AC/DC: The Fastest Knees in the West

AC/DC, outrageous Aussie punk-rock combo, this week start their rampage across Britain under the SOUNDS banner. Are we doing the right thing? Are schoolboys the future of rock and roll? GEOFF BARTON reports…

DEAR SOUNDS, Whilst scanning your pages over the past few weeks I have come across pictures of a rather delectable-looking creature who goes under the name of Angus Young and who is apparently the lead guitarist with an Aussie-rock outfit called AC/DC.

As an ardent fan of punk-rock (and schoolboys), I reckon it to be quite possible that I should appreciate their music and wondered if you could get me any further info on this young man (sorry!) and his side-kicks.

Surely you’re not going to leave me drooling over the photos and not tell me more about Mr. Young and Co….?
Jane Hunt, Lowestoft, Suffolk.

TWO OF Angus’ school suits have arrived back from the dry cleaner’s — one red, one black, they’re folded neatly inside rustling, protective clear plastic.

Coral, AC/DC’s publicist, holds the tiny twin sets up before her and casts a critical eye over them. The verdict: spotless.

“Thank goodness,” she sighs, “I was afraid that they’d refuse to handle them, they were absolutely filthy. Angus sweats a lot, you see, and we have to clean them regularly — it’s unheard of for him to wear the same one two nights running.

“And, on top of that, when he gets carried away onstage — you know how it is — his nose begins to run. Ugh!” She grimaces, “There are always some horrible streaks down the fronts of his blazers.”

We’re waiting in AC/DC’s manager’s home-office near London’s Shepherd Market, preparing to catch a taxi to the band’s home in Barnes and from there travel with them in their van to tonight’s gig at a club called the Porterhouse in Retford.

The Antipodean punk band have been over in Britain for a month or so now, the first group from Down Under ever to make a calculated stab at the big-time in this country.

And, so far, they seem to be doing pretty well. Originally slated to appear as support act to Back Street Crawler on an extensive UK tour, AC/DC’s plans went somewhat awry when Kossoff died and BSC’s date schedule, for various reasons, was cut drastically.

For the moment, AC/DC have contented themselves with picking up odd dates when and where they can, mostly around the London Marquee-Nashville-Red Cow club-pub circuit, occasionally venturing further afield — to showplaces like Retford, for example.

No doubt their ambitions will be set back on the right track when a headlining tour, in conjunction with this paper, begins on June 11 at Glasgow’s City Hall.

For the moment, however, it’s over to Barnes in a cab.

The AC/DC residence is a large, congenial detached house. It’s cosy, if cluttered — cigarette butts and half-finished drinks are strewn liberally about its interior.

The first thing that strikes you about the band is their smallness — they’re all around five feet four inches; the second is their fresh-faced and bright-eyes appearances. On closer inspection, however, you find that, although the skin is smooth enough, it looks a good deal older than it should: the eyes are glazed more than shiny. On the road wear and tear, without a doubt.

Still, it’s true to say that this is one of the few bands that I’ve been able to feel comfortable with right from the outset. Most of AC/DC are around my age group, so I experienced none of the usual who-does-this-youngster-think-he-is-why-I-was-playing-guitar-when-he-was-chewing-Farley’s-rusks type reservation. It was a good feeling.

Angus Young, slumped in a sofa, is the youngest of the lot — purported to be aged 16, it must be said that he looks even younger. Wearing a small-sized jumper, an incredibly narrow-waisted pair of jeans and a dainty pair of tennis shoes, he could well have just graduated from being kitted out at a Mothercare store.

The others I take to be typical Australian scruffs, the sort our own token Aussie Jonh Ingham would no doubt rather disown than associate with. They are Malcolm Young (Angus’ brother), Philip Rudd, Mark Evans and Bon Scott, the oldest and most well-worn of the five — in fact, he got himself into a fight almost as soon as the band arrived in Britain and consequently the first publicity shots had him wearing shades to cover up the bruises.

