The Angels Singer Doc Neeson Has Died, Aged 67

Doc Neeson performing at the Countdown Spectacular in 2007. Photo Kristian Dowling/Getty

Bernard “Doc” Neeson, the Irish-born singer who gave Australia its seventies and eighties hard rock soundtrack as front man of The Angels, has died, aged 67.

He passed away this morning, just after 7am,

After being hospitalised over Christmas in 2012, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour and just six weeks ago featured on the Australian Story profile A Very Good Rascal, revealing at the time that the tumour, which had been treated, had returned this year doctors had told him he had just months to live.

A statement released on Neeson’s Facebook announced his passing from cancer:

It is with deep sadness and regret that the family of Angels singer/songwriter Bernard ‘Doc’ Neeson – loving father, family member and friend to so many – announce he has passed away in his sleep at 7.15am, today, 4th June 2014.

He has battled with a brain tumour for the last 17 months and sadly lost his fight this morning. He will be deeply missed by his family and partner Annie Souter who would all like to thank everyone for their support through this dark time.

“We love you Dad. You couldn’t have made any of your sons more proud of you if you tried. May your beautiful soul rest in peace sweet angel, fly high.” Dzintra, Daniel, Aidan and Kieran.

“Good Night, Sweet Prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” With love forever, Annie – borrowed from William Shakespeare – Hamlet
More to come.

Bernard Patrick “Doc” Neeson was born in Belfast in 1947, and migrated to Australia when he was 13, with his family, which included five siblings.

They lived in Adelaide, where he formed his first band the Moonshine Jug & String Band, in 1970, with Rick and John Brewster. The trio morphed into the Keystone Angels and by 1976, The Angels, with their debut single ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’. The trio shared the songwriting credits, with Chris Bailey on bass guitar and Graham “Buzz” Bidstrup on drums.

The song became a defacto national anthem to a generation raised on pub rock and somewhere along the way, its cult status led the audience began to shout back “No way, get f&#ked, f*%k off!” in response to the chorus. It featured on their first, self-titled album and over the next five years, The Angels released an album annually.

Their follow up, Face To Face, in 1978, spent a record 79 weeks in the charts. It’s listed as one of the top 100 Australian albums of all time and included the tracks ‘Take A Long Line’ and ‘After The Rain’.

Subsequent releases produced hits such as ‘Shadow Boxer’, ‘No Secrets’, ‘Face the Day’ and a cover of ‘We Gotta Get Outta This Place’ and the charismatic Neeson was hailed as the god of Aussie pub rock. In 1979, as the headline act at a New Year’s Eve concert at the Sydney Opera House, more than 100,000 people turned up and the night threatened to spill over into a riot due to drunken violence.

Bernard Neeson trained as a teacher and served in the Australian Army in the 1960s. His conscription service as part of the entertainment corps had a profound influence on his career, inspiring Neeson to create the 1999 “Tour of Duty” concert for troops in East Timor, which also included John Farnham, Kylie Minogue, James Blundell and The Living End. Neeson performed despite a severe spinal injury earlier after an accident on Sydney M4 expressway when a semi-trailer slammed into his car, but at the end of 1999, it led him to announce he was leaving The Angels after being warned that he would end up in a wheelchair if he kept performing.

While Neeson was lost in a foggy cocktail of morphine and alcohol for a while to cope with the pain and depression, the injury didn’t keep him off stage for long, with an encore performance of the Tour of Duty concert 14 months later at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and later that year, the ABC music series A Long Way To The Top reintroduced The Angels to the post-Countdown generation.

He formed Doc Neeson’s Angels at the end of 2003, with The Angels name mired in a legal dispute with former band members before they reconciled and reformed under the name in 2008, a few months after he’d toured the Middle East entertaining Australian troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. Neeson was presented with two medals for military service and promoted to the honorary rank of Major.

Three decades on, The Angels enjoyed a new life and sold out audiences across Australia, but the tensions within the band were captured in an SBS documentary on that 2008 tour, which culminated with the band being inducted into the Australian Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

But the founding trio fell out again, leading to two versions of The Angels touring, with the Brewster brothers appointing former Screaming Jets singer Dave Gleeson as their frontman. That band produced the 2012 album Take It to the Streets.

A new detente loomed when both Neeson and bassist Chris Bailey were diagnosed with serious c cancers in early 2013, just as a tour of The Angels 100% had been planned.

Bailey, who also founded GANGgajang and played on six Angels albums, had throat cancer and died in April last year, aged 62.

Neeson had intensive radiation and chemotherapy treatment and the prognosis was good before the illness returned in February this year, just after he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for services to the performing arts as a singer and songwriter, and to the community.

In April Doc Neeson released his first single in seven years, “Walking in the Rain”, a cover of an old song by long-time collaborators Vanda and Young.

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