From pop stardom to blocked loos, seventies superstar has only memories left from his 60-year rollercoaster ride
IT'S been a long day. Alan Longmuir, ex-Bay City Roller, one-time superstar and boy band idol for a generation of over- excited schoolgirls, finally flops on to the leather couch in his living room and takes a long sip from a cool glass of lager.
He's been up since 5.30am, he explains, home at around 7pm – the same shift he packs in every single working day even though he's endured two heart attacks, a debilitating stroke and more recently a 60th birthday. It's a tough gig and there's not even a guitar, a hysterical tartan-clad fan or a bowl of Colombia's finest in sight.
It turns out one of the founder members of Scotland's biggest ever pop groups, the Bay City Rollers, is back plying his trade as a plumber, trekking daily by train from his home in Stirling to Dundee, still hoping that one day the 20-year legal battle for money he and his fellow Rollers say they are owed from their days of international stardom just might come good.
"Aye, a million pounds, that'd be nice, but I wouldn't mind if it was more," he says with a lopsided grin. "I'm not being greedy but I think it would be nice to have something to show for it all."
In fact, there's not much to show for a meteoric rise through the charts that saw the Edinburgh-based boy band become global superstars on a scale unseen since The Beatles; catapulted from playing at Rosewell Miners' club to rubbing shoulders with Hollywood royalty. They fled hordes of Japanese fans intent on ripping the clothes from their backs, shed their boy-next-door images to party with The Who wildman Keith Moon and Led Zeppelin's infamous drummer John Bonham accompanied by naked blondes and bowls of drugs presented for consumption like party snacks.
Not that the drugs were to Alan's taste. "Och I tried them, of course, everyone did. But to be honest, me and Woody (Stuart Wood] preferred a pint."
At the peak of their international fame – 1976 saw the Rollers break the American charts – they decamped to Hollywood for Sunday lunch at sex kitten Brit Ekland's mansion.
"We were there one day and that Ryan O'Neal came to the door," remembers Alan. "It was quite funny – she got up, threw open the door and yelled at him to 'F-off, the Rollers are here'."
Hard to imagine all that now as he sits in his pleasant Stirling home, reflecting on his recent birthday bash – an occasion marked with a return to the stage, albeit at a local pub where he brought the house down with a self-proclaimed nervy rendition of Shangalang, during which he forgot the words.
If he had a flashback to the gig in Canada when the five Edinburgh lads played to 200,000 fans for all of 15 minutes before security cut the gig for safety reasons, it wouldn't be a surprise. After all, memories, it transpires, are all the man dubbed "the reluctant Roller" has left.
"Everything's gone," he admits. "I used to have gold discs, clothes, guitars but it's all away. I keep hearing about things being sold on eBay and I think 'was that mine and how did it end up there?'.
"I had a lot of stuff in storage then I found that people were pretty much helping themselves – there were folk taking stuff and going off to fancy dress parties dressed in my gear.
"Then I was told the roof had fallen in on the place where it was being stored and that everything was destroyed."
His wife Eileen rolls her eyes and sighs with disbelief. There may have been a time when she dreamt of being married to a pop star, wed into a life of luxurious cars and holidays in Las Vegas with movie stars for friends.
The reality, however, is rather different. "It's ridiculous he hasn't anything to show for those years," she complains. "Just think of all that merchandise for a start – I remember Marks & Spencer selling bra and knicker sets with the Bay City Rollers on them.
"Where did all the money for that go?"
The couple wed ten years ago after Alan had suffered two heart attacks brought on, he says, from overwork, the collapse of his hotel business and a messy divorce. Eileen certainly didn't marry him for his pop star wealth – when they met he didn't even have a roof over his head.
"I preferred David Cassidy anyway," she laughs only for Alan to shatter a million fantasies by pitching in: "He had rotten skin, he was all spots." Alan, the oldest Roller, with a passion for music and – unfortunately given the fame that would come his way – a dislike of the spotlight, never really imagined it would pan out the way it did.
He was just a boy in the fifties when he performed for the first time – entertaining guests at his parents' Caledonia Street home dressed in the top hat and coat his father wore in his job as St Cuthbert's Co-op undertaker.
"He used to come along the street with the hearse and people would wonder who had died, but it was just him coming home for his lunch," he smiles.
