Movie notes 2 Les Interview
December 19, 1999, Sunday
SECTION: FEATURES; Pg. 20
LENGTH: 1519 words
HEADLINE: TOGETHER..FOR AULD SHANG A LANG SYNE;
THE BAY CITY ROLLERS BURY THE HATCHET (NOT IN ONE ANOTHER) FOR A
BYLINE: Billy Sloan Exclusive
THERE'S a picture I thought I'd never live long enough to see, and neither did The Bay City Rollers. All four original members, in the same room, at the same time, and World War III not being declared.
Sounds almost too good to be true, doesn't it? But, as our exclusive photograph on the far right proves, Scotland's first ever pop supergroup are back together again in their trademark tartan. They've re-formed after what seems like a lifetime of bitter words and farcical legal battles, just in time for the Millennium, to headline the Hogmanay celebrations in Edinburgh. The classic Rollers' line-up of Eric Faulkner, Stuart "Woody" Wood, Les McKeown and Alan Longmuir are due to play their first concert for nearly 20 years in Princes Street. They've dusted off all the old hits, like Shang A Lang, Bye Bye Baby and Summerlove Sensation, and come up with a new improved tartan image. The spectacular Millennium bash will start a new chapter in the The Bay City Rollers' amazing success story.
"We were offered opportunities to play Millennium gigs in America, Australia and Egypt," said lead singer Les. "But we're all Scots and this is such a historic occasion that we thought - if we're gonna do this, then let's do it on home soil."
Guitarist Eric told me: "We're delighted that our songs seem to have so many happy memories for so many people. It's a thrill for us to be asked to play in Edinburgh at Hogmanay."
A few years ago, a Bay City Rollers' reunion would have been simply unthinkable. When they fell out, they fell out big time. Bitter arguments about money, music, touring - and just about everything else in between - led to the Rollers splitting into two camps. On the one side was Les McKeown and, at loggerheads on the other were Faulkner, Wood and Longmuir.
Les said: "There was a time when Eric and I couldn't stand being in the same country as each other, never mind the same room."
The situation became such a farce that, after one famous court battle in 1992, two versions of the Rollers - playing exactly the same songs - toured the country. Alan's brother, drummer Derek Longmuir, got so fed up he quit the group to become a registered nurse in an Edinburgh hospital. That's all water under the bridge now.
Two years ago, Les, Eric, "Woody" and Alan took the tentative first steps to get back on speaking terms, and they've been speaking ever since. It was arguments over money which split the Rollers... and in the ultimate irony, it was money which helped bring them back together again. The group are suing their former record label, Arista Records, in the United States for an estimated pounds 160 million in unpaid royalties and lost earnings. The Rollers claim they've not received a penny in back royalties from Arista since 1976. Their legal team are trying to sort out the mess.
Les, 44, who is based in London with his Japanese wife, Peko, said: "Initially we had to get back together for business reasons - to find out what happened to our missing royalties. We reckon there are vast sums of money lying in bank accounts all over the world, that we can't get our hands on. The figure of pounds 160 million is based on what we were owed plus how much money we would have generated over the years in terms of record sales and merchandising."
Eric, also 44, told me: "It's been great working together again, and the reunion has been surprisingly painless. "People think we got paid millions when Rollermania was at its peak, but we didn't. "That's why we had to keep touring. To survive. The bills didn't stop coming in, but the royalties did."
In the Seventies, the group were managed by Tam Paton. He quit his job as resident bandleader at the Palais ballroom in Edinburgh after spotting their potential. Paton chose their name when he stuck a pin into a map of America, and it landed on Bay City, Michigan. Back then, only Alan and Derek Longmuir were in the line-up. The original Rollers' singer was a bloke named Nobby Clark. Their first hit was Keep On Dancing, which reached No. 9 in the UK charts. It wasn't until McKeown, Faulkner and Wood joined the group that the Rollers became superstars. They sparked off scenes of teenybop hysteria on a scale not seen since the heady days of Beatlemania. The adulation of their fans even became life-threatening.
