It all started with their appearance on Top of the Pops in the 70s.
It could have been Tony Blackburn or Kid Jensen who announced, “Now, from Australia, AC/DC with ‘Rock n’ Roll Damnation’… and there and then I became a fan. I was already into something known as ‘pub rock’ and this was as pub rock as you could get. Of course, these were the days when you had to remember what Kid Jensen or Noel Edmonds had told you, otherwise you had to wait until the song turned up on the radio and hope the DJ informed you who the band were; even then, you had to be very selective about which singles you bought, since things weren’t so readily available then, particularly money.
Then my dad arrived home from work one evening with a package under his arm.
“’Ere, this bloke was knocking out some records at work. Thought you would like this one,” he said, pulling an LP from a tatty carrier bag. There they were. A picture of five men, all crowding in behind the gurning one dressed as a schoolboy with devil horns, the eldest of the group leaning in and smiling approvingly, AC/DC in red emblazoned over their heads, ‘Highway to Hell’ spread across the bottom of the album sleeve. I played this over and over again in my bedroom, at times only vaguely aware of my dad at the foot of the stairs, hollering, “Oi! Do us a favour! Turn it daaaaaarn!!!”
I saved my pennies and bought more. Powerage, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, High Voltage, Let There be Rock, If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It). I couldn’t get enough. I committed them all to cassette tape and took them to university with me when I moved out, deafening myself through my headphones.
Then Bon Scott, the lead singer died and it appeared to be over. I would never get to see AC/DC. But then, Brian Johnson, the bloke from Geordie who sang ‘All Because of You’ was announced as Bon’s replacement. There was uproar from the AC/DC fans, who believed nobody could replace Bon. I was more forgiving, being one of those people who had persuaded my sister to buy me the single ‘All Because of You’ when it came out several years before.
The ‘new’ AC/DC made an album called ‘Back in Black’, the title a tribute to Bon and finally I got to see the band at the Hammersmith Odeon, a small but popular venue. They were brilliant, appearing onstage with a gigantic bell. The love affair continued, even after meeting Lady Barton St Mary, who, although a fan of the rock music, wasn’t so keen on the volume. We were fortunate enough to see them again at the inaugural ‘Monsters of Rock’ Festival in Donnington, now called The Download Festival, I believe.
Then, as life moved on and we became parents, there were less opportunities. I still listened to music in my car, including AC/DC. This meant that both Miss Katherine and Master Johnny were subjected to my musical taste and just like me, Master Johnny was hooked, not by ‘Rock n’ Roll Damnation’ but ‘T.N.T.’. When he was 18 and had a part time job, he bought some new posters for his bedroom. One of them was the cover to ‘Highway to Hell’. Life had come full circle. There was talk of seeing AC/DC on their next tour.
Miss Katherine saw the tickets on sale. She contacted us. Before I knew it, the whole family were booked to see them at The Etihad Stadium in Manchester. Then, several weeks before the event, there was more alarming news. Brian Johnson, in danger of going deaf, was advised not to tour. It looked as if the family trip would be called off. But AC/DC looked for a replacement and found one in Axl Rose from Guns n Roses. Like 36 years earlier, AC/DC fans went into meltdown – many refused to attend. We decided we would, even though Axl had got some rather bad press in the last year or so. I vaguely recalled an article about him appearing at a festival (Reading?) extremely late, being booed, having the equipment turned off and still trying to command the stage after the lights had gone out and everybody had gone home.
So, with a little trepidation, we made our way to The Etihad Stadium on Manchester’s very fine tram system with thousands of other AC/DC fanatics, all singing ‘Cheer Up Sleepy Jean’ by The Monkees. A rather curious choice I thought, although I was more distracted by the number of people wearing the same t-shirt as me, a ‘retro’ Back in Black USA Tour shirt produced by ASDA, who’d been knocking them out for a tenner back in February. I felt slightly ashamed, but only I, my fellow replica shirt wearing fans and my entire family knew. They took the trouble to point this out all evening. ‘Look dad, somebody else in an ASDA t-shirt.’
Of course, before entering the stadium, I stopped to buy some flashing devil horns for myself and the kids. Lady BSM refused, on the grounds that £5 a pair was a rip off. However, if you aren’t going to be ripped off at a rock concert, where would you be ripped off? We laughed at the other concert goers paying £10 for official AC/DC horns. Ours stopped working after 20 minutes.
We made our way into the stadium – a huge football arena, the pitch carefully covered. Thousands stood around waiting for the band. We took a seat in the lower stand with a good view of the stage. Just before the start of the show, Miss Katherine and Master Johnny left their seats and joined the standing throng on the pitch. I wavered with the idea of joining them, but decided to stay with the lovely Lady BSM to enjoy the experience.
Their introduction was incredible, huge screens, an introductory film of AC/DC emblazoned in flames on the moon and boom! There was Angus, pounding out the opening bars of ‘Rock or Bust’.
Not far behind him, Axl, his broken left leg encased in a plastic boot, screaming out the first line. Immediately you realised that Axl was more Bon than Brian, but for the first few songs, the mix wasn’t working and it was a struggle to hear him above the amazing, relentless, no nonsense rock n’ roll boogie. From our vantage point, staring at the big screens, he looked like a combination of Keith Lemon, the TV personality and Bobby George, the darts player (google it, non British wordpretzels).
But AC/DC were banging out one incredible song after another, the crowd on the pitch bouncing in unison: Shoot to Thrill, Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, Back in Black, Rock n Roll Thunder. The grin on my face got wider and wider, my head started nodding faster and faster. Would they play all the hits?
You bet, and some. We had Rock n Roll Damnation and TNT, the huge bell for Hell’s Bells; Sin City, Shot Down in Flames, Have a Drink on Me. To top it all, a huge inflatable woman in a basque appeared onstage for Whole Lotta Rosie.
Axl Rose? Well, he was fantastic, a brilliant voice – let’s just say, you really couldn’t have had a better replacement for Brain Johnson.
Angus was still full of energy, the 60 year old schoolboy who still does the duck walk and finishes with a flourish and a jump at the end of every song, although these days the jump is nowhere near as high as it used to be. The old habit of climbing on Bon/Brian’s shoulders, along with the obligatory mooning, has also disappeared. Brian’s shoulders probably wouldn’t take it and nobody ever really wanted to see Angus’s bottom at the best of times, let alone now he was nearly of a pensionable age.
With a storming version of ‘Let there be Rock’, including an amazing solo from Angus Young, appearing on top of the amp stack at one point, they said their goodbyes and left the stage. The crowd bayed for more:
They returned with ‘Highway to Hell’ – how did they get this far without me missing it? Then a real old favourite of mine, ‘Riff Raff’. Cannons began to appear behind the band (was that Malcolm on guitar? Another relative?) for the true finale – ‘For Those About to Rock –We Salute You’.
The crowd roared, AC/DC and Axl took the ovation. Axl Rose had proved he was a great rock singer. Master Johnny declared that Angus Young was indeed the greatest guitarist he’d ever seen.
Maybe this is the last AC/DC tour, who knows. I’m so glad I saw them, even if it was sans Brian.
Whatever. All I want to say, in the words of Bon Scott in ‘Rock and Roll Damnation’, is:
“For everything that you’ve done for me – thanks a lot.”