By the time the young Alan left Dalry Primary bound for Tynecastle High, he had already witnessed the adulation that would one day become his. "I went to the Scotia picture house in Dalry Road and Jailhouse Rock was on," he recalls. "I saw the way the girls were jumping up and down over Elvis I thought, 'Aye, this will do me'.
"That film had a huge influence on me, Jailhouse Rock was the thing that got me, Elvis was the guy everyone wanted to be."
Eventually Alan, brother Derek, Eric Faulkner, Stuart Wood and frontman Les McKeown would taste something of the same fan adoration as The King.
Alan's first band, The Ambassadors, had morphed into The Saxons, gigs had come thick and fast around the Capital and down to the Borders when Alan approached local bandleader Tam Paton for advice. "We'd changed our name," he remembers. "There was a band called Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and we liked the sound of that. We started talking about wheels and came up with Rollers. Someone stuck in pin in a map of America. It came up with Arkansas but the Arkansas Rollers didn't have the right ring. We did it again and hit Bay City – so that was the name."
The rest is history. Paton's skill for publicity combined with a series of catchy songs, boy-next-door looks and a unique take on fashion – tartan trousers, bomber jackets, skin tight v-neck jumpers – and it wasn't long before Alan's face was plastered over almost every young girl's bedroom wall.
"Those platforms, they were murder," he groans, remembering attempting to walk along Morrison Street in ridiculously-high heels.
Soon walking down the street would become a distant memory as the Rollers became swamped by teenage hysteria – their success, says Alan, as much a factor in their eventual demise as the personality clashes and excessive behaviour of some of its members.
"We were prisoners of our own success," he remembers. "My sister was getting married in 1975 and I remember leaving my parents' house to go to the wedding and being mobbed by girls pulling my hair and ripping at my clothes. They even tore off my flower.
"It was insane, it got scary. I used to try to get out by myself to go for a pint – sometimes they didn't recognise you if you were wearing ordinary clothes. They didn't seem to realise that we didn't walk around all the time in baggy tartan trousers and platform shoes! I'd go fishing down at the Water of Leith when I was back at home, put on my wellies and disappear for an afternoon.
"But for most of the time all I ever saw was inside a hotel room."
The band eventually imploded under the intense pressure, character clashes and disputes. "The music business really stinks," says Alan. "We were just getting on with it, but there were people conning us left, right and centre.
"It's not surprising money has gone missing. We'd be getting ready to go on stage and someone would shove a contract in front of us and say 'sign it '. We didn't know half of what we were signing for."
While money squabbles continue, so have the attempts at reviving the original line-up, most recently in 2000 when the band were scheduled to follow up a successful appearance at Edinburgh's Hogmanay with a tour.
"I couldn't be bothered with it," shrugs Alan. "We're sitting around and one doesn't want that and someone else wants this. I just picked up my bag and said 'bye'. Who needs all that?"
Music's loss means the world of blocked pipes and clogged loos has gained a plumber. Although he'd rather be taking it easy, the 60-year-old pin up has something to show for his longevity.
"I've got my bus pass," he grins. "So it's not all bad, is it?"
'Les was just this wee guy from Broomhouse'
Derek relives the highs and lows of life as a Roller. . .
ON TAM PATON
He was good guy gone bad. He had a band that at one point supported The Beatles – I think he was living through his own craving for fame through us. He was clever and he got our name out there. But I don't like the man.
ON JOHN LENNON
He wrote me a note. It said something like: 'Dear Alan, sorry I can't make it along to the Rollers' gig but Yoko is about to have our baby.' I wish I'd kept it, but back then you didn't really appreciate these things. I was in New York, just a few hundred yards away, the day he was shot. That really affected me badly."
ON LES McKEOWN
Les was thrown in at the deep end. At first they wanted me to be the frontman and I said it wasn't for me. Les came on board and first time on stage he was so nervous he was shaking – he was just this wee guy from Broomhouse.
ON BAND FEUDS
There was a huge clash of egos between Les and Eric, they just couldn't sort things out. There were a lot of arguments. There were a lot of drugs going about too and we were working under intense pressure.
It was hard to take in. I remember sitting at the bar of the Beverly Hills Hotel, there was Patrick Magee, Barbra Streisand, Susan George, Eric Estrada from TV show Chips, David Soul and Alan Longmuir, the plumber from Edinburgh.
The best bits were probably being in make-up in Top of the Pops, sitting next to Olivia Newton John and then seeing one of Pan's People without a stitch on.