INTERVIEW: Les McKeown (BAY CITY ROLLERS)
They were Scotland's finest, dressed head-to-toe in tartan back in the 70s; women would faint at the mere sight of them and their songs topped the charts as squeaky-clean popsters the Bay City Rollers took over the airwaves, with frontman Les McKeown firmly at the helm. Within a blink of the eye, the Scottish glam rockers were dubbed everything from teen idols to the biggest act since The Beatles - but while the group were taking over the world, turmoil was rife in the band and it wasn't long before the dream run was over. McKeown went on to other pursuits and all that remained was a legacy of chart-topping wunderhits including 'Bye Bye Baby', 'Give A Little Love' and 'I Only Want to Be With You'. Fast forward a few decades and a few reunion tours in between - now one of the highest-selling acts in UK history are back in business! And along for the ride is the man responsible for kick-starting 'Rollermania' all those years ago; yep, the legendary Les McKeown is bringing the Bay City Rollers on an Australian tour - and he's got a few new songs up his tartan sleeves!
So before the Rollers come weave their magic down under, here's the lightning round interview, Les McKeown-style!
TIANA: HI LES! THANKS SO MUCH FOR TAKING MY CALL THIS MORNING...OR THIS MORNING FOR ME ANYWAY! IT'S NIGHT-TIME FOR YOU, ISN'T IT, WE'RE KEEPING YOU UP ALL NIGHT!
Les: (laughs) You are! But it's ok, take your time (laughs)
TIANA: WELL FIRSTLY THE EXCITING NEWS IS WE GET TO SEE YOU PLAYING BACK IN AUSTRALIA IN JUNE!
Les: Yeah, it's gonna be good, I'm looking forward to it. I haven't been back since 2007!
TIANA: A SOLID DECADE IN BETWEEN!
Les: Yes! It was the 'Countdown' tour we did a run of big arenas with lots of different singers from the 'Countdown' TV show and Molly Meldrum.
TIANA: AH, THAT REMINDS ME OF ONE OF MY FAVOURITE STORIES ABOUT THE BAY CITY ROLLERS, IT ACTUALLY HAS TO DO WITH 'COUNTDOWN' - WHEN YOU WERE IN AUSTRALIA IN 1976 AND YOU WERE ON 'COUNTDOWN', IT COINCIDED WITH A TOTAL SUN ECLIPSE WHILE YOU WERE THERE!
Les: That's right! (laughs) But nobody noticed it!
TIANA: LITERALLY EVERYONE WAS SO FOCUSED ON YOU GUYS THAT THEY DIDN'T EVEN REALISE THERE WAS AN ECLIPSE?
Les: Yes, in the background there was an eclipse going on, but everyone was just looking at us (laughs). It was quite bizarre!
TIANA: SO BASICALLY - THE BAY CITY ROLLERS ECLIPSED AN ECLIPSE. THAT'S A PRETTY GREAT CLAIM TO FAME. AND I BELIEVE YOU ALSO RECENTLY HAVE HAD A RELEASE OF YOUR OWN ALBUM 'THE LOST SONGS' RECENTLY - SONGS WRITTEN IN HOTEL ROOMS DECADES AGO? Les: Yeah, when I wrote these songs back in 1974, 75, 76 - I had big plans of them being on a Bay City Rollers album but that wasn't to be because the people in power didn't want us to be writing songs. And they would just tell us that the songs just weren't good enough and that kind of stuff. And they all ended up in a little kind of...forgotten little briefcase. And my current producer John McLaughlin, who is quite famous for doing lots of hit songs all over the world including McFly, Westlife and all that kind of stuff - he helped me put the songs together and kept the ideas that I had. And we've come to create quite an engaging album - very catchy! I've got a new single coming out, it's called 'Beautiful'.
