The Story Of The AC/DC VS. Deep Purple Fist Fight

via @The Real Music Observer | YouTube

The fight between Deep Purple and AC / DC is a little known story. This incident was one of the largest clashes between two legendary rock gangs. 

The scene of this confrontation with blows was at the Sunbury festival in Australia, precisely during the third and last edition. The event had been successful since the second edition of 1974, Queen was the star band. About 20 thousand spectators were delighted with the “queen” with tickets for only $ 5 per night.

Unlike the previous festival, there were only about 15 thousand people and with a ticket that cost 20 dollars. The worst was yet to come, a pitched battle between two great bands.

The payment to the British band was about $ 60,000, which meant that the local band (AC/DC) were left without payment. The Australian Musicians Union had warned of possible riots, but the organization ignored them.

“We were playing in this pub on Saturday,” guitarist Angus Young explained later, “and this manager got a hold of us and said, ‘Listen, can you guys whiz out to this Sunbury place?’ The guy promoting was a bit worried. … He said, ‘Deep Purple doesn’t look like they’re gonna go onstage’. He was a bit worried that no one was gonna show and he didn’t want the kids to riot … so he thought, ‘Well, I’ll get AC/DC and maybe they can keep them at bay.’”

However, Angus Young and company were surprised when they saw Deep Purple on stage. They waited patiently for Purple’s show to end and when it was their turn, they were blocked by the British technical team.

Nevertheless, AC/DC was still set to perform and had been announced as part of the act. “Everything was cool as far as we knew,” Young said. “Then, at the last minute, something happened … somebody said somebody threw a punch at our manager – one of Deep Purple’s tour guys. We were all bunched up in this caravan, changing. I remember we all came running out.”

A pitched battle broke out because the Australians were obviously furious. Angus approached the microphone not to introduce his band, but to ask for help as they were outnumbered. 

The local band was able to rely on support from fellow Australians: a forklift operator “dropped some equipment” on some of Deep Purple’s security team, while frontman Bon Scott cheerfully joined the violence. “Bon had someone in a headlock and the guy was spinning him in the air, and Bon’s shouting, ‘Don’t worry, guys, I’ve got him!’ And Bon’s spinning away!” Angus remembered.

As “all chaos broke out,” the guitarist rose onto the stage. “I got on the microphone and I said to the kids at the front – because they’d started coming over the fence – I said, ‘Hey, we need a bit of a hand up here.’” Somehow, the organizers managed to perform some peace. “We had a bit of a standoff. … The promoter said, ‘Deep Purple will go on, you can then go on after.’ We thought, ‘All right.’”

It didn’t go out like that. “Deep Purple got on, played their set,” Young said. “I think they cut their set short and walked off, and then they started stripping the gear. And the promoter, he started fighting with them then. … It started off again!”

Deep Purple musicians had left with the $ 60,000 and without a scratch because they had left moments before the fight.

As for AC/DC: “We never got to play in the end,” Young said. “But the next day that was all you read about: ‘AC/DC in brawl with Deep Purple.’ In the end it elevated us – more people came to see us!”

In 2007, Coverdale shared his own memory of the conflict. “We arrived in the most violent summer storm – also interesting was that our new album at the time was Stormbringer!” he said. “The promoters decided bravely to go ahead with the festival, and talk about difficult. … The wind was howling, it was freezing and a total mud bath. The entire audience was in a field of mud. They’d wrapped themselves in plastic sheets so it resembled an immense condom convention!”

He remembered that “after a less-than-satisfactory performance, we left the stage, got in our cars and started to drive away from the site. Suddenly, we heard music coming from the stage. Apparently, a young Aussie band had jumped onstage, plugged into our gear, and started playing! Well, all hell broke loose, from what I was told. Our roadies – big buggers to a man – wrestled with the young band to get them off our equipment and off the stage. Chaos and frolics ensued.”

“Anyway, lo and behold, these ballsy lads were none other than a new band called AC/DC. I cracked up when I heard. I thought it was great! And that is how I remember that episode.”

Whatever actually occurred – and Coverdale remarked he has shared drinks and laughs about it with members of AC/DC in the years after – there were results. The Sunbury Festival had certainly financially failed even while it was going on.