Backstage With The Angels
"Your Webmaster Embarks On A Journey To Finally See The Band Live"
A Diary By Martin Mathis
This is it folks - over the top...
In early August 1998 after roughly 18 years of fanship I finally and for the first time got to see The Angels in concert. Almost better yet, I got to meet them backstage, too. After combining the two competing inner voices - "do it!" and "are you nuts!?" - I decided to hop over to Sydney for a week and catch the six gigs from August 4 to 9 after having missed the band on my first ever Aussie holiday just months before. Following is a day-to-day no-notes rock'n'roll recollection of the events with some pix thrown in.
Monday, August 3, 1998 - Arrival in Sydney
Leave Hometown USA early Sunday morning. Touch down SYD International Monday night after pleasant flight (no VB, stick with Toohey's, 9 hours of sleep!). Questioned by customs agent at baggage carousel. Later pulled out for baggage inspection. Learn that customs agent has heard of The Angels in highschool but is surprised they're still around. Beanie Baby gift spared dissection. Taxi driver, unwilling to break vow of silence, takes the detours to wonderful Park Lodge Hotel and earns a tip with 'tourist' written all over it. Call Helen Eccles, call local friend and host Russell. Angels all over the free magazines I pick up in nearby pubs. Life is good. Leave message for wife Sandi back home. Crash with some disinfecting Bundy in case the ongoing water crisis managed to affect my system (they had found nasty cryptosporidium critters in the water supply and there was a city-wide alert, joy)...
Tuesday, August 4, 1998 - Central Coast Leagues Club
Russell picks me up at 9am. Drive to his workplace in Darling Harbour. Go record shopping across Pyrmont Bridge after Russell tells me we can't play network games. Return to Russell's car for an unsuccessful half-hour nap. Noon, tired and the bloody time won't pass. Grab some Asian food, walk up to the Hard Rock and around Darlinghurst and Kings Cross. Back down quiet Burton Street which engulfs me in a fascinating way. On my own, exploring, the foreign city and jet lag make for a wonderful sense of 'on the road'. Stop at pubs to kill time then meet up with Russell to drive to the show in Gosford. Introduced to the concept of the Australian Workers/Leagues Club. Larger than the average American rock club yet smaller than the dreaded sports arena, probably similar to a VFW Hall (Veterans Of Foreign Wars) in the USA but with the added bonus of gambling devices and liquor-dispensing bars. Interesting to observe the rock crowd cram into this place past uniformed ushers who check memberships or make you fill in a temporary visitors admission, then mingle with gambling grannies and seniors who might discuss days in the ANZAC, today's youth or just the weather. No worries and no tensions though. Once admitted everybody's treated equal and seems welcome here. Go upstairs to a 1500-capacity ballroom with a wide stage and bars in the rear and to the side. Stay at a table in the back while supporting act Mescaline then Rose Tattoo come on. Not impressed with the acoustics. Anxious to see The Angels. Move up front and secure a place right at the stage, somewhat to the right. Piles of cans and glass bottles are testimony that I'm not in Kansas or any other US state anymore. This could be dangerous or maybe I've been spoiled by our Safety Nazis. I ponder if this is good or bad as the lights go out and the stage manager announces "The fucking Angels". Brent mans the drumkit. Rick, John, Jim and Doc follow and rip into Am I Ever... Very emotional being witness to this after all these years. Raise my fist and yell. Surprised that they play that many classics. I thought they'd mostly be plugging the new material. Can dig it. Fashion & Fame turns out to be my fave of the set. As three encores come to an end Brent walks right up to me and hands me his drumsticks. I always wondered how much of the crowd a band can make out from the stage. At least first row. Hang around afterwards wading in a sea of cans and bottles, telling security we're waiting for Brent (which is true) and they let us (which I find unbelievable). Briefly meet John and Doc on their ways out. Talk with Jim as Brent appears and welcomes us. Chat and 'oh, by the way' he gets an All Areas Backstage Pass from the tour manager and hands it to yours truly. Bliss! Three hour drive home to Jamberoo. Pass vehicle with some band members who quickly turn out in-car light. Rockstars... heh!
