Les McKeown, Scottish pop singer and lead vocalist with Les McKeown’s Bay City Rollers, chats with Kevin Cooper about settling the court case with Arista Records, what life was like at the height of Rollermania, climbing up a drainpipe at the Edinburgh Odeon to see David Bowie and the forthcoming Legends Live 2019 tour.

Les McKeown is a Scottish pop singer who was the lead vocalist of the Bay City Rollers during their most successful period. Joining the band in late 1973, the group’s intense popularity, nicknamed ‘Rollermania’ took off shortly afterwards and the reactions that they received from their young fans was likened to Beatlemania.

The group’s line up has had many changes over the years, but the classic line up during its heyday included guitarists Eric Faulkner and Stuart Wood (Woody), singer Les McKeown, bassist Alan Longmuir and drummer Derek Longmuir.

In 1978 McKeown left the band citing musical differences, but not before they had sold over 120 million records and had released eight albums, two of which went Platinum and another going Gold.

In March 2007, six members of the group including McKeown, announced a lawsuit against Arista Records in the hopes of claiming what they describe as “tens of millions of dollars” of unpaid royalties. That case has now been settled and McKeown has re-established a working relationship with the record company.

Whilst busy rehearsing for the Legends Live 2019 Tour, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Les how are you today?

I’m very well thank you Kevin, how are you?

I’m good thank you and before we move on let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

No worries, it’s always a pleasure whenever you and I get to chat.

And just how is life treating you?

Pretty well, in fact I would have to say that life is treating me really, really well so thanks for asking. I’m feeling absolutely champion (laughter).

You and I spoke prior to The Legends Tour in Birmingham with The Osmonds, David Essex, Showaddywaddy and of course, Les McKeown’s Bay City Rollers.

(Laughter) did we? Well I have to be honest with you and say that I think I remember that tour.

After that I came up to the Buxton Opera House to see you and we had a chat over a beer (or two) (laughter).

That’s better, I can remember the events that took place at the Buxton Opera House. I tend to remember all of the important stuff (laughter).

You will be back out on the road with the Legends Live 2019 Tour together with Suzi Quatro, David Essex and Smokie. The tour gets to The Motorpoint Arena here in Nottingham on Wednesday 10th April. Are you looking forward to being back out on the road with those guys?

Absolutely, it’s great to get back out on the road with my old buddies Showaddywaddy, Smokie, David (Essex) and Suzi (Quatro) who I have to tell you is a complete dynamo on stage. She really is absolutely brilliant. Did you know that we have had over fifty hit singles between us and we have sold well over a hundred million records between us in the UK alone? I find that totally unbelievable.

Putting you on the spot, what do you think makes these tours so popular?

That’s easy; I think that it is because the audiences can see a good collection of artists. It is the right collection of artists that have been carefully put together by the promoter, which make the shows very appealing. However, having said that the annoying thing is that whenever you look at these tours from the outside I always think ‘that’s a good idea, why didn’t I think of doing that’ but alas I didn’t (laughter). Unfortunately I have to tell you that Showaddywaddy won’t be with us in Nottingham but Smokie will.

I have to ask you, is there still that rivalry between the artists to see who gives the best performance on the night?

(Laughter) well what can I say, the others don’t have much trouble with me because I really am quite happy to be the first act on which means that I can finish early and get myself off to my bed (laughter). I keep hoping that I am not the last one to go on especially at places like Butlin’s when they keep you waiting and get you on stage at eleven thirty at night. Whenever that happens it’s almost two o’clock by the time that you get to sleep (laughter). I have to be honest with you and say that I really do need my sleep nowadays. Having said that I think that we deliver a good show for the fans; they always seem to respond very well to what it is that we do. It’s always nice whenever I get a rave review of a show on Facebook.

We deliver the message, we dress up in the iconic Tartan shirts, we try our best to recreate the sound of the Bay City Rollers, we have got a happy bunch of guys on stage projecting fun and happiness and we are all really, really happy being able to play songs to a smiley happy crowd. We just want everyone at the show to go home feeling ‘Rollerised’ (laughter).

