"The crowd just went off their brains. It was an amazing, fantastic first show": The story of AC/DC's live debut, told by those who were there

Chequers pictured in October 2021
Chequers in Sydney, pictured in October 2021 (Image credit: © 2024 Google)

In the early 70s, the Australian music scene was limping like a lame dingo. Slick pop groups peddling three-part harmonies clogged up the charts and the pub scene. But Glasgow-born, Sydney-raised guitarist Malcolm Young wasn’t going to let such trivialities stand in the way of his musical dreams. 

The stubborn 20-year-old enlisted vocalist Dave Evans, bassist Larry Van Kriedt, drummer Colin Burgess and his own 15-year-old brother Angus for a new band named after a label on a vacuum cleaner. On the last day of 1973, AC/DC made their live debut at Chequers, a dilapidated cabaret bar in Sydney, taking the very first step to superstardom.


Malcolm Young: I got together with a few guys interested in having a jam, and thought, “If I can knock a rock’n’roll tune out of them, we’ll get a few gigs and some extra bucks.” 

Angus Young: Malcolm had been playing on the club circuit, and he said the one thing that was missing was a good, one hundred per cent hard-rock band. 

Colin Burgess (drummer): I had been in a very successful Australian band in the sixties called The Masters Apprentices, but we broke up in 1972 so I was at a loose end. A chap called Alan Kissack, who was involved in putting bands together, called me up and told me that Malcolm Young wanted to form a band. 

Malcolm was the younger brother of George Young, who had been in The Easybeats, Australia’s most successful band of the 60s, so I said: “Sure, let’s have a go.” Even then, Malcolm was very ambitious. He was a hard businessman, wouldn’t take no for an answer. We formed the band with Malcolm, myself and Larry Van Kriedt, just a three-piece. Right from the start, it was quite heavy.

Larry Van Kriedt (bass): I was part of the circle of friends of both Mal and Angus. Our main interest and point in common was guitar playing and music. In 1973, I had recently bought a bass and they heard this and wanted me to jam. So I went, and kept going each night after that. We rehearsed a bunch of Mal’s tunes and a few covers. 

Colin Burgess: We rehearsed above an office building on the corner of Erskineville Road and Wilson Street in Newtown in Sydney. We used to do one Beatles track – Get Back. Threw it in just so we could say we did a Beatles track. 

Larry Van Kriedt: We had the same room every week on the first floor. Good rehearsals, bad rehearsals, creative moments, sometimes arguments and even fights. It was pretty much Malcolm’s vision and he was the driving force behind it. 

Colin Burgess: Dave Evans came along a little later, and then Angus.

Dave Evans (vocalist): I’d been with an Australian band called The Velvet Underground, which I must say was not the New York band of the same name. So I saw this ad in the Sydney Morning Herald, a band looking for a singer in the style of Free and the Rolling Stones, which I was, and when I rang up I found myself speaking to Malcolm Young. We’d never met but we did know of each other. He invited me over that afternoon for a jam, so I went along to this empty office block; it was being renovated. 

Angus wasn’t in the band yet, so I went in and introduced myself to Malcolm and Colin. It was hot, getting towards summer, and we just jammed on a bunch of songs we all knew. We only did about five or six songs, we were all smiling away, and Malcolm just looked at the other guys and said: “Well, I’m happy if you guys are.” Colin and Larry both went “Yep,” and I said: “Wow!” We shook hands and that was it. That night we all went out to celebrate that we had a band. 

About a week later, Malcolm informed us that his younger brother Angus had a band called Kentuckee, which was breaking up, so could Angus come and audition for us? By this point, we felt like we were a band, so we just said, “Sure.”

Colin Burgess: Actually, Malcolm was a very good lead guitarist, so it seemed strange for him to want to bring in another guitarist, like Angus. 

Malcolm Young: It was okay, but I felt it needed another instrument – a keyboard maybe, or another guitar. 

Angus Young: I was totally shocked when he asked me to play with his band. I hadn’t expected it and I was really frightened. 

Malcolm Young: Angus was the player, to be honest. He was always the showman of the two of us when we were kids. 

Angus Young: I walked through the door, and there was a drummer, and Malcolm goes, “All right, let’s start!” And I’m going, “Wait, isn’t somebody supposed to count us in?” He says, “What? This is a rock band. Go!” And so that was how it started. 

Dave Evans: At that point we became five rather than four. We’d been rehearsing for a couple of months when Malcolm told us Alan Kissack had got us our first gig, at Chequers night club. This was the number one club in Sydney. I’d played a lot of gigs but never Chequers, so that was great. 

Gene Pierson (entertainments manager, Chequers): Chequers, traditionally, had been a theatre-restaurant in the 60s where they’d had acts like Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick, and I was brought in at the end of that era. My job was to get in there and change the format, turn it into a rock’n’roll venue, but the old school was still in charge. 

The two guys who really convinced me to put the band on at Chequers were their first manager, Alan Kissack, and their roadie, Ray Arnold, both of whom are now dead. Alan was a humble little man with glasses, but he lived and breathed AC/DC. He was convinced they were going to be the biggest band in the world. He and Ray were great gentlemen, much too nice to be in the music industry. It was Alan’s perseverance that convinced me to give them a gig. 