Around late afternoon we pile into the van to head for Retford, which, we discover, appears to be somewhere near Nottingham.

As we start off, an eye-straining, mind-boggling collection of porn magazines is immediately brought to light for all and sundry to ogle at.

All, that is, except Angus. He reads a comic.

AFTER A long and somewhat tedious journey, we arrive at the night’s venue at about 10pm.

Up flights of stairs and through a couple of doors, the Retford Porterhouse is revealed in all its dubious splendour. And the audience was not well-done or medium or even medium-rare. Just rare.

The collective AC/DC mouths, formerly beaming, upturned and happy, dropped like an inverted boomerang. In the whole of the club, which extended in a sort of squashed T-shape over some distance, there were probably 30 people.

But it was early yet, apparently. For the place to be this empty at such a time of night was not at all unusual.

Not that the assurance boosted the now-flagging morale any.

AC/DC still feel rather uncomfortable in British gig situations — after having plodded around the Aussie club circuit for a number of years, it must seem very strange to have to adjust to a rather different touring life.

But, thankfully, the atmosphere in the cupboard-sized dressing room was not at all formal or strained (“It doesn’t matter if there’s one person or a thousand out there, we’ll still put on a good show,” came the troupers’ quote). I decided it was about time to set up my tape machine and do an interview, hoping that the microphone would favour AC/DC voices and not the ‘Hi there beautiful people, here’s a great-great-great sound from…” spiel of the club DJ, which was thudding insistently and continuously through the dressing room walls.

As I expected, a likeable bunch though they are, AC/DC aren’t the most articulate of fellows, a ‘fuck’ every sentence band, in fact, but quite endearing in their way.

The spokesmen turned out to be Angus and Bon Scott. We started talking about the band’s early days, and it transpired that only two founder members remain — the brothers Young.

“Yeah, me and him,” says Angus, motioning towards his rhythm guitar playing brother, who is munching a greasy chicken-in-the-basket meal in a corner. “Malcolm got the band together in 1974. We were living in Sydney at the time, and started to play the local dance circuit.”

By ’74, the Youngs had been resident in Australia for just over ten years — a Scottish family, you see, they emigrated in the early Sixties.

“Me dad couldn’t get work up in Scotland,” drawls Angus, not a trace of a Scottish accent to be found, “he found it was impossible to support a family of our size (parents, seven sons, one daughter), so he decided to try his luck Down Under. This was the time when people were being encouraged to leave Britain, of course — you got your fare for just £10.”

Angus, the youngest of the family, “the bottom rung,” as Scott puts it, is a strange little tyke. Possessor of boundless energy, extraordinary curling lips, a speaking voice that slurs/slurps at the end of each sentence, he’s mature in many ways, though he doesn’t drink at all.

“If I drank, I’d be off” he says. “The other members of the band have to drink to come up to my level.”

“He doesn’t want to make things too hard for us,” laughs Scott, handing the diminutive guitarist a can of non-intoxicating Coca-Cola.

But anyway — in 1974, in Australia, AC/DC were really a teenscream band and people placed more emphasis on the sexual than electrical interpretation of their name.

“But we were still playing rock ‘n’ roll,” Angus asserts, “it was just that we didn’t really know what sort of market we were actually aiming for.”

“The only member of the band who actually played up to the sexual aspects of the name was the old singer,” adds Scott. “He used to come on like Gary Glitter, but nowhere near as good. A pretty boy. The rest of the band was much the same as it is now.

“In fact, when I first saw the band, before I joined them, my first reaction was to label them as a sex-orientated outfit. But, thinking about it now, it was the electrical aspect that came on stronger than anything else.”

A turning point came when AC/DC left Sydney to take up residence in Melbourne. On the way they acquired vocalist Bon Scott, drummer Philip Rudd and bassist Mark Evans, thus securing their present line-up.

