Bay City Rollers frontman Les McKeown tells of poster boy days ahead of Dartford performance
PUBLISHED: 07:00 23 August 2013
B- A- B-A-Y, C-I-T-Y, Rollers – that was the chant sang across playgrounds all over the country by young girls clad in tartan from top to toe.
They would pen love letters in their thousands, drawing pictures of their favourite Roller and even, in one case, sparking the explosion of the band in the mid-1970s.
Frontman Les McKeown still tours today, more than 30 years since he joined the Bay City Rollers and achieved global chart success.
Having overcome an alcohol problem, Les is back to his previous best and will be performing in The Bay City Rollers Story at Dartford’s Orchard Theatre next month as his former bandmates discuss a potential comeback.
“We’re in talks to get back together for a tour in 2016,” says the former pin-up boy. “We were young and single then, but we are all married now, so it’s difficult to organise, but hopefully it will all get sorted.”
McKeown first joined in 1973, replacing Nobby Clark as lead vocalist, and was the main singer on all of the band’s biggest chart hits.
Two years after he joined, the band released Bye, Bye, Baby and the rest, as they say, is history.
The tartan army rose from the playgrounds, office blocks and suburban streets as women and children flocked to Rollers concerts sporting the obligatory fan wear.
“Having all the girls waiting for you at shows is amazing,” says Les. “To tell the truth, the whole few years at the top were just a lot of travelling – and remember this was 1975, so there was no technology. But we were young and energetic, so we got through all the trips from Helsinki to Sydney.”
Though they rubbed shoulders with the likes of Slade, Deep Purple, and David Bowie, on a regular basis, Les says that at first, the band’s dream was simply to appear on Top of the Pops.
“We were all just from working-class families and wanted to play as much as we could. The dream was to be on Top of the Pops and we didn’t think much beyond that,” he said.
“But with the initial success comes more success. Once we started wearing the tartan, we just exploded everywhere.”
And it was a strange piece of fan mail that sparked Rollermania, Les explains.
A card sent to the band depicting each member with a different female fan under a waterfall sounds much like any dedicated fan’s efforts, but one key detail sparked a million-pound gimmick.
“The girl had drawn us all wearing tartan. That became our iconic costume and people still love to wear it today at my shows. It’s almost a crime to be seen at one of my gigs without some tartan. If you’re a fan and haven’t got any, then hang your head in shame.”
Les explains that his love of performing has been rekindled by giving up the drink, having had “enough for a lifetime”.
After leaving the band in 1978, he decided try a solo career, but it failed to live up to the dizzy heights he had experienced while at the top of the UK and US charts.
At one point, the singer was, drinking at least one bottle of whisky a day, but he has recently cleaned up his act.
He said: “I could have drunk for Scotland at the Olympics if it was a sport. These days, I don’t have a taste for it and have stopped going on stage drunk.
“I’m performing really well these days. I’m amazed I can still do it, to be honest.”
The Bay City Rollers Story will see Les perform some of the band’s greatest hits, including Bye, Bye, Baby and Saturday Night, and tell stories from the tour bus.
He will appear at The Orchard Theatre, in Dartford, on September 24. Tickets prices begin at £17.50, visit orchardtheatre.co.uk.
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