Never one to be outdone, Bon is already up one coronation on King Charles. In March 2020, 10 kilometres of Canning Highway was cordoned off in celebration of the AC/DC singer with a huge gathering of bands on trucks called Highway To Hell. Near on 150,000 people flocked along the highway a mere fortnight before WA went into COVID-19 lockdown. What could have been the greatest superspreader event of the pandemic was merely a great success.
So much so that the Perth Festival’s newly minted Special Projects arm decided to revisit the notion of a large-scale Bon Scott celebration with High Voltage, whereupon Fremantle – the home of the cultural icon’s teenage years – would open its streets, parks and arms to his memory over a 5 kilometre route.
Over at Fremantle Oval the event was kicked off proper with WA Premier Mark McGowan. While rocking the t-shirt of an album that Scott didn’t sing on – Back In er, Black – he rang a (hells) bell which was the cue for The Southern River Band to take a shot at goal. Several thousand people revelled to their set of original hard rock grooves, with frontman Callum Kramer again proving himself to be a masterful showman, seemingly channeling Bon Scott and David Lee Roth all at once.
“It was a bloody great day,” Kramer said after the performance. “Seeing so many smiling faces out in the name of rock’n’roll is always a win in my book. Government funded rock’n’roll at that!”
There’s a debate in WA over whether the State Government is commandeering the memory of the beloved Scott merely for purposes of popularity. Either way, a major celebration of a beloved everyman figure would seem to be a positive thing. And Fremantle does hold Scott to its heart. Datura4 vocalist/guitarist/resident Dom Mariani – also known for his acclaimed bands The Stems, The Someloves and DM3 – fronted his hard boogie-ing outfit over at Wilson Park, just off Freo’s historic South Beach.
“I really enjoyed playing my local park,” he told Rolling Stone AU/NZ. “It was also a little unusual seeing some of my neighbours out in the audience. Some of them I’m sure wouldn’t have known I played in a band!
“I thought we played a solid set. Wilson Park was a great location for a concert and great for Fremantle to have an event like High Voltage. I can see it working as an annual event.”
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That does seem to be the plan, and while inclement weather didn’t result in a 2020-era turnout – early autumn would seem to be the way forward – Perth Festival estimated the crowd across the whole of the event to be 40-50,000. As the flatbed trucks transported national and local bands through the streets on the route up from South Fremantle to Esplanade Park and back to Fremantle Oval, crowds lined cafes and bars, camped high up on shop window awnings and walked along taking in a diverse artist line-up that included pipe bands, brass bands, dance crews, gospel groups and community choirs.
From homegrown hero Diesel to ‘the world’s most remote rock band’ The Desert Stars, all the way from the Great Victorian Desert; from Cash Savage and the Last Drinks to Eddie Perfect (who sang “The Jack” and improvised a new line, “Even Mark McGowan’s got the jack”); from established artists Katy Steele and Dan Sultan rocking it up on the oval to teenaged bands Sour and Twelve Parsecs doing likewise on Esplanade Reserve, that larrikin spirit was saluted whether the songs were originals, faithful covers or genre-modified versions.
“I thought our bluegrass versions of AC/DC‘s tunes were a good idea because it gave everyone an opportunity to sing not scream,” laughed Natalie Gillespie, a former member of Yothu Yindi and a gem in the Perth music scene.
“And sing they certainly did. I don’t think I’ve come across such great audience participation in a long time. It was wonderful to see all the iconic Freo landmarks as the backdrop to many people giving me the horns and spitting out the words to “Back In Black”. It was a fabulous day for all. And playing music on the back of a truck whilst it’s moving is something else. I loved every minute of it.”
Body Type stopped traffic – admittedly it had already been stopped, but you get the idea – at the intersection of South Terrace and Norfolk Street. It was a sight to behold and a feeling not to be forgotten.
“I tell you what, turns out every muscle of your body is involved when you’re playing rock’n’roll on the back of a moving truck,” said vocalist/guitarist Sophie McComish. “My glutes are still recovering! It was a very cool experience pulling up to the hotspots like The Local Hotel or South Beach and having massive crowds singing along to all the “oi’s”in “T.N.T.” and then waving us on our way as though we were some kind of parade float. Such a great bunch of bands playing throughout the day, too. I loved The Desert Stars.
“It was a very novel event, very fun, all the rock dogs out in full force. Only in Freo!”
Indeed. And while it wasn’t the all-encompassing powerhouse that the Highway To Hell event was in the last of those pre-pandemic days, High Voltage was a little more homespun. Given that Fremantle was the scene of Bon Scott’s (first) wild years that really seems quite fitting.
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