Following the disaster that was my Trans-Atlantic trip to see AC/DC, my faith in humanity was restored when the band hit the stage at Castle Donington on 17th August 1991. Most supporters of the band have had the pleasure of seeing the show on video or DVD but, although the recording is a masterpiece, I don’t think it’s a true representation of the spectacle.
The highlight of the Donington show for me was the return of the original Hells Bell. During a three hour train journey earlier in the year, my friend and I spent the entire time in the company of Angus Young’s wife, Ellen, and during the conversation we mentioned how good it would be to see the real bell again, having been replaced by a fibre glass copy. It may have been pure coincidence but when the true Hells Bell descended from the lighting rig at Donington, we couldn’t help but feel that our wish had been granted.
The mass of cannons assembled above the stage for ”For Those About To Rock” was a jaw-dropping sight to behold but their position and the wind meant that they couldn’t be heard, which sounded quite odd. Of course, anybody watching the video or DVD would be oblivious to the problem.
Two months later I was once more on a plane, heading off on another AC/DC adventure. This time it was to see the band back where it all began, in Australia. Nowadays, many people hop on planes to far flung places to see their favourite bands but back in those days, fans didn’t tend to follow groups around and anything more than a train journey was something that very few people considered.
On this trip, I was accompanied by my sister. She wasn’t a big AC/DC fan but when she heard that I was going to be in Australia for her 21st Birthday, she decided that she wanted to come along, after all, where better to spend your special day. She said that she’d like to come to one or two shows but once she’d seen the band live, she was hooked and that plan went out of the window.
We arrived in Sydney on the 14th October, which was the day of the first show. We booked into the George Hotel, chosen for its low prices and close proximity to the Entertainment Centre. Having checked in, we went in search of the venue and as we walked past the backstage entrance a car came out and stopped right next to us. The window wound down and a voice said “It’s Darren, isn’t it?” The voice belonged to the band’s head of security, Mike Andy, and as soon as I confirmed who I was, Mike got on his radio and said “I’m sending two people through, sort them out with passes!” Mike then pointed out where we should go, before driving off. As we approached the backstage door, we were met by Mike’s second in command, Tim Brockman, and we were handed tickets for the show and VIP laminate passes.
The show was amazing and was unusual in that both ”Hells Bells” were used; the real bell had pride of place on stage whilst the fibre glass bell was suspended over the crowd. One of the biggest surprises of the evening though was how tame the audience was. I’d been used to the British and European denim-clad maniacs but the atmosphere that night was nowhere near as intense. It almost felt as if the crowd’s attitude was “We made you, now entertain us!” After the gig, we were ushered into a room filled with guests, predominantly made up of members of the Young clan. I felt like I was in the middle of a weird dream and couldn’t believe how things had turned out.
No trip to Sydney would be complete without a visit to the place where it all began and so the following day I asked the receptionist at the hotel if they knew where Chequers Club was located. I was told to go out of the hotel, turn right, walk for about a hundred yards, turn right again and it would be right in front of me. I couldn’t believe my luck that it was literally around the corner from where I was staying. I found Chequers and discovered that it was now a health club, which seemed rather ironic given its rock ‘n’ roll legacy. It’s worth noting that not only did AC/DC perform their first show there but Malcolm is purported to have seen Brian Johnson play there during Geordie’s 1974 Australian tour.
The 2nd Sydney show was another superb performance by the band but once again the audience were somewhat lacking. I looked forward to experiencing Melbourne, not least of all because I wanted to check out the street where the legendary video for the “It’s A Long Way To The Top” single was filmed and on 16th October we boarded a greyhound bus and set off on a 14 hour road trip. We found ourselves sitting behind an extremely drunken man who, during the journey, began to harass an elderly lady in front of him. My sister had studied karate and sprung into action. Before I knew it she had wrestled the man to the ground. When she released him he proceeded to tell us that he’d just been released from prison after 16 years. Far from being intimidated, we couldn’t help bursting into a rousing rendition of “Jailbreak”. Ten minutes later, the coach pulled over and the police came aboard and dragged the drunken man off. The driver had seen the incident and radioed ahead to the police.
Upon arrival in Melbourne we found a cheap hotel which was located in the St Kilda area of the city. We soon found out why hotels in that area were so cheap as it was where the red light district was located. On the 18th October, which was the day of the first Melbourne show, we went into a restaurant called Sloppy Joes but it was really crowded and so we left and settled for a Big Mac.
The show that night was really good and the audience seemed a lot more enthusiastic than in Sydney but still fell far short of the Europeans. After the gig, Ellen Young came over to us and said that she had seen us at Sloppy Joes but that we’d left before she could call us over. I asked what she was doing in that part of town and she said that she was checking out some AC/DC history and had been to look at the house where the band had lived back in the early days. I asked where it was and she gave me the address, which was 6 Lansdowne Road in St Kilda. These days, a quick internet search provides a wealth of information but back in1991 we didn’t have such luxuries. It amazed me that we found ourselves once more staying a hotel that was literally around the corner from a historical establishment. The next day we went over to “the band’s house” and was surprised by how ordinary it looked. It was hard to imagine that this was the location for the legendary antics outlined in many AC/DC biographies.
