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Bay City Rollers

+ {The Rollers} + {The New Rollers}

While there was no whisky, bagpipes, thistles or haggis on the go for Edinburgh’s BAY CITY ROLLERS, an abundance of tartan teens, saltire shrouds and wee rampant lions fashioned out Scotland’s best export since Irn Bru – “Rollermania”. Smash hits with screaming schoolgirls – not just from Scotland but all around the globe! – the 5-piece boy-band, consisting of heart-throbs Les McKeown, Stuart “Woody” Wood, Eric Faulkner, Alan Longmuir and Derek Longmuir, who had the world at their feet in the mid-70s. But behind all the glam, hype and razamatazz, there was exploitation, skulduggery and a whole smorgasbord of goings-on behind the scenes. And its name was Tam Paton, their manager and long-time confidante.
Formed in and around the Scottish capital in 1967, the Longmuir brothers (Alan on bass and Derek on drums) roped in schoolchum Gordon “Nobby” Clark (vocals) and John Devine (guitar), while other alumni chosen by manager Tam Paton (bassist David Paton and keyboardist Billy Lyall) were still around when they switched monikers from The Saxons to BAY CITY ROLLERS; named on the throwing of a dart that landed near-enough to Bay City in Michigan.
Under the guidance of guru/czar Tam Paton, the ‘Rollers were signed to Bell Records in early ’71; cracking the Top 10 almost immediately with a JONATHAN KING-produced cover of The GENTRYS’ `Keep On Dancing’. It proved to be a one-off, however, as personnel changes dogged the timing of 1972’s `We Can Make Music’ (now without David) and `Manana’ (now without Lyall but superseded by Eric Faulkner); both exiting musicians subsequently formed PILOT.
Enlisting the tried-and-tested, award-winning songwriting team of Govan-born Bill Martin and Derry-born Phil Coulter, the choice for their fourth 45 was the bubblegum-beat of `Saturday Night’. Mysteriously, it failed to gate-crash the Top 50. Its follow-up `Remember’ was scheduled for a late ’73 release, but was put back a few months to let fresh-faced singer Les McKeown take over from a disillusioned Nobby Clark. It was clear even back then that the autonomous regime whipped up by Paton was taking its toll on the band, who just wanted to perform on their own recordings without being treated like er… MONKEES.
In February 1974, it mattered little to everyone but the band when the song reached No.6 in the hit parade, helped in no small part by the tartan-trimmed attire displayed by the lads on their re-introduction to the screaming hordes on Top Of The Pops. Absent on the night was Devine, who’d made way for the cheeky-faced/boy-next-door looks of guitarist Stuart “Woody” Wood. At last the line-up had been settled upon; tartan sales were up and shin-high baggy “troosers” were causing mothers grief and despair. With further help from songwriters Martin & Coulter, the likely lads couldn’t put a foot wrong throughout 1974, kicking up a teen storm with Top 5 bubblegum-pop anthems `Shang-A-Lang, `Summerlove Sensation’ and `All Of Me Loves All Of You’; the parent LP, ROLLIN’ {*6} went straight to No.1!
Having started out as a BEATLES covers outfit several years ago, BAY CITY ROLLERS at their height, ironically, provoked a level of knicker-wetting teen hysteria not witnessed since the Fab Four’s heyday. Gracing TOTP with their trademark tartan flares, scarves and platform shoes, McKeown and Co scaled the charts twice in a row in 1975: first with a cover of The FOUR SEASONS’ `Bye Bye Baby’ (the opening song on the equally-appreciated ONCE UPON A TIME {*6}); followed by the exclusive, Phil Wainman-penned `Give A Little Love’. When the glitter of glam-rock was fading fast (SWEET, SLADE and BOLAN setting the pace), “Rollermania” and the tartan hordes were about to pounce on a new contingent of admirers from overseas.
It was only a matter of time before the States could not resist something so squeaky clean and identifiably Scottish at the same time. Manufactured and manoeuvred into planes to cross the wide span of the cities of America (and Japan, et al), the lads took to fame likes ducks to water; sitting ducks as it would turn out when their “pocket-money” run out. An inspired choice was to resurrect their `Saturday Night’ flop from yesteryear (with Les’ overdubs), and rewards for scaling the US charts were duly greeted with open arms and bulging bank accounts by everyone involved – bar the group themselves. A US-only BAY CITY ROLLERS (1975) {*8} compilation would dent the Top 20, while in Blighty, WOULDN’T YOU LIKE IT? (1975) {*5}, followed the group’s first simultaneous transatlantic smash `Money Honey’.
Much to the management team’s consternation, the group were allowed to express themselves creatively in the studio; the UK Top 5 success of Faulkner & Wood’s `Love Me Like I Love You’ (in the spring of ’76) helped to overcome some anxious moments. But was it just a fluke?