In 1975, more than 47,000 screaming girls swamped a Rollers' Radio 1 Roadshow appearance in Leicestershire. It was abandoned - and the group were airlifted to safety by helicopter, when fans began swimming across a lake to try to reach their idols. Paton was a brilliant scam merchant who planted stories in the Press to keep the Rollers in the headlines. However, it is clear that the group blame him for the mess they're now in. In 1982, Tam Paton was convicted on a charge of gross indecency with boys and was sentenced to three years in jail.
A still-bitter Les McKeown told me: "We got into this messy financial position through sheer bad management by Tam. He may have thought he was the greatest pop manager in the world - but he was also the stupidest. We were idiots for listening to him. Tam was too busy creating stories for the newspapers to run our affairs properly. He employed a bunch of crooks to look after our money. It was all siphoned off into offshore accounts. We didn't see any of it. We reckon we've sold in excess of 120 million records worldwide but we've never been paid a penny. To say we're p***** off is an understatement."
The pounds 160 million lawsuit against Arista was the catalyst for getting the members back on talking terms. They also have a renewed enthusiasm for the group on a musical level. For the last few months, they've been recording new tracks in a London studio and plan to do a full scale comeback tour in February. There are also plans to release Rollermania, a live album recorded at the Budokan in Japan in 1977. It was discovered on an old reel of tape gathering dust in Eric Faulkner's garage.
Eric - who lives in a farmhouse in Eastbourne with his girlfriend Kass - said: "Seeing Les again was a very strange experience. We went to dinner a few times and tried to sort out the problems. The misunderstandings were stunning. It seemed almost as if our being at loggerheads seemed to make some people happy. In a situation like that you can either carry it on for the rest of your life or sort things out. We saw a chance to solve our differences. And I'm glad we did. It's time to forget the past and move on."
Bass guitarist Stuart "Woody" Wood, 42, agreed. He said: "We've all moved on, thank God. Life is too short. At the end of the day, the problems we had weren't about us as people. It was all the outside pressures that drove us apart. The financial mess we were in was a bit of an unreal situation. When I left school, I became an electrician, then I joined the Rollers. I had no experience of the business side of things. We'd heard stories of bands being ripped off and thought: 'That will never happen to us.' Then when we were ripped off, none of us had enough knowledge of the financial side of things to sort it out. Hopefully, we'll get our money back. We worked hard for it, so we should get the rewards."
For now, Les, Eric, Stuart and Alan are fired up at the prospect of the classic Rollers' line- up going on tour and making records again. They have fond memories of the crazy days of Rollermania.
"Woody", who lives in Edinburgh with his wife, told me: "It was sheer excitement being at the centre of such hysteria. You just had to lift your hand on stage and instantly 2000 girls would go berserk. That felt amazing. But it used to get real crazy when we'd be trying to escape from a venue in our limo and hundreds of fans would be pressed against the windows trying to get to us."
However, the Rollers are determined not to abandon their famous tartan image. Eric said: "The tartan look is an important part of the band's background. So, for Hogmanay, we were keen to have an updated tartan image, with kilts and Doc Marten boots. We wouldn't be The Bay City Rollers without tartan. I remember seeing Status Quo on TV once and they were wearing suits. It just wasn't the same seeing the band minus their denims. That's how I feel about us. Okay, so we're not 17 any more. But maybe the fans will enjoy the music now. We just want to have some fun."
"Woody" said: "I think if we were to wear tartan stripes up the side of our trousers, we'd look daft but we've had the tartan image since the early days of the group. Any time we caused a riot, newspaper headlines always described the scene as a 'Sea of Tartan'. It's always been with us, even though tartan itself has gone in and out of fashion. So celebrating the new Millennium in Edinburgh - with the classic Rollers' line- up and all the hits - is going to be brilliant. We're back, and we're back to stay."
