If you want to know what life was really like in the 1970’s then just spend some musical time with the Bay City Rollers.
The BCR’s (as we’ll now call them) were only really in the big league for a couple of years but it seemed so much longer. I didn’t like the band then and don’t like them today, there’s a certain archness about some of their contemporaries a lot of the Glam years were about joke bands but we knew they were joke bands, its like dressing up for the Rocky Horror Show, we know its silly but its a bit of fun. There was no such distancing with the Rollers you were either a 13 year old girl and you thought they were great or you didn’t.
But the Rollers (as we will also call them) were everywhere, they became a bit like family almost literally the boys next door.
Like the boys next door they all had names. At the back was Alan Longmuir on bass with his younger brother Derek on the drums, then there was Woody on guitar and the twin front men Eric Faulkner on ‘lead’ guitar and Les McKeown on vocals. Eric was the only one who seemed to be attractive, Les was passable, a bit of a rough lad, as for the other three, well they were normal.
And normality is the amazing quality of the band, the first rule of boy bands is get a bunch of lads who the girls will find attractive, whatever you think of One Direction, they look amazing. The Rollers just look like five lads you put together from the nearest Kwikfit.
Ironalcally for a bunch of guys who seldom wrote their own songs or played on their own records the BCR were a proper band with their roots going back 1966 when the Longmuir brothers formed the Saxons. They played the rough dance halls around Edinburgh going through members by the dozen, as we have seen half of Pilot passed through their ranks and allegedly at one point Midge Ure had to resist their advances.
A shadow that hangs over the Roller’s to this day was heir manager Tam Paton. Paton may have been a larger than life openly gay man ( not that easy in the 70’s or Edinburgh) or he may have been a rapist, drug dealer and crook. At the height of Rollermania he actually got engaged to divert any mud that might be sticking relating to his relationship with his charges. We know that the 1970’s was a time when politics and pop was above the law in terms of sexual exploitation so lets stick to the facts about Paton
He was convicted of Gross indecency and served one year of a three year sentence
He was fined for supplying cannabis
He is dead
He was lured away from the family potato supply business when ,according to Paton, the Longmuir brothers asked him to be the manager. He had been on the dance band scene as a musician and there was no doubt he knew about music as well as root vegetables. The line-up shifting began to settle down but lead singer Nobby Clarke had had enough and quit on the brink of stardom, in many respects he had a lucky escape.
And so mysteriously a bunch of Scottish lads were able to evoke the kind of mania among their fans which, naturally, evoked the Beatles. Like the Beatles (at least during Beatlemania) they had their own uniform of calf length trousers and scarves. There was a lot of tartan as far as I remember. It was totally naff of course but it was easy to copy. Any girl with a basic knowledge of sewing and access to an old travel rug could knock up a uniform in no time at all
And they looked happy! Especially drummer Derek who always looked like being in the Rollers was just the best thing ever. The rest jigged about acceptably, there was very little sexual about the band and Paton was keen to maintain their squeaky clean image and in the days before everyone had a mobile phone this was relatively easy to do.
So here they are at the hight of their powers in 1975
It was generally accepted that Paton had played a major role in the band’s success. They had been signed on the back of their incredible popularity north of the border but that didn’t translate to record sales. It was during this period that Paton hired and fired in an attempt to hit a winning combination which he did, possibly accidently.
The BCR did very nicely indeed for three or four years. The trouble with being a teeny bop band is that young women grow up very quickly and what might be life affirming at 14 is plain embarrassing at 15. And so the demise of the Rollers was inevitable. The rot set in when Alan Longmuir left, or was he pushed? Longmuir had started the band of course and he was in his late 20’s so far too old for the strenuous life of a Roller. His replacement has Ian Mitchell who was 17 and in Paton’s mind at least was an improvement. Just because you are a 14 year old girl it doesn’t mean you are stupid and we could see the band coming apart at the seams when Mitchell was replaced by Pat McGlynn who only lasted a few months.
It just got weirder…
Their last hit was ‘its a game’ which was a track by hippie folkie type band String Driven Thing. I loved their Album ‘The machine that Cried’ when I first heard it a couple of years later. Their violin player Graham Smith actually joined the final incarnation of Van der Graf , it was a long way from Shang-A-Lang.
And so by 1977 the band were washed up Alan Longmuir actually rejoined the band having had a nice rest but no one cared and to be honest, why should they?
And then the strangest unpleasant things started to happen.
McKeown was ousted from the band.he was pretty much hated by Faulkner by this point but even after all these years there’s little warmth towards the frontman from his ex band mates.
Les was a troubled man, he had killed an old lady by driving into her and eventually was convicted of dangerous driving. He had also been raped at the age of 17 and perhaps unsurprisingly was getting heavily into drink and drugs. Since the Rollers has has been a ‘guest’ on a celebrity rehab program, been charged but not convicted with cocaine dealing, made public admissions of bisexuality and intermittently fronted various versions of his own BCR.
The hapless Derek didn’t fare much better. When it became apparent that the Rollers were of no interest to any one any where he quit music and trained as a nurse. However in 2000 he was convicted of possession of child pornography, an offence that friends claim was a ‘set up’ even to the extent of trying to implicate Paton in this.
Eric became very fat and spent a lot of time in studios which is not an activity for the health conscious. He looks a lot better now and still makes music in the sense that one time famous people do, i.e. pointlessly.
Woody and Alan appear to have escaped unscathed apart from the the fact that they were shafted just like everyone else by the finances.
The Roller’s were huge, they even had a presence in USA and were massive in Australia and yet the drummer decided that working as a nurse was a good move financially. Paton was eventually sacked and now he’s dead but like everyone else he claims not to have made any huge amounts from the band. Occasionally someone, usually McKeown hints that the band could reform but no one is holding their breath. If they did reform they could probably make more money in a tour than they made out their entire career. There’s plenty of middle aged women around who realise in retrospect just how terrible the Rollers were but would be willing to give them one more chance.