cliff williams

Time for me to step out……

5 October 2016 Blog The Queen Street Observer

With these words Cliff Williams did the decent thing, pulled the plug. Cliff, of all people. The quiet man whose public profile seemed to consist only of appearing on album covers and publicity shots. Come to think of it I don’t remember ever reading a quote attributed to him never mind a full blown interview which makes his recent video statement all the more remarkable. Cliff Williams speaks!!

If you haven’t worked it out by now Cliff Williams has been the bass player for AC/DC, one of the biggest bands on the planet, for the past forty years. In the afore-mentioned video he announced that he was leaving the band, citing the loss of band members Malcolm Young to dementia, Brian Johnson to hearing problems and Phil Rudd to, er, legal difficulties. It meant things just weren’t the same and now is a good time to call it a day. I’m so glad he did this because for quite some time now AC/DC have been beyond the point of no return, or so it seemed to me. The loss of Malcolm was the fatal blow of course, him being the widely acknowledged engine of the band, who came up with the killer riffs – the keeper of the flame.

There’s still the possibility that sole remaining original member Angus Young might opt to plough on with the band in some shape or form, he has yet to rule it out saying that he’s going to take some time before deciding what to do next. Hopefully he’ll come to the conclusion that fronting a band which consisted of a bunch of hired hands would reduce this to little more than a tribute act, AC/DC karaoke if you will. No, better to lay the band’s good name to rest and so preserve the legacy because when they were at it in their prime there were few to match them. I first picked up on AC/DC around 1977 when they appeared on BBC tv’s Rock goes to College series. They struck me as unusual in that they were playing what could be termed old fashioned rock and roll but with a punk like attitude and energy. Their 1978 release, “Powerage”, was the one that really got me, though. Radio Luxembourg regularly ran an ad promoting it which made the record sound like Status Quo on Speed. Count me in! I’ll sign up for that.

It’s probably my favourite of their albums even if the following year’s “Highway to Hell” had a better overall sound, particularly the drums, due in no small part to the production of Mutt Lange. When singer Bon Scott died in early 1980 there were many, myself included, who wondered if they could continue but continue they did with Brian Johnson taking over the vocal duties. What followed was multi-platinum history, “Back in Black”, and entry into the absolute top tier of superstardom………and it was around about here that I hopped off the train. A friend of mine who shall remain nameless for fear of bringing an enraged-fans-of-AC/DC fatwah down upon his head reckons they should have hung it up when Bon died, and I can see his point. “Back…..” is a fine album, still sounds great (Mutt Lange again) but its success was both a blessing and a curse. How so, you might ask? Well, my opinion is that they spent the rest of their careers replicating that sound, style and formula. “Black Ice”, released in 2008, sounds like it might have been recorded during the “Back in Black” sessions 28 years previously. Find a winning formula then flay it to death while the money rolls in.

It is a pity because up to Scott’s death each of their albums would usually feature something a bit different from their regular sound but when they hit the big time a decision was clearly made to not muck about with the golden ticket.

Life must be so much easier as a solo artist, eh? You write the songs, you choose the musicians you want to play with and you have complete control over whatever direction your career takes, no decisions made by committee. The public too seem more willing to accept a solo artist veering off on an unexpected tangent, while the critics will usually laud whoever it may be for being bold and adventurous, prepared to break new boundaries. Neil Young has been doing just this for what seems like forever while Leonard Cohen is perhaps the definitive example of growing old not just gracefully but with an impossible amount of cool as well. The announcement of his new album was timed to coincide with his 82nd birthday and having heard the title track, “You want it Darker”, it’s ever so good and quite difficult to categorise. Another thing, how can any man sing or speak in such a low register? It’s the deepest bass rumble you can imagine but mightily effective for what he does.

Anyway, back to AC/DC, where we began. For what it’s worth I’d suggest to Angus Young that he ditch the schoolboy cap and short pants, make a clean break with his past and explore some new avenues with different musicians. Don’t worry about the legacy, that’s safe. Such a reinvention could be interesting for the man himself as much as the fans. What’s he got to lose?

More musical musings next month!!

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