How a huge onstage brawl with Deep Purple proved the making of AC/DC

Malcolm Young, Phil Rudd, Angus Young, Cliff Williams and Bon Scott of Australian rock band AC/DC pose in Camden, London in August 1979 / Photo of Jon LORD and Tommy BOLIN and Ian PAICE and Glenn HUGHES and DEEP PURPLE and David COVERDALE; L-R (back): David Coverdale, Jon Lord, Tommy Bolin, (front): Ian Paice, Glenn Hughes - posed, studio, group shot
(Image credit: Fin Costello / Getty Images)

In 1975, AC/DC were still waiting for a breakthrough. They’d found their singer in Bon Scott a few months previously, but manager Michael Browning thought they needed another injection of fresh impetus. It was his decision to relocate the band from Sydney to Melbourne, a few hundred miles south. It was a sink or swim situation: a tough band now in the middle of a tough city with its own clique of local, hard-nosed groups.

The first test came when Browning booked the group onto the bill on the Sunbury festival. Taking place on the outskirts of Melbourne and with 45,000 people in attendance, it was billed as Australia’s answer to Woodstock. There wasn’t much peace and love in the air, though. Due to take to the stage in the early hours after headliners Deep Purple’s set, AC/DC found out that the stage had been stripped of all their gear. Browning saw it as fighting talk, and gave Scott and the Young brothers licence to attack.

“I had AC/DC, my road crew, George Young and myself in a major brawl with all of [Deep Purple's] crew and manager,” Browning told Classic Rock. “A full-on brawl in the middle of the stage.”

The band left the festival site without playing, turning down the chance to come back and perform the next day. From then on, their reputation preceded them and, by the time they released debut album High Voltage a few months later, everyone knew that AC/DC were as fierce and barbed as the music they made. 

They had found a new home in Melbourne and laid down the rules - no-one touched AC/DC’s gear again. As for Deep Purple, singer David Coverdale has said he’s hung out with AC/DC in the years since and laughed about it over drinks. But what that probably means is that he’d probably already scarpered from the site by the time punches were thrown.

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.