Copyright 2000 The Scotsman
Evening News (Edinburgh)
January 3, 2000, Monday
SECTION: Pg. 8
LENGTH: 697 words
HEADLINE: ROCKING AND ROLLING ALL THE WAY INTO A NEW ERA
BYLINE: Review By Paul Donald And Ben Atherton
Princes Street Gardens *****
ON THE last day of the Millennium in the Festival City, it was perhaps
fitting that the past should be celebrated as much as the future.
Welcome back, then, to the Bay City Rollers - Edinburgh's most successful
musical exports and the city's favourite prodigal sons. The Rollers
were older and greyer than before, and they ditched tartan flares for more
traditional kilts -but their sure-footed command of a pop tune has not
Expectant Forth FM compere Mark Findlay, summed it up as he hyped the crowd for the Rollers' appearance. "The local boys are back in town," he screamed as a piper and three flag bearers led the "boys" on stage - to the wild delight of an expectant crowd.
The Rollers may have aged somewhat and the tartan flares of days gone by proved to be just a memory, but a breakneck run through many of the old hits was all that was needed to get to crowd partying like it was 1975, not 1999.
Opening with Shang-A-Lang, the Rollers silenced the doubters with a short but sweet set, climaxing inevitably with Bye Bye Baby. "That's fantastic, that's great," panted a leather-jacketed Les McKeown after Remember (Sha-La-La). "It's great you all still remember the words - I have a problem myself sometimes."
As ticket holders continued to pour into the enclosure in front of the Ross Bandstand, crowds pressed against the Princes Street railings to catch a glimpse of the reborn icons. Guitarist Eric Faulkner, clad in a huge saltire flag with matching face paint, even ditched his instrument to snatch up a fiddle for a hectic jig which saw him cantering around the stage.
"We love you Edinburgh," McKeown bellowed as the Rollers left the stage. On this evidence, the all-singing, all-dancing crowd loved them right back.
Copyright 2000 Sun Media
The Ottawa Sun
February 2, 2000, Wednesday, Final EDITION
SECTION: SHOWBIZ, Pg. 29
LENGTH: 576 words
HEADLINE: KEEP ON ROLLING TRIBUTE ALBUM TO SCOTTISH POPSTERS A SURPRISE HIT
Less than a month after hitting Canadian stores, Men In Plaid: A Tribute To The Bay City Rollers has gone into a second pressing. Yes, you read that correctly. The Bay City Rollers, the tartan-clad teen throb combo of the mid-'70s, who had such hits as Money Honey, Rock 'n' Roll Love Letter, and the ubiquitous Saturday Night, have been honoured with a 17-track collection of covers by a variety of North American pop groups. The CD is a made-in-Canada affair, the brainchild of Jaimie Vernon, head of the Bullseye Records label (http://www.bullseyecanada.com).
"Two things prompted this," says Vernon, 36, from his home in Toronto. "The first was the very positive response we got from the Klaatu tribute CD (Around The Universe In 80 Minutes). At the same time, my wife Sharon had been involved in organizing the Shang-A-Lang '99 Roller fan convention in Toronto and we thought it would be great to have a CD release to go along with it, as you can't get any of the original Roller recordings."
Vernon managed to round up interest from the North America power-pop subculture through the efforts of Mark Hershberger and Gary Gold, two veteran pop writers sympathetic to the Rollers' oft-maligned output. Gold is a transplanted Mississauga, native living in Hoboken, N.J. He and his friends, the New Jersey-based band The Gripweeds, contributed a version of Rock 'n' Roll Love Letter. And it was Gold's e-mail tip that led to the disc's other Canadian musical contributor, the Winnipeg solo recording artist Fudge.
"When I was five or six years old, my two favourite groups were Kiss and the Bay City Rollers," recalls Lee Rosevere, a.k.a. Fudge, who plays all the instruments heard on his drastic overhaul of Love Power. Originally found on the 1977 It's A Game LP, his version "is sort of how a bad version of Prince might have done it."
