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What's it like to audition for AC/DC?

Phil Conalane and Angus Young
Phil Conalane and Angus Young (Image credit: Phil Conalane: Keery Irvine | Angus Young: Rob Monk)

It's March 2016. I'm sitting at home one evening on the laptop, trawling through the usual social sites and music webzines, when I get the 'ping' of a Facebook message. It's some guy who works for a promoter here in Ireland, and he's asking for my contact info. 

I tell him I don't usually give out such information, but – quickly realising that my buddies in Blackberry Smoke are playing a show in Dublin later in the year and they're maybe asking us to open for them again – I give him the details and ask him what its all about. He replies that an agent in Los Angeles is asking for my details. I'm pretty sure at this point it's connected to Blackberry Smoke.

The next morning I get up and check my emails, and sure enough, there's an email from an agent in LA, but the subject line is not what I'm expecting: "I am the agent for AC/DC", while the email simply asks, "Can I call you as soon as possible?" 

My mind was racing, thinking "Fuck! Blackwater Conspiracy are gonna get to open for AC/DC!"

I give him my number and he calls me within minutes. Long story short, he tells me that Brian has had to 'step away' from AC/DC for medical reasons, and that Angus Young would like me to come over to the US for a bit of a jam. Would I be interested?

Six days later I'm on a British Airways (first class) flight to Atlanta. AC/DC send a limo to pick me up, and bring me to a 5-star hotel in downtown Atlanta. The AC/DC tour manager is there waiting, and explains to me that the following morning he will come by and pick me up at 11am. We'll go to the rehearsal space and take it from there.

This was all a bit of a whirlwind, and I didn't really get a chance to get nervous about the whole thing. Next morning comes, I get picked up, and on the way the tour manager explains that the backline techs will get me hooked up with an in-ear system and we'll jam a few songs before the band get there. 

We get to the rehearsal space in downtown Atlanta and in we go. The halls of the rehearsal space are lined with AC/DC flight cases, and we walk through a set of double doors onto the sound stage. 

It's basically AC/DC's stadium stage setup: a wall of Marshall amps, and Chris Slade's immaculate Rock Or Bust tour kit separating the amps. Trace (Angus's guitar tech) introduces himself and gets me set up with in-ears, and we take a quick run through Back In Black to check volume levels. All is good. 

A few minutes later Cliff Williams , Chris Slade and Stevie Young all come into the rehearsal room and introduce themselves, and thank me for coming over. I'm chatting to Chris Slade for a bit, as we have a mutual friend in Ireland. 

A few minutes later Angus comes in. Now I'm fucking nervous! He comes over straight away and says, "Hi Phil, I'm Angus. Thanks for coming over. I appreciate it!"

After a quick cup of tea (rock'n'roll, eh?) Angus puts his guitar on and asks me, "What song do you want to start with?" 

The setlist for the Rock Or Bust tour is on the drum riser, and I ask if we can start with Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be. The next six hours are spent going through the entire setlist for the tour, with tea/smoke breaks every four or five songs. It's all very relaxed and chilled. Angus made me feel very relaxed, and during tea breaks would chat freely and tell funny stories. He told me he had discovered me through my old band Million Dollar Reload, but that he really likes Blackwater Conspiracy too! Who knew!? 

He made it clear that there was a couple of guys that he had in for a few songs over the past week, and that I was the last guy except for one more the following week. He asked me if I'd come back the following day and do it again. That blew me away, and I took it as a positive sign. 

He asked me to think of an AC/DC song I'd really like to do. The following day I told him If You Want Blood was my favourite AC/DC song. He made a point of doing that song a couple of times that day, even though he said they hadn't played it for years.

The volume and power of AC/DC in a rehearsal room on a full stage setting is unbelievable. And every one of those 14 Marshall cabs on Angus's side of the stage is hooked up and blaring at full tilt.

After a whirlwind few days in a rehearsal room with AC/DC, I was on my way back to Northern Ireland, sitting in first class reflecting on the 40+ songs I got to sing with AC/DC in Atlanta. 

Angus made it clear that he would be in contact the following week. True to his word he sent an email a week later thanking me for coming over to America and told me that he loved my voice and that he and the band enjoyed rehearsals with me. 

Obviously he mentioned the small fact that Axl Rose was gonna fill in for the rest of the tour, but if there were any shows I wanted to attend I would be welcomed as a guest. 

Sure enough we went to the London show at the Olympic Stadium and the New York City gig at Madison Square Garden. The whole nine yards: backstage, hospitality etc. 

All I can say is that Angus and all of the band and crew are the nicest people ever, treating me with the utmost friendliness and respect. It's four years later and I still keep in contact with the AC/DC camp.

I've been very lucky in my rock'n'roll adventures: playing big festivals, touring, opening for some big bands, and generally getting to make music with my mates.

But...

There's no feeling in the world that will ever beat Angus Young asking, "Wanna do Highway To Hell, Phil?"

Standing in Avatar Studios in Atlanta, Georgia when that opening riff from Highway To Hell is played on that black Gibson SG Angus uses.

Singing the first verse and turning my head to the left and seeing Angus Young two feet away while I rip into that chorus with AC/DC. That feeling? I will take it to my grave. 

AC/DC are my favourite all-time band, and to get to spend a few days with them and sing with them was an unbelievable experience.

Blackwater Conspiracy's Two Tails & The Dirty Truth Of Love & Revolution is out now. The current issue of Classic Rock features Blackwater Conspiracy and also tells the story of AC/DC's Back In Black. It is available to buy online