Wednesday, August 5, 1998 - Parramatta Leagues Club
Rain. Good to see Hely, Simone and Rachel again (Russell's family). Call Helen. Erm, was I supposed to wait 3 or 20 minutes after the show to go backstage. 20. Right on. Helen informs that I should get in touch with Peter Gormley from the Rose Tattoo Web site who's lodging in Sydney. Do so. Figure out we'll meet by the merchandise stand and how to recognize each other. Call pen pal David in Newcastle. Yeah, I'll take the train. Broadmeadow, ok, and then it's just a five minute taxi ride, ok. Two-hour drive to Parra. Russell parks the car in the continued drizzle while Hely and I wait in the lobby witnessing a leather-clad biker darling being expelled for reasons unknown. Telling by the scene you don't want to lose your club membership or at least know how to get it back. Check out the upstairs. Packed. Tatts are on. Acoustics are much better here. Maybe it's because this place has a carpeted floor. Wonder if extinguishing cigarettes on it is a no-no. I do it secretly thinking of the lobby scene. I still need my tourist visa. I like the Tatts gig this time and stay while Russell & Hely support the downstairs amenities. We rejoin for "The fucking Angels" and anchor midway to the left. Go queue at the bar high-fiving some biker who I had chatted with earlier. Save his place in line while he goes retrieving a sheila's poison order. Somehow I manage to miss the full effect of Fashion & Fame with the bar business. There's a long line. Strictly plastic cups too. Wimps... Having shed my angelic virginity the night before, this gig wasn't quite the fumbling excitement but more enjoyable. Essentially the same kickass show but like seeing a movie for the second time some things become emphasized, others anticipated and some discardable. I particularily become fond of Doc's bible exploit before Take A Long Line ("according to the bible we're 5000 years old - happy birthday. [...] All men are created equal but women are virgins and whores"). Doubt that Stryper would have ever wanted to open for these Angels. Forward to the end of gig. I think we got one less encore tonight. Meet Peter and Cindy at the merch stand. Probably chatted their ears full. Peter said he wasn't allowed backstage after the Tatts gig because he had this hand-written sticker only. We try my pass and - open Sesame - we bump into Rick and Jim. Introduced to Eric and Fabienne from France. Feel like a dork having forgotten all my French. Had 6.5 years of it and not used any in 13 years. Bonjour, je suis Suisse and have oublie beaucoup de whatever it was I learned. Le Doc parle more than I ever could during Marseilles. Helen and Doc wave us through to a pleasant area sporting a swimming pool and eskies stocked with other liquids. Over a Crown Gold I talk to Jim and later to Doc who is inquisitive about us fans' backgrounds which turns out to be computers for both Peter and me. Brent says he didn't care for the Beat Angels CD I gave him. Too generic. Shall spare the e-mail response I got from passing this on. As we step out on the parking lot it is still raining. Russell volunteers to save Peter & Cindy their taxi fare. Via Sydney back to Jamberoo. Sleep.
Thursday, August 6, 1998 - Newcastle Workers Club
Up early. Rain. Dapto train depot. Return fare to Newcastle on credit card. Savings or check? Credit. Savings or check? OK, savings and screw your accent too. Arrive Sydney Central. Miss connection by one minute. Buy magazines at newsstand, pass time at station bar, get chicken sandwich at snack bar. Board train. Sheesh, it's pouring down! Wonder if they get floods here. Sure looks like it. Arrive Broadmeadow, take taxi. David is cool. Has tons of Angels clippings, articles etc. Call Russell who reports potential transport problem with next day's show. He might not be able to carpool which leaves no car left to get to Sydney. I'd have to spend the next day in Sydney. They'd leave the final verdict on the answering machine. Decline dinner soup declared 'experimental'. Head to show early around 6pm. Hook up with local roadie Wazza before any security even checks entry. Hang around low-key until doors open. Show's sold out. Am on the guestlist per Helen but already in. What do I do to get my name checked off, just in case not doing so could have consequences. Ask for guestlist desk which is outside ticket checkpoint. Am offered stamp to get back in. Cool. Won't be screwed in case name is not on list. Confirm name with the guestlist girl who proceeds to apply stamp. Luckily doesn't ask questions and confusion over suspicion rejoins me with David whose friends are arriving. Newcastle appears to be Rose Tattoo country and David's pals want me to go back to the USA and turn my Angels page into a Tatts page. Sure, kids. I'll link to your Angels page then. Newcastle Workers holds more people than any of the previous venues and inspite its three levels it's not easy to see the stage through the crowd yet alone cut through it. Brent warned this would be an experience. The Poor open tonight. Get a response that can be equated to their name. Few seem to be familiar with them which surprises me. Meet Trevor, David's friend with Net access and someone who knows Bob Spencer, not to mention being one of those walking r'n'r encyclopedias. I'm in good hands. I want to stay in the back but they drag me into the mob assuring to keep an eye out for me. AC/DC started here in town until they abandoned it for Britain, I am told with a hint of contempt. Get a sense of the local mentality. Rough but friendly. Stick up for their own. Tatts are one of their own. Nothing wrong with that. Realize something that had occurred to me the last two nights: My perception of The Angels up to now was solely defined by their albums and lyrics and what I made of it. I was totally missing the context in which they've made it big down here. Mainly, they aren't an 'insider tip' or a band with a cult following. They're a kickass down n' dirty major hard rock act. Most of the audience comes for the party and good time as mass audiences generally do. At the part of the show where Fashion & Fame starts I had just managed to reach the bathroom. I got good bladderal timing indeed. I'm blown away at the Marseilles encore when Doc wishes Eric & Fabienne 'bon nuit' and "to Martin who comes from a country far away". Wish I had that on tape. At least I think that's what he said. Time the 20 courtesy minutes and scoot backstage. Mainly talk to Eric and Brent. The band is scattered across several rooms and busy with PR. Many more people backstage here than on the nights before. Go back out to grab David but he's nowhere to be seen. Panic, how do I get home. Rush downstairs where I spot him just being locked out of the venue. Get him back in. Hang around for a bit and use the back exit where Doc signs someone's forehead. Drive home in the continued rain. Message from Russell is "proceed to Dapto as planned". Crash on the living room sofa.
