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Rock Club 40 chats with IRENE THORNTON

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It was 1971 and Irene Thornton was a young woman with her whole life ahead of her and trying to adjust to life in Adelaide again after a year overseas. Ronald Belford ‘Bon’ Scott was singing in a band called Fraternity and completely unaware of the fame that lay in store for him.  Fate brought the pair together and eventually they married and the rest is history which is now documented in Irene’s book, ‘My Bon Scott.’

“I thought about it for a long time,” Irene tells me. I had some Bon stories and I thought that no one knows anything about that period of time really except for those people who went through it.”  Now, nearly 35 years after the singer’s sudden passing, she has finally shared those stories with the world in her book. I recently sat down with Irene at her home in Melbourne to talk about the book and the highs and lows of the relationship that changed the life of a young woman from Adelaide all those years ago.

Irene’s first encounter with Bon Scott was anything but average but it was certainly memorable. “It was at a party in Adelaide,” she recalls. “I’d just got back from London (I’d been overseas for about a year) and a girlfriend came over and visited me when I got back and she said that she was going to a party. She was telling me about this group of musicians who lived up in the Adelaide Hills in Aldgate and one of them in particular she really liked so I went along to this party with her.”  Irene remembers seeing a man weaving his way through a big crowd of people with a woman tucked under one arm and a drink in his other hand, and laughing. Her friend pointed him out and said ‘That’s him! That’s Bon!’ “I didn’t think much either way about him,” she admits. “That was the initial time I saw him and then a few hours later, as the party had progressed, I went looking for the toilets and I was opening every door that I could find in the house and opened a door and saw Bon.There was a bed, a woman on it, and Bon holding her foot.  Her toes were inserted into his mouth; a very surprised look on his face.  I shut the door in a hurry and tried to register what I’d just seen.  I hadn’t heard of that before!”  

But it was Vince Lovegrove who first introduced her to Bon. Vince was seeing Irene’s friend, Julie, at the time and he was a big fan of a band called Fraternity, featuring a young Bon Scott. “Vince took me along to the now famous Largs Pier to see Fraternity play,” she recalls. “I thought they were great; this huge sounding band and lots of people in the audience, all really enjoying the music. I was talking to Vince and, at the end of the break, Bon popped up between the two of us and Vince introduced me to Bon.” Irene remembers having a laugh with him. “I thought he was pretty quick witted and quite the opposite to my earlier impression of him. It sort of went on from there.

Irene and Bon married in 1972, just prior to the band embarking on a trip to the U.K.  As she recalls, it was during their time in London that things started to fall apart. “There were a lot of us all squashed into one house.  Financially it became very hard on everyone trying to make ends meet.  The jobs for the band to play were few and far between, as Hamish was being selective in what jobs he took while trying to gain recognition for the band.  He wouldn’t take just anything.  This didn’t help any with day to day living expenses anyway. There were frayed tempers; lack of money; the cold weather.  Everything was constantly shifting and changing to a point where it all just unravelled. All hopes had really been dashed and the writing was on the wall.  Various members of the group were starting to leave and it was all coming undone.”

The couple came home to Adelaide at the end of 1973 but things didn’t improve when they returned to Australia. “There was just a big question mark. It was tainted. The happiness of being back was great but Bon was deflated. He was very dark, not very happy and it was just like things were going backwards.”

“Whenever Bon went to see anyone play, he didn’t have to be asked to get up to sing; he was up there on the stage like a streak, grabbing the microphone. He’d got up to sing with the AC/DC guys when we went along with Vince one night. Apparently, he had been playing with them and rehearsing with them but it was the first time he actually got up and sang with them. I don’t remember what he sang but it could have been an old standard. It could have been ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ or maybe ‘Johnny B. Goode’.  I don’t remember, unfortunately, because I didn’t take an awful lot of notice except that he sounded great and they sounded really good. It was just another night that Bon gets up but it was a really enjoyable one because they sounded great.”  And, as it would turn out, it was a significant one.

Despite the marriage ending, Irene and Bon remained good friends right up until the time of his death in 1980.

“He came to visit six weeks before he died,” she says. “It was New Year’s Day. We were out and I knew that Bon was in town. When we got back home, there was a box of booze at the front door and I remember saying to Nick ‘That’s Bon and he’ll be back.’ I don’t think anyone else would leave a box of booze at the front door. That’s the sort of thing Bon would do. He came back later that day and met Nick for the first time. I was pregnant and I’d been with Nick for quite a while and I introduced them.”

Irene recalls that later that night, when she was in bed, she and Nick heard a car door slam and it was Bon. “Nick went out to see him and said ‘Rene’s asleep at the moment.’ I was awake but I didn’t really want to get up because it was fairly late. I thought I’d see him again. But I didn’t. That was the last time.”

The news that her former husband had died came like a bolt out of the blue. “I think I was just sort of stunned and shocked. It was a bit of a blur. I wasn’t able to go to the funeral because I was due to give birth to our first child around that time. I got Nick to send a wreath,” she recalls. “It’s awful having a baby that you’re looking forward to at the same time as…”

But, looking back over their time together, she smiles. “They were great memories, especially the early memories when we were first together.  They were the best memories. We had a fantastic relationship and that whole period was a really lovely time. And then we went through the really rough times that no one in the beginning of a relationship should have to go through, living like that. As I said in the book, it was all about the band. It was supposed to be a time of liberation for women. However, the wives were sent to work and provide for the guys but we were dismissed whenever there was a band meeting.”

For a while there, Irene wasn’t sure that the book would ever be a reality. “I thought it would probably never get done,” she reveals. “Because I was always too busy and I had other things that took over.  I didn’t really know how to go about it and I thought it will just stay in the too hard basket. Then I met James Young. I had stayed in touch with James who had previously bought my Bon memorabilia. James was a huge AC/DC fan and he encouraged me to write the book.”

Irene wanted her precious mementoes to be with someone who was going to treasure them and look after them. She didn’t know what would happen to them after she had gone.

“James said that he was interested in the whole idea and he put it to me that he would help me to get it going. It was a bit of a pipe dream even then. I thought that it may or may not happen but it happened and he organised everything. I hadn’t realised how much was involved with it and hadn’t really considered that I had to put all my personal life in there but then it was put to me that it wasn’t going to be a book if I just put in the bits that I wanted to put in and didn’t give a picture of what my life was like. That was the most difficult thing because I wanted to write a book with nobody else in it,” she laughs.

She says that when she sold her letters and other mementos of Bon, she was looking for some form of closure. “I could have been selective and kept bits back but I didn’t. I just wanted the whole of what I had of the story… the continuing thing with the letters and the dates. That actually was really good because it told the story of what he was doing and how he was feeling at the time. I think if those letters hadn’t been out there, there wouldn’t be that insight into Bon at all.”

Irene says that writing the book has been a cathartic experience for her. “That’s basically everything in there that I wanted to say. It’s out there as best as I can remember it. I actually thought that, with time, the interest in Bon would naturally have to wane.” But, as history has shown, it hasn’t. If anything, it has only grown stronger. “Knowing him… if he was here, he’d probably find it hilarious too,” she laughs.

 

by Sharyn Hamey

 

Copyright © Sharyn Hamey 2014. All rights reserved

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