"I did it for fun, basically," says Rosevere, 27, an associate producer for CBC Radio's Definitely Not The Opera. Men In Plaid comes at a time of renewed interest in the Rollers. There are reports Courtney Love is buying the film rights to Caroline Sullivan's kiss-and-tell book about the Rollers called Bye Bye Baby. But it has been a rough road for the Rollers, victims of "one of the biggest rock 'n' roll rip-offs ever." Former manager Tam Paton was convicted in 1982 of "gross indecent acts" with young boys. And millions of pounds worth of recording and merchandising royalties went missing.
The various members of the band live in rented apartments, drive "beat-up Toyotas," and have generally gone through the mill. Singer Les McKeown, who toured pubs and universities during the early '90s, candidly admitted in a London Mail interview last April to going through "a downward spiral of drink and drugs" in the years following the split-up. Stuart (Woody) Wood, did okay and is a big name on the Celtic music scene. Original bassist Al Longmuir had a heart attack and subsequent stroke in 1995 that left him partially paralyzed, but he's still able to perform.
This past New Year's Eve, four of the best-known members of the line-up reunited to perform an Edinburgh concert, and four more U.K. live dates are slated for February. A 17-song Rollers CD is planned for release later this year on the Hardive label. It includes 15 tracks recorded in Budokan, Japan, in the 1970s and two new studio tracks recorded this past year.
Collection, reviewed by Steve Granados
The Definitive Collection is a long-overdue American compilation of the cream of the Scottish pop band's 1971-1979 output. Sure, the Rollers have finally been accorded some retrospective acclaim by kitsch-obsessed hipsters, but this collection is a shocking reminder of just how good the Bay City Rollers were. They may have had most of their hits written by other writers, but then again, so did Suzi Quatro and Sweet. Opening up with the obligatory "Saturday Night", this well-chosen set showcases a host of tracks that Roy Wood would be proud to claim as his own. Due to a simply amazing remastering job that brings out the drum-heavy punch of glam-pop stompers like "Keep On Dancing" and "Shang-A-Lang", The Definitive Collection is revelation.
While this generally superb compilation fails to weed out a few weak tracks such as the anemic "Give A Little Love", almost all of the remaining tracks are first-rate glam and power-pop. The Definitive Collection really kicks into high gear with mid-70's recordings like "Money Honey", the 1976 hit penned by Rollers Eric Faulkner (the one with the Rod Stewart shag haircut) and Woody Wood (the spiky haired bassist). Powered by one of the mightiest glam-rock guitar riffs of the era and featuring an impossibly cool guitar solo by Faulkner, this song alone should have earned the Rollers a place in the rock and roll hall of fame.
The Rollers really hit their stride in 1976-1977 and scored with a trio of bracing power-pop singles: "Rock And Roll Love Letter" (which was remade by the Records in 1979), a high octane remake of Dusty Springfield's "I Only Want To Be With You", and "Yesterday's Hero", a thundering slab of glam that was penned by ex-Easybeats Vanda and Young. While the album takes an artistic nosedive with later pop hits like the pitiful, DJ-stroking "Dedication", the disco-by-numbers pop attempts like "It's A Game" and "You Made Me Believe In Magic", it's fun to hear these songs again, considering that it's probably been 15 years since the Rollers' It's A Game album was pulled off the shelf.
Packed with excellent liner notes and boasting massive sound that was only hinted at by the original vinyl albums, The Definitive Collection is an essential power pop album.
Copyright 2000 Scottish Daily
Record & Sunday Mail Ltd.
September 24, 2000, Sunday
ROLLER LES BACKS FILM SNUB TO SCOTS STARS
Bay City Roller Les McKeown has backed Courtney Love's decision to snub Scots actors in her movie about the boy band. Ewan McGregor had been expected to play lead singer Les, but the American rock singer wants Keanu Reeves and Leonardo DiCaprio to star in the
controversial film. It's based on US journalist Caroline Sullivan's book, Bye Bye Baby: My Tragic Love Affair With The Bay City Rollers. Love is fascinated with the story of the Scots band who found fame and fortune, then became embroiled in scandal. McKeown, who is an advisor on the film, said: "Courtney bought the rights to the book so she can do what she wants with the film. "I would like to see some Scottish actors in the film and I would love it if it was made in Scotland."
