Les McKeown: The making of a global pop star

Last August, in what proved to be his final interview, Les McKeown told me how he had been touring Canada when the pandemic struck.

Les McKeown

We were talking ahead of the paper’s serialisation of his updated autobiography, Shang-A-Lang: My Life with the Bay City Rollers, and he was reflecting on life before, during and after his time with the band that he had found fame with a year after being expelled from Forrester High at the age of 15. A workaholic by nature, Les reflected that by that point in his life, he had played more gigs with his own ‘Rollers’ than with the ‘Famous Five’ line-up of the Seventies.

“By multiples,” he said proudly. “The amount of gigs the actual Bay City Rollers did, from 1974 to the end of 1977, pale into insignificance compared with the number I have done.”

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Lots of things kept his passion for performing alive, he insisted, but one in particular had never changed. “Just getting out there and making people say, ‘Wow! That was some f**kin’ band.’ To put on a really great show. A show that people want; the hits, no musical ego, no dramas, just a good time."

If there was one thing Les liked, it was to live life to the full. He recalled that the estate where he was brought up in Broomhouse was "brilliant” and remembered stealing crisps and juice from the nearby Golden Wonder and Schweppes factories as a kid.

He talked of his dice with death when he contracted meningococcal meningitis aged nine, and how he was bullied at “the big school” for having a dad who was “deaf and dumb”. All experiences that gave a keen insight into the person he would become and his ever present drive to be better.

That much of his time in the spotlight was controlled by one man, Rollers’ manager Tam Paton, also played it’s part in making him who he was, and he reflected how, for a long time, he had been in denial about how much Paton had affected him.

As he wrote in his book, ‘I told myself I was untouched by his power, but looking back... he did get inside my head. I just wasn’t as scared as the others and he knew as lead singer, I wasn’t instantly replaceable.’

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