“LOOK at this,” says Hynsey, turning to show the AC/DC logo inked into his right bicep. “My first tattoo, it was done on Wednesday. See the pain of getting that done? It was no problem. You know why? Because Bon Scott was there with me.”
Hynsey’s pal Joe nods at the wisdom of this. “Bon Scott died the year before I was born but still he’s my hero. I love AC/DC. He’s a legend.”
Joe Brennan, 21, and Chris Hynes, 26, are plasterers from Airdrie who, along with Joe’s wee brother Dan (“the best bass player in Scotland,” he says unblushingly), have driven to Kirriemuir for that town’s annual celebration of its rock star son. It’s 11am on a showery Saturday and they are standing in the town square, pledging their allegiance to Scott, who died from alcohol poisoning in 1980 at the age of 33.
“I’m trying to start an AC/DC tribute band,” says Joe, who plays guitar. “I’ve got a few names floating about but I’ve no decided on wan yet. Kicked In The Balls maybe. Or Hell’s Balls.”
“I believe I’m on the highway to hell,” says Hynsey, who has taken a drink.
The Angus town is rightly famous for its excellent gingerbread and association with the writer JM Barrie. But the “wee red toon” is also the birthplace of Bon Scott, the late vocalist with AC/DC, a band with distinct Peter Pan tendencies. Now in their 50s and with their lead guitarist still wearing school uniform, the surviving members continue to tour the world’s enormodomes with songs about sex, excess and the righteous power of rock. They play Hamden Park at the end of June.
This is the fourth time that Kirriemuir has hosted a tribute, and this year’s is known as “Rock On Bon!” Hundreds of AC/DC fans have descended on the town. The manager of the Thrums Hotel says he could have filled the rooms two or three times over, and there are a number of hardy rockers camping in the fields round the town. Local bands are playing all day in pubs, but the big draw is a performance at the town hall by High Voltage, an AC/DC tribute act from the badlands of East Anglia.
The loudest noise in town is usually the chiming of the Old Parish Church, but today that’s drowned out by Harley Davidson engines. In the Gateway To The Glens museum, where they have a Bon Scott display, Howard Morley tells me that he and his wife Jackie have driven up from Cambridge as a treat for his 59th birthday. “AC/DC is his life,” she says. “He won’t buy any records with the new singer.”
It doesn’t take long to see Bon Scott’s Kirriemuir. Born in 1946, he lived in the town until he was six when the family emigrated to Australia. There are plans to name a street in his honour and some local fans would like to see a life-size statue erected in town, but there are few traces of his life here.
His primary school has been demolished and the exact location of his family home on Elders Close is a local secret as the family who live there have no desire to see hyperventilating AC/DC fans peering through their windows. It is possible, however, to visit the former premises of the bakery run by the Scott family. On Bank Street, this is now Fingerprints, a shop selling cosy fleeces, embroidered cardigans and T-shirts emblazoned with a picture of Bon Scott holding a pint.
Down the hill from Bon Scott’s home, the Star Rock Shop has been selling traditional sweets since 1833. There’s a very good chance Scott came in here as a child. Now a local artist Eddie Summerton plans to make a sculpture of the singer using the shop’s 120-year-old recipe for rock. He will make a cast and a woman called Rosie will supply the fine detail by licking the sculpture into shape with her tongue, the fine detail being “the tight trousers with one bulging testicle on either side of the seam”.
Art projects aside, Kirriemuir does not appear to have seized the commercial potential of its connection to one of the world’s biggest bands. There are no Back In Black pudding suppers on sale in the chippie, and the launderette has not chosen to rebrand itself Dirty Duds Done Dirt Cheap. Even the florist makes little of the fact that it sells a whole lotta roses.
For all that, though, Bon Scott does feel present in Kirriemuir. Jason Morris and Jamie Sherry, both 10, are walking up Roods, one of the town’s main streets. Jason is carrying Jamie’s guitar. “I know AC/DC!” says Jamie. “I can play a lot of Back In Black, but not the solo. I can play the intro to Highway To Hell and the intro to Thunderstruck.”
Jason is more succinct: “I like rock.”
Grahame Bruce, 35, known as Moose, is the local gravedigger and sings in a band, MDMB, that plays a few AC/DC covers. He says that growing up here you can’t fail to hear about the band, though not everyone quite believes the local connection. “A guy that I went to school with was a big fan. He used to pedal mince round town for the butcher and one day delivered sausages to Bon Scott’s granny. He happened to have an AC/DC T-shirt on, and of course she said, ‘My grandson started that band.’ He was gobsmacked and after that he thought she was a magical creature.”
Walking near JM Barrie’s former home, Les Robertson, 73, is wearing a bowling club jacket and tie, and seems surprised to be asked about the singer. “Bon Scott? Aye, I kent him when he was a young lad. I played in the pipe band with his faither, Chick.”
Les was a good bit younger than Chick, but they were both drummers and so they got on fine. Young Bon, or Ronald, as he still was in those days, loved the drums too. When the pipe band marched through the town on a Saturday night, he’d bash along on a biscuit tin. I ask Les what he thinks of Scott’s achievement. After all, this was a man who drank himself to death, and who celebrated his 21st dose of gonorrhea like most of us celebrate our 21st birthday. Should Kirriemuir really be applauding a man who so often had the clap?
“Aye,” says Les. “He was a bit silly at the end right enough. But he’s still a Kirrie boy for all that.”