How do you get along with Suzi and David?

Absolutely fine, the three of us really do have a great relationship. Suzi is a bundle of energy, very talkative, very engaging, and such a brilliant artist. Suzi has still got it and can still do it on stage. On the other hand David is so cool and so laidback. The atmosphere between the three of us is absolutely brilliant.

Does touring still excite you?

Oh it does yes, it really, really does. I take pride in putting it all together, all of the little details such as what time is dinner, what time the sound check is, making sure that I have booked the right crew for the right gigs, making sure that all of the set lists are printed before I leave the house; I just love everything about touring. I love making sure that the whole day is structured. I only use two trains, one to take me to the first gig and one to take me home from the last gig. I love driving to and from the gigs with the guys, chatting with them as we go from here to there. The band and I enjoy our time on the road, we are really close. Don’t forget that Simon the bass player and MD has been with me now for thirty-one years. That’s almost twenty times longer than I was in the Bay City Rollers (laughter).

I have to say that I have seen you performing quite a few times and what struck me was just how much fun you appear to be having on stage.

I think that is what comes when you are enjoying yourself, that bit of time that we have got onstage is the pleasure, and the hard part is when you are travelling four or five hours to the next gig. You are stuck in traffic, you are not moving, you haven’t had a drink, and of course you haven’t had your traditional afternoon nap (laughter). Then you have got your sound check at three, your dinner at five, onstage at seven thirty, and then bang, bang, bang back on the bus for ten o’clock heading off to the next hotel which could be a couple of hours down the road.

I have been checking with the Motorpoint Arena here in Nottingham and they are telling me that you should be playing in front of a crowd approaching ten thousand which should bring back some happy memories for you.

That is great, really brilliant. Having said that, ten thousand or one hundred it’s great for me to be able to have this job and have the chance to do it.

You released The Lost Songs in 2015. Are there any thoughts on recording any new studio material?

You are quite correct in saying that I released The Lost Songs back in 2015, and I am pleased to tell you that I have just finished my next album which will be released in January.

Can you tell me anything about the album, the title perhaps?

(Laughter) unfortunately not, the title is still up in the air at this moment in time. I am toying with a number of different titles at the moment. The album is rather catchy and reflects me, if you know what I mean, without being too intense. Perhaps I should call the album Bye, Bye Bubbly (laughter). It would be nice to get the album released before the Legends Tour and then perhaps I could get some on sale at the gigs. I will have to look into that. If I do that perhaps I should call the album Legends: Still Alive (laughter) or perhaps Breathing Legends (laughter).

You mention The Lost Songs, were you happy with the fans reaction to the album?

I was yes. My only regret is that I couldn’t get involved with one of the big record companies who could have put a lot of money behind the album and really promote it in a big way. I personally feel that the songs themselves are really great. Lots of people who were not particularly Bay City Rollers fans have said that they really like the album, and also the business people really like it. The good news is that the new record has a chance with a couple of the larger record companies, who are already looking to pre-release some of the songs from the album.

I am just going to ask you one question regarding the infamous court case…

…and which court case would that be, I have had so many (laughter).

(Laughter) you and me both. The Bay City Rollers filled a lawsuit in 2007 against Arista Records, which alleged a breach of contract for unpaid royalties. The case was finally settled in 2016. Were you happy with the outcome?

No I wasn’t I was far from happy with the Courts ruling but that is it, that is all that we are going to get. I now have to simply smile and say “okay you won through various underhanded methods” but that’s the way that it goes. We all know that in life there are winners and losers and in relation to the court case I unfortunately found myself on the side of the losers. However, we are now all back; we are on relatively friendly terms with the record company who have asked me to do some things for them which I am now happy to do. They are now sending us royalties which they haven’t done for the last forty fucking years. So I have to say that side of things is all good now. I have sent them my American tax code and direct bank details which they now send automatically whether I am over there or not. So touch wood everything at the moment is fine.

The last time that we spoke you were quietly confident of there being a Bay City Rollers reunion.