"Ewan McGregor and Bobby Carlyle are international stars, but I think Keanu would give the film an even greater appeal. "Anything that would make the film a success has got to be welcomed."
Copyright TheSunday Times
October 1, 2000
Bay City Rollers film to turn Tinseltown tartan
AS Britain's first boy band they were famous for their bizarre shortened trousers, pick-and-mix tartans and simplistic songs such as Sha La La La and Shang-A-Lang. Now the Bay City Rollers, the most adored and mocked pop group of the 1970s, are about to be given the Hollywood treatment by Courtney Love, the widow of rock star Kurt Cobain. She is raising £40m to make a film based on the group's doomed attempt to conquer America in 1975 and their consequent self-destruction.
At first glance, it is an unlikely coupling: Love, 36, combines her acting career with playing guitar in Hole, the type of hard-core rock band that routinely sneers at boy bands. But, according to contemporaries, she was 11 when the Scots played in her home city of San Francisco, and she never recovered. Beneath her tough exterior is a soft spot for the pop of her childhood.
The Scottish actor Ewan McGregor, who has already played one doomed pop star in Velvet Goldmine, has ex-pressed interest in portraying the charismatic lead singer Les McKeown. Leonardo DiCaprio has, however, turned down the opportunity to portray the guitarist Stuart Wood.
Love has paid more than £30,000 for the film rights to the book Bye Bye Baby by Caroline Sullivan, a comic account of a New Jersey teenager's pursuit of the band across America and her attempts to bed at least one of the band. She was successful - but never named her conquest.
The critical success of Almost Famous, the recently released film of a similar semi-autobiograpical tale of touring with Led Zeppelin in the 1970s by the then teenage reporter Cameron Crowe, has made Bye Bye Baby a hot property in Hollywood.
A rehabilitated drug addict, Love has suffered a sticky transition from rock widow - after a depressed Cobain shot himself in 1994 - to actress. She narrowly missed out on an Oscar for her role in The People vs Larry Flynt, but went on to pick up other awards and has set up Epitome Productions to make her own projects.
The Bay City Rollers, who recently re-formed after a decade of disputes, are at the top of her list. The film will include the glory days, when throngs of teenage girls donned tartan scarves in honour of their heroes, and also the darker aftermath when the band's manager, Tam Paton, was jailed on sex charges. Band members have suffered drink, drugs, health and money problems.
The book, Bye Bye Baby, has been condemned by fans as sneering, spiteful and cruel but the band's current manager, Mark St John, who united them so that they could sue for back earnings of £150m, said he would wait and see what Love did with it.
McKeown, 44, who will be paid to advise Love during the production, has his own ideas on who should play him. "It should be someone big, like Keanu Reeves," he said.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Derek Longmuir, 47, drummer: psychiatric nurse sentenced to 300 hours community service earlier this year for possession of pornographic images, many of children, in his Edinburgh flat.
Eric Faulkner, 44, guitarist: attempted suicide shortly after band split up. Still writes songs and has collaborated with Blondie. Lives in farmhouse near Eastbourne with girlfriend Kass.
Alan Longmuir, 49, bass guitarist: also attempted suicide. His ill health dashed plans for a comeback tour this year. Lives in Stirling.
Stuart 'Woody' Wood, 43, guitarist: records traditional Celtic music in his Edinburgh studio. Married two years ago.
Les McKeown, 44, singer: cleared of shooting girl fan with an airgun but fined £1,000 for attack on two photographers. Lives in London with Japanese wife Peko. Working on new album with Wood.
