AC/DC Would Really Like To Be As Successful Here As They Are In England, But…

IT’S EASY TO find AC/DC in the airport terminal. Just look for a mob of tough looking Scotsmen drinking at the public bar and the band will be there. Forget those private rooms other international acts inhabit.

Ah yes, there they are, Bon Scott parading with all the swaggering macho that only a 33-year-old teenager can muster. Malcolm Young staring knowingly into a double Scotch, and Angus Young, in the absence of his favourite strawberry milk tipple, making do with a lemon squash. Drummer Phil Rudd circles the outskirts.

No bass player. Cliff Williams, their English bass player, has already left for the UK. The mere thought of Cliff is enough to make AC/DC’s drinks taste as if they’ve been salted. The group consider dirty deeds in the name of officialdom have been committed upon Cliff, more of which later.

Right now Bon, Angus, Malcolm and Phil are relieved to be returning to the UK where they’ve become more successful than in Oz-land. Yet two years ago they were the hottest rock band in the country. Their shows were packed and boisterous, their albums sold in lots of 100,000. Today, they say, they headline more cities in America than in Australia, albeit in clubs and bars between support gigs to Aerosmith in stadiums.

The scruffier the bar better, for AC/DC glorify in being the role model band for working class teens who think any sort of status is a pig’s arse. In return AC/DC don’t care about anything except the fans who pay to see them live. The more the critics hate them (they rarely get good concert or album reviews) the more their street strength grows.

It’s a game, of course, but the Seedies (as AC/DC are affectionately known) play it for real. They are the outsiders of rock ‘n’ roll so they cock snoot. And they do it with as much feel as they play hammer-down, head-banger rock. For them and their fans, these are the only games in town.

And where’s the town? Anywhere except Australia, they say.

“We’re not allowed to play in Australia. That’s what’s happening,” mumbles Angus.

“They kept our bass player out of the country,” explains Bon. “They said us having a UK bass player puts an Australian out of work. It wasn’t the people in Australia; it was some Australian arsehole official in London.

“When Cliff went in to see then for an interview, we all thought it was just a formality. But they banned him working live. It even took six weeks to get him into the country as a tourist.

“It was harder for us to get our English bass player and roadie into Australia than it was for all of us to get working permits for America. And that’s a joke.”

“We have to go to England and rehearse,” groans Angus. “Shit, we’ve never rehearsed in our lives.”

True. The band prefers to bed down new songs live on stage and has done since they brought an intricately rehearsed ‘Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock n Roll)’ to Big Bro’ George Young (AC/DC’s co producer with Harry Vanda).

“Fuck that off,” said George. “You’re not some poxy pop band. Play it live till you know how it works.”

TRADITIONALLY THE singer is the manifestation of the band — the focus and spokesperson. In Australia Bon Scott and Angus Young shared the spotlight. When AC/DC moved to London the spotlight pinpointed Angus alone. The band’s overseas album covers, for example, mostly feature just him. And now Powerage has a new look Angus front and back, proudly displaying gleaming white choppers, reputedly at a cost of $A2,000.

Bon Scott says he’s not put out by the rise of the wunderkind, though he too has a dazzling new smile, as featured in the film clip for ‘Let There Be Rock’.

“He’s a star,” says Bon. “Why shouldn’t he get attention?

“Anyway,” he adds, “I’m too old to wear a schoolboy’s uniform. I’m the band’s father figure… haw, haw, haw!”

But why has AC/DC dropped to out-of-sight-out-of-mind levels in Australia?

“We lost a lot from people in the media not pushing us,” says Bon. “If you don’t show your arse to Molly Meldrum on Countdown, you’re fucked. You just don’t get on TV and your records aren’t played on radio.”

“But we don’t really give a fuck about the media,” says Angus. “We never have. We only care about the kids… the kids who come up after a show and say ‘that really rocked, that had balls’… that’s what matters.

“So many kids would come up to us on the street and say, ‘We heard about you being banned, that’s really shithouse’. It wasn’t a big media thing but the kids cared… we cared.”

The last time AC/DC played in Australia was at the Bondi Lifesaver in Sydney, January 1977. They did two nights as a SPECIAL SURPRISE MYSTERY BAND and word spread like crabs in a doss house. Over 4,000 people tried to cram into the two nights, about 2,000 more than had paid to see them at the 4,000-capacity Hordern Pavilion in December 76.

“Well that’s it,” says Bon. “A lot of people just haven’t seen the band.”

“At live gigs, yeah,” nods Angus, “if we could play, that is. People come up on the street and all they want to know is where we’re playing. They’re not really interested in the new album or seeing us on TV or reading about us… all that comes after seeing us play. That’s the way it is for us.”

AND SO IT would seem. For when they were gigging constantly around Oz they sold 125,000 of T.N.T. In comparison, after scarcely playing a gig here for nearly two years, 1977’s Let There Be Rock sold a miserable 25,000.

“But it sold over 200,000 around the rest of the world,” says Angus.

“That’s why we’re away a lot, y’know,” says Bon. “We went over to establish ourselves as a road band first of all, then work for a hit single. Sherbet, a few years ago, got a hit single in the UK with ‘Howzat’ but they couldn’t get anyone to concerts. Then they didn’t get another hit and they couldn’t work at all. We didn’t want that.”

Precisely. But until they get that elusive hit single overseas it’s quite likely they’ll be still Out-Of-Sight-Out-Of-Mind in Australia. No matter how many times they fill the Hammersmith Odeon or earn encores while supporting Aerosmith in America.

“When people ask us where we come from,” says Angus, “we always say Australia. And they say ‘Where?’ So we have to explain all that.

“We used to think of ourselves as an Australian band,” he corrects, “but we’re beginning to doubt that now. The fuckers won’t even let us play here.”

A MONTH LATER Angus is back in Oz. The English tour has been the riotous success it threatened to be. And America looks hopeful — they’ve a mess of gigs lined up, with a string of headlining club dates between supports to Ted Nugent. Released May 1978 overseas, Powerage flew into the UK charts and Atlantic (their international record company) is hopeful it’ll climb Billboard in the US. Now Powerage is due for release in Australia.

“We picked straws to see who’d come back to promote it,” grumbles Angus. “And I lost.”

© Anthony O’GradyRAM, 14 July 1978

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