Yes I was, that’s right, I really was confident at that time.

However, since we spoke bassist Alan Longmuir died on 2nd July 2018 after falling ill while on holiday with his wife in Mexico. Has the opportunity of a reunion now passed with Alan’s untimely death?

What you have to remember is that I put back together as much of the original band as I could back in December 2015 when we played eight or so shows. We then played another six shows in 2016 and included in there was a gig at the Glasgow SSE which I have to say really was huge. So I am pleased to be able to say that I finally managed to get Stuart ‘Woody’ Wood and Alan back together for that. I was thinking that we are all getting older and wouldn’t it be great to do it once more for the fans. However, unfortunately Eric (Faulkner) was really ill with encephalitis at the time which was really seriously debilitating. On top of all that Derek (Longmuir) hadn’t played the drums for over thirty years but was willing to come out onto the stage and play a couple of numbers. Taking all of that on board we finally decided to simply go with the Woody, Alan and Les line-up which I have to say was really successful.

Didn’t the three of you record the album A Christmas Shang-A-Lang as the Bay City Rollers around that time?

Yes we did, that’s right. The album contained a couple of covers together with five totally new songs that the three of us had written together. We also released a DVD of the gig that we played at the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow.

Just what was life like for Les McKeown at the height of Rollermania?

(Laughter) it simply felt like my whole teenage world was exploding. I always thought of it as being a super adventure travelling the world having girlfriends of every nationality. I was on top of the world. I always thought that every single young boy should have this experience (laughter). They should have been allowed to spend at least a year in the Bay City Rollers world. Britain would have been a far happier nation (laughter).

You left the band in 1978; with hindsight do you think that was the right decision?

I think that we can all see what happened and the reasons as to why I left. There was a hell of a lot of power mad song writing going on. Eric (Faulkner) at that time was hell-bent on writing and producing every song for the Bay City Rollers. Despite rumours to the contrary I was the complete opposite. We were at that time a big band who could easily have got the best songwriters in the world to give us nonstop number one hits both in the USA and all over the world. I wanted us to establish ourselves over a five or ten year period and then we could simply do whatever we wanted to do. However, I lost out at the vote; it was four against one and the four continued without me to fail spectacularly (laughter). In the meantime I went on to promote three solo albums in Japan relatively successfully collecting the odd gold disc here and there along the way (laughter).

Having said all of that, overall were the years that you spent in the Bay City Rollers good times or bad times?

I have to say that they were great times. In fact they were absolutely brilliant times. You simply couldn’t buy the times that I had with the band. It was simply unattainable. You actually had to be one of us in order to experience just how good they were (laughter). However, there was the time near the end when times got a little frosty and a wee bit nasty but you do get over that eventually, especially after thirty years (laughter).

And what are the remaining Bay City Rollers doing now?

Well the sad news is that, as you have said, Alan has now sadly passed away but the good news is that Eric is now feeling better. I last saw him at the Heart Of Hawick Music Festival in August and I have to tell you that he is heavily into folk music now and he really does seem happy within himself. As you will no doubt be aware back in 2000, Derek (Longmuir) was sentenced to 300 hours’ community service after admitting possessing child pornography but thankfully he was later readmitted to the nursing register. Derek has now actually retired from the nursing profession where he was a cardiology nurse.

He is quite happy. I last saw him when we were both at Alan’s bedside just before he passed away and I’m happy to say that we bonded again a little. So I think that the next time that the remaining Bay City Rollers will be back together is when we file a court case against Woody (hysterical laughter). In the meantime I will continue to make music and tour for as long as the fans want to both see and hear me.

Who has influenced you over the years?

I have got three older brothers and two of them were DJ’s; one was heavily into Tamla Motown and Disco whilst the other brother was into the more Avant Garde kind of stuff like the early Roxy Music. So it was those kind of influences really.

What was the first record that you bought?

The very first record that I bought was Whiskey In The Jar by Thin Lizzy.

Who did you first see performing live?

That would have been Lindisfarne back in 1970 at the Edinburgh Odeon.

