When AC/DC Began Their First U.K. Tour
After a few years of steadily mounting success back home in Australia, future hard rock giants AC/DC embarked upon their first U.K. tour on April 23, 1976. Only problem was, this international concert debut took a few weeks longer than expected, so let's back up a bit.
As bassist Mark Evans explained in his revealing memoirs, Dirty Deeds: My Life Inside/Outside of AC/DC: "We landed at London's Heathrow Airport on April 1, 1976 [after] an extremely long flight, with stops in Singapore, Hong Kong, Mumbai, and Bahrain. I was in transit for thirty-six hours and forty-five minutes [and had] time for two hangovers on the way."
But, as it turned out, the day’s April Fools’ joke was on AC/DC because their previously planned tour with Backstreet Crawler, led by Paul Kossoff of Free, set to start a few days later, had already been canceled. Kossoff had tragically died of a heart attack on March 16 while mid-flight from Los Angeles to New York.
In any case, after clearing customs and meeting up with their managers for a quick tour of London Town, the members of AC/DC settled into a communal band house at 49 Inverness Terrace, in the suburb of Bayswater, there to wait for their tour to be rescheduled. At last, a warm-up gig at London's modest Red Cow pub was put on the calendar for April 23.
It was "probably the greatest show I've seen in my life. [AC/DC] were doing two sets, and to start with there were probably 10 people in the pub," booking agent Richard Griffiths said in Clinton Walker's must-read tome, Highway to Hell: The Life and Times of Bon Scott. "[The band] did the whole number, Angus [Young] on Bon's shoulders, everything, I'd never seen anything like it. Then the place emptied. About half an hour later, [AC/DC] came out to do the second set and the place was packed. Everyone had run off and [told their friends] 'You have got to see this band.'"
After this auspicious introduction to London, AC/DC was off to the races, with a helping hand from critics, including the NME's Phil McNeill who wrote: "In the middle of the great British Punk Rock Explosion, a quintet of similarly ruthless Ozzies has just swaggered like a cat among London's surly, self-consciously paranoid pigeons ... and with a sense of what sells rather than what's cool, they could well clean up."
AC/DC's next gig was at London's Nashville Rooms – home to many punk gigs (Sex Pistols played there just a few weeks earlier) and, after that, the band's first proper U.K. tour finally began. Amazingly, it was still supporting a hastily reconstituted Back Street Crawler, completed by the not-quite legendary Geoff Whitehorn on guitar.
But, as documented in Walker's book, even critics who were still bullish on the de-fanged Crawler, such as Sounds scribe Phil Sutcliff, knew which way the wind was blowing, writing that "the mere wildly exciting excellence of AC/DC could not be forgotten. It shouldn't be. They are heavy, will be huge."
Of course, no one could have possibly imagined how huge – except, perhaps, the Young brothers, whose indomitable drive to succeed would guide AC/DC's career, through thick and thin.