In the 70s, a group of young tartan clad boys hailing from Scotland became international pop sensations and suddenly the world was in the grip of what became known as ‘Rollermania’. The Bay City Rollers were flooding the airwaves here with songs like ‘Bye Bye Baby’, ‘Summerlove Sensation’ and a remake of John Paul Young’s big hit, ‘Yesterday’s Hero’.
These days only lead singer Les McKeown remains of the classic 70s line-up and we caught up with Les on the eve of the Bay City Rollers’ first Australian tour in a decade.
He ponders over how long it has been since he was last in Australia. “I’ve not been to Australia for ten years now,” he recalls. “The last time was 2007 when we did a Countdown Tour that we did with Molly Meldrum. It was fantastic. We got to meet so many nice people and the touring company was fantastic. They looked after us really well.”
“At that time,” he admits, “I was still drinking a little too much but I’m back on the rock now so everything’s good.”
“I’ll be doing all the classic hits that Australia loves,” he promises. “And I’ll be doing one or two songs from my new album, ‘The Lost Songs’. They’re songs that I composed back in 1975/76 and they’ve been more or less rediscovered.” The songs had been locked away ever since and only now are they finally seeing the light of day. He was asked by Scottish record producer, John McLaughlin if he had any ideas from that period of time so he played him the tapes. “He said ‘Let’s use these, they’re great songs,’ which we did. Up until now, these songs have never been recorded professionally, just recorded on my little micro cassette recorder. These are songs that I’d written back when I was a kid basically.” One of the songs from the album ‘The Lost Songs’ is a track called ‘Beautiful’ which is due to be released as a single later this month in the U.K. “That song I probably will play in Australia.”
Les says that he still writes songs and sings me a line from one of his more recent tunes, ‘Bones’ which, he says, “is just about taking your country with you because it’s not where you are when you’re home, it’s in your bones. It’s about taking Scotland with you wherever you go. Scotland is in my bones and it doesn’t matter where I am. I don’t need to come home because it’s in my bones. And I think that would be true for anybody else whether from Australia or any other country. You feel strongly about where you’re connected to and where you belong. It’s not that you have to physically be there because you are Australian or you are Scottish. That’s the kind of thing I’m trying to translate in that song.”
“I’ve been doing this since I was invited to leave school at fifteen,” he tells me. “I’ve been doing this since 1971; I’ve been singing for a living. That’s a good name for a song.” At this point Les breaks into song, with a bit of a country flavour. “Sounds a bit like Johnny Cash,” he notes.
He is adamant that he is by no means jaded by singing the old songs. “This is what I want to do and I really enjoy it. I’m finding a new pleasure in singing songs like ‘Yesterday’s Hero’, ‘Saturday Night’, ‘Bye Bye Baby’, ‘Summerlove Sensation’, ‘Shang-a-Lang’. These people have come along and paid money to come and see us. Let’s be the best that we can be. Let’s put on a show that they’re never going to forget and that’s my attitude every single night.”
The singer says he has always had a great belief in what he does. “In 1973, I joined the Bay City Rollers. In 1974, the first song I sang on, ‘Remember’, started to go into the charts and I was telling the whole band ‘This is it! We’re on the way to the top!’ A couple of guys from the band, especially the older guys, Alan and Derek, who started the band, said ‘Well we’ve been here before a couple of years ago and it takes more than one hit,’ and I’m going ‘Never mind that, this is it!’ so I was full of enthusiasm. I just wanted things to happen for everybody and it did.”
“It’s been a good life,” he reflects. “It’s had its great ups and very heavy downs but these days, it’s pretty much on an even keel. Things have been good for the last ten or twelve years. I’ve really enjoyed going out and singing the songs that I helped to make famous and when I go out and there’s an audience all smiling at me, I think: Go on, Les; Do your best.”
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © Sharyn Hamey 2017. All rights reserved
Bay City Rollers featuring Les McKeown embark on their Australian tour in June.
For a full list of tour dates and to book tickets, go to: http://metropolistouring.com/baycityrollers
Les McKeown’s album ‘The Lost Songs’ is available through iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/au/album/the-lost-songs/id1145422048