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Interview – Bob Spencer, The Angels 100%, November 2012

| 29 December 2012 | 1 Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

Bob Spencer enjoyed a special place in the history of The Angels after a stint from ’86 to ’92 which included the very successful albums The Howling, Beyond Salvation and Redback Fever.

In more recent years the “classic” Seventies lineup of the band reformed, and amid acrimony drifted apart again.  Singer Doc Neeson remains at odds with guitarist brothers Rick and John Brewster, who went out in late 2011 with Screaming Jets vocalist Dave Gleeson (as The Angels featuring Dave Gleeson), and have since dropped an album called Take It To The Streets.

The Doc Neeson Band continued to tour, and now, less than twelve months later, we have The Angels 100%, made up of Neeson, Bob Spencer (who was also a member of Aussie icons Skyhooks towards the end of their career), 80’s bassist and sometime sax player Jim Hilburn, Buzz Bidstrup (who featured in the reformed Angels lineup of 2008, The Original Angels Band with the Brewster Brothers throughout the 2000’s, and was a member of the band right through the late Seventies) and another early Nineties consort, James Morley – now shifted from bass to guitar.

The Angels 100% name refers to the fact that all the members played with The Angels during one or another of their classic periods.  Bob Spencer is on the line and very keen to talk – so much so that we go way over our allotted time.  Hunker down and read on…

Bob Spencer 1

Hi Bob – thanks for your time today.

That’s OK Shane

So, The Angels 100% is what we’re here to talk about obviously. It’s a very unique line up, in that you’ve all played with the Angels over the years, but not altogether at the same time…

Yeah, that’s true. And between us we’ve covered every single period of the bands career, over nearly 40 years.

One of the questions I started with was; I’m assuming that most of the back catalogue is fair game, because you’ve got Doc there, and then with all the rest of you… And then it occurred to me that, yeah, there’s not really many spots there where one of you, apart from Doc, wasn’t in the band.

That’s true, and all areas of that catalogue are fair game as far as we’re concerned. Because it’s not really an issue of what we can and can’t play, there are no issues there. It’s what material we choose to play to honour the history of the band. I don’t have an attachment to – this is speaking for me – I don’t have an attachment to anything I’ve played, or an aversion to anything that anybody else played. I’m quite removed from that. My overview is simply to honour the band’s legacy. That’s all I’m concerned about, I don’t really care about who played what song, or who wrote it. I have no allegiance to anything I wrote, or anything anybody else wrote. All I care about is what’s going to work at the gig, and to honour the legacy.

So no-one’s gone in there going; we need more songs from these three albums that I played on, or whatever like that?

Oh god no! If that happened I wouldn’t be in the band. I’ve been quite clear about my concerns about being in the band. Should anything like that happen, I would walk.

Cool. So…

I mean… it’s just that, I’m 55, I do not have time for rubbish, I have a lot of other things in my life to do, I have a couple of business interests, I have a family. Now that is true of everybody in the band, we just don’t have time for bullshit, Shane. You find that you have a certain tolerance for shit when you’re 19 or 20, or 30. But after that age, your tolerance for grief lessens, enormously in my case. I just don’t have any time for any friction or grief, I’m just not interested. We’re all like that though, were all on the same page; it’s really quite interesting that we can look at the band from the points of view of being from in our 40s to our 60s. And we have quite a different an overview from what we had when we were younger. It’s really pleasant.

I was going to ask, is it interesting when you first got together and sat in the same room and started jamming, in that you’ve all got that shared history, but it’s also a disparate history, if you know what I mean?

I do know what you mean, and it was really interesting. We all came to rehearsal, not expecting anything; in fact we were all very careful not to make plans that revolved around the Angels, or we were very careful not to promise that we’d be available, or to lock anything in. We all approached it with a certain amount of trepidation because we’d never played together, however an interesting thing is that, as we played the first song, it was really quite obvious that we sounded good. It seemed that we had that sound, that sonic signature that bands have after they’ve been playing together for a long period of time, now we had that from the first song – literally the first song.

