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  • Writer's pictureMark Howitt

Songs in the Key of My Life: 9

It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'N' Roll), AC/DC (1975)

July 2023.

I was on my way to the Grange cricket ground in Edinburgh’s Stockbridge to watch Scotland take on Jersey in a T20 World Cup qualifier. With time to kill, I’d bought a book in the nearby Oxfam bookshop - Howard Jacobsen’s 1983 debut Coming from Behind - and was settling down with a pint to start reading it in the St Bernard’s Bar. Early Friday afternoon, the summer sun had brought people out and the bar was buzzing, with an eclectic mix of music being played at volume on the record deck.

A group of three, a family, the daughter in her mid-twenties I guessed, came in shortly after and, with the raising of eyebrows and hand signals only used in pubs, it was agreed that I would accommodate them at my table. Once they’d got themselves drinks - pint of Guinness for him, glass of champagne for his wife, a lethal cocktail for the daughter - we fell into conversation.

From Melbourne, this was their first day of a two week holiday. After I had convinced them that both Scotland and Jersey really did field senior cricket teams, after I had explained the constitutional status of the Channel Island Crown Dependencies, I asked them what had brought them to Scotland. It wasn’t the usual tartan tour stuff, the woman wanted to go to Glasgow’s Òran Mór to catch one of their Play, a Pie and a Pint short theatre productions, the daughter wanted to eat Scottish oysters (I pointed them in the direction of the Cafe Royal) and her father simply said he’d come to Scotland “for the music”.

Scottish music can mean so many things - bagpipes, the fiddle, marching bands, the clarsach, ceilidhs - but more for my own amusement than anything else I said “Like AC/DC?” to which my new Australian friend smiled and said “yes”. He’d travelled 10,000 miles to pay homage to the Scottish roots of an Australian rock band. Glasgow-born brothers Angus and Malcolm Young founded AC/DC in the early 1970s with vocalist Bon Scott, who grew up in Kirriemuir, joining the band shortly after. As children, all three had emigrated to Australia with their families on the so called “ten-pound-pom-ticket”. None of them forgot their Scottish roots, Ronald acquiring his nickname Bon as a short form of Bonnie Scotland.

Famously - possibly uniquely in hard rock music - Bon Scott plays bagpipes on It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll). It was his signature song. Until today I’d never seen the video, presumably filmed in downtown Sydney sometime late 1975. Clearly having a ball, he and Angus Young have a bagpipe / guitar call and response - you can't get more Scottish than that.

Getting old, getting gray

Getting ripped off, underpaid

Getting sold, second-hand

That's how it goes, playing in a band

It's a long way to the top, if you want to rock 'n' roll

Of course, poor Bon didn’t get old, didn’t get gray. Probably did get ripped off and underpaid, mind. But fuck, what a life.

It was closer that it need have been, but Scotland saw off Jersey by 14 runs that afternoon.

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