Bay City Rollers — Then and Now
The Bay City Rollers were a Scottish pop band, most popular in the 1970s. The British Hit Singles & Albums noted that they were “tartan teen sensations from Edinburgh”, and were “the first of many acts heralded as the ‘Biggest Group since The Beatles’ and one of the most screamed-at teeny-bopper acts of the 1970s”. For a relatively brief but fervent period (nicknamed “Rollermania”), they were worldwide teen idols. The group’s line-up featured numerous changes over the years, but the classic line-up during its heyday included guitarists Eric Faulkner and Stuart Wood, singer Les McKeown, bassist Alan Longmuir, and drummer Derek Longmuir.
Bassist Alan Longmuir, his younger brother Derek Longmuir, a drummer, along with schoolfriend, lead singer Gordon “Nobby” Clark founded the group in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1966, as The Saxons. Shortly afterwards, they chose a new name found at random by throwing a dart at a map of the United States. It landed near the community of Bay City, Michigan.
The Bay City Rollers were managed from early on by Tam Paton, himself a former big band leader. Short term members from this period included David Paton (member 1969-1970) and Billy Lyall (member 1969-1971), who went on to be founding members of another successful Edinburgh band, Pilot.
After signing with Bell Records, the band’s first hit was “Keep on Dancing” (UK #9, 1971), a cover of a 1965 hit by The Gentrys, recorded at the suggestion of record producer Jonathan King. Clark was backed on vocals on “Keep on Dancing” by King doing multi tracked singing. Upon this release’s success, they made appearances on BBC One’s Top of the Pops. The group then won a Radio Luxembourg-sponsored song contest with the tune “Mañana”, which was later popular in parts of Europe and in Israel.
Several non-charting singles were released over the following two years. This period saw the addition of long term members Eric Faulkner and Stuart “Woody” Wood. In mid 1973 they narrowly missed the UK Singles Chart with the fourth single, “Saturday Night”, one of many songs written and produced for the band by the songwriting duo of Scotsman Bill Martin and Irishman Phil Coulter. By the end of 1973, Clark had become disillusioned by the band’s lack of success and decided to leave. He was replaced as lead singer by Les McKeown.
The five members at the end of 1973 – the Longmuir brothers, Faulkner, Wood and McKeown – are generally referred to as the “classic line-up”. In early 1974 McKeown hastily re-recorded lead vocals of the group’s forthcoming single, “Remember (Sha La La La)”, which became a sizable hit and a lead-in to a series of UK chart hits.
Beginning with “Remember” (UK #6), the Rollers’ popularity exploded, and they released a string of hits on the UK chart. Following in succession were “Shang-a-Lang” (UK #2), “Summerlove Sensation” (UK #3), and “All of Me Loves All of You” (UK #4).
By early 1975, they were one of the highest-selling acts in the UK. That year saw a successful UK tour (which prompted newspaper headlines about “Rollermania”), and a 20-week UK television series, Shang-a-Lang.
A cover of the Four Seasons’ “Bye, Bye, Baby” stayed at #1 in the UK for six weeks in the spring of 1975, selling nearly a million copies to become the biggest seller of the year, and the subsequent single “Give a Little Love” topped the charts that summer, their second #1 hit. Two full-length LPs were produced during this period: Once Upon a Star and Wouldn’t You Like It?. Faulkner and Wood undertook the majority of the songwriting duties.
As the group’s popularity swelled to superstardom in the UK, a concerted effort was made by Arista Records (the record company that evolved from Bell) to launch the Rollers in North America. New Arista head Clive Davis was instrumental in grooming and overseeing the project. His work paid off, as in late 1975, the Rollers reached #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 with “Saturday Night”, the song that had missed the UK chart completely two years earlier. The Rollers gave the track their American debut via a satellite-link performance on Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell. In Canada, it fared equally well, hitting #1 on the RPM national singles chart on 10 January 1976. The Bay City Rollers album (North American release only) hit #1 in the same chart on February 7.
A second North American hit came with “Money Honey”, written by Faulkner and Wood, which hit #9 in the US. In Canada, it fared better, following its predecessor to the top and giving them their second #1 in the RPM national singles chart on 13 March 1976. The North America/Japan release album Rock n’ Roll Love Letter jumped from #25 to the top position in a single week in Canada, deposing their own Bay City Rollers album at Number #1 on the national chart on 27 March 1976, but only managed to achieve the #31 spot on the U.S. Billboard chart.
By early 1976, the strain of success (and the discomfort of being a man in his late 20s in a teen band) had taken its toll on bassist Alan Longmuir, who decided to leave the group. He was replaced for seven months by 17-year-old Ian Mitchell – the first band member born outside Edinburgh, Scotland. (He was from Northern Ireland. With Mitchell, the group released an album titled Dedication, and hit the charts with a cover version of the Dusty Springfield song “I Only Want to Be with You”, which reached US #12, as well as “Yesterday’s Hero” (featuring live material from a 1976 personal appearance in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square), and “Dedication”.
