs, plastic beer cup in hand, Doc Neeson and Co epitomised what was the bedrock of music back then – pub rock.

But that doesn’t mean The Angels didn’t matter because to hundreds of thousands of people in the 1980s who crammed into pubs and clubs, plastic beer cup in hand, Doc Neeson and Co epitomised what was the bedrock of music back then – pub rock.

It may sound bogan but that would be doing it a disservice. Times have changed but not necessarily for the better. Music is more sophisticated nowadays but it lacks the primal pulse that coursed through those bars 30-plus years ago.

Doc Neeson in full flight. Photo: AAP
Doc Neeson in full flight. Photo: AAP

Everything is a product of its age and music is no different.There has always been culture and counter-culture but sometimes the divide is more disparate. Many would argue that divide has never been greater than in the late 1970s/early 1980s as disco gave rise to punk and new wave begot pub rock.

The 1980s is looked upon with patronising affection by everyone young enough not to have had their teenage years ravaged by it. But to anyone who was unfortunate enough to have been born in the mid-1960s you had two musical choices by the time you hit 15: synthesisers or “sweat music” – and most of it was England’s fault.

The Angels weren’t the best band of that bunch – Midnight Oil and Cold Chisel can fight that out – but, on that small stage, barely visible among the throng of people in front of you they owned the room.

Howard Jones, Simple Minds, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, Culture Club, Human League, Depeche Mode, Wham!, Dire Straits, Thomas Dolby, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Bronski Beat, Bucks Fizz, Tears For Fears and (ahem) Kajagoogoo.

Across the Atlantic, America weighed in with Whitney Houston, Huey Lewis, The Cars, B-52s, Foreigner, Bangles, Toni Basil, Pat Benatar, Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams, Cyndi Lauper, The Go Gos, J Geils Band, Kenny Loggins, Pointer Sisters, REO Speedwagon and Lionel Ritchie.

And that’s why we here in Australia had to suffer Psuedo Echo, Kids In The Kitchen, Eurogliders, Rockmelons, Icehouse, I’m Talking, 1927, Mondo Rock, Moving Pictures, Uncanny X-Men, Chantoozies, The Globos, Electric Pandas, Koo De Tah, Wendy and The Rocketts, Real Life and (ahem) Wa Wa Nee.

You really only had three choices:

1. Turn off Countdown and count down to 1990.

2. Agree with dad, who kept going on and on about how music was better in his day.

3. Hit the pub (even if you were underage – they weren’t so fussy about underage patrons back then).

Salvation lay in option three because on the chalk board out the front, advertising that weekend’s live entertainment, you would invariably see names such as Cold Chisel, Midnight Oil, Hunters & Collectors, Men At Work, Hoodoo Gurus, The Church, Rose, Tattoo and, arguably the best of them all, The Angels.

The Angels on stage at the Countdown Spectacular in 2007. Photo: Getty
Doc Neeson (right) onstage at the Countdown Spectacular 2 in 2007. Photo: Getty

The Angels weren’t the best band of that bunch – Midnight Oil and Cold Chisel can fight that out – but, on that small stage, barely visible among the throng of people in front of you they owned the room. Or, more precisely, Doc Neeson – the tall, slender, menacing but magnetic front man – owned the room.

If you were tall enough to see the stage, you simply could not take your eyes off him …

If you were tall enough to see the stage, you simply could not take your eyes off him, which was just as well because the Brewster brothers on guitar would stand rigidly still from the first note to last. Nothing to see there.

But Rick (lead guitar) and John Brewster (rhythm guitar) were just as important. To succeed on the pub circuit you needed two things – someone to watch and something to hear. Neeson gave you plenty to keep your eyes fixed on, but your ears were locked on the Brewsters. And the three of them wrote most of the material – and all of it was written with the audience in mind. That is, it was written to be played live.

Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again, Comin’ Down, Take A Long Line, I Ain’t The One, No Secrets, Marseilles, Shadow Boxer, Be With You, After The Rain, Face The Day, Stand Up, Fashion And Fame and Dogs Are Talking define pub rock. No pretence, no affectation, no intricacy, no ornaments – just two guitars, bass and drums behind a singer who dared you to turn away. No one ever did.

Especially today. It’s tough to face the day today.

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