A new biography based on the life of legendary AC/DC guitarist Angus Young hit shelves around the country late last month and the response has overwhelming, to say the least.
High Voltage: The Life of Angus Young, written by Jeff Apter, details Young and AC/DC's rise to fame and an exclusive extract given to The Music this week details how the iconic band cracked the UK market for the very first time.
By early 1976, tired of hassles with Australian officialdom and craving a wider audience, Angus and AC/DC left for the UK. Even though the current musical mood was all about punk, the band didn’t take long to leave a mark on British audiences. Angus’ arse got some exposure, too, as this extract from Jeff Apter’s High Voltage: The Life of Angus Young, proves beyond doubt.
At a time when fickle UK tastemakers were thrilled by punk, AC/DC was never going to be the media's band of choice. A group with a big thing for classic rock and the blues, fronted by a rocker at the advanced age of 30 and a kid dressed as a schoolboy, was bound to struggle for the same 'cred' as the likes of Sid Vicious and Rat Scabies and Poly Styrene. And they were Australian (well, Scottish Aussies), which made them an easy target for writers who fancied themselves budding Oscar Wildes. ('Roll over Rolf Harris,' snickered one reviewer; 'Chunder Down Under!' guffawed another.) But Angus and the band knew it was more important to win over the punters, and they were now flocking to see AC/DC in droves. If the press caught on, great; if not, screw 'em.
The band did at least have Sounds magazine, one of several influential British music weeklies, on its side. Phil Sutcliffe, a regular contributor to Sounds, was mad for AC/DC. In an early one-on-one with Angus he caught the guitarist in an uncharacteristically reflective mood, as he talked about his commitment to the audience.
"We can't just sit on our arses and say the world owes us a livin' because we’ve paid our dues," Angus admitted. "Me, I think if I fluff a note I'm robbin' the kids. You're gonna pour it all on until you drop. So even if they hate you they can still say, 'At least they tried.'"
Sutcliffe described Angus as a 'juvenile guitar maestro', a fair step up from the condescending tone of Melody Maker. He was so impressed by Angus that he even analysed the way he smoked, figuring it was an extension of Angus's cut-the-crap nature: "You know how people perform smoking in various styles as if it were an art, craft, hard labour, a delicate surgical operation or even an athletic sport? Well Angus smokes as if he were awkwardly taking an illicit puff in the bogs at morning break. No bluff, no bullshit 'style'."
Jack Barrie, the influential owner of the Marquee – who was also heavily involved with the annual Reading Festival – was another true believer. He wrote to Atlantic, the group’s record label, describing AC/DC as "the best band to appear at the Marquee since Led Zeppelin". It was just the boost they needed; Barrie was a good man to have on their side. Over time, big names would turn up at the Marquee, either wanting to jam – Deep Purple's Ritchie Blackmore being perhaps the most high-profile – or hoping to work with the band. Two members of Creedence Clearwater Revival went as far as to contact Atlantic and offer their production services, after witnessing the Angus and Bon show at the Marquee. The band politely declined; they already had their own producers, thanks very much – Vanda and Young.
The support of Barrie and Sutcliffe – which led to the band's first Sounds front cover – encouraged the magazine to sponsor AC/DC's Lock Up Your Daughters UK tour, their largest run of dates so far, nineteen shows in all, through June and July 1976. (Original tickets for this tour, priced at a paltry 50p, now fetch upwards of US$1000 on eBay.) The tour launched in Glasgow, in what became a sort of homecoming for the Youngs.
For Angus and Malcolm, it was a reminder of where they'd started out. To the others in the band, it seemed as though Young family members were emerging from everywhere: the backstage area at the City Hall was positively bursting with Angus and Malcolm's rellies, all speaking with pea-soup-dense Glaswegian accents.
As the tour rolled along, some genius came up with the idea of staging a 'dress like a schoolboy' competition, in honour of Angus. By now, it was well established that the band's core audience was young blokes, headbangers, which resulted in more than a few hairy-legged, spotty- faced Angus lookalikes turning out.
Angus had recently added a new stage move to his repertoire, a sort of drawn-out striptease, which always ended with him turning away from the howling mob and baring his cheeks. Not content to be the face of the band, Angus was now its pale, pimply backside as well. He was really pushing the boundaries of decency; there were even whispers he might be arrested. Typically, Angus shrugged it off as just part of the act. "I think they thought I was some kind of male stripper." It did get incredibly hot onstage, Angus reasoned; why shouldn’t he disrobe a little?
The English crowds, while they could get physical – a venue in Liverpool was trashed by overheated fans during the Sounds tour – didn’t dish it out in the same way as the boofheads back home; Angus was usually left alone when he jumped into the crowd and unleashed. Any violence that did occur happened in-house. A high-profile gig at the Reading Festival was a disaster; the post-gig mood so dark that it resulted in a three-way punch-up between Angus, Malcolm and George, who was in town for the event. After the Lyceum show, during an after-party at the Russell Hotel, Angus and Evans got into an argument, resulting in Angus punching the bassist in the face. No one was hurt – Angus really couldn't inflict that much damage, even when seriously wound up – but it was further evidence that the guitarist, when pushed, was a guy not to be fucked with.
"If Angus had one crucial problem with people," Evans wrote of the experience, "it was those who didn't share his utter commitment to the band and music; you had to be in 100% or you weren't worth bothering about… I believe it frustrated him when others, me included, didn’t perform to his expectations."
High Voltage: The Life of Angus Young is out now via Black Inc Books.