As the Rollers’ popularity waned, the shuffling of personnel continued: Mitchell quit the band, telling Rolling Stone that “I’m getting out before I stick my head in a gas oven.” He was replaced by Pat McGlynn, who joined the band with the forlorn wish that “I just hope I can cope.” McGlynn lasted only a few months before quitting in turn, complaining that the other Rollers had treated him like a servant. Further struggles around the band involved the direction of their sound, as the members wished to pursue more sophisticated styles. They settled on David Bowie’s producer, Harry Maslin, and in August 1977 released It’s a Game as a four-piece group, comprising McKeown, Wood, Faulkner and Derek Longmuir. The It’s a Game tour produced the live album Rollerworld: Live at the Budokan 1977, recorded in 1977 at Japan’s Budokan Hall, but unreleased until 2001.
On the disc, they covered an unsuccessful 1973 single by String Driven Thing, “It’s a Game” to give them their final UK Top 20 hit (#16 in May 1977), but “You Made Me Believe in Magic” could only make #34 in July. Oddly enough, this single provided them their highest-charting German hit, reaching #4 in the same year. “You Made Me Believe in Magic” reached #10 in the US, but this would be their final major success there too.
In 1978, Alan Longmuir reunited with the band for the recording of Strangers in the Wind. The release of this LP was timed to coincide with the debut of the Rollers’ US Saturday morning television show The Krofft Superstar Hour, later renamed The Bay City Rollers Show, on the NBC network. The show was a poor match for the band. Their time in the teen idol spotlight was slipping away and their music had matured and become more sophisticated compared to the bubblegum hits they had released in 1975-1976. The show and album were both failures.
McKeown made the decision to leave for a solo career, after a concert tour in Japan.
At the end of 1978, the band had split with McKeown, fired Tam Paton shortly after and decided to continue in a more new-wave, rock-oriented sound. Their name was now The Gay City Strollers. South African-born Duncan Faure joined the band as new lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter. With Faure, the line-up produced three albums: Elevator (1979), Voxx (1980), and Ricochet (1981). None of the releases sold well and they officially spilt up in late 1981.
1980s and beyond
During the 1980s and 1990s, there were a few short tours. Seven past members played Japan in 1982, and again in 1983. A reunion album, Breakout, was released in Japan in 1985, performed primarily by McKeown and McGlynn with minor contributions from Faulkner, Wood, and Mitchell.
In the late 1980s a version of the band called the ‘New Rollers’ was formed featuring Faulkner on lead vocals, Kass (Karen Prosser) on vocals, Jason Medvec on guitar, Andy Boakes on bass, Mark Roberts on drums. The band toured extensively throughout the US and Canada as well as tours of the UK and Australia. This group also released an independent 5-song EP titled “Party Hardy”.
In 1990 Stuart Wood and Alan Longmuir joined with Faulkner to tour under the Bay City Rollers name, and issued several CDs of re-recordings of the old Roller tunes.
The classic line-up were filmed for an episode of the VH1 – Behind The Music series in 1998. Around the same time the same line-up (minus Derek) played in Japan for a TV show.
The classic line-up (minus Derek Longmuir) performed a one-off New Year’s Eve millennium concert (1999–2000) in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle in Scotland. Interest was rekindled in the UK by various television documentaries about the group, and a new television advertised compilation of greatest hits, Very Best of the Bay City Rollers, which entered the UK Albums Chart on release in 2004 at #11.
Currently, Mitchell, Faulkner and McKeown each regularly tour playing Rollers hits. Due to legal issues over which performers may use the band name, McKeown’s group used the name: Les McKeown’s Legendary Bay City Rollers. At present there is no official Bay City Rollers.
A recent documentary, Who Got The Rollers’ Millions?, explored the speculation about what happened to the supposed financial fortune the group generated in their career, with accusations that it was defrauded from the group by their management and record company. There are claims that the group sold 100-300 million records and generated the equivalent of five billion pounds in revenue, with the band members themselves earning very little. According to the BBC they sold 70 million records. However, even this figure has been disputed by several sources, not least their former record company.
In March 2007, six former members of the group (Faure plus the “classic line-up”) announced a lawsuit against Arista Records in hopes of claiming what they describe as “tens of millions of dollars” of unpaid royalties. Nobby Clark has threatened to sue the other band members if their lawsuit is successful, stating that he was the creative force behind the band’s success, despite the fact that he left the group in 1973 before the bulk of their fame and fortune began.
In September 2010, Gordon “Nobby” Clark, Ian Mitchell and Pat McGlynn filed a complaint in the courts in United States against the six members (Faure plus the “classic line-up”) over their being excluded from the case against Arista records. Clark, Mitchell and McGlynn are seeking to have their rights determined and are also seeking financial damages against the other Bay City Rollers for alleged breach of contract.