I can’t remember what the first song we played was, but as soon as we played it, we all looked at each other and said, wow that was pretty cool! And it was quite interesting because normally a band takes a little bit of time to develop that cohesion, and we had it from the very beginning, and I think that’s a case of… not only are we good players, I mean I think that’s quite obvious. But I think it’s also a product of wanting to honour the songs, and it’s not about me, it’s not about my guitar playing, it’s not about Buzz’s drum parts, it’s about the songs. I think because we’ve come at it from a different overview, at a different age, it makes the monster work a little bit differently.

Well that’s probably the way it should be I would imagine, though it certainly doesn’t seem that that happens in rock and roll a lot.

I can’t comment for other bands, I have a fun band here in Melbourne [Raw Brit] that gels together beautifully. Because we have a common aim to play early English rock; so that gelled immediately. I can’t comment on other bands, I know that when I joined The Angels it sounded really good from the beginning. However, there was tweaking to be done, because Rick [Brewster] and I played differently, and I had not played with Brent [Eccles] before, and locking in with the drummer is just critical. There’s a great old Charlie Watts line, which is, ‘a great band with a terrible drummer, is a terrible band’. So I had to look for a way to lock in with Brent and Rick when I joined the band. It seemed like I needed to do that when we played the other day.

But again I think it’s just a product of… that we’ve come at it from a different point of view. We’re a lot older, and very different people from what we were 20/30 years ago. We’re approaching it differently, and I think in a very healthy way and its sounding really good. We did two days’ work in rehearsal, we went through a lot of songs. Everything sounded really good.  Another wonderful thing that happened was that we’ve got lovely backing vocals! Buzz, Jim, and James are all great singers in their own right, and the backing vocals sound marvellous. That hasn’t happened when I’ve been in the band before.

Songs have a tendency to evolve in the live arena; something that wasn’t on a record in ’76 or ’78, and has gone through various line-ups might have changed. Did you have anything… especially when Jim was in the band, he played a lot of sax I recall… Your guitar style is different from John Brewster’s. Did you have any songs where you had to kind of go; well I would play it this way, and this guy would play it this way, and that guy would play it this way… and you had to sort of find some common ground?

Well, not really. There were a couple things that James and I approach very differently from Rick and John [Brewster]. We have very different upbringings from Rick and John, Rick and John don’t really have the sort of rock background that we have. A couple of times Doc and Buzz said, that doesn’t sound like the record, and I said, you’re right…[laughing] it doesn’t sound anything like the record! Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe that’s a bad thing, but you’re right, it doesn’t sound anything like the record. There were a couple of times where that came up, and I think that’s fair, as Doc in particular has heard those songs played about seven and a half zillion times. So he will sometimes hone in on something that he feels is not quite what he’s been used to, and we’ll look at that, and he’s right.

I think every time he’s said, I don’t think that that’s right; he has been correct, and I have been playing it differently from John. So the question then is; is it better to play it this way? Or is it better to play it the old way? They are decisions. We move them around as we go.

But James and I have very, very different styles from Rick and John, and we grew up listening to… well in James’ case of course, he’s an AC/DC lover, and I grew up listening to the bands that Angus and Malcolm listened to. Angus and Malcolm being a little bit older than I am. So that is my grounding, the things that Mal, and Angus stole basically, to get their sound, are the same things that I stole. So we’re talking about predominantly, Pete Townsend from The Who, and Zal Cleminson from the Sensational Alex Harvey Band – who had an enormous influence from AC/DC… that sort of stuff.

So it does sound different. In my opinion it sounds really good, because James and I lock in extremely tightly together, it’s quite impressive.

The Angels 100

So we might be in for a couple of small surprises, in terms of how the songs are sounding?

I’m not sure if the punters will know, Shane. I’m just not sure that punters will pick up on the kind of fine detail that we hear. You know, we hear when things are a little bit ahead, or a little bit behind, or one person’s right hand is doing something slightly different from the other, or using slightly different… we hear all that stuff, that’s our job after all. I don’t know whether the punters will notice a difference, I think punters basically will kind of prefer one song to another… I don’t know, I can’t think from a punter’s point of view. I guess if anyone could, it would be a very different world. But we’ll just try and honour the songs, and honour the legacy of the band, and do the best we can.

