Thursday, September 10, 2009

Home Sweet Home

After housing his charges for a short stint in the Octagon Motel (now the Hotel Saville of South Yarra), new Melbourne-based manager Michael Browning set them up in a dwelling (since demolished) at 6 Lansdowne Road, East St Kilda.  It would later be nominated by music magazine Mojo as a contender for music history’s “vilest den of depravity”. Bassist Mark Evans has recalled the presence of a brothel “over the back fence” and for the group’s founding members, Malcolm and Angus Young, this house of hookers, Hare Krishna’s and policeman provided an unforgettable first experience of life outside the family home. 

The brothers stood little chance of keeping up with the antics of their lead singer.  Bon Scott had attended Primary School in Melbourne’s western suburbs prior to relocating to Western Australia with his family and had already returned to Melbourne once - in the late 60s as a member of The Valentines, later described by Michael Browning as “a satin-clad, bell-bottom-wearing teen-bop band”.  In 1975, Bon busied himself with sexual conquests, a near-fatal drug overdose and being beaten up by the father of a 17-year old female acquaintance.  Debauchery would have a new address later in the year when the band relocated to the Freeway Gardens Motel in North Melbourne, reportedly the locale of the bedroom encounter that inspired Bon Scott to pen the group’s live favourite Whole Lotta Rosie.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Department of Rock

The flagship premises of Myer, Melbourne's best-known department store, is currently undergoing major renovation. A retail institution of the city renowned for its window displays each Christmas, the Bourke Street-fronted building has been reduced to a shell as part of an extensive redevelopment project. Another aspect of these works, the proposed demolition of the Art Deco building Lonsdale House, has met with public opposition.

The Myer complex has a somewhat unlikely link with AC/DC's 1975 Melbourne sojourn.

The band was booked to play a series of free lunchtime shows in late August in the young ladies’ fashion department, the “Myer Miss Store”. The week of music lasted barely one song. Bedlam ensued as the first concert was stormed by hundreds of hysterical female fans. The band was forced to flee and as Myer staff surveyed the wreckage left in their wake, the week’s remaining shows were cancelled.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Rocking at the Croc

AC/DC’s Melbourne stint was a blur of live performances at locations ranging from the Glen Waverley High School and the Ivanhoe Grammar School (both of which witnessed an AC/DC show on the same day in April 1975) to suburban beer barns such as the Waltzing Matilda Hotel in Springvale and Icelands in Ringwood.

The group criss-crossed Melbourne’s suburban sprawl in their ex-Ansett tour bus for gigs at venues such as the Southside Six Hotel in Moorabbin and Chadstone’s Matthew Flinders Hotel (where drummer Phil Rudd broke his thumb in a fight in September). Melbourne singer/songwriter Stephen Cummings has written of these pubs as being “seas of tables littered with overflowing ashtrays and hundreds of jugs of beer”. Physical altercations were not altogether uncommon, AC/DC’s road crew reportedly taking on the Heidelberg Sharps during one lively evening at Preston’s Council Club Hotel.

One venue that saw quite a bit of AC/DC during 1975 was the Croxton Park Hotel in High Street, Thornbury. Between February and October, it hosted eight AC/DC shows. Now equipped with poker machines, the Croxton Park is a different pub these days but still hosts live performances and employs the marketing slogan, “Still rocking at the Croc”.

AC/DC contemporaries from the mid-70s, Rose Tattoo and The Angels have both played shows at the Croxton Park in the last 10 months. The Angels became labelmates of AC/DC in 1975 when, after supporting AC/DC on their South Australian tour, Bon Scott and Malcolm Young recommended the Adelaide group to Alberts. When the group reunited for a tour in 2008, they played the Croxton Park on 4 December.