Friday, August 7, 1998 - Fairfield RSL
Up sinfully early. Still pouring. David and wife Lynne have to leave for work and I got a cab and train to catch.
Having had to buy another fare because my return ticket ingeniously expired on the purchase day and three
stations down there's a knock on the foggy window then someone bursts into the compartment. What the heck, it's David!?
His off-site meeting was off and he's waiting for the next northbound train. He exits in time before mine continues.
The scenery from the train is drastic.
Fields and roads are under water. I have to laugh: When I asked Lynne if they get floods here, she suggested that I'm
probably referring to oyster farms I saw on the way (no offense Lynne). Save an hour to Sydney with the
express train. Eight minutes layover. Try to call Hely. No answer. Train about to leave so I board regardless.
Flooded fields galore. Dig the view at Coal Cliff: Steaming coal wagons, flames spewing from coal work ovens, overhead
in the clouds lush wet forest and waterfalls shooting over the ridge. Finally Dapto. Phone Hely for pickup who's a bit
puzzled that I'm so early. Jamberoo looks like a disaster area. Oyster farms all over. We get home and the power's out. Bingo.
Hely informs a) we have to take the train back to where I just came from b) we can't go to the show if the power stays out
because of the kids. a) something got lost in the translation b) understand but I can still go myself. Appendix b)
Russell's coming straight home, won't go to the show, I'd have to find transport and accommodation in Sydney. Bummer with
a capital 'F'! Angels IV seems doomed. Restoration of power and pleading with Russell puts us back on track. Almost: We get
to the station late due to detours and general chaos. Luckily the train is even later. It's not clear at this point
if service is interrupted. It's not. Finally, City Rail crawls into Central Station. Hely's on the mobile with Russell to
direct him to us. Except that neither one nor various bystanders appear to know the surrounding geography and
20+ people queue at a taxi stand without taxis. Hopeless. Gridlock and accidents all over. They're evacuating Bathurst.
The airport is closed. City out of control! After 45 frantic minutes of 'mobile warfare' Hely instructs to dart into the
weather down a ramp. Half a minute and I'm soaked and I'm not really sure where I'm running and why until I see a familiar
car parked at the bottom. Marital bliss is not what's about to follow and I feel sheepish. A bit of road rage relieves
the tensions and since we've already got the tickets, driving home or to the show's about the same difference.
Saturday, August 8, 1998 - Shellharbour Workers Club
Eventually, daylight says to get up. Stopped raining for the most part. Decide to go into Kiama and see the world famous blowhole do its thing which it does rather well. Stormy sea. Buy fresh shrimp for dinner which reminds me that I had eaten a daily average of a piece of toast with a slice of processed cheese for the last 3 days. Too much going on, running from place to place, jet lag, liquid calories and, erm, Sudafeds and such. I actually feel good though, lean and trim. I think of the skinny rock stars I know. Naw, I'll never get there. Grew up too comfy. Anyway, today is "the home show". Shellharbour is just across the street from Jamberoo, so to speak, and Russell & Hely have reserved the VIP balcony for us and 16 of their friends. Ready for the show we stop by at Spazzo's place where my innocent visitor status does not grant me immunity from all kinds of 'accent abuse', mind you, not about my 'Swinglish' (English with a Swiss accent) but the bleedin' yank yak. It becomes mutual and in jest of course. I get a run-down on a British 60's TV show called "Thunderbirds". I blame it on self-sufficient, don't-stray-from-proven-formula American TV that I've never heard of it. On to the venue. The VIP lounge has a certain class. Private bar, clear view of the stage albeit from afar. I mull over if a VIP lounge invalidates my credibility as a rock'n'roll fan. Am I snob? Top hat, cane and Ascot. Whatever, it's different and convenient to safely bring photo camera and albums. Meet many of Russell & Hely's friends who are cordial and inquisitive. Can't shake my yank reputation though which is funny because I'm not a very representative specimen, I just live there. But it's cool. Back in Europe I'd probably be challenged to profound reasonings about American stereotypes. Here we stay mostly on the topic of music. The Angels come on and rip. Take pix but my feeling that they will turn out blurry is confirmed back home. Inspite 1k speed film, the unavoidable zoom lens and low light were too much for Mr.Eastman to handle.
