Great Scott: 30 years on from the death of Bon Scott, his birthplace pays tribute
THE date was the 30 April 1978, the venue, the legendary Apollo Theatre in Glasgow and a capacity 3,500 crowd was rapturous as they chanted for the band to return to the stage.
• Scott on stage with AC/DC in 1976
When Aussie rockers AC/DC finally reappeared for the encore, they wore dark blue Scotland football tops and after a rendition of Loch Lomond on electric guitar as homage to their spiritual home, the band's singer swaggered up to a microphone with a wolfish grin on his face.
"Well, alright…" a wide-eyed Bon Scott said in his inimitable snarl before a 12-bar blues riff heralded the start of Rocker, the final song of a momentous evening.
"I'm a rocker, I'm a roller, I'm a right out of controller," Scott screamed as he strutted across the stage in his element, throwing back a mane of long curly hair before hoisting the band's mad guitarist Angus Young onto his shoulders.
These were the Australian legends in the ascendancy, staking their claim for the title of world's greatest hard-rock band during the early stage of their career in a concert regarded now as one of the most electric of all time.
At 31 years old, AC/DC's menacing frontman Scott was in his prime. Less than two years later the Scots-born singer would be dead after treading the same hedonistic path as the likes of Keith Moon, John Bonham and Janis Joplin to become the latest in a litany of premature music industry deaths linked to alcohol and drugs.
It was a shocking, untimely demise but one that gave rise to another rock legend, and later this month Scotland will mark the 30th anniversary of Scott's passing when his birthplace, Kirriemuir, pays tribute to him with a music event that is likely to attract AC/DC fans from all over the world.
This wee red town, nestling close to the Angus hills, may be more renowned for being the birthplace of Peter Pan creator, JM Barrie, but for the past four years Kirrie has honoured its son, Scott, who in July 2004 was rated by Classic Rock magazine as the No 1 "Front-Man of All Time" ahead of performers including Robert Plant and Freddie Mercury. A national hero in Australia – the country he emigrated to as a young boy – the charismatic Scott transformed AC/DC from a being a two-bit glam band into the hardest rock outfit on the planet with his bourbon-laced lyrics that conveyed the band's tongue-in-cheek penchant for sex, parties and the devil.
At five feet six inches, skintight jeans pulled up to his navel and the crazed look of someone who ought to be inside Barlinnie Prison, the often bare-chested Scott was an unlikely star, but his startling image is one of rock's most enduring, and 30 years on from his death AC/DC fans still revere him as godlike.
His bandmates were distraught after his death and briefly considered packing it in, but after hiring Brian Johnson as Scott's replacement on vocals they built on his legacy and went from strength to strength. The band are now stadium fillers who have achieved the status of rock/metal gods having sold more than 200 million albums worldwide, including Back in Black, which – with nearly 50 million sales – is the second highest-selling album in history after Michael Jackson's Thriller.
Despite his death three decades ago, Scott remains integral to AC/DC's success and the band have always acknowledged his part in their story. "He's still a part of the band, he's still a part of us," Johnson said earlier this year.
Scotland has always held AC/DC close to its heart because of Scott and also the Young brothers, Angus and Malcolm, the band's lead and rhythm guitarists, respectively, who were born in Glasgow but later emigrated to Australia where they would hook up with Scott in the early 1970s.
In 2006, the townsfolk of Kirriemuir decided that Scott should be honoured, and money was raised for a plaque to be sculpted and placed in the town square, beside memorials to other famous locals.
• AC/DC, with Scott far left, before the death of their front-man in 1980
"We have the Kirrie 'walk of fame' beside Cumberland Close, where there are plaques to commemorate JM Barrie, author of Peter Pan, the noted geologist Charles Yell, who was a mucker of Charles Darwin, and mountaineer Sir Hugh Munro, whom Scotland's Munros are named after. There are also plaques honouring three Victoria Cross winners and the Cameron family for their services to Scottish country dance music," says Roland Proctor, chairman of Kirriemuir Community Council, a 65-year-old who was never a fan of AC/DC but admits to being the recent owner of a T-shirt.