Times 5 November 2000
Get on down: McKeown limbers up for another night in the DJ booth
was 14 and growing up in Scotstoun, Glasgow, my best friend's sister Joanne
was among the vast tartan army of Bay City Rollers fans. On winter evenings
she could be found bowed over a sewing machine, transforming a pair of
white denim flares into half-mast tartan loon pants to be worn with the
obligatory plaid scarf tied around the wrist.
She once queued up all night outside the Apollo, Glasgow, for tickets to see her squeaky-clean heroes. Joanne did a lot of hanging about in the mid-1970s: at the entrances to five-star hotels, at chilly stage doors, on airport balconies. Why, 23 years on, do I find myself with ample time to reminisce about Joanne's obsession with the Rollers and their story of lost cash and lost innocence? Could it be because I too am waiting for the band's former lead singer Les McKeown to show up?
McKeown might be middle-aged and minus a hit record for two decades but he still knows how to play the star. For an hour and a half I have been sitting in The Elbow Room, a pool hall bar in north London. Every Tuesday McKeown, a 46-year-old father, DJs here, playing retro-cool Barry White hits for customers too young to know that the Rollers - shaggy-haired Eric Faulkner, Stuart "Woody" Wood, brothers Alan and Derek Longmuir and, of course, McKeown - sold 80m records worldwide.
As a venue The Elbow Room makes the dingy Apollo look upmarket. The ladies' toilet has a two-way mirror to let women spy on men using the urinals. When the photographer asks where McKeown is, the young girl at the ticket desk says: "Les McKeown, who's she?"
Just as I begin to feel sad for the singer - the Rollers might have been a glaikit-looking bunch, but to come to this? - McKeown swaggers in the door. His square-jawed face has filled out and he's ditched the mullet for dark brown spiky locks, but there's still the same jack-the-lad grin. In black jeans, a black T-shirt and brown suede jacket with collar turned up, it's impossible to tell whether his trademark scrawny chest, flaunted naked below his Rollers jacket, is still hairless. He is accompanied by his glamorous Japanese wife, Peko, and their 16-year-old son, Richard, whose shaved head and delicate features make him look like a cross between a Vivienne Westwood model and a Buddhist monk. While Peko embraces the PR guy, McKeown shakes my hand with a cheeky tickle of my palm. There is no apology or explanation for his lateness, just the first of a series of suggestive retorts. When I ask if there's somewhere quieter we can talk, he quips, "Well that's a bit much, we've only just met." When I later put a pen in my mouth while scrabbling for my notebook, he jokes that I'm being provocative. But then McKeown was always the cheeky chappie of the pack, the loud-mouthed wisecracker. Being the closest the Rollers got to good-looking ensured that the lead singer was the boy band's focal point. At the height of their fame, that was a lot of adoration.
Two decades before Take That, these working-class lads from Edinburgh were the first British boy band, primped and coiffured to global stardom. Screaming hordes of fans greeted their every move. They were even bigger in America and Japan than in Britain. Between 1975 and 1978 they had 18 top five hits in America, including Give a Little Love and Bye Bye Baby. They hosted their own TV series, Shang-A-Lang. But that was a lifetime ago; before the royalties disappeared, the drugs took hold and the band fell apart.Lighting up a Marlboro in the manager's office, McKeown whinges about being stuck in a time warp. "When I go into a pub with a mate and someone recognises you, it drags you back," he says."It's all, 'What are the lads doing, how's Woody, what's your favourite Rollers' records?' I'm someone from the past which, right now, is a bad thing because I want to move on."
His complaints are a tad disingenuous given that like the rest of the band, with the exception of Derek, he scrapes a living by trading on his former fame. Take his latest ploy and the reason for our interview. He has just launched a trendy training shoe with the hip designers Acupuncture - the Bay City Runner. The limited edition shoe, in the shops just in time for the Christmas rush, features - surprise, surprise - a white fabric and tartan upper and McKeown's embroidered signature. What market are they aiming for?
