RIP Les McKeown: Revisiting the Rollermania Archive

Another Bay City Roller left us this week. Despite getting very little airplay nowadays, the announcement of lead singer Les McKeown’s death made it onto the national news, a nod to the phenomenal success the boys had in the early 1970s.

It took me a long time to admit to having been a fan of the Rollers around here, but a few years ago I finally bit the bullet after having a rummage through my box of teenage memorabilia. As someone who became a teenager in 1973 I was the perfect demographic for these tartan teen sensations. They were Scottish, like me, so looked a lot like the boys we went to school with (a bit pasty and undernourished) but their catchy, feelgood pop songs kept on coming and they became for a time the biggest ‘boy band’ in the world.

RIP Les McKeown

Les was my favourite Roller – He was the lead singer with a great voice, and also had a swagger that belied his age, only 17 when they first found success. As I was very shallow back then, I also thought he was the best-looking of the band. Their success was short-lived, but for those of us who were fans we will never forget those days of Rollermania. I first shared the post below back in April 2018, only a few months before the death of Bay City Rollers founder member Alan Longmuir as it turned out, but in view of this week’s news, I think it deserves another outing.

RIP Les McKeown

Alyson’s Archive – “Rollermania” and Me

“It’s a teenage dream, to be seventeen”, sang Les McKeown back in 1975. But no, I beg to differ Les. Back in 1975 it was a teenage dream to be fourteen, and have pictures of you and the rest of the boys staring down at me from my bedroom wall. Had I been a year or two older, or a year or two younger, it just wouldn’t have happened but I was the perfect demographic for these “tartan teen sensations from Edinburgh”. My generation had missed out on Beatlemania, and Osmondmania was on the wane, it was time for something new and luckily for me the band that inspired this latest mania came from Scotland.

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The humble author’s teenage collection of Bay City Roller pinups!

(I have shared a display like this once before, of David Cassidy pinups. I would just like to reiterate that I honestly don’t spend my evenings pouring over such teen-dream fodder, because that truly would be weird, it’s just that if you’ve ever had to clear out your parents loft when they downsize, it kind of becomes redistributed to your own loft, which fortunately for this blog is where it remains today.)

Anyway, getting back to the Rollers, the band’s founder members were brothers Alan and Derek Longmuir but after a few changes along the way, in late 1973 the classic line-up fell into place, consisting of guitarists Eric Faulkner and Stuart “Woody” Wood, singer Les McKeown, bassist Alan and drummer DerekTam Paton, their (highly controlling) manager was the man in charge, they got a record deal with Bell, and they came up with a unique “look” which consisted of cropped trousers, skimpy V-neck sweaters and plenty of tartan – What could go wrong?

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That’s me on the left in brown corduroy!

All through the year 1974 they were never far from the UK Singles Chart and when we heard the band were coming to the Capitol Theatre in Aberdeen, of course my friends and I (aged only 13) went to see them. This tour was to promote the album “Rollin’” where most of the songs were written by those champions of the short and catchy pop song, Phil Coulter and Bill Martin. First of all we had Remember (Sha-La-La-La), then we had Shang-A-LangSummerlove Sensation and finally All Of Me Loves All Of You. The album went to No. 1 in the Album Chart – The boys were adored by hordes of teeny-bopper fans and were well and truly on their way.

And here are a few personal memories of that time. I don’t know about elsewhere in the country but here in Scotland, back in the 1970s, many young lads left school at 16 after (half-heartedly for many of them) sitting their “O” Grades. They all had apprenticeships lined up and work was plentiful, so why not? There was however the technicality that if you turned 16 later on in the calendar year, you couldn’t leave school until Christmas. As a group they were called “The Christmas Leavers”. They didn’t want to be there and the concept of abiding by strict school uniform rules went out the window. One by one, in 1974, they started to adopt Bay City Roller style clothing wearing trousers with tartan down the side, the cropped jumpers and the short-sleeved shirts. They had Les, Eric and Woody style haircuts and of course had similar accents – For girls like us in the lower grades they became our big crushes. We all had our favourite Roller (mine was Les, quite the showman back in the day) and there were definitely boys in our school who started to look like him – Unlike the clean-cut Osmonds, who kind of came from an alien planet as far as we were concerned, the Rollers were the “boys next door”.

By 1975, Rollermania had really taken hold, and after putting together their second album “Once Upon A Star”, another tour was announced. Again my friends and I persuaded one of the mums to take us into Aberdeen to see them. Their cover of the old Four Seasons song Bye Bye Baby was at No. 1 in the Singles Chart and ended up being the biggest selling record of the year.

