Harry Doherty travels to Cardiff to see how AC/DC are steadily working their way to the top
“HE DIDN’T do IT! He didn’t do IT!” The outburst from the beer-bellied Welshman totally puzzles his mate, who has also taken a vantage point on top of a table to get a better view. “Huh?” comes the reply eventually. “Didn’t do what?”
“He didn’t do IT!” The other’s voice adopts a tone of desperate disappointment. “He didn’t strip off. He didn’t flash his ass at us. He ALWAYS does IT.”
Just why the Cardiff Top Rank Suite attracted such a formidable crowd on a windswept, wet Tuesday night is a matter of some debate. AC/DC are the band who provide the music for the evening.
Their 17-year old leprechaunic guitarist, Angus Young, is the gent who didn’t oblige the punters by dropping his pants and revealing another side to his startling personality. Was that why they all turned out?
Whether or not it was, though, the fans went home happy. AC/DC, a weird concoction of Scottish and Australian rockers, gave them hard, hard rock.
They’d probably seen all the moves before, heard the riffs do the rounds before this particular band decided to claim them, but they were attracted by the raw energy that had gone into packaging and presenting the show.
If this set wasn’t notable for its originality, it sure was impressive for the enthusiasm.
It was the fourth gig of the current AC/DC British tour, and the band is feeling the pinch of the Sex Pistols’ TV extravaganza with Bill Grundy that occurred when they were home in Australia.
Venues, they’ve found, have closed their doors to rock and roll. Glasgow City Hall was one. AC/DC were prevented from playing that gig on this tour because of the damage over-zealous fans caused on their last appearance there.
And Liverpool Stadium is out this time, too, a direct result of the derogatory publicity rock has received since the Pistols/Grundy affair.
“Never mind,” Young Angus optimistically states, “they’ll open again when they’re losing money.”
AFTER ONLY two years in Britain, AC/DC have already carved their own identity with rock supporters here, although their popularity goes nowhere near challenging their appeal Down Under.
They’ve just returned from an Australian tour, playing regularly as headline act in front of 10,000 fans, but they don’t mind doing an about-turn when Britain calls.
Tonight in Cardiff, for instance, I doubt very much if the audience figure approaches the 1,000 mark. So what, they say.
“We don’t care how many people we play to,” Angus says, through an accent that is a curious mixture of his early Scottish upbringing, his later Australian emigration period and a slight slur in his speech.
“We’ll play in front of two people if we have to. Nah matta how many people’s there, you play for them, ‘cos they pay. It’s the obligation.
“We coulda existed in Australia, but eventually we would have to change, and we don’t wanna change. Middle-of-the-road is the big thing there. We would have to get mellower and mellower and we’d end up like Tommy Steele.”
Three of the band were born in Scotland. Apart from Angus, there’s his brother, Malcolm, five years his senior and the rhythm guitarist, and singer Bon Scott, the volatile frontman whose vocal and moody stage persona aren’t a million miles away from Alex Harvey’s.
The band is completed by Australian-born duo of bass player and drummer, Mark Evans, and Phil Rudd.
Three AC/DC albums have been released in Australia and two in Britain, High Voltage and Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and the music on them is typical of the no-nonsense rock and roll that epitomises their stage set.
Again, exciting if unoriginal. When they were in Australia, the band recorded another album with their producers, former Merseybeats George Young (Angus and Malcolm’s brother; and Harry Vanda.
Angus is loath to use the word “mature” as a description of the new material. That’s a little too pretentious, he thinks. Let’s just say “classier.”
AND SO we find AC/DC in the congenial surroundings of the Cardiff Top Rank, with more focal interest on the stage than a band of this nature usually merits.
The cause for this ogling is, undoubtedly, the presence of Angus. His schoolboyish looks and rough babyface features make him something of a freak off-stage, but he fully exploits those assets for the band’s live set, wearing a schoolboy outfit, short pants, blazer, shirt and tie, and cap.
It certainly develops a manic personality onstage, racing round like a madman beating the life out of his axe, dashing occasionally into the audience. The dance area at Cardiff is ideal for this gimmick, and Angus took full advantage of that situation. The audience reaction to the “star” of the show coming down from his pedestal to join them is fascinating.
At Cardiff, when Young went into the midst of the bopping throng, it was like some scene from Rock Around The Clock, with fans forming a circle around him, clapping hands, tapping feet, encouraging him to batter away.
But, as the two lads earlier bemoaned, there was no flash of Angus’s posterior at this gig. Ever since Young decided to turn his back on the audience and expose his bare ass to the Reading Festival campers last August, it’s become almost expected that he should give every audience this, er, joy.
This history Of Angus and his schoolboy gear goes back two years.
“Ah’ve always seen guys like Berry duckwalking and Jerry Lee Lewis stripping off, so I decided that I would wear that for a bit of fun.
“If I went on stage like this (jeans and tee-shirt). I’d look dumb. That suit does me justice. For a start, I can pull the hat over me head and hide me face.
“I can do that and show off me knees. Flash me arse. Me bum’s about the best side of me.”
