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Past Times

When AC/DC brought the Powerage tour to Dundee in 1978

Bon Scott's gritty vocals stormed above the crunching riffs from guitar-wielding brothers Malcolm and Angus Young.
Graeme Strachan
AC/DC on stage in Dundee.
The fans go wild as AC/DC fire through another classic hit on the Caird Hall stage in Dundee in 1978. Image: Sam McMillan.

Hard-rock hooligans AC/DC ended their UK tour with a bang when they brought rock and roll thunder to Dundee on May 29 1978.

Bon Scott’s gritty vocals stormed above the crunching riffs from guitar-wielding brothers Malcolm and Angus Young which were played at face-melting volume.

Scott was certainly no stranger to this part of the world.

He grew up in Kirriemuir before the family emigrated to Melbourne in 1952.

The rest is history.

Scott replaced Dave Evans as the lead singer of AC/DC on October 24 1974.

And it was thanks to Scott’s hard-living reputation and rebellious attitude that the band cemented itself as a wild, raucous rock group with millions of fans.

Rise of AC/DC

Their first two albums — High Voltage and TNT — earned them platinum, gold and silver awards in Australia before they began to gather international attention.

They toured the UK and Europe to promote their album Powerage in 1978 which was the follow up to 1976’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and 1977’s Let There Be Rock.

The UK tour started in Wolverhampton on April 26 1978 and featured 28 dates including Aberdeen’s Capitol Theatre, Edinburgh’s Odeon and the Glasgow Apollo.

AC/DC 1978 tour poster
AC/DC toured the UK to promote the Powerage album with the final date at the Caird Hall. Image: Retro Dundee.

Tickets for the Caird Hall performance were priced £2.50, £2 and £1.50.

So what could the fans expect?

Scott was interviewed before the gig.

“We will do about four new songs from Powerage, but most of the show is centred on the old favourites,” he said.

Was he happy with the new album?

“Yes, I think we all are,” he said.

“We’ve had to try and make it slightly more commercial than our previous albums so that we can get more air play.

“The trouble is that we don’t seem to fit into any category, particularly in America where the radio stations are divided into pop or easy listening rock.

“The thing about our music is that no matter what you do you’ll never really change the sound or direction.

“It’s just us playing and enjoying ourselves, which is how it should be.”

AC/DC ticket stub for their concert at the Caird Hall in Dundee in 1978.
Tickets were priced from £1.50 to £2.50 and were available from the door. Image: Retro Dundee.

Were they looking forward to performing?

“I’ve been cooped up in the same motel in Australia for the last four months with the boys working on the album — so it’s really great to be back on the road again,” he said.

“We love playing live.

“We’re not a studio band — it’s more a case of let’s get up there and play.”

AC/DC enjoying a few drinks backstage at the Caird Hall in Dundee, 1978.
AC/DC enjoying a few drinks backstage at the Caird Hall in 1978. Image: DC Thomson.

The band arrived around noon for the soundcheck.

Scott was drinking throughout the afternoon before AC/DC appeared on stage around 9pm following a support set from Mott The Hoople spin-off band British Lions.

AC/DC gave the fans what they really wanted straight from Riff Raff where Angus Young commanded the audience’s attention with his lightning quick guitar licks.

Young spent the 90-minute show scampering all over the stage although he was now only wearing the shorts, socks and trainers from his trademark schoolboy uniform.

The pace of the sweat-soaked show was relentless.

AC/DC on stage at the Caird Hall, Dundee.
The AC/DC boys were on top form when they performed at the Caird Hall in Dundee. Image: Sam McMillan.

Young and Scott were stripped to the waist as AC/DC blasted through the songs that would become rock classics and staples of the band’s live show for decades to come.

Malcolm Young, bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd were superglue tight behind them on songs like Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be, Bad Boy Boogie and The Jack.

Whole Lotta Rosie, Let There Be Rock and Rocker were the perfect way to finish what was an experience that would never be forgotten for those who were present that night.

Sam documented famous AC/DC Dundee gig

Teenager Sam McMillan was lucky enough to capture the concert on film!

“I started getting into music when I was at school, speaking to the other boys about what they were into — ELP, prog-rock, that sort of thing,” said Sam.

“I was listening to a lot of music and thought I really should go and see a band.

“My first gig was Family in June 1972 and the guy fronting them was Roger Chapman.

“I was starting to get into photography by then — it’s still a major passion — and as I went to see more bands I got to know Jim Harris, who ran Larg’s music shop in Whitehall Street and brought a lot of bands to Dundee.

“We got on well and one day he said don’t bother buying tickets, just turn up and bring your camera — and I was allowed to just roam about and take pictures.”

Jim Harris and Bon Scott.
Bon Scott backstage with Jim Harris at the Caird Hall in 1978. Image: Sam McMillan.

The former Harris Academy pupil had the run of the place when AC/DC arrived.

He recalled: “It’s got to be one of the most stand-out experiences ever.

“They were starting to get a real name for themselves by ’78 and the Powerage Tour, and it was amazing — I’d never seen anything like it.

“The volume alone was incredible, especially if you were down by the bass bins, and Angus Young was pioneering the wireless guitar link so he’d disappear off stage — still playing — and then re-appear from a side door into the mass of fans on the shoulders of Bon, still playing.

“No one else could do that, not the way they did.

“Every now and then after a gig I’d manage to get backstage, you didn’t always get that, but AC/DC let me in.

“It was all pretty fantastic because the brothers were from Scotland originally and Bon was from Kirrie, as was my girlfriend at the time, Catherine.

“So we had things to talk about. I remember Bon asking whether you still got Forfar bridies. It was a great night, definitely a highlight.”

Sam later went to university in Dundee and then left the city, embarking and on a long and successful career with Hewlett Packard.

Sam McMillaan, who documented AC/DC's performance in Dundee.
Sam McMillan documented some of the biggest bands of the 1970s at the Caird Hall. Image: Supplied.

Alongside Sam at the gig was his pal Ross Niven who recalled: “Bon was a really nice bloke and talked about Kirriemuir and gave me a swig from his bottle of whisky!”

Photographer Gareth Jennings recalled walking into Caird Hall in 1978 and “seeing a sea of denim jackets and black AC/DC T-shirts”.

Gareth remembers the gig being packed, hot and sweaty and a brilliant atmosphere.

AC/DC were by all accounts at the peak of their powers so it is little wonder the May 29 1978 concert is widely regarded as one of the greatest in the history of the old venue.

So what happened to AC/DC after 1978?

AC/DC got even bigger 12 months later.

The band’s album Highway To Hell broke the US Top 100 chart in 1979, making AC/DC a major act almost overnight.

However, the stress of a heavy touring schedule took its toll.

Scott was in London in February 1980 working on the upcoming Back in Black album when he died after a night of wild partying.

He was replaced by Brian Johnson and AC/DC continued to enjoy success, especially upon the release of Back In Black, which debuted just five months after Scott’s death.

He has never been forgotten by the band’s massive worldwide following or Kirriemuir which has hosted a music festival to commemorate the town’s famous son since 2006.

The Bon Scott statue that stands at the bottom of Bellies Brae in Kirriemuir
The Bon Scott statue stands at the bottom of Bellies Brae in Kirriemuir. Image: DC Thomson.

A  life-sized bronze figure of the singer, on Bellies Brae, was unveiled in 2016, at the 10th anniversary of BonFest by former AC/DC bass player Mark Evans.

The statue depicts Scott, in sleeveless denim jacket and tight trousers, clutching a set of bagpipes – the instrument he played on the group’s song It’s a Long Way to the Top.

His songs will live on forever.