Amidst all the hype, hysterical girls fainting, there was one black spot in the group’s career, when a car McKeown was driving ran down a female pensioner while she crossed Corstorphine Road in Edinburgh. She died on 29 May 1976, but he was cleared of a lesser charge of reckless and dangerous driving, which resulted in a fine of £150 and a year ban. A remorseful Les never quite got over the accident, and further still, he was to go on stage (in Oxford) a broken man the night after the incident.
Following the Top 30 Stateside success of a Tim Moore-penned track, `Rock And Roll Love Letter’, Alan Longmuir departed for a short-lived solo career; his berth taken by fresh blood Ian Mitchell (from Northern Ireland). At first, things seemed hunky dory for the Rollers, when a dusting down of an old DUSTY SPRINGFIELD hit, `I Only Want To Be With You’, surged up the US, and, in turn, UK charts; pursued by DEDICATION (1976) {*5}. In 1977, at the peak of punk-rock, BAY CITY ROLLERS were still hanging on desperately; the hit title track (penned by Scotland’s STRING DRIVEN THING) from the disappointing IT’S A GAME {*4}, proved to be their parting chart shot in Britain, although in America, `The Way I Feel Tonight’, reached the Top 30.
Regardless of the new wave of acts surrounding them, newbie Pat McGlynn (rhythm guitar) was called upon to save the day, replacing Mitchell, who initially formed Rosetta Stone, while Alan Longmuir returned late in 1978 to supersede McGlynn. A further album under this regime prompted the delivery of STRANGERS IN THE WIND {*3}, but this was quickly despatched to overflowing bargain bins. It was also time for McKeown to take a bow.
Billed as The ROLLERS, 1979 saw the re-emergence of the band with South African-born singer Duncan Faure.
Swapping tartan/glam for a SWEET-esque AOR/power-pop motif, the German-only ELEVATOR {*4} and VOXX (1980) {*4}, the band were trying hard to convince the public – even themselves! – that they were on the way up, not down. Lying somewhere between The RASPBERRIES and The KNACK, The ROLLERS were many light years from the Bay City sensations of only a few years back, but in `Turn On The Radio’ (a flop 45), `Playing In A Rock And Roll Band’ and a cover of BOWIE’s `Rebel Rebel’, fresh fans might’ve been taken in – had the band not had a teeny-bop past. All but forgotten by 1981’s RICOCHET {*4}, the CHEAP TRICK-ish Rollers could’ve invented a new mania and no one would’ve batted an eyelid.
By then, the press knives were out for Rollermania and it wasn’t long before the band’s less than wholesome pedigree was exposed with revelations of drug use. On top of that, Paton was charged with gross indecency involving underage kids. Nevertheless, the Rollers kept rolling around the golden oldie circuit in various incarnations over the forthcoming decades, while, for better or worse, they remained the biggest pop export Scotland has ever produced.
Inevitably, Faure gave way soon afterwards for the return of McKeown. The BAY CITY ROLLERS were back in business for the Australian-only BREAKOUT ’85 {*3}, but this also went down like a lead balloon. When McKeown again bailed, the NEW ROLLERS pursued another pop angle with vocalists Eric Faulkner and Karen “Kass” Prosser, plus guitarists Simon Stewart and Jason Meldec, Andy Boakes (bass) and Mark Roberts (drums). One eponymous 1988-released EP later, that was it. The BAY CITY ROLLERS (Wood, Faulkner and Alan Longmuir) continued to tour in the 90s, although legal issues led to Les McKeown’s Legendary Bay City Rollers being in competition.
On the back of the band’s high-profile slot at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay 2000 celebrations, yet more controversy reared its ugly and all too familiar head when, in March, former member Derek Longmuir – now a hospital auxiliary nurse – was charged with possessing child porn; having plead guilty to “avoid a media circus”, he was sentenced to 300 hours community service but subsequently kept his job. It was later claimed by his foster son that Derek was indeed innocent, framed by a spiteful, obsessive American acquaintance who sent the discs to him a few days before his arrest. While the jury is still out on this one, there has been no other incidents to report on this matter.
A media pariah after other misdemeanours (too numerous to mention), Tam Paton died of a heart attack on 8 April 2009. The BAY CITY ROLLERS (McKeown, Woody and Alan Longmuir) re-united the group in September in readiness for Xmas concerts. In their time the band sold over 100 million records and a lawsuit one day might turn out to be fruitful.
© MC Strong 2000-2002/GRD-GSM // rev-up MCS Dec2015

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