AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson on how Nazareth’s performance at Faslane went nuclear

It was just another night of concerts for Dan McCafferty and Brian Johnson; the former in his role with Nazareth, the latter performing with a band called Geordie years before he made it big with AC/DC and Back in Black.

But as the evening of 1973 descended into chaos and violence at the Faslane nuclear submarine base on the Clyde, McCafferty took the time to comfort his new friend with the news that things had been much worse a week earlier.

At the time, the Nazareth singer, who died earlier this month aged 76, was considered one of the best in the business; a force of nature with a voice straight out of Olympus who also happened to be a good guy and a solid citizen.

And that was certainly the impression he made on Johnson, even as the evening’s entertainment spiraled out of control and he realized he was involved in a riot.

Brian Johnson, Vic Malcolm, Tom Hill and Brian Gibson of Geordie in 1973. Credit: Andre Csillag/Shutterstock.

He and his Geordie bandmates had achieved hit success and Top of the Pops recognition the following year with songs like Don’t Do That and All Cause of You as early as 1972.

They were the main attraction for Faslane audiences, with Nazareth as the support act.

But as soon as Johnson heard the Fifers sending the crowd into a frenzy, he realized the concert organizers had done things the wrong way.

This military base was no place for a group whose own record label couldn’t decide whether they were rivals to Led Zeppelin or going in the same direction as Slade.

No, this was an arena for headbangers and bampots where the top 10 was irrelevant.

And where reputation with the squaddies counted for nothing.

Everything started so well

Johnson recalled: “We were headlining and a Scottish band Nazareth were the support.

“I’d never heard of them, but before the show, I started chatting to their lead singer, Dan McCafferty, and we hit it off right away. We came from the same background in public housing and industry and were both apprentices.

“The audience consisted of uniformed sailors and some in civilian clothes. They lined the walls and bar surrounding the dance floor and then the girls came in.

“It was the perfect Friday night for a fight, mostly because subs didn’t like sailors and vice versa. The air was electric with anger, you could almost feel it.

“So Dan said, ‘Well, we’d better move on before they get a little nervous’.”

Darrell Sweet, Dan McCafferty, Manny Charlton and Pete Agnew in 1976. Credit: Andre Csillag/Shutterstock.

He also knew his audience and colleagues – if they served up an almighty bang from the stage, it would draw the crowd’s attention. And if they liked what they heard, it might stop players from unleashing hell.

Johnson said: “I figured I’d stay and watch, and Nazareth came out and started. I was fascinated. It was a thunderclap. They were loud and rockin’ and so very tight and I was like, ‘I want to be in a band like that’.

“All the tension went out of the room because everyone was locked into this brilliant band. The next thing I thought was, ‘How the hell are we supposed to follow this?’

“They stopped howling MORE, MORE….”

Then things went a little wrong

As Johnson revealed in his new autobiography, The Lives of Brian, Geordie was in an impossible situation.

They couldn’t turn the volume up to 11 because they weren’t Spinal Tap, and even by the time Nazareth had served their intoxicating set, the crowd had swelled along with the amount of alcohol consumed.

So it was with understandable apprehension that they entered the platform, doing their best to keep the momentum and atmosphere in place.

But they were no match for those before them.

Even as they struggled to improve their game, things started ahead of them.

Johnson said, “Even though we were a tight, rockin’ little band, our singles were a little pop. We did our best and the boys played a storm, but we chased a hurricane and a tornado rolled into one.

“Halfway through the set I saw the first bottle fly towards the sailors, then a chair towards the submarine crew, and then the world went crazy.

“There was blood. For security reasons, people ran onto the stage.

“Those weren’t Jolly Jack Tars. We kind of went further, but it was a madhouse. Military police were called and it [the venue] slowly emptied.

“[Eventually] Dan came over and gave me a whiskey and said ‘Oh don’t worry it was way worse last week…’

“And that formed a bond that was never broken.”

Jimmy Murrison and Dan McCafferty perform on stage with Nazareth in 2008. Image: Shutterstock.

Johnson’s life was changed forever, albeit in tragic circumstances, when AC/DC’s Bon Scott – born in Forfar and raised in Kirriemuir – died in London in 1980, aged just 33.

It was a crushing blow, but Johnson was later asked by the band’s founders, Angus and Malcolm Young, to replace Scott, and while he appreciated he had big shoes to fill, he had the voice and personality to pull himself together to adjust to his newfound fame.

He proved that when his first album with AC/DC, Back in Black, became the second best-selling album of all time.

He never looked back.

Or not until now.

And it’s clear that rock was pretty easy with the youngs on the road after surviving a ruck with these youngsters on the Clyde.

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[AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson on how Nazareth’s Faslane gig went nuclear]

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