No topic is off-limits for Angus Young and crew — not Satanism, School Disco, meddling pigeons or elephantine groupies called Rosie. But what about their Geordie singer’s ballet side-project? AC/DC, we salute you!
ANGUS YOUNG is an astonishingly small man. The funny little bloke in a schoolboy’s uniform is, at 44, no bigger than the average 15-year-old. Joining AC/DC’s lead guitarist at Berlin’s Four Seasons hotel on this warm June afternoon are two more short-arses: his elder brother Malcolm, the band’s rhythm guitarist, and singer Brian Johnson. The latter speaks in a Geordie accent rendered almost incomprehensible by a sore throat from last night’s gig at the 3000-capacity Columbiahalle, a warm-up for dates with The Rolling Stones.
“It were fuckin’ hot last night,” Johnson wheezes as the trio settle into easy chairs to face Q readers’ questions.
More surprising even than their lack of height is their lack of ego. Joking and chain-smoking fags, they appear more like brickies on their tea break than rock icons.
The AC/DC story is a remarkable one. They paid their dues playing to pissed-up bruisers in Australian pubs, and went on to sell 140 million albums worldwide. In 1980, their singer Bon Scott choked to death on his vomit following a booze binge, but AC/DC bounced back with their biggest album, Back In Black. And it was in 2001 that US shock-jock Howard Stern summed up the appeal of the band’s no-bullshit hard rock and bawdy lyrics — specifically the line, “I was born with a stiff” — by declaring them “fucking geniuses”.
Reminded of this compliment, all three laugh long and hard. They don’t take themselves too seriously — good news given the cheek of these questions…
AC/DC have not supported another band for 20 odd years, so why play second fiddle to The Rolling Stones in Germany? Was the money too good to refuse? Jake Ashfield, St Albans
Malcolm Young: They’ve offered it a few times over the years. We’d never really met them but when they played in Sydney, Ron Wood asked me and Angus to jam with them. We played a 12-bar blues and Angus and Jagger were duckwalking, taking the mickey out of each other.
Angus Young: I know I was in Mick’s spot, but that was by accident.
Angus, you’re 44 years old — isn’t it time to retire the schoolboy’s uniform? Dave Homer, Ilford
AY: Nah! When I put the uniform on, I’m ready. The legs start shaking.
MY: The first time he put it on he said, “Do you think they’ll kill me out there?” I said, “You’d better jump around a bit!”
AY: I thought, “If I stand still I’m a target.” In some of the pubs we played there was that much scrapping going on, you were behind the amps!
What happened to Brian’s ballet about Helen Of Troy? Matthew Young, Doncaster
Brian Johnson: Aw, divvent ask that!
MY: He lost his tutu!
BJ: It’s not a ballet, it’s just a musical. The first rehearsal’s on 4 July in London. That’s enough of that, thank you very much! I’m embarrassed in front of the lads.
My parents thought I’d grow out of impersonating Angus when I was 16. I’m now 38 and still doing it. Can you help? Heavy Metal Joe, Llwyngwril
AY: He can visit my psychiatrist if he wants, but I don’t think there’s much hope for him.
Who’s the best Angus lookalike you’ve seen? Andy Stevenson, Kinloss
AY: Britney Spears is a good example.
Have you ever been to a School Disco club, Angus? Geoff Layne, London
AY: I don’t know about that! You never know who might show up. Lord Sadist or something.
Beavis and Butt-Head are big AC/DC fans [Butt-Head is never without an AC/DC T-shirt]. Do you take that as a compliment? Damon Stagg, Taunton
MY: The guy who does it [Mike Judge] is just a rock’n’roller. He can’t believe his luck — he can’t believe he got away with such a cheap show.
AY: When I met him, he just looked at me, laughing.
I love AC/DC but Fly On The Wall is a shit album. Can I have my money back? Jamie Foss, Cambridge
MY: Nothing wrong with that one! Even though it might be one of our worst, it’s still fucking OK. You’ve got shit taste, mate, simple as that!
Where do you get your flat caps, Brian? Leo Riddle, Oxford
BJ: New York, now. I used to get them from this old bag lady — no, not a bag lady, this old fucking bag what was a lady…
AY: It gets worse by the minute!
BJ: She was a miserable old fucker. Had a stall in Kensington market. The hats were £5 — never changed. She used to make the peaks with cardboard, so when I got sweaty, this big lump would come up like a big dick on top of me head. I said to her once, “Do you remember me? I must be your most regular customer.” And she went, “Pick up your cap and fuck off.” She must be dead now — the stall’s there but there’s nae hats on it.
Do you remember where you were when you heard that Bon had died? Andy Hunns, Sunderland
BJ: I remember exactly. I read it in the Daily Mail on me way to work. I had my own business in Newcastle putting vinyl roofs on. In the band I was in, we were doing two AC/DC songs in our set. Bon’s death got two fuckin’ inches in the paper. I was disgusted.
AY: We were all living in little shoebox flats all over London. One of Bon’s girlfriends called but she was in panic. I told her not to worry, there’s always some rumour going round. Then a Japanese girl rang about it. I got hold of Mal and he’d heard something. Nobody knew for sure. Then our manager told us.
Brian, you said that you felt Bon watching over you when you were recording Back In Black. Can you describe that feeling? Don Barker, Sheffield
BJ: I cannae deny it. I feel soft saying it, but there were certain times when I was sitting on me tod in these little recording booths in the Bahamas… Ah, fuck it. I’ve got goosebumps now, you cunt!
Is it true that you tried to contact Bon in a seance? Sharon Latham, Hastings
AY: Nah, but when Brian first joined us there were lots of guys turning up saying they’d contacted Bon on Ouija boards.