On 20th October we decided to have a day out at the local fairground and headed off to Luna Park. Whilst wandering around I bumped into Chris Slade, who was there with his wife. We had a quick chat and then went our separate ways. Chris was really friendly and his wife was very sociable too. That night, after the show, we sat around and discussed which rides were good and which ones were accidents waiting to happen.
From Melbourne we flew to Perth and this was a major part of the trip for me, as I wanted to visit Bon’s grave and pay my respects. After the first show on 23rd October, I asked Ellen where in Fremantle cemetery Bon’s grave was located. She said that she’d been there that afternoon but it was hard to explain how to find it. She called Cliff over and he said that once we got to the cemetery, anybody would be able to tell us where the grave was as it was so well visited.
A short while later, Ellen came over to the table where I was sitting with my sister and she had a little old lady with her. Ellen said “I’d like to introduce you to Bon’s mother” and the elderly lady said “I’m so pleased to meet you.” Ellen wandered off and left Isa in my company for the rest of the evening and Isa Scott was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I was surprised at how strong her Scottish accent was, considering how long she’d lived in Australia, and she was genuinely amazed that fans still remembered and loved her son, although it sounded strange hearing him being constantly referred to as Ron.
Isa proudly told me about how Ron went from being a drummer to a full time singer when he had his drum kit stolen. She also talked about how he hadn’t really played the bagpipes on ”It’s A Long Way To The Top” and she confessed in a hushed voice that she actually preferred the songs that he recorded with the Valentines over the AC/DC tracks. She was brimming with pride towards her son throughout our conversation and rightly so.
The next day, we went over to Fremantle on our pilgrimage to Bon’s final resting place and as we were walking through Fremantle town centre I heard a voice say “Hello again!” in an unmistakable Scottish accent. I turned around and was immediately faced with not only Bon’s mum, Isa, but also his father, Chick. Chick pointed to a church and said “Ronald used to sing in the choir at that church!” I must say that standing there chatting to the two people who had created my hero was one of the highlights of my life.
When we arrived at Fremantle Cemetery, we went through the main gates and the place was deserted. We decided to wander around in search of the grave and spotted a man who appeared to be the gardener but he was wearing the type of hat that beekeepers wear, with the netting covering his face. I approached the man and asked if he could tell me where I could find Bon Scott’s grave and, without speaking, he pointed to a memorial stone about six feet away. I thanked him and went over to Bon’s grave. I turned around and the man was nowhere to be seen. Now I don’t believe in the supernatural but I cannot explain how the man managed to disappear into thin air.
For the next couple of days we did all the tourist stuff such as whale watching and looking at the quokkas on Rottnest Island. People used to wonder why I travelled so far to see AC/DC when they routinely toured the UK and my response was always “It’s a perfect holiday. You do all the tourist stuff during the day and then get to be entertained by your favourite band in the evenings.”
After Perth, we flew over to South Australia for the Adelaide concerts. The first of these was on 28th October, which happened to be my sister’s 21st Birthday. After the show, we were relaxing in the backstage hospitality room when Mike Andy came in and told us to follow him. He took us into the band’s dressing room and we were met by Angus and Ellen who gave my sister a Birthday card and a cake and Angus gave her one of his caps. Several years later, I managed to persuade my sister to let me have the cap and it is still one of my prized possessions.
After the show the next evening we were once more in the hospitality room and I was talking to a guy for a while when I suddenly realised that the person I was chatting to was Colin Burgess who had drummed for AC/DC in the very early days. The next time I met Malcolm I asked him why Colin had left the band and he said that he had been unreliable due to his drinking. I have read interviews with Colin Burgess where he is adamant that the incident that led to his sacking was brought about when his drink had been spiked.
The final concert for me and my sister on that Australian tour was back in Melbourne on 1st November. It was a great show but sad that such an awesome experience was coming to a close. After the show, my sister pointed to a man sitting in the guest seats and said “There’s Ben Elton!” Ben is a famous British comedian who has written some classic comedy television shows such as Blackadder as well as being involved in writing the Queen musical “We Will Rock You”. A short while later we were in the dressing room and Ben asked Angus for an autograph “for his daughter”. I said “So what’s your daughter’s name? Is it Ben?” which Angus and Ben both found amusing. As the evening came to a close, Brian Johnson came over and said “Hold on, I’ve got something for you!” He then produced two bags that he gave to us and inside were a half a dozen tour shirts, a 16 CD boxed set (wrapped up in nice wrapping paper) and a ‘thank you’ card, signed by the whole band.
The whole trip was one amazing experience after another and when I look at the photos, especially the ones of Bon’s parents I realise what a lucky bloke I really am.