An everyday story of rape, pillage, runny noses, drunken orgies, broken wind, assaults on and by police, sweat-soaked Luncheon Vouchers, and the 279-pound lady who reckoned Bon Scott was her 37th that month (and they’d all been very prominent men!)*
SWEAT ISN’T the only excretory substance that’s going to get a mention in this feature but it’s the primer, the salty source of a completely physical rock ‘n’ roll experience: AC/DC.
It’s the third of their Monday night series at the Marquee. They’ve shut the doors with a thousand people shoe-horned in, a house record (though it’s always a house record).
The heat is beyond belief. The humidity is just a little lower than in the deep end at the municipal baths. Guys take their shirts off and within half a minute they look as though they’ve stepped out of the shower. The girls say they wish they could do the same and tug uncomfortably at their sopping rags which walked in as casual elegance. The neat, respectable wife and mother standing beside me kind of melts until she looks like a raunchy Suzi Quatro, wasted but horny, after three encores of ‘Can The Can’.
And that’s just for the disco!
The DJ breaks in and yells “Right, let’s raise the roof for AC/DC!”. Everybody breaths out and the roof lifts visibly an inch or two, AC/DC stroll on unassumingly without a hint of the mayhem to follow, Bon grins an evil grin and says: “This one’s just to warm you up.”
Phil Rudd’s drums begin their relentless thump, Mark Evans’s bass booms subliminally and the guitars of Angus and Malcolm Young strike a couple of hundred-megaton chords. The volume is well-judged, bearable, no louder than, say, inside a rivet-gun. Angus starts to pace the stage, jack-knifing up and down over his guitar, already whipping jets of sweat and skeins of snot over the front rows.
I’m trying to analyse it, find critical explanations as to why these Aussies who are ostensibly just another heavy metal outfit really rock, rock you out of your skin. But I can’t stand still to write. My hips being the only part of my anatomy with an inch or three to move in are doing the shake-shake with all of their might, consequently my bum is threatening to beat a hole in the Marquee’s very nice brick wall.
And even if I could hold still the ink in my pen is evaporating, my notebook is dissolving in the perspiration rivering from my forehand down my nose and off the end of my chin. Between numbers I’m sure I can hear it thudding on to the floor like the first drops of a thunder storm. Blimey, I’m raining! My month’s supply of Luncheon Vouchers inside a leather wallet inside a leather pouch is soaked through.
The rhythms hit your heart like a trip-hammer and that’s basic and essential but the reasons we are all inspired are the maniac onward rush of inventive, fluent solos from Angus (goddamn, amid all that is melody, endless goddamn song, riding that beat like a bold buckeroo bronc-buster, heroic) and the fascinating stage presence of Bon, leathery debauchee, a strange companion for the schoolkid.
Angus struggles out of his satchel and blazer, mounts up on Bon’s shoulders and charges crazily into the crowd still picking out hot licks. His head is all you can see in the spotlight, jolting about, lips flaring as he gasps for breath while behind him a sound man scrabbles about trying to keep the guitar lead clear like a bridesmaid determined to be properly attentive to the most improper couple of the year.
I lift my eyes to the heavens but, as it happens, not in ecstacy at the music. Two streams of sweat have just run down the most sensitive nerves on the inside of my thighs. Also I want to fart but restrain myself in the interests of public safety – start a panic now and hundreds could be killed in the rush for the exits.
ANGUS SAID: “We played an ice rink once and the ice broke. The crowd were jumpin’ about and they all kind of got over one side and we saw the ice gradually tilting sideways.”
In common with every SOUNDS staffer down to the Kid [a.k.a. Geoff Barton], I, the resident grey-hair, think that AC/DC are going to do just that to heavy metal rock – crack it and tilt it sideways. The two Youngs’ music is like a forge in a black night beating heat and energy together into something almost beautiful it’s so strong. And Bon Scott’s lyrics, well, they got balls. But spending an evening in their flat in West Brompton, feeling easy and at home (just like Kid Barton, so it’s not shared youth as he surmised, it’s their natural friendliness) the last thing I wanted was to ask lead balloon questions about musical directions. I like stories and AC/DC are living a chapter a day.
It was four pm, they were eating breakfast, but the place wasn’t too untidy. They sat around in pleasantly broken-in armchairs. A colour TV (in the sense that everything was yellow) mumbled in the corner. Bon, who is a long way the eldest, made a pot of tea: “Wait for these cunts to make a cuppa and you’ll die of thirst.” Angus slurped through a couple of mugs full and later two more of milk. I checked out his age and it turned out that this ’16-year-old’ line is just a hype. He confessed – wait for it girls – that his birthday fell on the day they flew to England and that in fact he’s 17. But he really and truly doesn’t drink alcohol.
Picking up on this thought Bon said AC/DC audience here was older than back home: “There it’s 15 to 17. Fuckable age.” He then explained, as I understood it, a peculiar Australian law which ordains that a bloke over 21 can’t have sex with a girl under 18 though a bloke under 21 can. Bon said “I just love getting round the law.” He was 30 a few weeks ago and expected the male menopause to unman him instantly. Everyone said he had a great birthday party. It lacked only the presence of the guest of honour to make it perfect. The boys kept it going for five days out of consideration for him but he never showed. He was probably out testing.
Their publicist Coral happened by. She seems to be closer to her band than any other PRO I’ve observed. She’s a tall black-haired Aussie who wears no bra and low-cut blouses cut cleverly so that when she bends over you see everything but.
Bon, still disporting his tattoos and hairy chest in a denim waistcoat and cut-offs was chuntering on about getting “barred up” when a topless Swedish lady wandered past them beside a hotel pool in Stockholm: “It was 10 minutes before we could get up without offending public decency.” Though Bon has done a fair deal of that in his time. The yarns came thick and fast and nearly all told by or about Bon.
