The Bay City Rollers – Rollerworld: Live at the Budokan. Released – 2001.

THE night of my 60th birthday in 2015 turned out to be a little bit special.

I celebrated this milestone by going to see The Bay City Rollers play live at Barrowland in Glasgow.

During the concert, I got the surprise of my life when I was inducted into the Barrowland Hall of Fame … becoming the first music journalist to receive such an accolade.

On stage – before the 1500-capacity, tartan clad audience – singer Les McKeown presented me with a handsome trophy.

Minutes later he was singing a song whose chorus went:

“Well we sang Shang-A-Lang/As we ran with the gang/Doin’ doo wop be dooby do ay.”

It was a night to remember.

You won’t hear me say a bad word against the band from Edinburgh who conquered the world and never received the credit – or money – for it.

So as a Rollers’ fan, it came as a total shock to hear the sad news earlier this week that Les had died suddenly at home, aged 65.

Over the years, I interviewed him many times. Les was a straight talker, whose painful honesty frequently ruffled a few feathers … band mates and music critics alike.

But he was the perfect frontman for the Rollers, who were pure pop with a capital “P”.

They scored hit after hit with great three-minute songs like Summerlove Sensation and All Of Me Loves All Of You.

Permit me to fight their corner.

The Barrowland gig was just one of four sell-out nights at the venue, part of what sadly turned out to be an ill-fated UK comeback tour.

For when the Rollers tasted success, trouble was never too far behind. The statistics of that success make for impressive reading, however.

It’s estimated the group sold 120 million records worldwide.

A string of 12 Top 40 singles, including No. 1 hits Bye Bye Baby and Give A Little Love, were chalked up between 1971 and 1977.

The classic Rollers line-up of McKeown, Eric Faulkner, Stuart “Woody” Wood, and brothers Alan and Derek Longmuir were on the covers of teen magazines around the globe.

They also set the template for the boy band pop phenomenon 20 years later.

But history has not been kind to the Rollers.

In 2012, I watched the excellent documentary series, How The Brits Rocked America on BBC 4.

It kicked off with the 1960s British invasion led by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

The second episode focused on how Led Zeppelin took rock into US sports stadiums.

And concluded by revealing why the Sex Pistols, The Police and Duran Duran also enjoyed considerable success Stateside.

If you blinked, you’d have missed any reference to the Scottish act who topped the Billboard Charts in 1976 with Saturday Night, and scored a further five hit singles and two best selling albums.

The group starred in their own TV show on NBC … and also hosted their own weekly music programme on ITV on this side of the pond.

Most telling of all was that the Rollers had every

pre-pubescent female fan dressing from head to toe in tartan.

A feat replicated in Australia, Japan and across Europe, where their records also dominated the charts.

In 1976, I worked as a manual labourer on a building site adjacent to The Albany Hotel in Glasgow.

When word spread I’d paid £2 for a ticket to see the Rollers play the Apollo, I became the target of good-natured abuse.

Every plumber, joiner and electrician on the job demanded to know: “What are you going to see those f****** nancy boys for?’

I’m paraphrasing.

But I had good reason. I wanted to experience “Rollermania”, a genuine pop phenomenon, for the first time.

On the day of the gig, the hotel came under siege from thousands of girls.

You could hear their piercing screams for miles.

Every time a van arrived at the service entrance, to deliver fresh laundry, the driver was besieged.

The fans thought the Rollers were being smuggled into their rooms.

At the gig, the hysteria was ramped up to a level I’d never experienced before, or since.

The lights dimmed and an intro tape, appropriately a NASA Apollo countdown, was played over the PA.

“Five-four-three-two-one … we have lift off.”

The noise was deafening as the group launched into a set, which included their hits Money Honey, Rock ‘n’ Roll Love Letter, I Only Want To Be With You and Bye Bye Baby.

McKeown deftly worked the audience, every smile and gesture ramping up the excitement level.

The following year, the group played two shows at the famous Nippon Budokan in Tokyo.

A decade earlier, The Beatles were the first pop act to appear at the 15,000-capacity venue, the home of wrestling and martial arts in Japan.

The live album recorded by a four-piece Rollers – Alan Longmuir was on a ‘sabbatical’ from touring – captured a moment in time.

On that score, its merits are self-evident.

Cynics claimed the Rollers couldn’t play, and that their biggest hits were written by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter, two music biz veterans old enough to be their dads.

But most songs in the set were penned by Faulkner and Woods. There was no team of seasoned session players augmenting the sound of a band whose apprenticeship was served on the tough UK dance hall circuit.

