Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book review: ‘Live Wire’ – Mary Renshaw, John D’Arcy and Gabby D’Arcy (2015)

Bon Scott live wire

YOU could be forgiven for thinking the story of AC/DC and Bon Scott has been pretty well covered in print, and any further books could be deemed unnecessary.

He may have been arguably the greatest Australian rock singer and frontman of all time, but he died 35 years ago, and his story’s been told, right? Wrong.

Scott’s life as the frontman of AC/DC is indeed well documented, but less well-known is the ‘long way to the top’ he travelled to get to the point of global success, before tragically dying in his sleep after a heavy alcohol binge. Scott earned his keep in bands very different to AC/DC before hitting the big time; most prominently bubblegum pop outfit The Valentines in the late sixties, and prog-rockers Fraternity in the early seventies. Ex-wife Irene Thornton’s book, My Bon Scott, released last year, covers the Fraternity era in wonderful detail, so it’s fitting that this title reads almost like a companion piece to that publication, while covering Scott’s earlier Valentines-era life with an affectionate and nostalgic approach.

The authors are well-placed to be authorities on this particular period of Scott’s life. John D’Arcy is a legendary Australian roadie, who fondly remembers the days of ‘one band, one van, one roadie’ when he worked for the Valentines and shared in all their excesses and squalor living in grotty Melbourne flats in the late sixties. Gabby D’Arcy was a fan of the Valentines from day one, and hung with the band as their career progressed, becoming a long-term friend of Scott’s, and Mary Renshaw was a long-term friend (and sometime mistress) from the Valentines days to his death.

So, is there a lot to tell about a band that is little more than a footnote in the career of a great rock singer? The answer is yes, as the man born Ronald Belford Scott packed several lifetime’s worth of debauchery into his short time on earth. Reading like a personal memoir, Live Wire recounts not only tales of drug busts, groupies, life on the road, fast-living rock ‘n’ rollers, and an Australian music scene gone forever, but the humour and good-natured outlook of a person known as one of the wildest men of rock. Through a series of funny and personal recollections, we see the man who never forgot to write letters to his old friends, always came home to family no matter how long he had been overseas, and ultimately, shuffled off this mortal coil aged only 33. Live Wire is a fitting tribute to an Australian legend.

For Scenestr

Book Review: ‘Seasons of War’ – Christopher Lee (2015)

seasons of war

THE Battle of Gallipoli may be one of the most widely-covered in Australian military history, but now and then something new comes along that provides a fresh take on the campaign that tragically and needlessly took so many young lives a hundred years ago.

Former journalist and foreign correspondent Christopher Lee – author of Bush Week and Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War – has said that his hope for his latest work of fiction is that people will read it and be moved by the plight of young men who are sent into the awful chaos of war, and this aim is an unavoidable consequence of reading this excellent piece of work.

The story follows Michael, his brother Dan and his mates as they make the trip via Egypt to the slopes of Gallipoli and their collective fate. In straightforward and detailed fashion, the reader is introduced to the seemingly endless list of deprivations and pain the soldiers faced for months on end. Unlike other similar works, however, Seasons of War doesn’t seek to romanticise the slaughter; more speak on behalf of the people who took part.

The brutal but masterful language shoots straight to the heart as early as page one.

“I am sitting here beside Dan in the dark… Beside Dan is Knobby. Beside Knobby is Mack… In one hour Knobby will be dead and in pieces.”

A few pages later and reality is setting in for the soldiers.

“Two hours ago we were different. The scarring begins.”

The story follows Michael and Dan as they manage to survive through the seasons, with meticulous detail to the everyday trials facing a frontline soldier; from disease, dead bodies and fraternising with the enemy. Ultimately it’s a story that goes nowhere, because there’s nowhere to go in a battle so pointless. Seasons of War only serves to speak for the soldiers and the suffering they endured, and the utter waste of it all. The story of an ordinary bunch of men thrown into an extraordinary situation is told with respect and honesty, and nothing is held back, so the suffering is laid bare for the reader in all its horrific detail. It’s a stark warning for all future generations to never forget the horrific consequences of war.

Lee – through the words of Michael – even offers ideas about how the battle fits into a national identity:

“Australia came out of Gallipoli and decided we are different now. We are better because we were called up to the first XI and gave it a good shot. That’s all.”

And

“Australia is a little country on a big stretch of land. No-one knows what Australia is. They think they do but they don’t.”

A fittingly devastating read for a truly devastating battle.

Seasons of War is available now.

For The AU Review

Book review: ‘My Bon Scott’ – Irene Thornton with Simone Ubaldi (2014)

bon scott

Most biographies or memoirs of great rock ‘n’ rollers take the sensational approach – get to the dirty stuff and get to it fast. After all, why do rock fans worship these guys after all? Besides the music, it’s sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll that people want. Mostly sex and drugs, if Mötley Crüe’s landmark rock bio The Dirt is anything to go by.

Perhaps this is what makes this new book about AC/DC’s Bon Scott so interesting. It’s not a tell-all tale of heroin and orgies (although there are hints of both at various points), but it relates the story of the Scottish-Australian singer’s life from his wife’s point of view, just before, during and just after he hit the big time.

The result is perhaps the truest written record of the ‘real’ Bon Scott in all his complex glory, told through the affectionate and highly personal memories of a young woman living in a man’s world; someone who loved and stuck by her guy when she had every reason to turn her back on him. The inclusion of 15 never-before-published letters only serves to make this even more of a personal insight into the head of arguably Australia’s greatest ever vocalist.

In 1974, Australian rock music was in a fairly grim spot. Skyhooks (or ‘Cunthooks’, as Scott referred to them in a letter to Thornton) dominated the charts and Bon Scott was a washed-up singer pushing 30 who had failed with his two chances at stardom with the Valentines and Fraternity. It took the Young brothers and Scott to make AC/DC kick it into life with their high-octane, fuel-injected brand of rock ‘n’ roll that stole much from Chuck Berry yet still sounded fresh.

That much everybody knows, but it’s Scott’s life just before his big break which is much more fascinating, and it’s all here.

Thornton enters the scene when Scott is plying his trade in the pubs and clubs of Adelaide with prog-rockers Fraternity, earning next to no money and spending all his spare time partying in the Adelaide hills. A quick marriage later and the two head off to London with the band in an attempt to make it big, but the strain of living in a communal house takes its toll and the band and relationship fall apart. Throughout this time Thornton paints Scott as, perhaps unsurprisingly, selfish and chauvinistic, although there’s never any malice or bitterness in her words. In fact, it seems she could have said a lot more.

It’s at this point Scott joins AC/DC and never looks back, and despite a string of obvious affairs and general bad-boy behaviour, he still sees Thornton as his wife and keeps in regular contact via the letters that make this book better than your average rock biography.

“Not bad for a 29 year-old, 3rd time round has been,” he writes in one, describing record sales of the High Voltage album.

In some ways the story of the start of Scott’s success with AC/DC is hinted at being the beginning of the end of the true period of happiness in his life, although that, of course, is probably truer of Thornton. As she grows tired of his constant boasting about sexual and business conquests and moves on with her life, he catches her off guard with a few lines that don’t sound like the normal Scott cockiness.

“I just wanna be famous I guess. Just so when people talk about ya it’s good things they say. That’s all I want. But right now I’m just lonely.”

This isn’t high literature, but then Scott’s lyrics never were either. It’s simply an affectionate and fascinating look at the makings of an Australian legend, told from a never-before-heard point of view.

MY BON SCOTT BY IRENE THORNTON WITH SIMONE UBALDI IS OUT NOW.

For the AU Review