He’s a busy man, Les McKeown. Last night he surprised the audience at Le Monde by appearing at hit Fringe show I Ran With The Gang. And the morning after the night before, the man they call “the voice of the Bay City Rollers” has a full day of promo ahead of him to plug his brand new solo album, The Lost Songs.
Not that he’s complaining. Les is in great spirits when AAA catch up with him in the executive lounge of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Glasgow. And not only does he wax lyrical about I Ran With The Gang – a play which tells the story of ‘Original Roller’ Alan Longmuir – he also shares some news that will be music to the ears of Bay City Rollers fans (more of that later).
“Last night was brilliant, absolutely brilliant,” says the 60-year-old singer. “I felt like a teenager again. It’s a really great show. I was in the front row and was up on my feet clapping my hands, singing along with the young Les and the young Alan.
“The two young actors who play Les [Stephen Humpage] and Alan [Stephen Arthur] were fantastic – absolutely fantastic. They’ve got big futures ahead of them, no doubt about it.
“I really enjoyed the play. They did Alan’s story, briefly, and then Alan came in and he went through quite a lot of the hit songs and then he did a question and answer thing. After that, he asked me to come and sing Shang-A-Lang – and how could I refuse? It was great… a real feel-good show.”
For those not so familiar with the story of the Bay City Rollers, the tartan-clad Edinburgh band stole the hearts of teeny-boppers everywhere in the Seventies on their way to becoming the biggest thing since The Beatles (the Rollers sold an amazing 120 million records), only to self-destruct in spectacular fashion just a few years later.
After years of silence, last year’s big reunion saw Les, Alan and Stuart “Woody” Wood rocking once again to the Shang-A-Lang sound of the music at a series of sell-out gigs in the UK.
It looked to all and sundry that the Rollers were back for good, but cracks began to appear during the BCR’s recent appearance at T in the Park, after which “Woody” said ‘bye bye baby’ to the band for a second time, before telling the tabloids that McKeown’s ‘greed’ had forced him to hang up his tartan troosers.
With just Les and Alan left from the classic line-up, fans are fretting that it’s all over again for the Rollers – but that’s not necessarily the case, according to the band’s enigmatic frontman.
“Woody chose to leave the band at T in the Park – he just said it’s not for him,” says Edinburgh-born Les. “Alan and I were talking last night about whether we’d like to keep it going, and all that kind of stuff. We’re still talking about it – and it’s all very positive. No concrete plans at the moment though.
“I’ll be going through [to Edinburgh] tonight again to talk with Alan. And tomorrow there’ll maybe be a lawyer or two involved – and we’ll see what happens.
“The reunion was really great,” he continues. “The memories are still so fresh. It was such a great time. The reaction we got was unbelievable – it was electric. This is why we want to think about doing it again, you know. It would be good if it happened.”
And Woody? Is that it from the temperamental guitarist as far as the Rollers are concerned? “Who knows?,” says Les. “There’s pragmatism all around the place. Anyone can be persuaded… if you come up with the right figure.
“We’ve even been talking to [former member and fan favourite] Eric Faulkner, so… there’s all sorts of things that could be possible.
“We’ve got some great ideas about who could be our support act, and ideas about what other things we could do to make it more Seventies and more exciting and help everyone remember those days.
“Those great old days in the Seventies, eh,” adds Les, with a hint of nostalgia in his voice. “Chopper bikes and all that! Ha ha ha!”
Released today, Les’ solo album is a collection of tunes written in the Seventies, during the period known as ‘Rollermania’.
Back then, Les was one of the most famous people on the planet. He was also a gifted songwriter – not that anyone knew it, as he was rarely given the chance to shine, as songwriters outside the band composed many of the Bay City Rollers songs.
The story goes that Les would sit in hotel rooms around the world and compose songs into his trusty tape recorder in the hope they’d be unleashed on the next Rollers album.
“These are songs I started writing back in 1974,” says Les. “I just didn’t expect anyone to ever say ‘have you got any ideas for songs, Les?’ So [writer/producer] John [McLaughlin] said ‘you must have something? Something you scribbled down in a book or at least some ideas?’ I said I had a whole bunch of ideas. A whole bunch of songs I’d put on a dictation machine I bought in the 70s.
“I left John with the tape and then he called me up a couple of hours later and said ‘I’ve been listening to this… there’s some great ideas in there’. So we got together and went through the songs and that’s how it started. It’s taken about two years to put the album together.
“I kept the tapes in a suitcase in my attic and never thought they’d see the light of day,” adds Les. “I’m ecstatic they have now been turned into this great record. I’m very proud of this album.”
Les McKeown…The Lost Songs is available now on iTunes
Ran With The Gang, Le Monde, George Street, until 28 August, Sunday-Friday 7pm (not Saturdays), £15, 0131-226 0000, www.lrstageworks or www.edfringe.com
Photo credit: Susan Rostron
Words: Gary Flockhart