“It’s hard to convey to anyone who wasn’t there the domination the Rollers had on pop music during the 1970s,” said Mark St John, in the album sleeve notes.

“They were the only band since The Beatles to totally dominate the world youth market for pop music.

“Historians have somehow conveniently overlooked the inability of most of the first generation of 70s British rockers to survive across the Atlantic. But where Bolan, Slade and the rest failed, the Rollers conquered everything.

“They were exploited, manipulated and eventually destroyed by the business. The sheer weight of the corporate machine chewed them up and spat them out.”

I do not stand alone in my admiration.

The Ramones were influenced by the

“S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night” chant from the Rollers’ US chart topper, for the intro of their 1976 debut single, Blitzkrieg Bop.

“It was a chant type song, so I thought it would be fun to do one too … I came up with ‘Hey ho/Let’s Go,” said drummer Tommy Ramone.

From the mean streets of Corstorphine, to CBGB in New York. Validation, or what?

In the early Nineties, they also drew plaudits from Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, who compared his band’s sound to “The Knack and The Bay City Rollers being molested by Black Sabbath and Black Flag.”

A fact later confirmed by Dave Grohl, according to McKeown. He said: “I hung out with the drummer of Nirvana and he told me they played our records at rehearsals. So I think I’ve had the respect of my peers.”

Cobain’s wife, Courtney Love even optioned the film rights for Bye Bye Baby, Caroline Sullivan’s 1999 book about her teenage love affair with the band.

The Rollers also made two albums – It’s A Game (1977) and Strangers In The Wind (1978) – with Harry Maslin.

At the time, Maslin’s stock within the music industry could not have been higher.

He’d just produced David Bowie’s landmark 1976 album, Station To Station.

After working on such a musical game changer, it’s safe to assume Maslin was in a strong position to pick and choose any future recording projects.

In 2019, Cherry Red Records thought the Rollers worthy of a greatest hits box set compilation. The indie label’s roster had previously featured The Fall and The Dead Kennedys.

So Les McKeown finally got to rub shoulders with Mark E. Smith, albeit on a catalogue distribution spreadsheet.

The defence rests. Les McKeown … rest in peace.

I will continue to unashamedly fly the flag for The Bay City Rollers. It’s bold tartan, of course.

* THE Billy Sloan Show is on BBC Radio Scotland every Saturday at 10pm.

High hopes at comeback

WHEN The Bay Rollers reformed in 2015, they were paraded through the streets of Glasgow in a white Rolls Royce.

But ‘that faux reunion” as it was dubbed by Les McKeown was not to last.

Within months, amicable relations between the group had disintegrated.

Donald McLeod, my fellow Herald columnist, helped organise the Rollers’ comeback.

A UK tour, which included four Barrowland gigs, sold out in minutes. The following year, the group appeared at T In The Park and the Hydro.

“We announced the reunion at a press conference in the Central Hotel. Things snowballed, it went bananas,” recalled Donald.

“We could have booked a week at Barrowland.

“We set up a photograph outside the venue and punters from the Hoops Bar in Gallowgate were singing Shang-A-Lang. It was crazy.”

But old wounds had not healed.

In 1978, Wood booted McKeown off the stage during a gig in Japan.

It’s possible he felt like doing it again when the latter insisted on promoting his own band.

The group fell out at T In The Park, and later Wood refused to take part in a TV interview when McKeown plugged his own album, Lost Songs.

Despite the problems, there was still a lot of goodwill for the Rollers.

“At one point I tentatively had £1m worth of shows lined up from promoters in America and Japan,” revealed Donald.

“But I think the band’s insecurities were never going to go away.

“I tried to salvage things. As a promoter, you’ll do anything – try every trick in the book – to keep the show on the road.

“You’d walk into a meeting growling at each other. At the end of it you’re all pals, thinking you’d agreed to something.

“Then 48 hours later it had all blown up again.”

“It was a really exhausting process.”

Sadly, Longmuir has also passed away. He died in 2018, aged 70.

Donald said: “Whether the Rollers ever played again, I’d just like to have seen Les and Stuart make up.

“Sadly, that will now never happen. Les’ legacy with the band is second to none.

“They were our greatest ever pop act, selling 120 million records … no Scottish band will ever do that again.

“I’m very proud to have ran with their gang in the short time I worked with the Rollers.”

While, Stuart Wood said: “I was upset and shocked to hear this very sad news. It’s a sad day in Bay City Roller history.”