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The Rollin’ Tour programme and Once Upon A Star, complete with pull-out pics

Unlike the previous year when we went to see them, this was a far more hysterical concert with girls screaming constantly throughout – I probably went hoarse myself, shouting LES at the top of my voice every time he came near the front of the stage. But strangely, my most vivid memory of that night is of a particular member of security staff, who for one night only had been given free rein to manhandle young girls. This is not a #MeToo confession but I did come home with a whiplash that night, as suddenly, out of nowhere, a pair of hands had grabbed my shoulders and firmly shoved me back down into my seat. Everyone in the entire theatre was standing, but for some reason this one “bouncer” had decided he would go up and down all the rows forcing us back into our seats – I took some time out to watch him, and even at that young age, could tell he was enjoying hurting us. Of course I didn’t tell my parents, as we didn’t in those days, but this was a new concept for me and one I have obviously never forgotten.

But back to the Rollers – In 1976 they were kind of lost to us as they secured a record deal with Arista and were heavily promoted in America. They appeared on Saturday Night Live and ended up at the top of the Billboard Chart with a song that had been a flop in the UK but obviously hit the spot in the US. Saturday Night started off with a chant that also struck a cord with New York band the Ramones – It is no coincidence that their record Blitskrieg Bop starts in the same way. They had watched the Rollers on telly and decided to copy their winning formula of a catchy three minute song, a “uniform” and a football-style chant. Hard to believe I know, but part of rock and pop folklore.

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Most of us by this time had moved on to “real boys”, so we were happy to forget about the Rollers and leave them to their success in other parts of the world such as North America, and strangely enough Japan, where they still have a following today. I have never had any inclination to see them perform as part of a reunion tour, as for me, they were very much of their time. I do however feel very sorry for them sometimes, as it is well known that despite their global success they ended up with none of the money – 300 million albums sold worldwide (in an era where the revenue came from such sales) and no spondulicks. Tam Paton was of course blamed, and he went to his grave taking the secret of where the money went with him. The Rollers were not highly educated and they came from families that were ill-equipped to deal with their fame, so became one of the many financial casualties of that era.

Give A Little Love by the Bay City Rollers:


I am going to end this post with some extracts from what has turned out to be the most interesting part of rifling through old teenage memorabilia – The words that were on the back of the pinups. Prior to being in a band, Alan used to get the horses ready for the local dairy’s milk round (yes really). Eric and Derek (has a nice ring to it) were apprentice joiners and Woody and Les were only 16 when they found fame – Not the best backgrounds from which to go on and “take care of business”. Despite it all falling apart in the late ’70s, it sounds as if the Rollers still have happy memories of their heyday, their time in the sun. The Beatles had a mania, and so did these five boys from Edinburgh – Who would have ever thought it possible?

Lesley's bio from the Rollin' tour programme
Leslie’s stats – Some shockers there!
Magazine feature on the Rollers
Hanging out with the band
The Rollers’ Story Part 1
The Rollers’ Story Part 2

Until next time….

Give A Little Love Lyrics
(Song by Phil Wainman/John Goodison)

It’s a teenage dream to be seventeen
And to find you’re all wrapped up in lo-o-ove
And I found that you made a dream come true
Now I do believe in what they say-ay-at

You’ve got to give a little love, take a little love
Be prepared to forsake a little love
And when the sun comes shining through
We’ll know what to do-oo

Give a little love, take a little love
Be prepared to forsake a little love
And when the sun comes shining through
We’ll know what to do

When I walk with you there is just we two
And the world goes by and I just don’t care-are
And I know one day I will find a way
To be safe and sound within your hear-eart

So until I do, gonna give a little love, take a little love
Be prepared to forsake a little love
And when the sun comes shining through
We’ll know what to do-oo

Give a little love, take a little love
Be prepared to forsake a little love
And when the sun comes shining through
We’ll know what to do

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was written by my favourite songwriting team Bacharach and David - The opening line to that song was "What's it all about?" and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

18 thoughts on “RIP Les McKeown: Revisiting the Rollermania Archive”

  1. Remember in ‘Love Actually’ when Daniel (Liam Neeson) introduced the song “Bye Baby Bye” at his wife’s funeral?
    “…through the immortal genius of the Bay City Rollers…”
    While the song is a cover of a 1965 Four Seasons hit, it is a very good cover.
    RIP Les McKeown

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes indeed, Richard Curtis has a habit of taking the edge off a sombre scene by introducing an unlikely pop hit. He did it in Four Weddings with a reference to I Think I Love You, “by David Cassidy – when he was still with the Partridge Family,” and I’m fairly sure the DJ gave us Puppy Love by Donny Osmond at a party scene in LA.

