September 23, 2022
People & Places

Don’t stop the music: SA’s rock n roll legends

These legendary South Australian musos credit rock ‘n’ roll for keeping them young at heart as they continue to take to the stage against all odds.

The Gov is one of John Brewster’s favourite live music venues to play.


What’s it like playing rock and roll to legions of fans at the age of 72? The Angels’ evergreen rhythm guitarist John Brewster can report, “It’s amazing”.

“We never really thought about longevity when we formed the band in Adelaide in 1974 and started our journey; we just went out on the road and started building our audience. It took us years of really hard work and being broke but once we got there, it’s never gone away for us,” says John.

While The Angels’ line-up has changed over the past 48 years, founding members John and his lead guitarist brother Rick have been the mainstays. In all that time, they’ve hardly ever been out of action – aside from COVID, which delayed their current Australian tour. Now touring the 40th anniversary of their Dark Room studio album, the boys are playing in a different city every weekend.

The Angels’ guitarist John Brewster and together still rocking, pictured at Bluesfest with The Angels earlier this year.

“We recently played Bluesfest to 30,000 people and all the way to the back you could see the crowd had their hands in the air going crazy – that makes you feel a bit younger,” says John.

“My brother has spent his life ripping it up playing magnificent lead parts and although I used to leap around the stage a bit more than I do now, it’s still physical.”

The current line-up sees John and Rick joined by John’s son Sam on bass, Nick Norton on drums and Dave Gleeson on vocals, flying to a different city every weekend playing hits such as Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again and Take a Long Line.

“The Angels are taking up so much of our time but we love what we do and we’ve lost no passion for it at all. We’ve got a wonderful repertoire of songs that people love and as long as you play those songs well, the experience of playing live is fantastic,” says John.

Today, John lives at Victor Harbor with his wife Sue and during the week plays his beloved sport of golf. On weekends he packs up his guitar and drives to the airport. The lifestyle is a luxury not lost on John, who vividly remembers the hard-slog of weeks and months on the road during the band’s formative years.

The Angels’ guitarist John Brewster has been on stage most of his life, from the hard slog of the early years with brother Rick.

“In the old days, we’d say goodbye to our families and see them three weeks later – or, when we started touring the world, six months later,” he says.

“At first, the only way to do it was to jump in the deep end and try to get to the other side. If I look at the band’s first four years – wonderful memories – I don’t know how we did it. An old EH station wagon with re-tread tires, no freeways, overnighting, leaving at 2am for a gig that night and being paid just 100 bucks between us.

“After years of being broke, I realised I’d burnt my bridges behind me. I couldn’t just go back to what I used to do, that was gone. So we had to make it and, fortunately, we did.”

The Angels were among a wave of the biggest bands Adelaide has ever produced. “In the ’60s, you could walk around Adelaide and there were clubs with live music everywhere. That continued right through the ’70s and growing up in that environment gave us a reason to form a band and go out there professionally,” John says.

A favourite memory of life on the road was hitting the golf course with Alice Cooper every day when The Angels supported the American star’s tour in 1991. Although his band have never been big drinkers, John today enjoys playing live without anything to calm the nerves. “I have actually discovered the whole experience of playing in The Angels completely not affected by any drugs or alcohol is amazing; it’s actually better,” he says.

“The Angels will celebrate 50 years in two years’ time and there’s no reason why we won’t make that. The band’s playing great and people are really enjoying it.”

Pictured behind the Kings Head Hotel where his musical journey began, founding member of The Masters Apprentices Brian Vaughton, 74, is playing shows again.


A youthful fieriness is suddenly awakened from deep within Brian Vaughton who pumps his fist to a fast-paced rock and roll track blaring from his smartphone. “This really gets me going,” the septuagenarian growls, explaining the story behind a high-energy garage recording his band made in 1966, long before CDs or Spotify were around.

The song instantly transports Brian back to the ’60s, punishing his drum kit like a teenager possessed in the sheds behind the Kings Head Hotel, which his father owned. He later became the publican himself.

“We used to practice in old sheds out the back. As the drummer I used to go mad, the guitarist Mick [Bower] would go off his tree and Jimmy [Keays] was dancing around like a monkey,” he remembers of the early days of his band, The Mustangs which formed in ’64 and then became The Masters Apprentices.

“We’ve got a string of hit records but before all that we made the Garage Tapes in a shed out the back on reel-to-reel tape with two small microphones sitting on a car bonnet. It’s so rough but it’s iconic to me because it really shows you the drive of the band and what we sounded like in the day. It’s raw.”

Brian Vaughton pictured with modern The Masters Apprentices line-up Mick Bower, Craig Holden, Rick Harrison, Gavin Webb and Bill Harrod; Brian in action.

As teens, Brian and his bandmates were dedicated to music and practiced up to five nights a week. “We were all good boys, we all used to smoke cigarettes, but no alcohol – it was all about the music,” he says.

The band’s rising popularity saw them relocate to Melbourne in ’67 but Brian decided to leave the band to stay in Adelaide and operate the hotel. The band had numerous personnel changes but broke up a few years later in ’72.

