Photo Source: BCR Entertainment
The Bay City Rollers are a Scottish pop band whose popularity was highest in the mid 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 John Wood, singer Les McKeown, bassist Alan Longmuir, and drummer Derek Longmuir. On 22 September 2015 The Bay City Rollers, including McKeown, Stuart "Woody" Wood and Alan Longmuir announced that were reforming and would play a show at the Glasgow Barrowlands on December 20.
Early days and formation: 1966–73
In 1966 bassist Alan Longmuir, his younger brother, drummer Derek Longmuir and their schoolfriend, lead singer Gordon "Nobby" Clark, founded The Saxons in Edinburgh, Scotland. Soon after, they changed to The Bay City Rollers by throwing a dart at a map of the United States, which landed "near" Bay City, Michigan.
The Bay City Rollers' first manager was Tam Paton, himself a former big band leader. Short-term members from this period included bassist David Paton (from 1969–70) and keyboardist Billy Lyall (1969–71), 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 No. 9, 1971), a cover of a 1965 hit by The Gentrys, recorded with record producer Jonathan King. Clark was backed on vocals on "Keep On Dancing" by King, multi-tracked. 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 member guitarist Eric Faulkner. 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 with the band's musical direction and decided to leave just when his recording of "Remember (Sha La La La)" zoomed up the charts to No.6. He was replaced as lead singer by Les McKeown. A couple of months later, in early 1974, what became known as the classic line-up was completed when guitarist John Devine was replaced by Stuart "Woody" Wood.
British breakthrough: 1974–75
In late 1973 McKeown recorded lead vocals on "Remember (Sha La La La)", and a lead-in to a series of UK chart hits. A young 16-year-old Stuart Wood completed the 'Classic Five' line up in February 1974 a week after the band had debuted the "Remember" single on Top Of The Pops (in which John Devine had mimed the piano part), and by the dawn of 1975 the band were well on their way to achieving global success likened to Beatles fame. The successful Classic Five line up consisted of Alan Longmuir, Derek Longmuir, Stuart Woody Wood, Eric Faulkner & Les McKeown.
Beginning with "Remember" (UK No. 6), the Rollers' popularity exploded, and they released a string of hits on the UK chart. Following in succession were "Shang-a-Lang" (UK No. 2), "Summerlove Sensation" (UK No. 3), and "All of Me Loves All of You" (UK No. 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 No. 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 No. 1 hit. Two full-length LPs were produced during this period: Once Upon a Star (1975) and Wouldn't You Like It? (1975). Faulkner and Wood undertook the majority of the songwriting duties.
By this time, Bay City Roller fans had a completely distinctive style of dress, the main elements of which were calf-length tartan trousers and tartan scarves.
English singer-songwriter Nick Lowe wrote a "jaundiced" (in Lowe's words) paean to the band titled "Bay City Rollers We Love You". The track was "carefully sculpted" to be poor enough to get Lowe out of a recording contract with United Artists, but the strategy backfired. UA issued the record as by "The Tartan Horde", which was the name given to Rollers fans in England, and it became a substantial hit in Japan. Lowe was obliged to record a follow-up song called "Rollers Show", which did not meet with the same commercial success. This follow-up song was included on the US release of Lowe's first album, "Pure Pop for Now People".
World impact: 1976
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 No. 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 No. 1 on the RPM national singles chart on 10 January 1976. The Bay City Rollers (1975) album (North American release only) hit No. 1 in the same chart on 7 February.
A second North American hit came with "Money Honey", written by Faulkner which hit No. 9 in the US. In Canada, it fared better, following its predecessor to the top and giving them their second No. 1 in the RPM national singles chart on 13 March 1976.
The North America/Japan release album Rock n' Roll Love Letter (1976) jumped from No. 25 to the top position in a single week in Canada, deposing their own Bay City Rollers (1975) album at No. 1 on the national chart on 27 March 1976, but only managed to achieve the No. 31 spot on the US Billboard chart.
They were also extremely popular in Australia. One great example of their popularity was put into the book about Countdown – the Australian TV music show that ran from 1974–1987. Their 1976 appearance on Countdown coincided with a total eclipse of the sun. Director Ted Emery recalls
there... were thousands of kids done up in tartan pants that didn't reach the top of their shoes, constantly bashing on the plexiglas doors. They would do anything... to get into that television studio. There's 200 kids bashing on the door and a total eclipse of the sun occurred. I'd never seen one. On this day we all stopped in the studio and the Rollers went up on the roof. We stood out there and watched the flowers close up and all the automatic street lighting come on. It was chilling, the most fantastic thing you'd ever see. Downstairs the kids never turned around, staring into the plexiglas waiting to see the Rollers come out of the studio, go down the corridor and into the canteen. (They) never noticed the total eclipse of the sun.
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 from Northern Ireland – the first band member born outside Edinburgh, Scotland. With Mitchell, the group released an album titled Dedication (1976), and hit the charts with a cover version of the Dusty Springfield song "I Only Want to Be with You", which reached US No. 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. He was replaced by guitarist 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). Oddly enough, this single provided them with their highest-charting German hit, reaching No. 4 in the same year. The follow-up "You Made Me Believe in Magic" could only make No. 34 in July in the UK and No. 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.
New singer, new name
At the end of 1978, the band had split with McKeown, then fired manager Tam Paton shortly after, and decided to continue in a more new-wave, rock-oriented sound. Their name was now The Rollers. 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). Following the expiry of the band's Arista contract, neither of the releases sold as well as expected, and they stopped touring by 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 and Australia in 1985, and added drummer George Spencer. Breakout was written 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 (minus Derek Longmuir) performed a one-off New Year's Eve millennium concert, the last official Bay City Rollers 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 No. 11.
On 22 September 2015 The Bay City Rollers, including McKeown, Stuart "Woody" Wood and Alan Longmuir announced that were reforming and would play a show at the Glasgow Barrowlands on December 20. They further announced the release of a new album that has been recorded by McKeown with future additions to be added by other band members. The album is produced by hit maker John McLaughlin.
According to the BBC, the Bay City Rollers sold 120 million records.
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 were seeking to have their rights determined and are also seeking financial damages against the other Bay City Rollers for alleged breach of contract. In 2013 a judge in the United States Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the three due to the statute of frauds, which establishes that certain agreements must be in writing under certain conditions, with the appellate judge ruling, "A claim for unjust enrichment must be based on the value of plaintiffs' contribution to the joint effort of the band at the time it made the relevant records, not on the income stream resulting from a revival over thirty years later,"
In March 2011 a New York judge determined that the Bay City Rollers can move forward with their four-year-old lawsuit against Arista Records, who themselves had denied responsibility for the majority of the royalties, claiming that the New York statute of limitations, which limits plaintiffs from recovering damages past six years in contract disputes, bars the Rollers' claims for royalties incurred prior to 2001. However, since the Rollers were able to show that Arista had continued to promise them their royalties in writing, the judge ruled that the statute was not applicable.
Bay City Rollers