      It certainly was a successful cover for them, but to be honest, if they’d sung the telephone directory back in those days it would have been a hit – They were really big for a short time.

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    1. There have been many and I think I’m going to have to do a Tribute To Those We’ve Lost post at some point. Some are more relevant to me though and the Rollers were part of my teenage years.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. They really do look like fish out of water in that rooftop picture don’t they, and they were. Poor lads got ripped off big time.

      Perhaps there would have been no Ramones without the Rollers – A strange thought indeed.

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  2. I remember the Rollers in Aberdeen, the lasses (and a few boys, in secret of course…my mate being one of them) in my class were distracted all day and havered on constantly about them but nothing compared to the next day when one of them claimed to have touched Woody’s hand…god there was some mileage oot of that tale.
    Innocent times and catchy pop songs, couldn’t be grudge the Rollers their fame pity they got financially burned but I’ll bet they had a great time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m pretty sure we closed down Union Street after the concerts at The Capitol as word got round they were looking out of the upstairs windows. Everyone piled out onto the street. The Rollers coming to town was a big deal. Catchy pop songs as you say but such a shame they saw little of the profit (as it must have been vast). Whenever I’ve seen them interviewed in docs, they all admit to having had the time of their lives and aren’t/weren’t too bitter. As Alan always said, he was just a plumber from Edinburgh who got lucky.

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  3. Thought something like this would feature here.
    A band who were ruthlessly exploited over the years.
    Sad news.65 is no age at all these days

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I also thought you would think that, so didn’t want to disappoint, if you know what I mean!

      That’s it, they were indeed ruthlessly exploited – They were just so young and trusted they were being managed by someone who knew what he was doing – Grrr…

      No age at all, and far too close for comfort nowadays.

      Like

  4. Ah, poor Les and his family, sad news and that’s no age at all, as you and CC have said. But lovely to see the memorabilia again which is so of its time, and your great photo with all its various shades of ’70s brown! I had a real downer on brown for many years as it was my school’s horrible uniform colour but now I think it’s quite warm and flattering (for the more ‘mature’ skin tone – and on the right garments). In fact, I now find myself rather taken with your corduroy trouser suit!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, poor Les. He had a difficult time post-Rollers but seemed to enjoy being reunited with Alan and Woody for a tour about five years ago. These lads were ill-equipped to becoming global pop idols.

      Beige and brown were big in the mid-70s and I think I got the trousers first (straight legged ‘bags’ I think they were called), then got the jacket in another shop. The shade of brown was just a little off and I think the corduroy itself was of a slightly different gauge, but hey, when you’re 14 you don’t mind. Can’t say I wear much brown nowadays but maybe you’re right – flattering for the more mature woman.

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    1. Gosh, didn’t know that. First Alan in 2018, then Ian and now Les.

      The Rollers were very much of their time and I cringe when I see clips of their old telly show Shang-A-Lang BUT they were like the boys next door and we girls loved them.

      Les had a troubled time post-Rollers as you say and to be honest I’m amazed he made it to 65, but he did, and it’s really sad for his family.

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  5. I probably wouldn’t call myself a big fan, but I sure understand your fandom and feel empathy for your loss of a childhood hero. The photos of your collectibles are wonderful. Cool that you kept all that stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As you could probably tell from my original post, Rollermania lasted for a very short time in the early ’70s, but it was a fun time for young teenage girls like me who were also Scottish. I feel empathy for Les’ family and friends after their loss, but it’s an awful long time since I’ve given the Rollers much thought, so it wasn’t one of those shock deaths that really affected me. It does kinda hit home that we’ve lost two of them since I wrote that post and they weren’t much older than me really. Scary stuff.

      Yes, I’m so glad I kept all the folders of memorabilia now. I’m a real hoarder so hate parting with anything that I think might come in useful in the future – Little did I know I would become a music blogger but this stuff has indeed become useful for inclusion in tribute posts especially.

      Like

  6. The Bay City Rollers passed through Ipswich not long after I’d moved to the the town in 1975 and I vividly remember the front page of the local paper documenting the hysteria. Reading your post has reminded me how ridiculously young they all were when it took off for them. To think how they worked so hard throughout that intense period of success, all for nothing when they were ripped off by Tam Paton, a man they trusted implicitly, is tragically sad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They were very young and very naïve about the business side of things, so like many others from that era, they were spectacularly ‘shafted’.

      Ipswich in 1975, and just about every other city in the country. They certainly had a ‘mania’ and worked hard, but they had the stamina for it back then. Tough when it all ends so abruptly though and poor old Les didn’t do well in the subsequent decades.

      Like

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