So how did this line-up come together?

Uh, I think a Ouija board was involved.  [Laughs]

I received a phone call a long while ago… just a little bit of background; I’ve been in constant contact with people who have been through the band for many, many, many, many years. Although I left the band a long while ago, I didn’t sever my ties with the people in the band. It doesn’t happen that way!

I was not sacked, I left the band, and I left the band in a good situation. It wasn’t acrimonious at all, and I kept in contact with almost everybody in the band. I saw Doc a few times over the years, but I kept in contact with Rick and Brent and James. I guess what I’m getting at is that there’s another version of the band that the fans don’t see, which is the version outside whatever the current touring version is. And that involves all nine of us.

So I’ve kept in contact with everybody, and I was in close contact with Rick up until very, very recently. So there’s a little bit of background there. I have been in contact with Doc, and although I wasn’t in the band with Buzz, I’ve always had a good relationship with Buzz, I’ve always had an exceptionally good relationship with Chris Bailey. So there’s a little bit of background, going back.

Back to about May, I think, of this year, I received a phone call asking me if I would, in principle be interested in playing with a band? And the band would be Doc, Buzz, James, Jim, and myself. I said, right, well, I’ll think about it. I said that I had certain conditions about the band; the conditions were not financial, I think most people tend to jump to that conclusion, and it’s an erroneous conclusion to jump to. There were certain things about the way I would like to see the band move forwards; as I said, I have a life, quite a full life outside the band, as has everybody else in the band. I didn’t need to live the band as we used to do. I had some conditions about how I thought the band should move forwards, and it seemed like these things could be encompassed.

We started talking, and here we are! We had our first rehearsal two weeks ago in Sydney, we all are kind of on the same page, and that’s a good thing. There’s a little bit of friction over certain issues, and that’s exactly the way it should be. I’d be very worried if everybody agreed about everything all the time. But the band’s sounding really good.

So it was put to me: here’s an idea, would you like to be involved? I said yes, in principle, I would like this sort of thing to happen for our future, and this sort of thing if we’re going to move forward. All those conditions were met, and everybody seems to be pretty happy about where we’re going.

Did it originally come from Doc? Or management? Or where?

No it didn’t come from Doc. I got a phone call from Buzz, and from Management around that summer, and that was in May. And we’ve been speaking since May. It’s been a really, really, really long time, it wasn’t something we decided to do two weeks ago! Forgive me if I don’t know how many months from May to now, but it’s more than a few months. May, June, July, August, September, October, November… and we’re nearly in December. So it’s been six months or more that we’ve been talking about this; about how we’d like to place ourselves, and present ourselves in the market place, and what we’d like to do. What are our long term goals? This is not something that we are taking lightly; it’s not just a ten date thing… February/March we are booked, we are looking well beyond, well beyond that, at how we might navigate the next couple of years.

And does that include recording?

Yeah it does. And in fact, we’re right now talking about recording, and who’s got what songs. Everybody is throwing ideas on the table; I haven’t so far because I haven’t had my head in The Angels writing space at all. Writing for The Angels requires a particular mind set, and the stuff that I write for me, doesn’t resemble Angels songs, in the very least. Not at all: it’s on a different planet from The Angels music!

So I’m now looking at stuff that might be suitable for the band. James has got some stuff, Jim’s got some stuff, Doc has some stuff, so has Buzz. The difficulty is that we all live across the country… but the great thing is that you can chip off MP3’s very easily. We’d like to do some recording at the beginning of February, possibly. I’m a little bit busy doing other things. I’m also composing music for a film at the moment. So it’s just trying to juggle all these things.

The Angels 100 tour Feb-Mar 2013

Awesome! The press release for the tour quotes you as saying; ‘having spent the last few years in serenity, security, business and personal success, and great family satisfaction’ – so why go back on the road now?

I think it might be fun, and it’s only for short periods of time. I miss playing gigs. I really do miss playing gigs. As I said to you earlier, I have a fun band that plays in Melbourne, but because everybody else in the band play with a lot of other bands, it’s difficult to find time to get together, and I miss doing gigs.

