[Darcy and Gabby at home in Warburton, Victoria…]
Our last port of call in Victoria was Warburton, out in the Yarra Valley. Katie and I hired a car. We hacked our way through a lot of seriously un-picturesque suburbs before bursting into the lush valley. It was a great relief after the heat and the endless din of the Melbourne Grand Prix to feel a light breeze, to hear cicadas in the trees.
But we didn’t really hear any cicadas til after we arrived. For the drive, I’d brought a few AC/DC albums to get us in the mood. I put on “Let There Be Rock” and we drummed on the dashboard (Katie) and the steering wheel (me) all the way to Warburton. We were going to meet a real rock-n-roll roadie…
We pulled in off the main road and I parked the car up a steep incline. The house was wide and flat and comfy, located at the front of a huge green paddock.
Gabby greeted us at the screen door. “Well, look at you!” she said with a grin. Inside, Darcy fixed us glasses of cold water and apologised for the raucus din created by his two enormous Rottweilers. Thankfully, they were locked outside for the moment.
Gabby and Darcy met Bon Scott when they were very young. Darcy was a roadie with the Valentines in the late 1960s, and Gabby was a fan of the band. Darcy explained to us that the Valentines were a strange hybrid at that time. They straddled the bubblegum pop market (catering to teeny boppers – see for example this hilarious clip) and the heavier rock and roll scene. Many nights, they would play three or four gigs in a row, shifting from town hall to pub to nightclub, shedding their cheesy matching outfits for jeans and t-shirts, and getting more and more rowdy as the night wore on.
For Darcy, this sure beat the nine to five life. But it also meant gruelling physical labour – rapidly shifting a truckload of gear in and out of venues – amps, drums, boxes filled with heavy cables. He’s not a huge guy, by any measure, but he was determined not to let it stop him being a great roadie.
Gabby had prepared lunch for us: home made chicken pies, tuna salad, bread rolls. We sat at the table and she asked us to explain what we were doing with the Bon Scott Project. Katie spoke about her quest to gather Bon’s letters, so that his story might be told from his own point of view. I described my process of blogging, starting from a position of almost no knowledge at all, and letting the fans be my teachers.
Gabby said seeing pictures of fans on my blog had really opened her eyes. And last month in Fremantle, where she and Darcy were guests of honour at the statue unveiling concert, the fans had blown her away. She couldn’t believe it – so many people’s lives had been touched by Bon. So many Bon designs had been painfully tattooed on biceps, so many young people were still discovering his music. Her old friend was now popular beyond belief.
[Glenn and his amazing back tatts. Thanks to the 3 Boys Fae Fife for the photo…]
“The turning point for me,” she said, “was this guy in the VIP area at the concert. He had the whole rear end cut out of his T-shirt, so that he could show off this huge colourful AC/DC canvas, which was his back.” (She had obviously seen Glenn (above), who I had also met down at the cemetery). “At that moment something inside me switched, and I said to Darce – It’s time we started looking after our friend’s memory.”
Which is why, she said, she and Darcy are more than willing to help us out with our projects.
Our hosts told us a few more stories about their lives with Bon.
Apparently, prior to Darcy, The Valentine’s roadie was an “angry toughy”. Everyone was scared of this guy, band and fans alike. They wanted to get rid of him, but no-one was game to actually do it. They decided to enlist Darcy as their new roadie – but only if he would successfully carry out his first duty – informing the incumbent monster his services were no longer required. So one night, at the start of a gig, Darcy swallowed his fear, stepped up and told the guy the honest truth. He was fired. The roadie just dropped what he was doing and stalked off. And that’s how Darcy found himself gainfully employed alongside Bon Scott.
Gabby came into contact with The Valentines during a notorious period when Darcy and the band were sharing a house together at Toorak Road, South Yarra. The Valentines were such teen heartthrobs that girls would line the hallways from the early morning to get autographs, or hang out with the band. Gabby used to skip school to spend time at the flat. The “scene” was pretty bacchanalian. Not all these girls were here to enjoy a nice cup of tea, if you know what I mean. But for some reason, Bon and the other members of The Valentines took an older-brother approach to the lass, making sure no harm came her way. Such is the double-edged chivalry of rock and rollers, eh? Gabby was only 14.
In fact, Gabby’s mum actually trusted the boys in the band. She used to drop her daughter off there, figuring it was a better option than some other unsavoury places she could be hanging out! After a while, Darcy took a shine to the young Gabby. But since she was under the wing of the band, protocol dictated that he should ask permission first. They consented, and the couple has been together ever since.
From that day on, it was Darcy’s job to look out for Gabby’s welfare. At one rather riotous “fanclub picnic” attended by many young female Valentines enthusiasts, some “adult-themed” action was going on in the back of the picnic bus. It was cordially requested that Darcy remove Gabby from the debauchery, to shield her from moral corruption. So he took her up to the front of the bus.
[Vince Lovegrove and Bon Scott. Butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths, right?!]
It wasn’t until Bon joined AC/DC that Darcy got the chance to work with his old mate again. But Darcy’s career as AC/DC’s roadie didn’t last long. In 1975, the band went to London to try and crack the English market. Bon begged Darcy to accompany them, but he declined. It wasn’t easy, but had made his decision. Gabby had just given birth to their daughter, Rebecca, and his priority lay with his new family. Darcy told us that when he was growing up, his own family life was less than perfect, and he had vowed to make a more stable home for his own children. So he stayed behind.
