“G’day,” bellows the Australian born and bred, Doug Thorncroft, who apologizes right up front about his hectic schedule that has him, “flat out like a lizard drinking.” However busy he may be, this 51 year old Aussie has no problem finding time to discuss one of his true passions…AC/DC. To be even more precise, their late, great frontman, Bon Scott.
Thorncroft is not only President of the Bon Scott Fan Club, but he’s also responsible for building the first Bon Scott web site, organizing a Highway to Hell Tram Tour of Bon’s hometown, marshaling Bon Scott related concerts and AC/DC CD and DVD launch parties, even developing a Bon Scott documentary, but most proudly instrumental in erecting the first ever Bon Scott statue in Fremantle’s Fishing Boat Harbour. At one point, Doug was even considered the de facto honoree to accept the award for Bon being inducted into the West Australian Music Industry Hall of Fame.
“I lead a very busy life,” Thorncroft admits, as he rubs one of his many Bon Scott related tattoos. “In recent years I’ve shied away from media and doing interviews, sick of seeing my face on telly every time AC/DC or Bon Scott was brought up. Sounds big headed, I know, but Australia is a small country town compared to the rest of the planet.”
Cursed with not much hair on top and blessed with a wicked, fiery-red beard to match his temper, Doug reflects upon growing up around his idol’s stomping ground. His father, a WWII veteran, moved the family from Rivervale, where he grew up during his first eight years, to Girrawheen, into a housing commission suburb North West of Perth. “Dad was 43 when he had me,” reflects Thorncroft. “WWII banged him up pretty bad. After the war he was granted 100% TPI (Totally and Permanently Incapacitated), but didn’t accept it and worked every day of his life. My hero.”
His mum, heavily involved with the Salvation Army, was 42 and on her second marriage when Doug would become their only child. He was exposed to music at a young age, through military bands, Sunday school, and even joined a youth group, where he played percussion in a 15-piece youth band.
By this time, AC/DC was well known and everyone knew Bon was from the area, especially from his early days singing for The Spektors, The Valentines and Fraternity. “All that I know and have learned about Bon has come first hand from people who actually knew him,” claims Thorncroft, who lived just 30 clicks from Fremantle. Like the time his Aunty danced with Bon while her boyfriend was onstage playing in a band. “Funny site, as she is near on 6 feet tall and Bon was 5 feet 3!” His reputation as a ladies man and scrapper was already well established to the point that the older generation thought he was trouble. “Far from it,” claims Thorncroft, “He was just having fun.”
Or the time Irene Thornton, Bon’s ex-wife, revealed to Doug that Bon’s voice had changed radically in between singing for Fraternity and AC/DC. “A lot of people don’t know that Bon was originally a folk singer, but he damaged his throat in a bad motorbike accident in 1973, and was forced to adopt a more Rock ’n’ Roll growl.”
The first time Doug even heard AC/DC was in 1974 when they performed, “Baby Please Don’t Go”, on the long-running popular weekly Australian music TV program, Countdown. With Bon dressed as a schoolgirl, sporting freckles dotted on with a marker, pigtails, and smoking a fag on stage, for a nine year old, Bon’s outrageous performance had him hooked. Although too young to attend a live show, on February 15, 1977, Doug would get one step closer to his idol by coercing his mum and dad to at least take him down to listen to what would be Bon’s last stadium concert in Australia. “At the back of the Perth Entertainment Centre, there was pedestrian foot bridge over the railway lines going into seedy Northbridge, so we stood on that bridge and had a great posy to listen to the gig, even though I was outside the venue. It was bloody loud!”
Three years later, Scott would be found dead, leaving Thorncroft in a state of shock and the prospect of AC/DC forging ahead without their lead singer, unthinkable. Thorncroft thought, “Well that’s it. They’re done. No more AccaDacca.” Although he’d never gotten the chance to see Bon Scott perform live, Bon Scott would ultimately become an imminent part of Doug’s life.
At that time, it’s fair to say, AC/DC hadn’t really made it to the top yet. During that period, Bon was unhappy, looking ill and severely road worn, as Doug would hear first hand from Bon’s good friend, and fellow Valentines frontman, Vince Lovegrove. “Vince had chatted to Bon not long before his passing. Bon wasn’t happy with the direction AC/DC was taking. He had already been threatened to be sacked by the Young’s, he was missing home, and was having problems with his liver. You’ve got to remember, from the late 1960’s up until the day he died, every day was a party. You do a gig, party backstage, go out after… everyone wants to be your friend and buy you a drink.”
Following Bon’s death, Doug left school and started work in a kitchen, eventually becoming a qualified chef and honing his management skills. By 1995 he drove a bus for the government, stopping by the Fremantle Cemetery during lunch breaks and noticing the same sort of people visiting Bon’s gravesite (especially on Bon’s birthday in July, and his passing in February). After talking and getting to know fellow AC/DC fans visiting the grave from around the globe, he began organizing pub events including live bands. “It felt good bringing people together,” admits Thorncroft. He even went so far as to track down thieves who had stolen Bon Scott’s heritage-listed grave plague at the Fremantle gravesite, on what would have been the rocker’s 60th birthday.
In 1996, Doug loosely founded The Bon Scott Fan Club surrounding AC/DC’s Ballbreaker tour, prearranging bulk tickets from concert promotors and hiring a busload of fans to attend the show at the Burswood Drone Dome. The media ate it up and the fan club grew and grew. “In the early days we were simply known as the AC/DC Perth Fan Club, then the WA Bon Scott Fan Club, and finally landing on Bon Scott Fans WA,” honoring Fremantle WA as the home town and resting place of Bon Scott. Today the fan club is purely a social group on Facebook.