I love gigging, I’ve always loved gigging! There’s a part of me that wants to gig, but I want to do it in a grown up way. I’m quite happy to entertain doing some gigs; I don’t want to be playing every week by any means, I won’t do that. I’m looking forwards to playing with this bunch of blokes. It sounded great, everyone’s getting along. It sounds great. The Angels have quite a history of good songs, so there are lots of things going for it, I’m happy to do it. Anyone who knows me knows how much I enjoy gigging.

Now is the time to do it, but in a grown up way. I’m not going to be out there slogging it for three months, or being away from home for two months at a stretch, that’s not going to happen.

Obviously there has been a lot written about the feud between the Brewsters and Doc. What are your thoughts on the right of either party to go out under the name The Angels?

I think everybody in the band, all nine of us, has some claim to the name. I’m not talking about anything legal here, I’m just saying; everybody who’s been through the band, in my opinion has a moral claim to the name. Now, that doesn’t mean that I think that I should be allowed to have a band called The Angels, and then James has a band called The Angels, and Jim has a band called The Angels.

The difficulty is that the public have no conception of what actually goes on behind the scenes. From what I gather, there’s a lot of conjecture about what disagreements there might be, or about this so called feud. It’s based on an innuendo, and the public don’t know what’s actually going on. It’s not really cool for us to say what’s actually going on, and we also… well I don’t personally feel like I owe the public any explanation whatsoever. It’s my business, just as what you do is your business: you don’t owe me an explanation about what you do.

That’s a little bit difficult, because fans can be rather excitable, and that’s a double edged sword. It’s lovely to have excited fans who want to come to your gigs, which of course enables you to keep doing gigs, because if no one comes to your gig that’s the end of the band. So it’s nice to have fans that are supportive and excitable. On the other hand, it also allows some fans to think that they somehow have an investment in the band, and they don’t. As much as we appreciate people supporting us, the fans don’t… it’s not correct to say that fans can dictate what direction we should all go. Does that make sense to you?

Absolutely…

So there’s all this talk I hear… You know, I check Facebook and social media. It’s upsetting for me when I see fans posting things as truth – that they know this, and they know that… well they’ve got no idea whatsoever, they wouldn’t have a clue. All they know is what someone told them, and I know that what someone told them is a lie, because I know quite a bit about what’s going on behind the scenes!

That’s upsetting and I don’t want to want to be a jerk and say the wrong thing here, because it’s not really our place to offer all the details of what’s actually going on regarding the band. It would be wrong for us to do that, and I don’t want to enter into any social media wars about who has the rights to the name or whatever. But I see a lot of fans claiming that they know, and I know that that’s being fed to them by certain band members. That’s upsetting because I don’t really want to name who the band members are! [Laughs]

Yeah. This whole Facebook and social media vitriol thing is beyond me. I don’t see why it even needs to happen, so…

I think that for many, many people, social media gives them the opportunity to say things that they would never say to somebody’s face in the real world. They would just never do it. I’ve received some incredibly insulting and berating messages, and I’m pretty sure that should I meet these people in person, they wouldn’t have the guts to tell me to my face.

I have to agree with you there, we’ve been on the receiving end of that ourselves…

Sadly we all are. Also I’ve got to say that I’ve received many emails and messages of support, saying; ‘Thank you very much, my favourite period of the band was Beyond Salvation.’  I think it’s pretty obvious that if people are going to contact me to be supportive, they’re probably going to mention the albums I was on, that makes sense… [Laughs]  

Just like I wouldn’t write a letter to Brian Johnson saying, my favourite AC/DC album is Powerage… [Laughs] … I mean, that would be just stupid. So it’s pretty self-evident for people to contact me again saying things about an album that I was on, that’s great. It’s been interesting, it’s made doubly interesting by this social media disaster.

But we’re trying to avoid getting involved in abuse on our pages. It’s a kind of fine line, because you don’t want to be deleting every comment that you don’t like, because you end up appearing like a dickhead if you do. I think it’s important to leave criticism to be viewed on social media, and I’m happy to leave criticisms on my own The Angels page, which is called The Angels 100% – that’s MY Angels Facebook page.