Which brings us to The Letter. James and Mary, who we had just visited in Melbourne, had dozens of letters to show us. Gabby and Darcy had just one. In principle, they said, they were happy to lend it to Katie for the exhibition, if she thought it could be of any use.
Katie loved it. And you will too, when you finally see it. Unfortunately, I can’t release the letter yet – you’ll just have to come to Fremantle in May if you want check it out! And, if you’re lucky, perhaps, once the exhibition has been launched, Gabby and Darcy will let me put the letter up online, for all you international fans…
However, to get you in the mood, here are a few clues:
*The letter was written from London.
*It’s actually on a card. The front of the card has an illustration of a young boy feeding thistles to a donkey. The boy has an open book on his lap, and a tabby cat under his right arm. Two geese are looking on, as well as a frog, an owl, a mouse, a dog, a crow, and a cow. This very un-rock-n-roll illustration is by Walter Crane.
*At the moment of writing, Bon had just met “Silver”, a woman from Adelaide who was to became his “steady” girlfriend during the late 1970s.
*AC/DC had recently returned from a two week tour to Sweden, where Bon’s reseach had sadly revealed that the local women were not nearly as fun-loving as he had been led to believe:
THAT SHIT ABOUT THEM BEING PROMISCUOUS IS A LOAD OF SHIT! I HAD TO PULL MYSELF TWICE!
*It wasn’t only Gabby and Darcy who were staying at home with the kids. Vince Lovegrove, who had partied alongside Bon in The Valentines had also recently become a father. This gave Bon the opportunity to make a some jokes about parenthood:
DID YOU KNOW THAT LOVEGROVE HAD A DAUGHTER…FUCK CAN YOU IMMAGINE IT. I SAW THE CUNT WASHING NAPPIES ONE MORNING AND COULDN’T BELIEVE IT. I SUPPOSE DARCE IS THE NAPPY WASHER HUH GAB.
This quip gave Gabby and Darcy a moment of reflection. Bon was making lighthearted gags about his friends starting families. But according to them, he secretly yearned for a more settled life. “He was tired, I reckon,” said Darcy. “By the end of the ’70s he was a bit of a wreck. He joked about us becoming mums and dads but whenever he visited, he loved how homely our place was. Towards the end, he was becoming a superstar, touring the world, but essentially he was like a homeless man.”
Bon’s trademark, when he called on Darcy and Gabby, was never to knock on the door. Instead he’d climb through their bedroom window. “Perhaps it was his way of reminding us about how boring we’d both become!” Gabby laughed.
But then Darcy’s tone became a bit darker. “I felt terrible about what happened to Bon later. I mean, I had made my mind up to stay behind with Gabby and the kids. I don’t regret that at all. But I know, I just know that if I had been there with him in London in 1980, he wouldn’t have died like that. I’ve never been able to shake that thought.”
[Newspaper clipping from February 1980, with dedication from Gabby, Darcy and their kids about half way down…]
The trip to Fremantle had given Darcy and Gabby the opportunity, for the first time in ages, to reunite with Vince, the rest of the Valentines, and a small network of close friends that knew Bon before he joined AC/DC. All of them shared the concern that since his death, Bon’s best interests have not been properly taken care of. Now, better late than never I guess, they want to change that. Gabby said this close-knit group is now ready to become unofficial custodians of Bon’s true story.
We shifted to the lounge, and Darcy showed us some memorabilia from his roadie days. He had some beautiful silkscreened posters advertising gigs in the early 70s. Many of these were designed and printed by a guy called Ian McCausland, whose big claim to fame was for inventing the Rolling Stones’ infamous Lips-n-Tongue logo. There was also a set of shelves which was, Darcy told us, rapidly becoming a shrine to his deceased Aussie rocker pals. He was particularly sad about the recent death of Lobby Loyde, who played with a band called The Coloured Balls. Lobby is the under-acknowledged pioneer of Aussie guitar rock, and was Darcy’s dear friend.
“And what’s this?” I asked, pointing to a small pewter mug. “Ah, said Darcy – this was given to me by two of The Valentines’ biggest fans!” The mug reads:
* DARCY *
BEST ROADIE EVER
HILDA & MERCY
The afternoon light was getting gentler. My brain was at capacity. Here in the blog, I’ve only been able to recall a fraction of the stories that Gabby and Darcy told us that day. And sure, anecdotes are important. Collected together (alongside snippets from other websites, Clinton’s book, and countless other sources) these tales build towards a sort of unofficial oral history. They speak not only about the life of one famous fellow, but also of a whole chunk of local culture from the 1970s.
But it’s more than just the stories themselves. Telling us about Bon, and about their own adventures, Gabby and Darcy came to life. They would cut in on each other’s sentences, add amusing long-forgotten footnotes, or ask each other for clarification of facts only vaguely remembered. Probably, I figured, these stories don’t get an airing very often any more.
I don’t want to overplay our role as listeners. It was just chance, really, that brought us to Warburton. But when you have two wide eyed thirty-somethings in your living room, with no hurry to get anywhere else, lapping up every word you say, something special can happen. The past can be conjured up. And I don’t think it’s just self-indulgent nostalgia. For Darcy and Gabby, memories of the 1970s are critically filtered, appraised and weighed up against what happened later. When you’ve lost a friend as tragically as they lost Bon, there are a lot of “what ifs?” to be considered.
Katie and I loaded up the car and started the drive back to the city. I had more CDs we could put on, but for some reason, I never pressed “play”. We didn’t listen to AC/DC, we didn’t listen to anything: just our own thoughts bouncing around, and the sounds of the road.