It was an event for which the truly dedicated have waited 37 years. The Bay City Rollers, Britain’s biggest music sensation of the 1970s, who induced a generation of children to wear tartan scarves and Doc Marten boots, are back together at last.
Actually, to be precise, 60 per cent of the Edinburgh boy band are back together, looking wrinkled and with creaking joints: Les McKeown, Stuart “Woody” Wood and Alan Longmuir sat together yesterday, dressed in tartan, at a table bedecked with a tartan cloth, in a room in a Glasgow hotel so packed with promoters, journalists, cameramen and fans that there was almost a disaster when a glass of milk being carried in on a tray wobbled perilously in a minor collision with a television camera.
Why milk? Because the Bay City Rollers were so young and innocent-looking when they rocketed to fame that milk was reported to be their substance of choice. “We’ve gone from milk to drugs and alcohol and back to milk again,” McKeown announced.
The guitarist Eric Faulkner was missing. One highly publicised incident in the group’s precipitous fall was when he very nearly died of a drug overdose, in 1976. He stayed away because of one of the many court cases arising from the mysterious disappearance of Bay City Rollers’ royalties. “The door’s always open if Eric wants to come and join us, which could happen,” McKeown said. Later, he turned to the camera, to tell the absent guitarist: “The love is here, come and join us!”
Also absent was the drummer, Derek Longmuir, who has been working as a nurse for almost 30 years. He is just not interested, his brother Alan explained. In the 1960s, rock stars behaved badly while their managers tried to keep them under some sort of control. In the case of the Rollers, it was their now dead manager, Tam Paton – whose name no one uttered during the press event – who went to prison, where he undoubtedly belonged. He was the one who introduced them to drugs, and made sure that Eric Faulkner’s near fatal overdose was given maximum publicity.
The band members also suspect him of salting away millions of pounds in royalties that rightfully belonged to them. Asked where the Rollers story went wrong, McKeown blamed “awful, terrible management, and a lot of thieves around us”.
The Bay City Rollers rose like Icarus to an incredible height, before crashing to earth. 1974 was a year of “Rollermania”. Soon after McKeown had been recruited as the 18-year-old lead singer, and the 16-year-old “Woody” as their guitarist, the band was enjoying worldwide acclaim not seen in the British pop industry since the rise of the Beatles. The five youngsters, in their tartan scarves and half-mast trousers, are credited with selling 300 million records, and generating an income equivalent to £5bn in today’s money.
Then punk music took over, and the Rollers were out of date almost before they were out of their teens. The group broke up in mutual recrimination in 1978. Their first reunion concert is scheduled for 20 December. Their next single will be called “Boomerang”. Its release date is not fixed. Their relaunch after so many years is undoubtedly a triumph for optimism.
“Will you be as big as One Direction?” they were asked.
“We’re bigger than One Direction,” said McKeown – who will be 60 later this year. “They don’t have a ‘mania’.” He meant mania as in “Rollermania”.Reuse content