Dave Evans: The gig was to be on New Year’s Eve, the prime time, and there was a lot of interest in the band because Colin Burgess was in it, and the two younger brothers of the famous George Young from The Easybeats. So there was a lot of anticipation, but we didn’t even have aname yet.

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Colin Burgess: I’d been around the business for years so I had lots of friends. A lot of people knew me, so they assumed the band would be good because they knew I wouldn’t have played with any old rubbish. 

Dave Evans: The only problem was that we were expected to do two sets, but we didn’t have enough songs. We had a couple of originals, but it was mostly Rolling Stones, Free, Eric Clapton, so to get enough songs, Malcolm said he’d start up a riff, I would announce a name for it, and then we’d make it up as we went along. That suited me fine, because when I was about eleven, me and my sister used to make up songs on the spot. We had a game called Hit Parade where we would just throw imaginary song titles at each other and then make them up. So I knew how to do that. Now, though, we had to come up with a name in a hurry. 

At the next rehearsal, Malcolm said that his sister had suggested AC/DC, and I really liked it because it was easy to remember and it gave us free advertising on every electrical appliance in the world. In those days we didn’t know it had a sexual connotation. I used to hang out with a few gay guys and I’d never heard them using that term. To us, it was just all about electric current. 

Paul Close (audience member): At the time of that gig, I was doing sound and staging for artists around the East Coast. I do recall there was quite a vibe building up before they even came in for a soundcheck on the day. Word had been spreading about them. Their manager had got them a Greyhound tour bus to travel in. The equipment, band and crew all travelled together in it. It was quite a sight to see this big, long bus pull into the rear lane behind Chequers to unload. 

Dave Evans: It had been very glamorous in the 50s and 60s but when we played there, it was past its heyday. It was a small venue with a little stage, no dressing room. You got dressed either in the kitchen, or in a little alcove just off the side of the stage. The decor was still very 50s. It had the tables with the white tablecloths, and a dancefloor, and half-moon booths where you could sit. You could tell that it must once have been really cool, and it was still the place to be. 

Larry Van Kriedt: It was a late-starting gig. They would usually have three bands on one night. We were the first band to play when we played there. I didn’t have a bass amp and we would ask one of the other bands if we could use theirs. 

Paul Close: The buzz in the air that night was palpable – a full house and the bar was doing a good trade as the industry people all came in to see this new band.

Gene Pierson: I’ll never forget, the first song they did was Baby Please Don’t Go, which had been a hit for Van Morrison’s first band, Them. When I stood out the front, it was the first time I’d ever felt the bass and the drums vibrating my chest. They were deeper and louder than anything else I had ever heard. 

Colin Burgess: No one was dancing at the start. Then my brother, Paul, who used to drive us around, he was the first one that got up and started to dance. After that everyone else started and from there I knew the band was going to be a success, no doubt about it. 

Angus Young: We had to get up and blast away. From the moment ‘Go!’ it went great. Everyone thought we were a pack of loonies. You know … ‘“Who’s been feeding them kids bananas?” 

Dave Evans: Angus didn’t have his schoolboy uniform at that stage. We were just in jeans and shirts and stuff. What we did have was absolute energy and a belief in ourselves. Even though we were very young, we were all already professionals. Our attitude was that we were going to be the best band in the world. 

Paul Close: They grabbed people by the throat with the high-level energy that has since become their trademark. They were a very tight band that rocked hard, and certainly shook the bubblegum pop people out of their placid little existence. 

Dave Evans: Our two sets that night were pretty much a mixture of songs we knew plus a couple of originals, including The Old Bay Road, written by Malcolm Young and Midnight Rockin’, and the songs we were just making up. No one knew the difference. 

Gene Pierson: Peter Casey, the club manager, was an old Greek gentleman who had been running the club in the days of its cabaret-style acts. He pulled the plugs out halfway through a track because he just thought they were too loud. They would get the power back on and twenty minutes later Casey would pull it out again. 

Dave Evans: I counted down the New Year for the crowd. Everyone was in a great mood because it was New Year’s Eve and the crowd just went off their brains. It was an amazing, fantastic first show, which I will never forget. How could I? It was incredible. 

Angus Young: That gig was really wild. It’s wild on New Year’s Eve anyway but putting what we were doing on top of all the seasonal stuff just made it wilder. 

Gene Pierson: After that show, I was able to get them gigs at another important venue, Bondi Lifesavers, and more gigs at Chequers and elsewhere. They developed a big following very quickly. Once Angus got his little school uniform, he was like a man in a trance, and he would climb up on the bars, on the tables, and keep playing the whole time. He was unbelievable. They were like nothing anybody had seen before

Johnny Black

Johnny is a music journalist, author and archivist of forty years experience. In the UK alone, he has written for Smash Hits, Q, Mojo, The Sunday Times, Radio Times, Classic Rock, HiFi News and more. His website Musicdayz is the world’s largest archive of fully searchable chronologically-organised rock music facts, often enhanced by features about those facts. He has interviewed three of the four Beatles, all of Abba and been nursed through a bad attack of food poisoning on a tour bus in South America by Robert Smith of The Cure.