"Maybe those terrace boys at Ibrox," says McKeown, who is wearing black boots. "Would it look nice with a bit of blood on the toe?"
The manufacturers are hoping the thirtysomething editors of lads' magazines such as Loaded will regard the shoes as hilariously kitsch and just the job for the December edition. It helps that McKeown knows most of these guys by name. When not belting out his former hits with his band, Les McKeown's Seventies Bay City Rollers (he's the only member from the original line-up) McKeown is DJing at trendy parties for The Face magazine or Loaded.
In the fickle world of fashion, could this be the first stirring of the return of Rollermania? Are the Rollers on the brink of becoming strangely cool again? Tartan and cropped trousers have, after all, been revived already this year.
Mocked at the height of their stardom, they are about to be given the Hollywood treatment by Courtney Love, the widow of rock star Kurt Cobain. She is raising £40m to make a film based on Caroline Sullivan's pop memoir Bye Bye Baby. It recalls a youth spent touring America on a mission to sleep with one of the band. Sullivan was successful but never names her conquest. But it's easy to spot it was Woody, and not her first choice, Les.
McKeown has yet to meet Love, a huge fan since she saw the Rollers play in San Francisco as a teenager, but he will be a consultant if the film goes ahead. "I can just see it," he muses. "I'll be saying, 'No, that wasn't the tartan I was wearing on the '74 tour'. "
McKeown can be self-deprecating and engaging, but his humour just as often slips into arrogance. He tells me Cobain once insisted Nirvana's music was a cross between the Bay City Rollers and Deep Purple. I ask when that was. "Go and look it up. Just type in Kurt Cobain and Rollers. Do your research," he says, adding that Keanu Reeves could play him.
And for someone anxious to leave his past behind, McKeown is reticent about discussing the present. Asked where he lives and about his family, a reasonable question given he's introduced them, he says stubbornly: "No, I don't want to do that."By all accounts, he lives modestly. He drives a Honda and, as his wife tells me later, lives near Hackney. The band never recovered financially from tax demands for cash they claim they never received. Allowing for inflation, the alleged missing royalties of £20m are now estimated at closer to £170m. The band are suing their former record company, Arista, in America.
"Initially, the blame lies with Tam," he says, referring to Tam Paton, the band's former manager, whom they sacked in 1979 after 11 years.
The former potato merchant from Prestonpans was infamous for the control he exercised. He banned them from having girlfriends in public and fostered their boy-next-door image by making them drink milk at press conferences. In 1982, Paton served a year in prison for indecent acts against teenage boys. He went on to become a millionaire property developer with a ranch-style bungalow outside Edinburgh. So what was Tam like? "Let's not go down that road," says McKeown, looking bored. But then I tell him Paton is quoted as saying the Rollers were "musically atrocious" when he first heard them. "Did he say that?" asks McKeown. "What a horrible geezer."
McKeown joined the Bay City Rollers when he was 17. The son of a tailor, he was brought up in Edinburgh's working class Broomhouse. "I already had a band called Threshold that was on its way to the top," he assures me. "The singer from the Rollers left, they asked me to join. They were a one-hit wonder with Keep on Dancin'. For me, the Bay City Rollers were a stepping stone."
He stayed, however, caught up in an endless rock'n'roll cycle of going from limo to aeroplane to gig. The band wanted to do more of their own material, but Arista insisted they stick with cover versions. More bitterness ensued when Alan was sacked in 1976 for being too old at 27 - they'd lopped seven years off his age when fame beckoned.
Within two years the pressure had taken its toll on McKeown. "It was mass orgies, mass drinking binges," he says, only half joking.
Disaster heaped upon disaster. There were even reports of suicide attempts by Faulkner and Alan Longmuir. McKeown couldn't take any more and in 1978 quit the band to go solo, the same year he met Peko, who was managing a nightclub in London's Cambridge Circus. They married in 1984 and she is now a kung fu teacher.
