Lanark return for Les and his Legendary Bay City Rollers
Celebrating 45 yers of Rollermania, Les McKeown will kick off his latest tour in Lanark’s Memorial Hall.
He’s returning to the town with his Legendary Bay City Rollers for the first of a 55-date UK tour this month.
And he can’t wait to celebrate 45 years since his first big hit, Remember – written by Phil Coulter and Scotland’s own Bill Martin – which peaked at No 6 in the charts back in 1974.
We caught up with Les on the road, speaking to him in between supermarket shopping, forest and tunnel interference.
But it was crystal clear that his enthusiasm for the tracks that made him a star remains undiminished.
He said: “I’ve been on the road for 45 years but the fans keep coming back so I’m happy to keep Rollermania alive for them.
“You often see them there with their sons, daughters and grandchildren – and they all know the words!
“Because the tracks are so catchy, they transcend age; people, both young and old, seem to love them.”
There was a time, from 1978 to 1991, when Les left the band and carved out his own solo career – a period in which he tried to shake off the Rollers association.
He said: “After I left, I wrote my own songs and made a point of not singing any of the old tracks. I tried to carve out a new career but it was impossible!”
So in 1991, he gave up fighting what the fans really wanted and formed Les McKeown’s Legendary Bay City Rollers.
Three years ago, the original band reformed for a short spell, with Les, Alan and Derek Longmuir – who founded the band – and Stuart Wood all reliving their heyday. Sadly, Eric Faulkner was unable to join them due to ill health.
However, that was a one-off tour and Les is now back performing with the guys he’s been on the road with since 1991.
He said: “We’ve been performing the songs for many years now so we all trust each other and it’s great to play with musicians you get on with!”
The Rollers were renowned for in-fighting, which saw many changes to the band’s line-up.
Les was, however, really good friends with Alan, who sadly died last July.
He said: “Usually, when I come back home, I go and see Alan and we have a pint or two at the Tartan Arms in Bannockburn.
“He would often come and play with us. It’s really sad that he’s passed on as he was a good friend.
“But we’re hoping his wife Eileen might make the gig.”
An army of tartan-clad fans will certainly be in the audience for the 45th bash and Les can’t wait to share Rollermania with them.
He said: “I might have been performing some of these songs for decades but it’s maybe the first time they’ve seen me doing it.
“So we perform the best we can, night after night, to make sure no-one leaves any of our gigs disappointed.
“We always get the best reaction in Scotland – in fact, the only place we struggle a wee bit is in London, where I now live.
“We’ve played in Lanark a few times now and we’ve always had a great night.
“This time round, it’s the opening night of a 55-date tour so we’re really looking forward to it.”
With the band still being popular in America, Australia and Japan, Les lives in Hackney to make his touring schedule easier.
But he still loves coming home, not least because there are so many memories from his early days here.
He recalled: “I was invited to leave school when I was 15 so I placed an ad in the Edinburgh Evening News for an experienced young singer looking for a band.
“I met up with Alan Wright who got me into Threshold as a singer.
“I’m sure I played a church hall in Lanark when I was with them.”
This time round, Les and his fantastic four-piece band will perform songs that influenced the Bay City Rollers as they were forging their way in the industry, as well as all the Roller hits.
And a special couple of numbers will see the curtain come down.
Les added: “Shang-A-Lang and Bye Bye Baby always get the biggest reaction.
“So we always finish with Shang-A-Lang and come back on with Bye Bye Baby for the encore.
“It’s the perfect song to end our show.”
So get your tartan gear on and make tracks to the Memo Hall on Thursday, August 29, at 7pm.
For tickets, priced £24, call the box office on 01555 667999 or visit www.sllcboxoffice.co.uk.
Teenage kicks for lead singer
Les McKeown became the lead singer of Scottish pop group the Bay City Rollers just a few days after his 18th birthday.
Their first two albums, Rollin’ and Once Upon A Star, stayed on the album charts for a total of 99 weeks from 1974 to 1976.
And Bye Bye Baby, the Rollers’ first number one, was the UK’s biggest selling single of 1975.
In the latter part of 1975 the band made their American television debut on Howard Cosell’s Saturday Night Live and within a year they were consistently hitting the US top ten charts with songs such as Saturday Night, I Only Want To Be With You and Rock and Roll Love Letter, to name but a few.
Between 1974 and 1978 the Bay City Rollers reached number one in the pop charts not only in Britain and America but all over mainland Europe, Japan and Australia.
Current estimated worldwide album sales are sitting at over 300 million.
In 1978, Les left the band and the following year he released his first solo album, All Washed Up. Les’s new band, cheekily called Ego Trip, went on to record five hugely successful albums in Japan.
And in the late 1980s, more chart success was to follow in Germany with a new solo album entitled It’s a Game.
But in 1991, Les returned to his roots, forming Les McKeown’s Legendary Bay City Rollers and started touring again, not only in the UK, but Europe, the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
He has continued to perform with the band ever since, treating audiences to all the Rollers hits. And he has no plans to stop.
He added: “When the music’s in your blood you just can’t stop.
“There’s still demand there as our concerts are always really well attended.
“So we’ve got to give the people what they want!”