Now I have to ask you, did you pay to get in or did you climb up the drainpipe?

(Laughter) now I know that you and I have spoken before. No I didn’t pay as you quite rightly point out I climbed up the drainpipe (laughter). Fog On The Tyne was in the charts at that time. I also used the same method of entry and exit when I went to see David Bowie back in 1971 and believe it or not David had Queen supporting him which was really great (laughter). As soon as I heard the first few bars of Starman; ‘there’s a starman waiting in the sky, he’d like to come and meet us but he thinks he’d blow our minds’ I thought ‘wow that man is brilliant, he could do well’ (laughter).

Talking of Fog On The Tyne, can you remember when Lindisfarne released a reworked version of the song with vocals by Paul Gascoigne back in October 1990 titled Fog On The Tyne (Revisited) which was credited to Gazza and Lindisfarne which actually reached number two in the UK Singles Chart?

Did they really, well that’s funny because I can tell you a story about Gazza (laughter). Back when we weren’t doing so well, maybe fifteen years ago now, we were playing in the Harley Davidson Hamburger Café in New York. We were playing away on a stage that was at best a foot high and who walked in, non-other than Gazza and his bodyguard and I have to say that Gazza was slaughtered (laughter). He proceeds to get up on the stage, grabs me and starts singing in my ear. He was singing so loud and so out of tune that I then started singing out of tune with him (laughter). Thankfully he soon got bored and went away (laughter).

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

Do you know what, that is actually one of the songs from my next album, it’s called Bones. I was listening to a rough version of the song a couple of weeks ago and I have to admit that it did bring a tear to my eye.

What was the best Christmas present that you have ever received?

When I was a young kid my mum and dad bought me a huge metal Tonka dumper truck. It was so big that I could ride on it and do all sorts of things with it. It really was great.

And now without upsetting the wife, family, girlfriends or Grannies what is the worst present that you have ever received?

That’s easy, it would have to be the continuous, relentless presents of socks that I keep receiving every single year (laughter). I have got so many pairs of socks that I have now got four of those zip up bags that you store under your bed full of bloody socks (laughter). Believe me they contain hundreds and hundreds of pairs of socks. Thinking about it three quarters of them haven’t even been worn as yet. I feel awful wearing a pair just the once and then throwing them away. How radically outrageous is that. I like to wear them until I get a few holes (laughter).

Hang on, I feel that you are missing out on a great opportunity. You should wear a pair once on stage, get a photograph of you wearing them, and then put them on EBay (laughter).

God, that’s right (laughter). Shit, I’m in business. I don’t have to wash them or anything, I will just send them out. Let’s do it. All I need is a special label which I can sign and we are in business.

There you go, a ready-made business and I will only take fifteen percent (laughter).

(Laughter) I’m going to do it. I am going to start taking photographs of everything that I wear.

That’s brilliant, now all that you have to do is get yourself on Dragons Den (laughter).

That’s right, watch this space (laughter).

What would be Les McKeown’s ideal Christmas?

These days I really do like to have a quiet Christmas. As you know I no longer drink so I no longer go out and that way I don’t get tempted. I am always trying to stay away from temptation because I can be easily tempted. I could so easily say ‘oh well why not, I might as well just have the one’ and I have to say that as soon as I have just the one, that’s it. A few bottles later I would wake up thinking ‘what happened’. So for my own good I always stay well away from parties at Christmas time. I will most probably slice up a nice piece of tuna, boil some rice, and eat a nice Japanese meal with my wife and son.

And a good slice of cheesy TV perhaps?

(Laughter) well if that’s what I wanted I would have to buy a TV because I haven’t owned one for the past fifteen years now. I don’t really know what is going on in that world (laughter). The TV just grabs your attention and won’t let you go and I thought ‘I have just got to stop this’. I feel that TV is a control mechanism of the government.

On that note Les let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been absolutely fantastic. You take care and I will see you here in Nottingham as I will be photographing and reviewing the show.

It was great chatting to you again Kevin, and please do make sure that you drop bye and say hello when we get to Nottingham. Bye for now.