"I remember Scott's family, as they lived just off the 'Roods' in Kirriemuir. One of the Scotts had a baker's shop in Bank Street, which isn't there any more, and another Scott had a grocer's. I also remember 'Stew' Scott but I can't remember if he was Bon's great uncle or grandfather. There was an auntie too, but she died recently. The annual 'Bon Scott Day' in the town has attracted people from all over the world. There have been hundreds of people turning up each year and we've had people from Austria, Holland and even Australia, including leather-clad bikers but there's never been any trouble and the people in the town really enjoy the event."
This year's Bonfest 2010 on 30 October, was organised by DD8 Music and will feature a number of local bands playing gigs in the town's bars and the day will culminate in a concert at the town hall headlined by an AC/DC tribute band from Fife called Bon's Balls.
This year, Australia also paid tribute to Ronald Belford Scott, who was born on the 9 July 1946 at Fyfe Jamieson Maternity Hospital, Forfar, to Chick and Isa Scott. The family lived in Kirriemuir until they moved to Melbourne in 1952. Scott was six at the time. On arriving in Australia, he was dubbed "Bon" at primary school because he came from Bonnie Scotland. In 1956, the family moved to Fremantle, Western Australia, and Scott's musical career began when he joined the Freemantle Scots Pipe Band to play drums.
Never the academic type, he left school at 15 and it was then that his wild streak manifested through several run-ins with the law which resulted in him being detained for short spells in juvenile detention centres. Famously, he was later rejected by the Australian Army for being "socially maladjusted".
After working as a postman, bartender and truck packer, Scott played drums and sang with several bands including The Sectors, The Valentines and Fraternity. In 1974, he ended up in a coma for three days after crashing his 550cc Suzuki motorbike while drunk after a blazing argument with members of a band called Monty Loft Rangers, whom he'd joined a year earlier.
It was shortly after this incident that Scott was introduced to the Young brothers who were looking for a singer for AC/DC. In 1975 they released their first LP, High Voltage and Scott sang and wrote lyrics on another five albums including Highway to Hell which reached No 17 in the US charts in 1979. The next project for the band was an album called Back in Black but on 19 February 1980, Scott – a notorious heavy drinker – passed out after a night of partying in a London. A friend left him in a car to sleep it off but Scott's lifeless body was found the next day and he was later pronounced dead at King's College Hospital in Camberwell. He had choked on his own vomit, the official cause recorded as acute alcohol poisoning and death by misadventure. Scott was only 33. He was cremated and his ashes were interred by his family in Fremantle.
In many ways, Scott became an icon to Fremantle as Jim Morrison did to Paris, and for years after his death AC/DC fans lobbied for a memorial. The Western Australian Scott Fan Club, in particular, campaigned hard on the issue and in 2006 after a decade of trying they succeeded in persuading the city fathers to honour their adopted son and it was agreed that a memorial should be commissioned.
A bronze statue was designed by local artist Greg James and was unveiled at a rock concert dedicated to Scott on the 23 February, 2008, when 10,000 fans turned up. It portrays Scott atop a Marshall amplifier and now stands at Fremantle harbour. The city itself has become a place of pilgrimage for AC/DC fans – as has Kirriemuir – and the Mayor of Fremantle, Brad Pettit, told The Scotsman that there were major celebrations and tribute concerts in February on the anniversary of Scott's death. He said: "Without a doubt Bon Scott is considered a legend here in Fremantle and his statue is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city centre, as is his grave site.
"His legacy continues in Fremantle. TNT is the unofficial theme song of the Fremantle Football Club and is sung by 40,000-plus people every time the team wins a home game and there are Highway to Hell tram tours around the city, which explores Bon's life."
• To buy tickets for Bonfest 2010 please email email@example.com
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