[But] I have some very clear guidelines; you’re welcome to say that you prefer this, or that, but just do not enter into any abuse, because I will not stand for abuse, and I will block you or whatever.

Well as you said at the start of the interview, life’s a bit too short and we’re all older and wiser, and who wants to waste time on that crap eh?

I spent a good three or four hours on Facebook last Saturday or Sunday, and I was exhausted! Since then I’ve spent 20 minutes a day. [Laughs]

Yeah! I was chatting to a friend of mine in a band earlier on today, and I was saying exactly the same thing; that Facebook backlash is coming! I’m spending a lot less time on there now, because there is just too much rubbish on there.

There’s a lot of rubbish, and it’s just become white noise really, no one really cares. The truth is, when I go to pick up my little girl from school, which I’ll be doing shortly. I chat to the other mums and dads picking up their little kids from school, not one of them gives a shit about anything that was said to them about The Angels on Facebook! Not one of them, they couldn’t care less!  They are out there living in the real world, and Facebook is not the real world!

That is, word for word, what I said to my friend earlier on. It’s amazing how much investiture there is in this virtual reality.

And you’ve got to wonder what’s going on in people’s lives, where they’re checking their Facebook on their phone every minute? What’s going on, where is their attention? If you’re picking up your child from school, what you are saying to them is; actually I’m sorry about your day, but it’s much more important for me to bitch on Facebook, than it is for me to communicate with you.  Or you’re driving your kid to school, or you’re at the shops… and I see people checking their stuff all the time. And the message underneath is; actually what I’m doing with you is overly unimportant, and what I’m doing on my phone is much more important. And people complain about the state of the world!  Which I find just very, very sad… it’s sad.

Yeah, it’s very scary indeed.

[Laughter]

Anyway mate, I’ve kept you for almost half an hour now, thank you so much for your time.

It’s all right, thank you very much Shane.

All the very best on the tour; we are of course hoping you can get some Perth dates in later on after the first run.

Oh man, Perth has been spoken about since the very beginning. There are lots of issues around how gigs work… look, this is going to sound like shameless, self-social media promotion or something. I put up quite a rave about how gigs get booked on one of the Facebook pages, and if anyone’s actually interested, I could probably enlighten them as to how gigs are really booked in this business. It’s not just a matter of going; oh Perth, let’s play there next week. There are so many other things involved, and it’s not all about the money. Everybody cops criticism about the money, it’s not about the money, there are so many things that have to be organised to play a gig. The short story is, we really do want to be playing in Perth, and I’m hoping we play there very soon after this little run.

Excellent! Well look, we may well be in Melbourne sometime in March, and if we are, we’re hoping the dates might line up for us.

Cool!

Excellent mate, thank you so much. I’m a big fan of your work, with both The Angels, and Skyhooks.

Thank you very much!

So it’s been an absolute pleasure to talk to you.

Thanks very much Shane, you take care buddy.

THE ANGELS 100% TOUR DATES:

Friday February 15th – Penrith Panthers NSW
Saturday February 16th – The Entrance Leagues NSW
Friday February 22nd – Vine Inn, Barossa SA
Saturday February 23rd – Bridgeway Hotel SA
Saturday March 2nd – Tivoli QLD
Friday March 8th – Port Macquarie Panthers NSW
Saturday March 9th – Club Forster NSW
Friday March 15th – Prince of Wales Hotel VIC
Friday March 22nd – Canberra Southern Cross Club ACT
Saturday March 23rd – Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre NSW

* Current gossip suggests The Angels 100% will support Guns n’ Roses & ZZ Top around the same time as these dates, and if so, these dates may well be rescheduled *

Shane

Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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  1. wayne says:

    hey bob sorry to hear of your scare. Iwill always remember the concert at surf air car park do u remember, the only high rise between mooloolabah and noosa we drove from Caloundra as kids and had a amazing night I stood right in front, and to your left were the speakers the building must have been shaking for weeks after.good luck mate and keep on rocken.wayne

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