Sunday, August 9, 1998 - St.Mary's Band Club
Sundays. I hate Sundays. I'm depressed in the aftermath of last night's highlight and from lack of sleep and general absence of a reality check. Five down, one to go. Feel better towards the evening. St.Mary's is quite a ways west of Sydney. The area is rural, St.Mary a small town. We take cross-country roads. Russell says it's considered a suburb though. Sold out show and Helen put us on the guest list. Last chance to play some pokies as we decide to hang out downstairs during the Tatts gig once again. I lose. There's square dancing going on at one end of the room. Transoceania still buys the American legend, what with all the Garths and Billy Rays peddling it. Howdy. We deserve the chain of "Outback Steakhouses" and the myth that a certain F-word is Australian for beer. Upstairs is packed wall to wall. Try to secure a spot on the top tier next to a column which we eventually lose due to crowd movement (more exactly due to the movement of one girl who claims to be this really huge Angels fan therefore must have this spot by the column. Duh.). Time for a leak before planning our strategic repositioning. Another Fashion & Fame moment... OK, where to: push down front halfway up a step which grants a great view at the expense of a certain vertebrate organ attached to the side of the head. I'm smack next to the left speaker stack. What's a little oblation to the shrine of Angels though. Then the head roadie spontaneously crosses the stage in undergarments. Quasimodo in a G-string. This throws Doc off for a second. Hilarious! Gig ends in a grand finale as Doc asks Mescaline to join in for the rest of Marseilles. Thus St.Mary feels like a conclusion to the tour even though there are two more gigs a few days later. The crowd goes totally nuts, or as Brent puts it on a radio interview later that night: "the crowd went off". Backstage. John and Rick about to leave. Time to bid adieu. Thanks for everything, come tour the USA (sure I'll book ya, John, if I had the means and connections...). Bye to Doc. Bye to Brent. This is it then. Ya. I'm tired, worn out, thrilled, speechless. Brent actually gives me a collegial buddy hug. Cheers! Collect setlists taped to monitors and out of there and back in Jamberoo at 3am. Got to finish packing.
Monday, August 10, 1998 - Departure from Sydney
Up at ungodly 6:30am in freezing but sunny cold. Shower, zip up bags and catch the Russell-John work shuttle with
courtesy stop at SYD International. Try to devise methods to fall asleep walking or standing with no success.
9am and check-in not to open until 11am. Basically dysfunctional and with luggage in tow I manage to get a coffee, browse
souvenir shops and stagger to a lobby seat weighing the merits of sleep against the hassles of stolen suitcases and missed
flights. Finally, check-in opens at 11:10am but the Flying Kangaroo is in no hurry to put the passengers in its pouch.
For the next 40 minutes the only available check-in agent processes about six families, ironically under the only desk with
a "position closed" sign. The ordeal behind, I head outside for a smoke which adjoins me with a lovely waitress
waiting for her flight back to LAX. It occurs to me that girls start talking to me when I look the most down and out but
not otherwise. Maybe I missed a calling somewhere. Boarding Qantas 011 I realize I drew the jackpot inspite
the "early" check-in: an aisle seat next to the galley! For the uninitiated: this basically means no rest for the
wicked as the kitchen crew bustles next to your face and bumps into various other body parts such as running trolleys over
your feet. Besides the potential of the two people next to you having to go to the bathroom. There's only one advantage
which is the one of instant placement of orders for more aqua vitae (mortae?), a service I have to peruse in order to
finally shut an eye for a few hours. Add that the person in front decides to permanently recline the back of her seat.
Time gained in the air is lost waiting for suitcase at LAX. I'm also chosen for a customs inspection where I get to explain
how an obviously suspected drug trafficker like me can be a computer programmer, travel by myself (yes, by myself)
to Sydney (yes, just the Sydney area) for a week, and carry a Swiss passport with a 15-year old photo that allegedly doesn't
look like me (yes, I can show my green card again). And would you now let me mess up your suitcase after which you get to
pack it again yourself. I loved the part where he sniffed my jar of Vegemite. Beats a rectal exam, I suppose. Anyway, he let
me go and soaked in sweat made it to the domestic terminal only to find the huge line the customs agent was probably hoping
to find. Luckily can proceed to and check in at the gate. Another flight, this time in a middle seat, first subjects me to
the vivid conversation conducted by the parties to my left and right and annoys me further as the seat in front moves to max
Gratuitous Photo Gallery
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