We chat with Nick Barker of Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be: The Story of Bon Scott
The subject of this interview is somewhat of an Aussie rock royal. Nick Barker has achieved many great things over a long career as a songwriter both solo, and as a part of his band, Nick Barker and the Reptiles.
He has influenced many a young musician and even tried his hand at acting, but now Mr Barker takes on something different all together, telling the story of one of Australia’s greatest ever rock ‘n’ roll frontmen, Bon Scott.
Taking time out at his home in St Kilda after a surf, Barker discusses the new show Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be: The Story of Bon Scott.
If you are thinking to yourself ‘ this sounds familiar’ then that is because it has toured before, a couple of years ago. Originally set up as a theatre production, the show tells the story of Scott’s uprising through early bands and hardships to landing the eventual job as the power house singer in front of one of Australia’s – and undoubtedly the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands.
Unfortunately for the company touring the production (also responsible for the Tex Perkins-starring Man In Black: The Johnny Cash Story shows) it fell down on itself, however now thanks to some very enthusiastic AC/DC fans, the show is back and ready to blows audiences out the door.
Barker is at the helm, and is set to rock into the Corner Hotel this Tuesday night in tribute to the late great singer on the anniversary of his death at age 33, 33 years ago.
“They approached me and I immediately said ‘no’,” Barker admits “A – I couldn’t sing the songs, and B – It’s kind of a taboo subject. All the people are sort of shy about it and I really didn’t think I could do it any justice but then they hassled me and hassled me and I eventually got together with the band and we discovered that I could sing it in my own certain way and it went really well”, Barker explains.
The show went on tour playing theatres across Australia before being put on hold. “It was [Cherry Bar’s] James Young, a friend of the show, who wanted to resurrect it. So, we chose this night… and subsequently the anniversary of Bon’s death to do it”.
Barker will take on the role of telling the story of Scott’s life pre AC/DC, back when he was singing for The Valentines, in the first half of the show before the ‘balls to the wall’ AC/DC story and music in the second half.
“It’s an immense task to tell the story of someone’s life in just two hours,” Barker continues, “so I just tried to pick out a lot of things that I found really interesting as well as making sure the band were the real deal, they’re pretty loud and rocking.”
“If you can walk away after show knowing five things about Bon that you didn’t know before then that’s my job done,” Barker adds.
With Scott holding such a strong place in people’s hearts, it was important for Barker to do a ton of research to really do it justice and bring the energy and attitude required for the role.
Once he realised he could do it, Barker got busy contributing and writing for the script and then the show really started to gain momentum. “Bon Scott’s story is a really great one,” he adds.
Not only is the show a great night out for all the old Acca Dacca fans but also a fantastic opportunity for the younger generation to learn a thing or two about what it meant to be in a good ol’ fashioned Aussie pub rock band.
“You know, I was amazed at the amount of guys who came to the show with their kids. Some were a little more successful than others with their kids actually responding to it whilst some others would have their fingers in their ears thinking ‘what the hell is this?’”
One of the most frightening parts of the show was always going to be pleasing the hardcore fans but Barker manages okay, to the point where some of these rough patrons have approached Nick with tears in their eyes.
The next concern for the show was how it would translate into the pub setting. In a typical theatre show, the attendees are kind of trapped and under the control of the performers, however as Barker explains, “as soon as people aren’t sitting down they become a whole different animal.”
The prospect of people getting fed up with the pre -AC/DC stuff and talking or walking out is a big one, however Barker believes that if they can just get through the first half, then the second will deliver the hits and rock the Corner to its core – “I guess we just gotta suck it and see, I don’t know how we’ll go pulling middle aged people out on a Tuesday night.”
If the show does go on to be a success however then there is every possibility that it will hit the road again.
The reviews of the show before it fell over the first time were glowing and everyone was having fun with it, not to mention a lot of time and effort has gone into making this happen to let it just finish after one night.
Is it obvious that these guys are clearly very passionate about AC/DC and the man himself? “Oh man, the first time I saw them was the iconic ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ with the cigarette in his mouth and dressed up like a school girl,” reminisces Barker.
“I open the show up telling that story and about how we used to watch Countdown every night and crowd around the TV in my sisters’ bedroom, back when they were in the middle of Sherbet and all those other fucking horrible bands.”
“Then this guy just appears (Bon) and they were an ugly fucking bunch of guys and here’s Bon with a tooth missing and I was just like ‘yeah!’ they were so different to everything else out there,” he exclaims. “My sisters listened to Bay City Rollers and The Monkees and this was just rock, loud and ugly and dirty – and it was just great!”
Whatever happens with the show, says Barker, they’ve had a great run; “it’s been an amazing thing to be involved in. I guess the music I’ve done is all about me and myself so it’s nice to not have to do that and just go with the flow, and it sounds a bit wanky but I just really embraced it, it’s a great story and it needs to be told.”
Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be – The Story of Bon Scott
Tuesday 19 February, Corner Hotel, Doors 8pm
Tix $27 + B/fee from the Corner Box Office
Or $30 on the Door if available