Phil Conalane Says He’ll Take AC/DC Audition Memory to Grave
Irish singer Phil Conalane recalled his surprise at being invited to audition for AC/DC in 2016, after Brian Johnson was forced to bow out over a hearing condition.
In the end, the frontman role was taken by Axl Rose – but before that, Blackwater Conspiracy member Conalane received an inquiry from an agent and thought it had to do with a booking for his band.
“The next morning I get up and check my emails, and sure enough, there's an email from an agent in L.A,” Conalane told Classic Rock. “But the subject line is not what I'm expecting: ‘I am the agent for AC/DC’, while the email simply asks, ‘Can I call you as soon as possible?’ My mind was racing, thinking, ‘Fuck! Blackwater Conspiracy are gonna get to open for AC/DC!’”
The call took place minutes later. “Long story short, he tells me that Brian has had to 'step away' from AC/DC for medical reasons, and that Angus Young would like me to come over to the U.S. for a bit of a jam," Conalane recalled. "Would I be interested?”
Less than a week later, he was flown first-class to Atlanta, picked up at the airport in a limousine and checked into a five-star hotel; the following morning he was taken to the band’s rehearsal space.
“It's basically AC/DC's stadium stage setup: a wall of Marshall amps, and Chris Slade's immaculate Rock or Bust tour kit separating the amps," Conalane noted. "A few minutes later, Cliff Williams, Chris Slade and Stevie Young all come into the rehearsal room and introduce themselves, and thank me for coming over. I'm chatting to Chris Slade for a bit, as we have a mutual friend in Ireland. A few minutes later, Angus comes in. Now I'm fucking nervous! He comes over straightaway and says, ‘Hi Phil, I'm Angus. Thanks for coming over. I appreciate it!’”
The band spent six hours playing together. Conalane recalled Angus Young as someone who “made me feel very relaxed, and during tea breaks would chat freely and tell me funny stories.” He learned that AC/DC had discovered him via his previous band, Million Dollar Reload. “The volume and power of AC/DC in a rehearsal room on a full stage setting is unbelievable,” the singer said. “And every one of those 14 Marshall cabs on Angus' side of the stage is hooked up and blaring at full tilt.”
After a “whirlwind” few days, Conalane returned home, with the promise of being updated by Young within a week. “True to his word, he sent an email a week later thanking me for coming over to America and told me that he loved my voice and that he and the band enjoyed rehearsals with me," he said. "Obviously he mentioned the small fact that Axl Rose was gonna fill in for the rest of the tour, but if there were any shows I wanted to attend, I would be welcomed as a guest.”
Conalane noted that he ended up attending two shows and received star treatment on both occasions. “There's no feeling in the world that will ever beat Angus Young asking, "Wanna do 'Highway to Hell,' Phil?" Singing the first verse and turning my head to the left and seeing Angus Young two feet away while I rip into that chorus with AC/DC," he said. "That feeling? I will take it to my grave.”