Bay City Roller Les McKeown still loves those tartan tunes | Music | Entertainment

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“Alan was very ill but he knew we were there and we just sat with him and talked with him, held his hand.” Alan, the band’s bassist, died in July last year, aged 70. He had contracted a serious infection while on holiday in Mexico and flown back to Scotland by air ambulance. Les still misses him. “He was a lovely guy,” he says. “The perfect gentleman, my best friend in the band. We were very close at one time.” Alan had reunited with Les and fellow ex-Roller Stuart “Woody” Wood for some reunion shows in 2015. His death brought to an end fans’ hopes that the definitive 1970s lineup – Les, Alan, Derek, Woody and Eric Faulkner – would get back together one day.

But the music has never died for Les, who joined the band as its new lead singer aged just 19 and within weeks found himself on Top Of The Pops with the hit record Remember in 1974.

At 63, he’s still happily performing hits such as (his favourite) Shang A Lang and Summer Love Sensation with his own version of the Rollers – he’s the only original member – and next month will join fellow 1970s pop survivors Suzi Quatro, Smokie, Showaddywaddy and David Essex in the Legends Live UK tour.

“Singing is the only thing I know,” says Les. “I left school when I was 15 and joined a band, so I’ve been doing this as my job for nearly 50 years.”

The Edinburgh-based Rollers went through many line-up changes before Les joined but only had one hit, Keep On Dancing in 1971.

Lead singer Nobby Clarke quit in 1973 to be replaced by cocky, charismatic Les and almost immediately the band found chart success, with hits such as Bye Bye Baby, their own TV show (Shang A Lang) and even brokeAmerica where they had a No1 with Saturday Night.

They also found themselves teen idols, rivalling, and by 1975 surpass-ing, the likes of The Osmonds and David Cassidy. But the Rollers were very different from the well-groomed perfection of their US rivals.

THEY were working-class Edinburgh boys (Alan was a former plumber) wearing a makeshift uniform of tartan-trimmed jackets and halfmast trousers which was quickly adopted by their legions of girl fans.

“We were just a bunch of Edinburgh scruffs,”laughs Les. “The clothes were basically copied from what Slade used to wear, the shorter trousers with some tartan added.

“My dad, who was a tailor, used to make some of our clothes himself – I’ve still got some of them.”

In those days, snake-hipped Les boasted a 24in waist. He’s somewhat brawnier nowadays but still wearing those tartan shirts on stage. But the trousers are full-length “with a lot of stretch,” he laughs, adding: “The old look wouldn’t look good on a man of my age!” Life had its thrills for the young band members but also its downside, not least being controlled by their svengali-like manager Tam Paton, a predatory homosexual who in 1982 was jailed for gross indecency with two boys aged 16 and 17.

In his autobiography Les told how Paton used to give them drugs while maintaining their squeaky clean image. “Paton tried it on with me,” he recalled. “I used to say, ‘My father will rip your ******* head off. And my brother. They’ll stab you to death’.”

Les battled personal demons and bad habits after he left the band, notably drink, drugs and infidelities to his Japanese wife Peko by whom he has a son, Jubei.

He later confessed and they repaired their marriage.

The turning point came when he was sent to rehab in 2009 as part of a reality TV show. “When I got there my first thought was, ‘Where can I get a drink?'” he recalls.

But he stayed for four months, cleaned up his act, and has been sober for 10 years. “I’m a happy man now, I’m Mr Positive,” he says.

“I’ve got a great band and we can reproduce the sound of the Rollers hits exactly as they were on the records. I still love singing those songs.We get the old fans coming to see us but they bring their husbands and children with them too nowadays, so it’s kind of a family show.”

What was the appeal of the Rollers? “It was a bit of a dull time in the mid-70s with things like the miners’ strike,” he says. “We were a group of young lads who cheered people up singing happy catchy songs. And there were some great songs.”

Legends Live Tour 2019 takes in 10 arena dates from April 4. To buy tickets go to www.legendslive.org.



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