He has an extraordinary attraction for getting in the scandal sheets. He made it when he was jailed after a fracas with a cop in his late teens; when he was busted for dope, when he was dragged through a garden full of rose bushes by a father who found him in bed with his daughter; and when his flat was raided for ‘pornographic’ photos. In fact the latter were just some tasteful snaps of himself and a girlfriend: “I told the sergeant on the desk ‘I bet you’ll show them to every bloke on the force.’ He said ‘Oh no. They go no further than me.’ Half an hour later I was waiting in the canteen and some cops filed through and one of them looked at me and said ‘So you’re the stud… ‘ “
I became aware that Coral was quietly tidying the room, dusting and wiping the surfaces with a Jaycloth. Angus said: “We had a cleaning detail of five girls from the Marquee organised but they haven’t turned up.” “You should put in a couple of quid each for an au pair girl,” said Coral and went out to the shops. Mark made his contribution by picking up a glass drop which had fallen from the mock crystal chandelier hanging in ridiculous splendour above us. He looked up at the ceiling: “Phil’s asleep in the room up there. You can always tell when he’s got a fuck.”
Angus isn’t to be ignored on the theme of AC/DC versus the law. He was picked up (by the hair!) trying to make his point to some non-fans in an outback bush town. The scene of this riotous assembly was – a milk bar. It happened to be next door to the police station.
Coral returned and gave him two Bounty bars, Bon rolled a smoke, and Malcolm answered the phone. It was Phil “We thought you were upstairs in bed.” He was down at the Atlantic office, drunk. Martin rang off: “You always get drunk when you get down to Atlantic.” Smoothly complimentary I suggested: “They must think you’re going to be big.” “No,” said Martin “you have to steal it.”
I framed some question about how Bon coped with being much older than the rest of the band and the youngsters joined in hooting down the cliché some straight Press reporters light on that he is a ‘father figure’.
Malcolm: “He’s wilder than any of us. One time in New Zealand he was really plastered standing eight foot up on a stack of amps singing when he got hit on the head by a full beer can. He thought he saw who did it and he jumped straight off the amps then off the stage into the crowd and he was piling into these four Maoris when the bouncers got there.”
Bon’s largely uncharted past includes three other bands, a hippie phase when he walked the streets of Fremantle (I think) wearing a turban and with a live six-foot carpet-snake draped round his neck, and a rock ‘n’ roll lean spell in the shipyards of Adelaide, followed by chauffering a band called AC/DC who soon discovered he could sing a lot better than the camp glitter-person who was then fronting them.
However, despite the odd roughouse excerpts his main interest has always been women rather then violence and his exploits provide most of the band’s inner folklore. Angus said laughing: “He gets the women with the flats who cook him dinners.”
Bon: “I like to put my feet up. Not to mention other parts of my body. They say to me are you AC or DC and I say ‘Neither, I’m the lightnin’ flash in the middle.'” They were away. The history of ‘She’s Got The Jack’ (the clap to us Poms) may become a volume all on its own in future years.
Bon: “We were living’ with this houseful of ladies who were all very friendly and everyone in the band had got the jack. So we wrote this song and the first time we did it on stage they were all in the front row with no idea what was goin’ to happen. When it came to repeatin’ ‘She’s got the jack’ I pointed at them one after another.”
Angus: “After that, wherever we did the song the girls in the audience would run to the back of the hall.”
Bon: “One time I had the jack and this girl wanted fuckin’ and she was so ugly I figured, shit! Nobody else would have her so she wouldn’t spread it. But when we’d finished she went next door to Phil and gave it to him. And a few weeks later she sent him a doctor’s bill for 35 dollars for the cure. Well, next time she came to a show I got her up on stage in the middle of ‘The Jack’ and explained how she’d got it wrong and it was me owed her the money.” On mike that was.
You wouldn’t call Bon a sentimentalist but he probably doesn’t go around breaking hearts either. AC/DC women sound as though they’re well a match for the boys in the band.
Malcolm said: “What about the fat one. One pound under 20 stone.” Bon was in the dressing room with Malcolm and two women, one “ugly but not that bad,” the other Big Bertha. Bon was plastered and randy and said suavely “Right who wants it” and was alarmed to see Bertha rushing to grab the opportunity. His honour forbade him to let her down. “And she’d have broken my arm if I’d refused.” Perhaps that should have been the least of his worries. Anyway when the job was done Bertha called over to her mate “Hey that’s the 37th this month.” She’d got a little black book of names to prove it. Bon averred that they were mostly public figures who he reckoned must have been terrified into submission like himself.
It may not be the humdrum life you know and I know but I guess that’s the way it is for a craggy rock ‘n’ roller in Australia.
AC/DC know it’s crazy. Malcolm and Mark sent up the scene in a typical Down Under bar. The blokes stand at the bar drinking and talking amongst themselves until ‘Time’ is called then race across and grab one of the women sat talking amongst themselves by the appropriate wall. Any guy who spends the whole evening with a woman has got to be a proofter.
They stand for everything I disagree with about our chauvinist view of the woman’s role and yet they’re so totally honest, open and funny about it I got carried away with liking them and became aware again how life, for all the fine ideals we raise and cling to, insists on turning out like a seaside cartoon postcard. A belly laugh is often the sanest reaction and that’s what AC/DC are in to.
Coral was just going, having finished washing up and Angus said “Er, you goin’ to leave before you make the tea?” Coral said “Oh Christ” with the smile of a doting elder sister and made the tea.
© Phil Sutcliffe, Sounds, 28 August 1976