Another group that AC/DC steered to Alberts was Rose Tattoo. The group’s first four albums were produced by Harry Vanda and George Young (older brother of Malcolm and Angus) – the team at the controls during the early AC/DC records. Angry Anderson and the boys were on stage at the Croxton Park Hotel on 4 July this year.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Elsternwick Antics

Seminal weekly music television programme Countdown began in 1974, broadcast from the national broadcaster’s studios in Gordon Street, Elsternwick. It served to introduce many Australians to both the sound of AC/DC and the antics of Bon Scott and Angus Young. Put simply, the Countdown cameras loved AC/DC. Executive Producer Kris Noble has spoken of the excitement that the group brought to the set. “The cameras used to go flat out, it was really hyper in the studio.”

AC/DC made their Countdown debut on 29 November 1974 and were regular gatecrashers of Sunday family dinners all over Australia in the months that followed. Murray Engleheart and Arnaud Duriex, authors of AC/DC history Maximum Rock & Roll, calculate that the group featured on the programme on 38 occasions between this debut and December 1976 (including four appearances in the month of June 1975). One of the more memorable outings was on 23 March 1975, when Bon Scott smirked and smoked his way through the group’s performance of Baby, Please Don’t Go while dressed as a schoolgirl complete with pigtails.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Alley formerly known as "Corporation Lane"

On a Friday afternoon in early October 2004, then Lord Mayor of Melbourne, John So, stood on a ladder in Melbourne’s central business district and fastened a screw in a sign that read “ACDC Lane”. He then addressed the assembled crowd: “As the song says, this is a highway to hell. But I say this is a lane to heaven. Let us rock!”

Lord Mayor So punched the air in his best stadium rock style and bagpipers in attendance launched into one of AC/DC’s anthems,
It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll).

Prior to Lord Mayor So’s proclamation, Corporation Lane was a short, thoroughly unremarkable cul de sac between a restaurant and a cafĂ©. A few steps away was the rear entrance to the imposing 101 Collins Street office tower, the home to Melbourne’s business elite and possibly the city’s most exclusive and expensive address. Corporation Lane, initially named in 1905, featured some stencil art, peeling posters promoting upcoming dance parties, a set of rubbish bins and an almost indistinguishable door that, after dark, provided access to “Cherry”, described in a City Council proposal as a “rock grunge bar”. The lane’s only daylight inhabitants were city office workers intent upon a discrete cigarette. At night, it hosted drinkers on their way to Cherry or the nearby “Honkytonks” club. Little may have changed upon the departure of Lord Mayor So and the bagpipers, but by then Corporation Lane, in name at least, was no longer.

The Melbourne City Council voted to rename the lane “ACDC Lane” at a meeting held in September 2004, the idea having first been floated by local music journalist Patrick Donovan. Once made, the Council was keen to emphasise the rebel rock cred of its decision: a victory against the squares by a Council riding high on an “onslaught of support from AC/DC fans” that included a petition from an AC/DC fan club in Sweden. For some time however, the move was in serious doubt. Objections were received and the Council almost shelved the proposal, looking at alternative ways of recognizing the band. As neighbouring businesses offered stern resistance, City Councillors were forced to defend suggestions that a lane named after AC/DC would bring an undesirable presence to the location.

The owner of a nearby restaurant campaigned against the proposal, claiming that the people who would be attracted to a lane named after AC/DC would “cause trouble”. Even prior to Lord Mayor So climbing his stepladder in October, the owner of Cherry Bar reported that pilgrims were arriving at the site to have their photos taken. Extra copies of the “ACDC Lane” sign were duly manufactured in anticipation that devotees would try to leave the location with a lasting souvenir, although one City Councillor noted that to succeed “you’d have to come with some pretty good equipment”.

When asked whether he was the AC or the DC, Bon Scott used to say, “Neither, I’m the lightning flash in the middle!” Devotees of AC/DC who make it to the lane named in the band’s honour have to settle for the absence of what the Melbourne City Council described as “the distinctive slash or lightning bolt used to separate the AC from the DC”. The Council explained that the Office of the Registrar of Geographic Names would not permit its inclusion.