“In Australia, Melbourne is really the home of rock ‘n’ roll bands like ourselves,” Angus relates. “If you want to make it really big as a band, you have to move to Melbourne.”

Like in Britain, when bands really need to make their homes in London if they hope to become at all well known?

“Yeah… Melbourne’s the hub, the heart, where the biggest demand is. If you’re big there, you’re big all over.”

Working in Melbourne through late ’74 and early ’75, the band dropped the sexual connotations completely and concentrated purely on high voltage rock ‘n’ roll.

Coincidentally, their first album was called High Voltage and was released in February ’75, produced by Aussie hitmakers Harry Vanda and George Young (yep, another brother). A second LP TNT was issued in December ’75. The High Voltage album available in Britain at the moment is in fact a combination of tracks from both, bringing us Britons up to date in one fell swoop.

Is AC/DC the biggest band in Australia at the moment?

“I’d say we are,” Angus replies, immodestly. “There are three or four top bands back home, Skyhooks and Hush amongst them, but each tends to cater for a certain audience. We’re the only band that’s able to cover the whole spectrum.

“This is what we wanted right from the start. We want to appeal to everyone and get rich quick. We want to be millionaires. I’ve got this plan to buy Tasmania, you see …”

I mentioned Angus’ school uniform. Apparently, he’s worn it from the band’s inception and can never see a time when he’ll go onstage without it.

“It was originally a one-off thing,” he says. “I was playing in this band before AC/DC and the drummer talked me into doing something outrageous, so I dressed up like a schoolkid, I became a nine year old guitar virtuoso who would play one gig, knock everyone out, and then disappear into obscurity. I’d have been a legend.

“But, for some reason, I kept on doing it. Everyone was imitating Gary Glitter at the time, so I decided to do something rather more original. Now… well, I’m stuck with it. I can’t play wearing anything else, anyway.”

Finally, I wondered what the band thought of British audiences, if they reckoned them to be different from Australian ones.

“People are the same the world over,” says Scott, profoundly. “It doesn’t depend on the people so much as the band’s themselves. If a band doesn’t happen it’s their fault, their fault alone.

“So far in this country we’ve had no trouble. If our receptions haven’t been polite, then they’ve been more so. We haven’t been booed, or anything like that. It’s Angus’ knees, you see. The more he shows them, bruises and all, the better we go over. We’ve been really happy with the gigs we’ve done so far over here.

“But I don’t know what it’s going to be like tonight at the Porterhouse, though…”

ACTUALLY, IT wasn’t too bad at all. Between the time when we’d retired to the dressing room and when the band emerged to take to the stage at 11.30, the place had filled considerably.

The closing of the pubs must have had something to do with it.

Indeed, the staff were more intent on pinging their cash registers than watching, and the punters tended to concentrate on drinking rather than applauding. But it was a good gig.

The first time I saw AC/DC, at London’s Marquee Club, I was amazed at the good-time atmosphere they created. If your face doesn’t break out into an epidemic of smiles during the opening bars of their set, you must be a manic depressive. And even in the uninspiring surrounding of the Retford Porterhouse, AC/DC were very good indeed.

‘Livewire’ was the first number, quite appropriate in its way — the first thuds of Evans’ bass acted like a shot of adrenalin, a dose of speed to Angus Young.

First, his upper lip curls up like a rollerblind and you half-smile. Then he stoops, peering out at the audience from beneath the peak of his school cap and you snigger. Then he begins to strut about the stage and you giggle. By the time the number has built up sufficiently and his frail arm comes down on his guitar strings with a loud ‘daaauuummm!’ you should be chortling with delight.

A powerful piece of lurching boogie, Angus charging about the stage in constant threat of being knocked over by bass and rhythm guitar necks, at the same time the rest of the band narrowly avoiding being injured by Angus’ instrument, ‘Livewire’ storms to a close.