MY: When we went back to Australia with Brian the first time after Back In Black, the headline in the paper was, Brian Speaks To Bon! They were just looking for a big sell on the front page. He had a hell of a time living it down.
Did Malcolm really pull a knife on Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler in the 70s? Jim Cartwright, Gosforth
MY: It was the other way around. That was when we were all larrikins. We were staying in the same hotel and Geezer was in the bar, crying in his beer, “Ten years I’ve been in this band, 10 years — wait till you guys have been around 10 years, you’ll feel just like us.” I said, “I don’t think so.” I was giving him no sympathy. He’d had many too many and he pulled out this silly flick knife. As luck would have it, Ozzy walked in. “He goes, You fuckin’ idiot, Butler — get to bed!” Ozzy saved the day and we sat up all night with him.
How did you feel when first Spinal Tap and then Metallica ripped off Back In Black’s “none more black” cover? Simon Perry, Portsmouth
BJ: At least Spinal Tap were taking the piss — them other fuckers were serious!
What did you think when your song ‘Night Prowler’ was cited as the inspiration for Richard Ramirez, the “Night Stalker” killer? Tim Ritchie, Edinburgh
MY: He just had a shirt with AC/DC on. Your answer to that is, did you search his stomach for a McDonald’s? If you’re a wacko, you’re a wacko.
AY: We had all that kind of thing with ‘Highway To Hell’ — that if you play it backwards you get these satanic messages. Fucking hell, why play it backwards? It says it right up front: ‘Highway To Hell’!
BJ: Americans can turn anything on its fucking head if they think long enough, man. The names they had for AC/DC — stuff like “Antichrist, Devil’s Child”.
AY: When we first went to America you had guys in bed sheets and placards with prayers on, picketing the gig. I said, “Who are they here for?” And they said, “You!”
“She ain’t exactly pretty, ain’t exactly small” — did you ever meet the subject of ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’? Paul Lowe, Stockport
MY: I saw her. We were in a travel lodge in Melbourne in the heart of the red light area, and we were broke. Bon told me there were two females who were gonna cook us some food, a big fat bird and a little skinny one. It was one night I never got drunk, thank Christ. But poor old Bon, this big mama just jumped on him and had him on a single bed. The other bird’s sitting there, really ugly, and I said, “I’m just going for a pee” — and I left. Bon said it took him half an hour to get out of the bed, and when he was getting over her she grabbed him again.
AY: She was keeping tabs. She said she’d slept with 28 celebs. In the morning, while Bon was feigning sleep, she leaned over to her friend and said, “Twenty-nine!”
Is it true that pigeons interfered with the recording of ‘Hell’s Bells’? Eric Yip, Derby
MY: We weren’t there, but when the engineer Tony Platt was trying to record a church bell ringing in Loughborough, he spent a whole day trying to shoo these pigeons off.
Every AC/DC album sounds the same… Sue Porter, Teignmouth
MY: Same band! That’s the good thing about us. It’s just loud rock’n’roll — wham, bam, thank you ma’am!
AY: You don’t go to the butcher for brain surgery.
MY: It’s funny, when we first came to England in ’76, the record company wanted to market us as a punk band. We told them to fuck off! You’d get these punks having a go at us, and Bon would go, “You shut up or I’ll rip that fucking safety pin out of your fucking nose!”
Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be in AC/DC, but I ended up in 3 Colours Red. Can you fix it for me to play bass on one song? Pete Vuckovic, London
BJ: I’m sure we can take care of it with one brown envelope. You could use me as a go-between. Twenty-five per cent.
AY: Now there’s a guy who can’t be bought!
Do you own any records made in the last ten years? Robin Pondsford, Leicester
BJ: I like Norah Jones, she’s a canny little lassie.
MY: You’ll regret saying that in a few years. She’ll turn into a right Mariah Carey.
Was Malcolm in rehab when his cousin Stevie Young replaced him for an AC/DC tour in 1988? Kelvin Donaghy, Bristol
MY: Yeah. There were bits in the paper about my son being ill, which was true, but that wasn’t the reason, it was booze. You just don’t see it coming. We’d have two Bloody Marys at the hotel in the morning, then straight to the airport and into the bar. On the plane you go, “I’ll have a screwdriver” — and you get two! We all went that way, except Ang, who was teetotal.
AY: I wonder why!
MY: It hit me big time. The lads got concerned — they’d seen Bon go, and I was fucking up. I knew I had to get it out of my system if I was ever to get back.
Is [Black In Black producer]Mutt Lange doing your next album, or have the records he’s made with his wife Shania Twain put you off working with him? Andrew Wood, Bolton
MY: I think the Def Leppard records put us off! We’re just getting the basics together for the new record, searching for those great riffs that are still to be had. We could give you a dozen in a minute but we’re looking for the ones that stand out. We’re out on the road now to remind us what the punters like — it puts you back in that frame.
AY: The Mutt rumours probably started when he came to see us on the last tour.
What does Shania Twain see in Mutt [they married in 1993]? A Rees, Melton Mowbray
BJ: What fucking rude cunt asked that?
MY: Mutt’s a great bloke. Polite, mannered, no airs and graces. His wife, you wouldn’t recognise her — nothing like she is on stage. She does her own housework. She’s a real down-to-earth woman.
Do you need a licence for firing those cannons on stage? Zoe Hall, Peterborough
BJ: It’s proper gunpowder, so you need a black powder licence.
AY: As issued by Long John Silver.
MY: It’s funny, they just put us in the Hall Of Fame, and the cannons have been in there for years!
© Paul Elliott, Q, September 2003