TIANA: AND WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM YOUR NEW ALBUM? BACK IN THE DAY A LOT OF PEOPLE WEREN'T ACTUALLY AWARE THAT YOU DID HAVE THAT SONGWRITING AND PRODUCING TALENT UP YOUR SLEEVE...WHAT KIND OF SONGS CAN WE LOOK FORWARD TO WITH 'THE LOST SONGS'? Les: Well this tour that we're doing is the kind of tour that I do all over the world - it's specifically Bay City Roller hit songs. So we'll look at all the songs that were famous in Australia and we will do all of the hits that the people will recognise in Australia and a couple of favourites from the album tracks - and currently I just do that one new song from my own album 'Beautiful', and it's going to be released on the 24th of May with a video. What I did, I asked lots of the fans and basically anyone on my Facebook and Twitter to send in a high-res video of what they thought was beautiful, or if they've got a beautiful picture of them and a significant other, or a picture with me! And so thousands and thousands of pictures have come in, the producer has been inundated and I doubt that everybody will make the cut. But it's gonna be good! TIANA: WHAT AN AWESOME IDEA! Les: It's got that Roller kind of feel - I'll serenade you (Les sings brief snippet from new song 'Beautiful')
TIANA: WELL I FEEL SPECIAL NOW THAT I'VE HEARD SOME OF IT! AND HOW ARE YOU FINDING THE FANS THESE DAYS WHEN YOU'RE PERFORMING? ARE YOU SURPRISED HOW MANY YOUNGER FANS YOU HAVE?
Les: Yeah, I mean some of the fans from the old days have followed me and stayed with me all this time which is fantastic and I appreciate it. And they've brought along, maybe, a reluctant husband and maybe their kids who want to know or want to see who their mum keeps talking about and what were the songs she keeps playing in the car when they go on holiday. And they're interested to know what their mum might've been like when she was a kid.
TIANA: AND THOSE KIDS ARE PROBABLY SINGING ALONG TO SOME OF YOUR SONGS!
Les: Well, I go out of my way to try and jog memories, if you know what I mean. When I talk onstage I try to get people to reminisce about the first record they every bought of the Bay City Rollers, remember maybe standing in a queue at a record shop - do you remember record shops? (laughs). And sometimes you get a little bit naughty and say "Oh, can you remember buying your first 7 inches of Bay City Roller heaven" and everybody burst into laughter - stuff like that. I have quite a familiar thing with the British fans, I've toured over one hundred gigs a year now for the last 12 years and it's just been getting bigger and bigger and we play theatres - and they're very, very loyal and connected. I just be myself. That's all you can be. And people somehow like me for being myself, so that's ok with me.
THE ORIGINAL BAY CITY ROLLERS IN THEIR 70S HEYDAY - LES MCKEOWN ON FAR RIGHT
TIANA: THAT'S THE BEST SECRET WEAPON! JUST DO IT YOUR WAY!
Les: Yeah, I love a good laugh. And we still wear onstage the iconic shirts - we don't wear the short trousers, but we wear the iconic shirts. There's a lot of tartan on the stage, like big drapes of tartan. So, it all triggers memories of the times when we were young and when we were just dreamers. It really does make a for a nice evening.
TIANA: I ACTUALLY GREW UP WEARING TARTAN EVERYDAY AS MY SCHOOL UNIFORM, SO I FEEL THAT INADVERTENTLY I WAS PART OF 'ROLLERMANIA'!
Les: (laughs) There you go, you didn't even realise it!
TIANA: WELL YOU'VE BASICALLY ALREADY ANSWERED MY NEXT QUESTION, IF YOU'D EVER GET SICK OF THE TARTAN. BUT CLEARLY IT'S HERE TO STAY, BUT MINUS THE SHORTS.
Les: Yes, the tartan is very special, I'm very proud of where I was born. Everyone's got one, and that was part of the whole thing, we wanted to make a little country like Scotland great again! Or something like that...I don't know what was going on in our heads. But, we took tartan everywhere and loved to talk about Scotland - just mad about Scotland! Much of the guys never left Scotland, I was in London since 1976 but much of the guys would never dream of leaving Scotland. But if you want to get things done in this busy, busy world you've got to be where the busy, busy people are!
TIANA: SO FOR MY LAST QUESTION - IF YOU COULD TRAVEL BACK IN TIME AND PLAY WITH ANY BAND, WHO WOULD IT BE?
Les: When I was younger, I would have liked to have been David Bowie or Bryan Ferry, or even before that Robert Plant or Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd fame). I thought they were all great artists and bands when I was growing up. There wasn't so much musical snobbery back then...I don't think. Or there might have been and I just didn't notice it (laughs).
TIANA: WELL I SPEAK ON BEHALF OF MANY WHEN I SAY WE'RE ALL GLAD YOU DID END UP WITH THE BAY CITY ROLLERS - AND THAT YOU'RE COMING BACK AGAIN! THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR TIME, LES.
Les: Tiana. very nice to chat to you, have a great rest of your day.
The Bay City Rollers featuring Les McKeown will be touring round the country in June - tour dates and more info below:
BY TIANA SPETER