The next number, ‘She’s Got Balls’, presents Bon Scott with the chance to come over as ramrod vocalist and impress his personality on the crowd. He’s no great singer, but his cheeky flashing eyes more than compensates for any deficiencies. Well, it’s not so much the eyes themselves as the whites which come across the most.

‘It’s A Long Way To The Top If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll’ featured Scott on bagpipes and some wonderfully clichéd lyrics.

‘Soul Stripper’ followed, which in turn was superceded by the AC/DC theme tune ‘High Voltage’.

All the while Angus makes runs from one end of the stage to the other, leaps up and down, gyrates, sweats, pirouettes, moves, grooves, gets down, bounds, whirls, sweats, gestures, stomps, shuffles, waddles, slides, sweats, flits about, jerks, darts, sweats, lopes, hops, skips, jumps and sweats.

He never misses a note.

‘She’s Got The Jack’, an innocent little ditty about having intercourse with a girl who has VD and was ‘number 999 on the clinical list’, usually a time for some audience participation, didn’t really get off the ground for obvious reasons. But it was still infinitely enjoyable, featuring gem-like verses such as, ‘I search her mind and I searched her body — but so did everybody’ and various graphic details concerning ‘a great big worn out empty hole,’ delivered by Scott in a suitably despairing wail.

Then there was ‘T.N.T.’, with Angus handling the ‘Oi! Oi! Oi! Oil’s, and finally a superspeed rendition of the old standard ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’. A chance for all the band to pull their weight this one, but really an Angus solo showcase.

First, laying aside his guitar, he strips off down to the waist, discarding satchel, blazer, tie and shirt in that order, revealing a runt-like frame glistening with perspiration.

Then, strapping on the axe again, he suddenly scoots off into the audience, a roadie playing out extra yards of lead as he goes. The phlegmatic Retford crowd looked on dumbfounded as the knee-high little creature weaved around them, gnashing teeth as he went.

Returning to the stage, Angus gets up on Bon Scott’s shoulders for a piggy back ride, and again they surge off into the audience.

Back onstage again, Angus hasn’t finished yet. He begins rushing up and down like a lightning streak — as the music gathers speed, so it acts as a series of electrical stimuli to the young lad. Ultimately, he falls to the floor and there, still holding his instrument, turns a full circle, crab-like, on his back in the grime, twitches violently, and then hits the final note of the evening with such force you expect the stage to cave in and see the whole band disappear in a cloud of dust.

Afterwards, Angus is asked the question, “How do you keep it up?”

“What?” he replies. “My trousers?”

IT WAS A long drive back home. For a while, Bon Scott and I talked some more about the Aussie rock scene. He reckons that the reason us Britons haven’t heard of many Australian bands before now is that most set their sights too low. And when they do decide to try their luck in foreign parts, he says, they invariably leave Australia proclaiming that they’re going to play in London, Paris and Los Angeles and other cities and end up being ridiculed when they return because they’ve done none of these things.

AC/DC, apparently, left the country quietly and unceremoniously. Realistically, if they do well they’ll be greeted as all-conquering heroes on their return; if they don’t achieve what they’ve set out to do — which is unlikely — it won’t matter anyway.

It’s going to take a good three and a half hours to get back to London, but AC/DC don’t seem to mind. To them, it’s a short trip, just round the block. A six gigs a week band in Australia, they think nothing of trundling across deserts on dirt tracks to get from one venue to another.

And all the while Angus is talking, chattering, fidgeting, never still, always active and never without something to say or do.

By 3.40am, just past Stevenage, Malcolm Young and Mark Evans had been long asleep in the back seats and Bon Scott had become rather booze-sodden beside me. But Angus was still prattling on.

“What’d be great right now,” slurred Scott, dozily, “would be a huge, comfortable, squashy waterbed, a woman lying right beside you…”

“…And a big pair of tits in your face,” said Angus.

© Geoff BartonSounds, 12 June 1976

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