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The Angels: "What happened was sad and stupid"

Australian stars play first London show since 1980

As The Angels fly in for their first UK appearance in 35 years, Rick Brewster has spoken of a final emotional deathbed encounter with Doc Neeson in which the lead guitarist attempted – unsuccessfully – to bury the hatchet with the Australian group’s estranged former frontman.

“My brother John [the band’s rhythm guitarist] and I did everything we could to mend those fences, but he just wasn’t interested,” says Rick. 

Neeson had co-founded the group with the Brewsters and drummer Charlie King in Adelaide in 1974. Signed to Albert Productions at the recommendation of Malcolm Young and Bon Scott from AC/DC, The Angels became superstars Down Under. Elsewhere in the world, however, they had to settle for cult fame, due to a reluctance to leave their families for massive stretches of time.

The manner of their split with Neeson was controversial. The singer contends that he was involved in “a serious car accident” in December 1999. Neeson later claimed to have been left with two options: retire from music, or be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his days. 

The Brewster brothers, who insist that Doc drove the same “supposedly concertinaed” car to rehearsal the following day and finished a tour that the band was on at the time, strongly refute this version of events. The Brewsters reclaimed ownership of The Angels’ catalogue by forming the Original Angels in 2001. The arrival of Doc Neeson’s Angels two years later meant that two rival acts were touring Australia at the same time.

In 2008, following the signing of a peace treaty called The Angels Reunification Deed, The Angels renewed their relationship with Neeson, but peace didn’t last for long. Two years later Doc was gone again, though whether or not this was voluntarily remains moot.

When Neeson was diagnosed with the brain tumour that killed him on June 4, 2014, the Brewsters reached out in attempt to end the feud. The singer had been given 18 months to live before going into remission, though sadly the tumour returned. However, Doc would not reconcile, telling Classic Rock a month before his passing: “Unless the brothers are willing to honour the agreement, I don’t want to see their faces again.”

Then, in the wake of “a number of emails – some of which were quite pleasant” and a rebuffed attempt to visit Neeson in hospital, came a dramatic phone call made by Rick Brewster to the ailing singer.

“We’d been stonewalled,” he relates sadly. “In my last connection with Doc I rang the hospital shortly before he passed away and got put through to him. We spoke for about a minute but the nurse arrived to give him some drugs, so I told him that I’d call back. I’ve never said this in an interview, but I don’t care… when I called the hospital again to find a good time to try again, the nurse [unaware of the tense history between patient and caller] said, ‘I’ll go and find out’.

“I was yelling into the mouthpiece: ‘Don’t ask Doc!’ but it was too late, they’d gone to find him. Two minutes later he returned and told me, ‘Doc says he would prefer not to speak to you again’. So that was it. What happened between us was sad and stupid, but one day we’ll all be up there together in Heaven and I hope we can really make our peace.”

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