Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Rock 'n' Roll Replacement Bus Service

The one-armed scouser in the AC/DC T-shirt is waving a crumpled can of Stella at us all: "Hoosh going to get me a ticket for asheedeeshee? Come on you cunts!"

Everyone on the tube - many of whom are doing their best to hide their own AC/DC clothing -busy themselves with copies of London Lite. The man starts singing along to whatever is playing on the headphones under his enormous furry hat: "We'll bring the house down!" He leans conspiratorially into the man sitting next to him, "Will you get me a ticket for asheedeeshee? Come on, you've got some influenshe.. I can tell.... (singing) We'll bring the house down. What stop is acdc? Where am I am getting off?"

The man, rictus grin forming, tells him

"You'll get me a ticket, right? OK?"
"Sorry, no, I'm not getting off there.."
"No! You rotter... (to the rest of the carriage) Whose gonna get me a ticket? Come on you cunts! You rotters! Goodbye to jane!"
He turns to the man with the guitar case standing next to him, "You're a musician... you'll get me in. Come on, I need to rock!"
He leans into the man next to him again
"Goodbye to jane! Slade... Noddy Holder... he nailed them. Proper singer... Donington 1981... nailed them. Not like Asheedc. Acdc are shite! Veins on his neck wherever he shings.... Noddy nailed them. (To the rest of the carriage) Whose going to give me 50p? I've got five pounds, If someone gives me 50p I can get in ... They know me at Wembley! They know me at Hammersmith! (to his now visibly sweating neighbour again) Where are asheedeeshee playing again?"

I get off at North Greenwich and start making my way along with thousands of others to the O2. I'm meeting some friends here - we've been invited to see AC/DC by a mate at Sony and there appears to be some sort of luxury meat dinner thrown in too. I eventually find the restaurant, Gaucho, inside the vast dome and am guided - and glided - by super efficient, super polite staff to a private room where Sony guests are being given champagne and scallops. I'm still thinking of the one armed AC/DC fan who needed to rock. He wouldn't have fitted in amongst the surf and turfers here but he definitely deserved to see the band more than a lot of the porcine businessmen who seem to using tonight as an excuse for entertaining their clients.

It makes sense, I suppose. Back in 1981 when our drunk friend saw the band at Castle Donington Monsters Of Rock he was probably surrounded by a lot of beery 16 year olds who went on to do very well in business. Now those same boys - if they still have jobs - are being reminded of their youth in corporate boxes by cunning companies treating them to a jolly in order to solicit more orders.

Meanwhile in the private room everyone is talking about the record business. I'm talking to my old friend Emma about the lifetime we've known each other. Like me, she used to work at Warners, now, like me, she's got kids and worries about the financial crisis and the environment. Unlike me she still works in the music industry. She thinks the record business will survive but after having seen The Age Of Stupid, she's not so sure about the environment. Apparently at a screening of the movie hosted by Ken Livingston, the ex mayor told the audience in his introduction that the US government have just completed work on a bunker for 2 million people in New York as they are preparing for the Gulf Stream to do its worst to Manhattan in a Katrina style.

Whilst this is uniquely ominous and as Emma said, more disturbing to learn than anything in the film itself, it is somehow hard to balance a desire to do less to upset the environment with an interest or career in rock. Emma's family decided not to have a holiday in California the very next day which is admirable but she is behind the scenes in the music business - what about Angus Young and co and all their pyrotechnics? Would AC/DC mean as much if they went green? I say this because I was invited to do another Radio 4 column last week about Neil Young's Fork In The Road - a concept album about his Lincvolt project where he is converting his old Lincoln Continental to make it environmentally friendly. This is a worthy concept and coming from a fella who is famous for having burned rubber from Canada to California in a hearse called Mort, almost poetic. But is it rock? The album is kind of dull - the tunes aren't up to much and lyrically, well it's just too didactic. My piece is actually about the cars in pop music and how ultimately, how every car themed song is about shagging. Although the BBC wouldn't let me use that word, it's too rude apparently - the piece is going out this week so tune in weeknights at 7.15 BBC Radio 4, pop pickers!

And talking of cars, shagging, and burning through the environment like it's a king size Rizla, here we are watching the explosions and screeches of Angus and co hitting the stage. Alongside various lucky invitees in our corporate box - including the head of Domino Records which is both confusing and refreshing - we watch the band who look no different from how they must have looked to our one-armed friend in 1981: Brian Johnson in cloth cap stalking the stage, punching the air, Angus Young in the schoolboy outfit, natch. But the massive screens either side of the stage act like enormous Dorian Grey style paintings freed from the loft: Johnson looks every bit in his sixties, the veins are popping on his neck with every vocal effort, Angus Young is small and sprightly but underneath that cap - which after four songs is discarded along with all of his clothes bar the shorts and shoes - he is a wispy haired secondary school teacher; I imagine him covered in chalk dust, talking about Brazilian coffee production - oh no! Double geography with Mr Young!

But he knows how old he is. There is no Mick Jagger 'laughter lines' self delusion with Angus. And that is ultimately why despite seemingly only having one idea (a riff and some lyrics about naughty women) AC/DC manage to be such fun - they don't talk themselves too seriously. As an giant inflatable Rosie looms over the reproduction of a crashed train and Brian Johnson sings Whole Lotta Rosie, I lean over and say to my mate from Sony, "Is this where pop music all ends?" "No!" he replies completely in earnest, "This is where it begins!" And he's right, this is no different from people going to see old bluesmen in the sixties and seventies - these guys have seen it all and are still playing 12 bar blues - admittedly while dressed a schoolboy. And that's why they can get away with calling their 175th single (who's counting?) Rock 'n' Roll Train. Anyone else would get laughed out of the playlist meeting, AC/DC get played by Zane Lowe alongside Ladyhawke and The Killers.

Apparently before Sony started the campaign for the album Black Ice last year, they organised a special show for all the territories. Key execs were flown to New York then given a ticket to travel on the 'Rock 'n' Roll Train' to a venue in Philadelphia. Except when the train arrived at Philly, it transpired that the venue was still 25 minutes away from the station. So minibuses had to be organised to cover the last leg - a rock 'n' roll replacement bus service if you will. One senses that despite it being off message, Angus would have found this absolutely in keeping with the band's bubble bursting humour. After all this is a man 7 years shy of being 60 who does a mock striptease and shows the audience his boxer shorts at the end of it - AC on one cheek, DC on the other. I hope our drunk friend was there to see that.


  1. I was invited to see Rod a few years ago and escaped as people started trying to line us up for a Queen Elizabeth style meet and greet, clutching my signed Rod football and memories of the Faces and a promise to myself never to do another corporate shed rock gig. Nice piece xx

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