Richard is considering a career in acting. He's worked as an extra on Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. Asked what he thinks of his father's fame, he gives a bored shrug. Is it a little embarrassing? Richard allows himself a gentle smile.
But his father has no intention of hanging up his Bay City Runners. On the advice of the Rollers' new manager, Mark St John, four of the members, including Les, buried the hatchet and reformed. It was the best move to recover their lost money, according to St John. They performed in front of thousands of screaming fans for Edinburgh's millennium celebrations.
Derek Longmuir left the Rollers for good in 1984. In March this year he was convicted of possessing child pornography and sentenced to 300 hours community service. He was dismissed from his job as a nurse at Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary.
"I can't comment on the case but I was sad to hear he'd lost his job. That was his passion," says McKeown.
Ten minutes into the interview a minder comes to ask how long it will take. When I say half an hour at the least, McKeown guffaws. "Aye right, I'm on in a few minutes," he sneers, forgetting that I have flown down from Scotland and he has kept me waiting for more than an hour.
I follow him downstairs to see how the former pop legend fares behind the turntable. There's no microphone, so no cheeky patter. I can't help but feel relieved. I think Joanne would be too.
Tuesday, 31st October 2000
The Edinburgh Evening News Online
The Bay City Rollers
THEIR tartan wardrobe was hideous and even their manager, when first taking them on, acknowledged that they were “musically atrocious”. But none of it seemed to matter – in the 1970s Rollermania swept across the world as Edinburgh’s famous five attracted screaming girls wherever they went.
Despite their shortcomings,
the Bay City Rollers had hit No 1 with Bye Bye Baby by 1974 and Les McKeown,
Eric Faulkner, Alan and Derek Longmuir and Stuart ‘Woody’ Wood (clever,
that) were sending fans wild wherever
they played. Despite his views on their music, manager Tam Paton knew they were destined for greatness when he heard them play in their tenement room and kitchen in Caledonian Road back in 1968 – girls were already gathering at the stair entrance to listen to them.
When they did hit the big time those tartan outfits were worn by fans the world over. The Rollers’ outrageous wardrobe included such ‘70s gems as short-cut jackets, white wide-legged half-mast trousers seamed in the most lurid plaid, platform boots and, of course, the Edinburgh boys loved to bare those scrawny, hairless chests. What really worked for them, though, were their cute, cheeky faces and brand of Scottish freshness – and the girls couldn’t get enough of it. Plus, their songs were incredibly catchy. In April 1975 the Rollers played two gigs in their home city – at the Odeon – and fans queued all night for tickets.
Riots even broke out as songs
like Shang-A-Lang sent fans into wild hysteria. During a show being filmed
for TV, girls stormed the stage. London Weekend Television banned the boys
from ever appearing again. At an Oxford concert Les and Eric got in a fight
after claiming St Andrew’s Ambulance men were beating up a girl fan rather
than restraining her. A balcony collapsed during a gig in London, fans
were crushed in Newcastle and girls crashed through the glass frontage
of a Glasgow hotel.
The United States also took the lads to their hearts and they became the most successful Scottish band ever to cross the Atlantic.
Alan Longmuir recalls: “It was so totally different from normal life that we could have been in space.” Leading psychologists accused the Rollers of teasing and inciting their audiences. And there were accusations – later proven – that seven years had been shaved off Alan’s age, because their manager was worried fans would think that, at 25, he was too old. Alan says: “It was all a bit daft. Reporters were even trying to track down my birth certificate.” As the decade drew to a close the band was on the wane. Tam Paton was sacked and in 1982 they broke up, reforming four years later for a one-off tour of Japan.
Today, Les McKeown has one
Rollers memorial band while Eric, Alan and Stuart are in another. Derek
became a nurse but hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons earlier
this year when he admitted downloading hundreds of pornographic images
on his computer.The present aside, no-one summed up the 1970s and all it
is remembered for better than the Bay City Rollers.
Although the royalties are still in dispute, the Rollers sold 60 million records – not bad for a band accused of not being able to play any instruments.