Oh yes, his bum. I informed him about the disappointed fans.
“Cos I didn’t take off me pants? I only do that when I feel like puttin’ s— on the audience. Some audiences you get are really rowdy and to shut them up, you just go ‘take that, ya poof.’
“It’s just to shut them up, to quell them. I’ve been onstage, especially in Australia, and there would be guys there all night ribbin’ me to do somethin’ and they’d be shoutin’ ‘Angus has no balls’ until I eventually take off me pants and show ’em, because they’re goin’ to keep it up all night so ya gotta shut them up pretty quick.”
How long, I wondered, could he sustain the gimmick?
“As long as I want to. I’ve gone on in gorilla suits. I’ve gone on as Tarzan. I’ve gone on as Superman. I like wearin’ those clothes.
“I like to go on lookin’ the part so that straightaway it’s something to look at.
“My thing is that I like to see somethin’ to get people away from drinkin’ to see what you’re doin’. It’s different when you look larger than life.
“It’s to keep people interested, not bored. To keep them always lookin’. They pay to see somethin’. That’s the way we look at it.
“Nah, I never get embarrassed. I’ll do anythin’. The only time I get embarrassed is when you get a crowd that’s stone-cold silent, but that only makes us work harder anyway. We get them in the end. We always have.”
THE CARDIFF audience enjoys Angus’s antics They smile and laugh as he gets carried away. They’re amused at the outrage. Just as they are amused at the outrage of the lyrics.
AC/DC make no bones about what they’re singing: sex and violence From ‘The Jack’ to ‘Jailbreak’, Bon Scott’s lyrics leave little to the imagination. Their new maxi-single shows that. The three cuts are ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’, ‘The Jack’ and ‘Big Balls’.
It isn’t filthy, Angus maintains. It’s intended to be funny. Try telling that to the BBC. Scott has another outlook.
“Rugby clubs have been doing it for years. Songs like that. The songs that fought the Second World War were like that, with the chaps singing them as they marched into battle.”
Angus: “There’s not much seriousness in it. It’s just rock and roll. Chew it up and spit it out. If you look at it this way, most of the kids in the street talk like that.
“In Australia, you see, we started in small clubs and bars and when we came here, we stuck by the same places like the Marquee.
“Kids would be swearin’ their heads off. They don’t say ‘turn it up, they say ‘f—— turn it up.’ We’re as subtle as what they are.
“As far as radio stations go, you can turn on the radio and you wouldn’t like to hear your songs on radio anyhow, ‘cos it’s in there with Barry White playing his Love Unlimited. That’s sorta like a bit degradin’.
“I suppose the radio plays are important in some ways. It gets you across to more people. But as far as changing what you are to suit what they are, that’s wrong. We don’t believe in that.
“You should let them come to you rather than go to them. It would be easy to sit down and churn out about 200 love songs, and you could guarantee one of them getting played sometime, but you’d be selling yourself short.”
Cardiff is a good one, it transpires, for the band. Although the sound is by no means perfect in the ballroom, it’s loud enough and riffy enough for the fans. Unpretentious rock and roll. It never fails.
“A lotta people get us wrong,” Angus complains. “A lotta people say that we can’t play. I’m not sayin’ that we’re that special. People say that we get on and play rock and roll and it’s nothin’ new, but we get on and play that rock and roll because we like playin’ it. It’s what we do best.
“We just get on and play rock and roll with plenty of balls, plenty of meat, plenty of spontaneity. That’s our main thing.
“What makes ours different is that ours are good songs and we play them well. A lotta bands can play the basics but they can’t play with quality.
“We can build a song at a 100 miles an hour and play it right at that speed. It’s got the right feel. The right everything, whereas you get a lotta bands who just play fast and don’t give a f— if they’re outta tune.
“Good songs are essential. In the old days you had rhythm and blues songs like ‘I’m a Man’, Chuck Berry’s ‘Schooldays’. You put songs from nowadays up against them and they’re nuffing.”
THE SCENE changes to a room at the Cardiff Post House, where Angus Young is plotting to revolutionise rock and roll, and Bon Scott, suffering a headache and jet-lag, lies in a heap in the corner and isn’t remotely interested in his plans.
I suggest to Angus that there’s nothing at all serious about AC/DC. They’re just a good-time band, with lyrics that mean nothing, and music that is just a rehash of what has been done before — like a rock version of Barry McKenzie. He bites.
“Well, we take it seriously to a point, but if everyone took it too seriously, we’d all be walking around with down faces and we’d all be living in the gutter.
“Bands who take themselves too seriously are fools, because they’ve taken it so seriously that they’re not allowing themselves to enjoy it, whereas if they went on and played it as they should play it, it would be better.
“The bawdiness balances out with other things in our set but you’ve got to break up the monotony.
“It’s like Liberace. He can’t get up and play Beethoven all night so he bends a little. It’s like if you put Beethoven and Bach and brought all those classical people back from the dead for a concert on TV one night and on the other channel you had The Lone Ranger, it’s guaranteed The Lone Ranger would pull the biggest ratings, because it’s entertainment rather than pure boredom all night.