After meeting the love of his life, Alison, after Doug got out of the Australian Army in 1989, they both started a company to get involved with the building boom in Perth, aptly titled Dirty Deeds Demolition Pty Ltd. And with a name like that, driving a unique lift kitted stretch Ford Transit van, it attracted even more AC/DC fans. But it wasn’t until after the 20th anniversary of Bon’s passing that Doug came up with a better idea of how to pay homage to AC/DC’s frontman. “After the memorial, I became very determined to give the fans somewhere to go to pay tribute to Bon. The cemetery was ok, but people were a bit disrespectful to others resting at the cemetery.”
That’s when he started to think about erecting a statue. Gauging people’s positive reactions around the area, Doug soon met with the Mayor of Fremantle, attended council meetings, making inspirational speeches, and easily gaining the media’s attention. He set up location scouts, held concerts to raise money, attracted the support of the AFL Coach for the Fremantle Dockers Australian Rules Football Club, and even given Bon’s mum, Isa’s, blessing to move forward with the statue.
Doug then approached Greg James, a world-renown sculptor based in Fremantle. “I pitched my idea to him, which he loved, and we immediately started working on the design.”
But in 2006, just one year away from raising enough funds for Bon Scott Statue Project, Doug was diagnosed with prostate cancer. With a major operation schedule for the summer of 2007, Thorncroft was preparing for a life and death situation. “I decided that the best way at the moment was to have the whole prostate taken out, which is pretty radical.” It worked. “Without a doubt, AC/DC helped me through it. When you’re told you have cancer at such a young age, life becomes more serious, which is not fun. Music is an escape.”
While on the mend, his pet project was unfortunately hijacked, and in 2008 the Bon Scott statue was unveiled under a different event name (Aussie Rock Concert). The event was seen as unsuccessful and there hasn’t been a major event in Fremantle since. And although Doug’s name isn’t even featured on the plague, the response to the Bon Scott statue has been another story. “Overwhelming,” describes a redeemed Thorncroft. “The fans loved it. I was made to feel very appreciated and special after the last two years of lies, deceit and heartache. It took me eight years of campaigning, but we finally got it installed and now it’s a landmark down these parts.”
Doug’s love for this Scotsman-turned-Aussie continues to this day, and now runs a Bon Scott tour to honor the AC/DC frontman’s legacy, taking special bookings for an exclusive Highway to Hell personal tour in his 97 XJS Jaguar (or bus for bigger bookings). And celebrating what would have been Bon’s 70th birthday, he even persuaded the producers of a Bon Scott tribute theater production, Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be, to bring their show to Fremantle, featuring all of Bon’s early music prior to joining AC/DC.
But being such a Bon-centric fan, one has to wonder, how did the passing of the baton to “new” lead singer, Brian Johnson, initially go over with Doug back in 1980? “I was pissed off at first, then I heard Back In Black and all was forgiven. Brian has done a great job, but it is a different band with the same name. No offense, I’d prefer that than no AC/DC at all, just like now with Brian being given the boot, and Axl stepping in.”
Which quickly leads to the topic of Axl/DC, where Guns N’ Roses lead singer, Axl Rose, stepping in to replace Johnson mid-tour. “Why not?” Doug quips. “He’s a great entertainer, a knob, but a great singer for Rock ‘n’ Roll. They’re bloody ruthless them Young boys. Good on them for protecting their empire.”
With Brian’s shocking replacement, the loss of AC/DC’s founder, Malcolm Young, battling dementia, drummer Phil Rudd’s alarming legal troubles, and bassist Cliff WIlliams’ recent retirement from the road, Thorncroft admits that although he’d love to see AC/DC continue, at this point it’s technically a cover band with one original member. “I see AC/DC fans luckier than any other band,” he ponders, stroking his abundant fiery-red beard, finally offering up, “We’ve had a 40-odd year ride. Can’t complain about that. The boys deserve to retire.” An answer which now lies in the hands of last man standing, lead guitarist, and AC/DC founder, Angus Young. Doug assures fans that anything could happen. Perhaps a new album and tour with Axl Rose at the helm. A few major festivals. Some special guest appearances here and there. “Who knows? Maybe they’ll come to my upcoming Let There Be Rock Promotions gig on February 17, 2018, at the Fremantle Prison. This one’s going to be a beauty!” assures Thorncroft, who is currently chatting with Phil Rudd’s management to get him to attend his Bon Scott event as well.
Doug’s upcoming event will be the recommencement of what he started in 2006, Bonfest Freo, which has gained acceptance and guideline from the Guinness World Records to attempt to break the world record for the ‘Largest Bagpipe Ensemble’ to perform, It’s A Long Way To The Top (his favorite AC/DC track of all-time). “Can you imagine 666 Bagpipers cry at the same time?” laughs Thorncroft.
Doug now works as a Safety & Authorizing Export Officer just 120 km north of Fremantle and lives on 5 acres of bush with his wife of 27 years. With six kids, nine grand kids, and more on the way, one wonders if his love for Bon Scott has had any influence on their musical tastes. “All my kids were introduced to AC/DC in the womb. They’ve been to the last four tours and they know all the songs. To me, being an AC/DC fan is a way of life, second nature, I guess. It reminds me of my childhood.” He pauses, raises an eyebrow and declares with a smile, “I’m a 51 year old teenager at heart.”