Fast forward more than 50 years and The Masters Apprentices have made a remarkable revival with members of the original line-up. Since re-forming in early 2021 the band has played gigs, including Adelaide Oval, that they’ve recorded and released as a live album – their first in half a century.

On the drum kit he’s been playing for more than 50 years.

“It is exciting. People love the nostalgia and every show that we do, somebody will come up in tears saying ‘We loved that so much’. You can tell we’ve sparked a memory of something that happened in their life, whether happy or sad,” says Brian.

“It took a little while to get our chops back and the muscle memory but from there we’ve just built it up into a bloody good show. I wouldn’t say that if I didn’t think so – I’m my harshest critic. It blows my mind that here we are 57 years later and we’re still doing it.”

The idea to reform the band came about when the Masters were inducted to the South Australian Hall of Fame in 2014. Today, they continue to perform as a five-piece featuring original members Brian, Mick Bower, Gavin Webb and Rick Harrison joined by bassist Bill Harrod and lead singer Craig Holden.

“If we couldn’t do it today like we could when we were kids, we wouldn’t,” says Brian, who still plays his original drum kit from 1965.

“We play all the songs fast so we can finish them just in case somebody falls off the perch. It’s a lot of fun – each gig is an anthropological expedition. All the girls who used to know us back in the day come along, some are on wheelchairs and walking frames. We always joke with the crowd that we’ve got the ambulance tied up out the back and oxygen bottles down the front.”

Nerve damage has seen Brian lose some control in his left hand but that hasn’t stopped him, using a modified glove to ensure he can hold a stick. “We’re medical miracles; everybody at our age has something,” he says.

“Playing live still gets the adrenaline and nerves going but once you get on stage it’s all kosher. We’re lucky we can play as good as we did 57 years ago.”

British culture is intertwined with the long music career of John Bywaters, 77. A founding member of famous ’60s band The Twilights, John still plays up to four gigs a week and sometimes dons a Union Jack suit on stage


As a founding member of hit 1960s group The Twilights, John Bywaters is counted among the elder statesmen of South Australian music. Now 77, the bass guitarist still plays up to four gigs a week while also working his day job.

“Music found me, I don’t know why,” says John.

“I was going to dances and it was all a mystery to me; how do I get up there? Well, through hard work and a bit of good luck thrown in.”

John was still cutting his teeth in Adelaide’s music scene when The Beatles came to town in 1964 and played two South Australian gigs that sparked a cultural revolution and fuelled the rise of Adelaide’s own stars.

The Twilights members Paddy McCartney, Laurie Pryor, Terry Britten, Peter Brideoake, John Bywaters and Glenn Shorrock; During their heydey, The Twilights were adored by fans Australia-wide with an element of hysteria typical of the times.

“It changed the face of music. If there were no Beatles, what would we be playing? Everyone wanted to be like them,” says John. It was only about a month after The Beatles’ shows that he became part of a new group called The Twilights.

“We were lucky the band had good vocalists including Glenn Shorrock and they could harmonise really well, so we did a fair job of playing Beatles songs; that’s what we became known for. When the radio station would start playing a new Beatles album our drummer would record it to reel-to-reel tape and then we would learn to play as many as we could.”

The Twilights moved to Melbourne in 1965 to pursue their dream. John uprooted with his wife Valerie and their first daughter on the way. The Twilights became a household name, touring the country and making guest appearances on television shows until they disbanded in 1969.

“There was a hysteria to it,” says John.

“We had girls clamouring on stage at every gig, and a couple of the unmarried guys used to have their clothes ripped off by the adoring fans – that was a thing in the day. If the singer leaned over too far, they’d get yanked down into the crowd. That happened often. Sometimes the bouncers had to push the crowd away, not only women but it was also guys that were in adulation of popstars.”

John credits the unwavering support of Valerie in helping him through the ups and downs. “We always seemed to be working and I didn’t spend much time at home. Our young daughter was only six months old when I went to England for five months,” he says.

One of John’s proudest moments was to play shows at Liverpool’s famous Cavern Club and to have recorded three songs at Abbey Road, where he met The Hollies.

When The Twilights disbanded, John and Valerie moved their young family back to Adelaide. From those heady days playing to hysterical crowds, John transitioned to the role of a working musician and found a simpler joy in music. Today, John plays in local bands such as The Rustlers, The Party Cats and in a community band with Valerie.

“I play with some excellent young musos and age is never brought up. They know you’re an old fart, but as long as you can cut it, it doesn’t matter. You’re just one of the band,” John says.

“I am proud of those days in the ’60s and I do look back on those times fondly, but it’s almost like somebody else did it. You have stages in your life, chapters, and you can’t turn back time. When music’s in your DNA, you can’t escape it.

“Unfortunately, I’ve lost a few friends along the way, so I try to make the most of it while I can. It’s a blessing to still be able to play.”


This article first appeared in the July 2022 issue of SALIFE magazine.

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