“I don’t know anybody who’s gone to see any of these serious bands who’ve enjoyed it. They may say it was great, that the music was good, but somewhere during that set, they were bored and were too scared to admit it.
“If I went to see somebody that was ‘musical,’ I’d yawn my head off. I’d end up walking out to the bar.”
“Musical,” I suggest, in the sense of bands like Yes.
“Yeah. To me, bands like Yes would be a bore to see, not unless they had some sheila strippin’ on stage. Well, even then, Hawkwind done that.
“That shows va what they gotta resort to and yet people take them seriously. Yes would probably come on with a fantastic light show.
“I’ve never seen them, but they probably use a light show to cover up that they’re bored and that their music is borin’, that they’re not makin’ people jump.”
He was saying that too many bands take themselves too seriously. He agreed. Too many bands, he said, were self-indulgent. People like John McLaughlin.
But, I reply, surely everybody in rock music is self-indulgent. Certainly, AC/DC’s live act that very night was rather self-indulgent. Bon, the sleeping beauty, emerges from his slumber to defend Angus.
“With rock and roll self-indulgence, the audience gets off on it,” he explains as he shakes off his stupor, “With a Yes self-indulgence, the audience is sittin’ out there baffled. They don’t know what the f— is happenin’.
“When you’re playin’ clever stuff, you’re being self-indulgent and expectin’ the audience to cop what you’re playin’. In rock and roll, which is what we play, you’re givin’ the audience what you’re doin’.”
With that Bon collapsed, while I tell Angus that from what he had been saying, there must be a hell of a lot of modern bands that he doesn’t like.
“I was never interested in modern day sorta music,” he answers. “I get off on all the old stuff, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee, swing records, Louis Armstrong and stuff like that.
“All the other stuff seems poor in comparison, even the production. You put Little Richard’s ‘Tutti Frutti’ on and put the wildest thing from today next to it and it sounds timid in comparison.”
That’s what they call progression, Angus.
“Well, they musta progressed the wrong way. I’ll tell you when it stopped gettin’ good, when the Rolling Stones put out ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ and ‘Street Fightin’ Man’.
“Past that, there’s been nothin’. Led Zeppelin and all that have just been poor imitators of the Who and bands like that. That’s when I reckon it stopped. The rest I wouldn’t even call progression.
“Guys like Jeff Beck and McLaughlin, all those guys should be playin’ jazz, and they wouldn’t even get a good run in those bands because there’s guys who’ve been playin’ that 50 years and would blow them off.
“People like Beck shouldn’t even be thinkin’ of playin’ and callin’ themselves rock and roll. They’re into a different thing altogether.
“The same with the Harveys and those people. He’s another self-indulgent. Get him off. Put them all away.
“You get a guy nowadays to come out on a piano like Jerry Lee Lewis. writin’ songs like his and kickin’ f— outta the piano, and rippin’ his shirt off and I guarantee that within a few years, the guy would be one of the biggest things goin’. If I could play the piano, I’d be doin’ it.”
I was horrified to think that a tender 17-year-old musician was advocating that we should do nothing but repeat what has gone before.
“It’s not repeating. It’s just playin’ what has always been there. A good song is what it’s all about, whether it’s rock and roll or not.
“A good song, well played, well arranged and well presented, wild and excitin’ for a rock band, which is what we are. The rest aren’t rock and roll and they’re wrong to call themselves rock and roll.
“They’re just bleedin’ hip little things. Yer punk thing. That’s just a hip thing. It’s nuffin’.”
The first time he heard Led Zeppelin playing real rock and roll, said Young, was on their fourth album, on the track ‘Rock And Roll’.
“I’ve seen that band live and they were on for three hours, and for two-and-a-half hours they bored the people and then at the end, they pull out old rock and roll numbers to get the crowd movin’. That’s sick.
“They should have went on there and done an hour of good up stuff, which is what they’re supposed to be, the most excitin’ rock and roll band in the world, them and the Stones, and they’re not playin’ it.
“The Rolling Stones get up and play soul music. And this is supposed to be rock and roll. Leave that to the people who do it best, the black people, and get on and play what they are.
“If they played what they play best, they’d be a hell of a lot better and they’d probably find themselves at ease.”
But I was anxious to learn how AC/DC attached themselves to that earlier rock and roll generation.
“If we’d played ‘Schooldays’ tonight, you’d ‘a’ seen what I mean, rockin’ and excitin’. Obviously, you can’t go on and do it like a revival band. We’re gettin’ on and playin’ it as it should be played now. So many things now are involved. That’s not rock and roll. Bands shouldn’t leave what they play best.
“Like, people go out now and buy albums just because of the name. Rod Stewart has a new album out. Out they go and buy it. They don’t give a f— what it’s like.
“The same with the Rolling Stones. I heard their last album and it was a piece of s—. One song that sounded remotely like the Rolling Stones. The rest a cheap imitation of a poor soul band. People should be given value for money, and they’re not.”
If Angus and AC/DC have their way, it appears, there will be changes. Mind your backs.
© Harry Doherty, Melody Maker, 5 March 1977