Bye Bye Rollers...Les McKeown has a new band and some innovative ideas on music, discovers David Belcher
GALLUS as ever he was, Les McKeown leads me into a private booth that's been kept free for him at the back of the Cittie of Yorke, one of London's oldest pubs. It says 1430 over the front door. Nearly six centuries. A long time. And for what must seem even longer, Les has been involuntarily bound to his former shipmates in ye olde Baye Cittie Rollers by the ties of history, public perception, legal wrangling, and personal antipathy. "In interviews he keeps me 'our former friend'," Les is saying with a cheeky grin on his perennially perky face. "But if Eric can't bring himself to name me, I can say his name, no problem. Eric F-F-F-F-! Eric F-F-F-Faulkner!"
Les laughs and punches Craig matily on the upper arm. Craig, who also tends bar in the Cittie of Yorke, is Les's sometime bassist in a band which has carefully named itself Les McKeown's Legendary Bay City Rollers. This is to distinguish it from the other Bay City Rollers, wherein reside old BCR's Eric Faulkner, Alan Longmuir, and Stuart Wood, plus new female singer Kass. "Legally, there has to be a historical prefix ... to distinguish it from Eric F-F-F-Faulkner's band," Les is explaining. "And Eric and Co. hate me using the word 'Legendary'.
"I was offered some Rollers' gigs a couple of years ago, and Eric and his band raised an action against me saying I was passing myself off and infringing on their current, recent reputation, their late eighties reputation. I felt I was only riding on the reputation I've got from the seventies ... which they keep saying they, don't want; they want a new reputation. But now they're the ones doing seventies revival gigs. I'm not sure a What Les is presently happier doing is new stuff with the equally-carefully-named Fabulous Tartan Army "It's 'Fabulous' because there was a political group that blew up pylons. They're not about again, are they? We don't want to be mistaken for a group of terrorists."
In fact Les's Fabulous Tartan Army are into a more dangerous, more lasting form of cultural terrorism: they're about detonating some of the, old artistic categories. Whether they succeed is a different matter, of.course, but let Les explain. "We're theatrical, crazy, off-the-wall, sort of dance, ravey-rock without being acid house. Pop dance. It's fun, it's light. There's scope for new things. "I come on stage inside a coffin with lights in it, right, wearing a crown and cape and seventies flares and a frilly shirt. And a guy does this brief Bay City Rollers rap-history, explaining what went wrong . . . 'but now he,s back from the dead - and here he is!, And then there Les is, Popping up out of the coffin, returned from death's bourne and doing a techno version of that old BCR fave Bye Bye Baby. In all this he is helped by remixer, DJ, and erstwhile thesp Adam Baker, son of another actor, the late Stanley Baker, and Mark Haynes ("who's known for kooky acts in London clubs"). And then there are the seven-foot-tall model girls ("they come on and worship me"). And the drummer called Chris ("I don't know his second name ... he was a Viking when we played last year; he'll be in his underwear this time").. "Basically, the kids at these club gigs just want the music kept pumping. They're all under 25, so how do they remember me? They do scream at me, but it's all tongue-in-cheek." Ironic it might be, but Les and the Fabs have played at some of Londons most seriously-trendy new dance venues under the aegis of such credible DJs as the. Luv Dup axis. It's a healthy indication of Les's view of his former fame, too. He accepts things have changed. "It's difficult for me to get a record deal. people know my name, and, I hope I can use that part of my past fame to attract the media, get exposure ... but if I get a deal, I'll have worked 10 times harder to get it than any new star. The old Bay City Rollers thing does nothing for my image Unlike Eric and his cohorts, Les will not continue to drape himself in tartan as though 16 Bay City less years have not rolled by since his departure from the band. "I'm getting older. Much of it is behind me. Thankfully - because they pay me money and keep me active - I've got German and Japanese Rollers' gigs, and while last year we wore the old costumes, this year we're all going black. "I should be a miserable git. I've lost millions. Lots of bad things happened. But I'm an optimist. What's the point of crying? Create new things; feel better."
Les adds: "I've always liked. country, so a country LP might be on the cards. There should be a Japanese tour in August. These days I've got a great lawyer, a music lawyer. I'm working with producer Duncan Bridgeman, who,s done six Take That tracks. I'll own the master tapes for the LP that I'm working on with him; I'll have all the rights, or half of them, to the writing. On the oldies circuit it's 're-record this and we'll give you £2000. Fivers and tenners, nit-picking. "It's not worth getting involved in dodgy things. you have to believe in what you do. The public may disagree, of course so you do something else. I don't have to live like a king. It's nicer to work with a nice team of people. There's also a book, "the true sworn story of the Bay City Rollers before God ... there never was an accurate history of the Bay City Rollers. Some of what was said in court maybe. I've got a word processor, I've a mate doing research. It'll be people we were at school with people who got sacked from the band. It'll cleanse me. I'll never have to tell the story again." But what did go wrong. Didn't you wipe the tapes of a whole Rollers' comeback LP You were no angel, were You,? "I'm not an angel I fired them; they fired me. Eric wanted to prove he was a musician. They all felt they had something to prove. I was OK, I'd sung on all the songs. Ego destroyed the band. I reluctantly got involved in recording in 1985, but listening to the tapes, I thought the songs sounded shite, so I wiped the tapes from beginning to end." Les will have little truck with bitterness. For someone who was put through stardom's mangle so completely and at such a tender age, Les has a solid grip on reality, and the reality at the moment is that his wife and son's safety may be under threat at their present home in southern Germany. "Racism. My wife's Japanese and my son looks Japanese, and my wife feels uncomfortable now in Germany. The poorer they get, the worse it gets. "Blind faith. Fanaticism. Weird. Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito. Blind faith was what I had in the Rollers' management when I was 16. They told me I should trust them more than my family 'they'll screw you. Sign this, it's all in a tax haven in Guatemala, you're a millionaire'. Blind faith was what a hardcore of our fans had. There were about 30 of, then in 1977 who simply wouldn't go away. "They'd be outside your house all day and night. I'd say 'I can't devote my life to you, we can't fall in love and live happily ever after'. And they'd just smile and say, 'But you don't mean that, Les'. "With the book, I want to answer one question . . . 'Why? 'I believe you stay true to your original nature, so I want to know what would form someone's nature to make them lie and tell fairy tales and steal people's lives and their talent and their youth and be as conniving for so long. And those abilities could all have been put-to good use ... for the United Nations or something. "And what drove Derek to be a state registered nurse? Why do Woody and Eric now say being in the Bay City Rollers was a complete hell? OK, 'we got ripped off, but for me it was fantastic - they never shared their feelings with me at the time." Bye bye, Bay City Rollers: a slow blues number that's approaching its end for Les McKeown.