by Ceri Jackson
At 2 pm Alan Longmuir arrived at the Borestone Bar, a working man's pub in Stirling famed for stocking the largest selection of whisky - more than 1,000 bottles - in Scotland. Scotland were playing England at rugby, providing the ideal excuse for a Saturday afternoon session and, as Alan walked in, the regulars beckoned him in customary style, 'C'mon Shang-a-lang', using his nickname. But after a couple of pints, Alan left to go home, complaining of a sore head. What happened on that day - Saturday, February 1 this year - was to be the latest in a long line of tragedies in the life of a man once one of Britain's most successful young stars.
As the founding member of the tartan-clad Bay City Rollers pop group, Alan was at one time unable to even walk out of his house without being mobbed by fans. Indeed, so popular were the Rollers in 1977 that, in the interests of safety, they were banned from performing in London. Sadly, such adoration has brought Alan little happiness. He might have made a million pounds but it was at a price - severe depression, a rumoured suicide attempt, drink problems and a marriage break-up. He also believes he is still owed millions of pounds from work he did as a Bay City Roller, for which the band never received payment. Added to that is the problem of his ill-health. For on that Saturday afternoon, Alan Longmuir, aged just 48, suffered a stroke - only two years after he had recovered from a heart attack. 'I went back to my fiancee's flat and lay down on the couch,' he explains. 'I had this awful stinging pain above my eye and then my sight just went. My left leg buckled as I went to stand up, then I just went down.'
The cause of the stroke, Alan learned during his three-week stay in hospital, was a blood clot on the brain. As a result, the muscles in his left eye are damaged and he is paralysed down most of his left side. He blames his physical collapse on stress. And while he admits to enjoying 'a few pints', he insists his drink problem was dealt with following his coronary in 1995. Whatever caused it, it's hard to imagine that his now frail and disabled body once sent a nation of teenage girls to the point of distraction. 'I've had a lot on my mind,' he says, resting down his walking stick. 'But that's me, I've always been a natural worrier. I've been going on stage for 30 years but each time I feel sick with nerves.' In Britain, the Bay City Rollers might be a distant memory, but in Japan and the U.S., Alan and fellow Rollers Derek Longmuir, Woody, Les McKeown and Eric Faulkner still attract audiences of up to 12,000 during their once-a-year tours. 'There's been an American summer tour to plan, plus running up and down the country to meet lawyers and accountants still battling to win back money which we were never paid during the band's real success,' he explains. 'We started to realise we were owed money about 12 years ago. Those dealing with our finances would look at old audits and say that we should have had more money for this and for that. The money had somehow disappeared. 'We're owed a lot; it runs into millions. It's not that I haven't any money. I'm comfortable, very comfortable, but there's the principle.' Here is perhaps the main cause of Alan's stress. He's angry - and who can blame him? After all, the Bay City Rollers ruined his life and why should others line their pockets as a result of that?
Alan Longmuir never really wanted fame. A plumber by trade, he started up the band in his bedroom. All this son of an undertaker yearned for was a home in the Scottish countryside with a loving wife and a brood of children. Fate, however, decreed that was never to be. 'I first became interested in music when I was ten,' he explains. 'Elvis Presley was my hero. 'While we were still at school, me, my younger brother Derek and our cousin Neil Porteous, who committed suicide eight years ago, started up a band. We were the originals. Others came and went over the years and, in all, the line-up has changed over 20 times.' In the late Sixties the group was called The Saxons and played dance halls wherever it could. During the day, Alan completed his apprenticeship in plumbing. 'It was good fun but exhausting,' he laughs. 'We dreamed of being successful, everybody does, but we never thought it would happen.
'To attract a bit more attention we decided to change our name. Because we were so into Motown, we got a map of America and Derek closed his eyes and stuck a pin in it. 'It landed in Arkansas but that didn't really sound right. He had another try and it was Bay City in Michigan. And so that's what it was - the Bay City Rollers. ' Tam Paton, their manager, was once in a band which had supported the Beatles. He remembered the advice he'd been given by Brian Epstein: 'You need a band with an image.' 'Tam promoted this 'untouchable' idea and, gradually, we built up a big female following,' says Alan. 'We had to sneak off somewhere if we wanted to be with a girl because if the fans knew or saw, it would somehow damage our image. It was around 1970 when a record producer went to see the band in Glasgow and offered them a contract. 'We couldn't believe it,' says Alan. 'David Cassidy and Gary Glitter were on this same label. We thought if we didn't sign the contract we could throwing away our one chance. We signed and that was the beginning of the whole financial thing, that's what really allowed us to lose so much money.'
Although their first two singles died a death, by the mid-Seventies the band
were churning out hits including Bye Bye Baby, Shang-A-Lang and Give A Little
Love. By this stage, the band's boy-next-door image had undergone a metamorphosis
into tartan. 'That all came about in 1972,' Alan explains. 'A girl from the
fan club sent Eric a drawing of him in a tartan shirt. That gave him the
idea and the next thing we knew, it had taken off. Personally, I hated those
tartan short trousers, but that was our image. The minute I got a chance,
I'd rip off all that garb and put on a pair of jeans.' Along with chart success,
the band's popularity rocketed. 'Crowds of girls were constantly outside
the house screaming and shouting,' says Alan. Initially, it was an ego boost.
Then it started getting silly. I couldn't do anything.
'I've had the shirt, trousers, shoes and socks literally ripped off me by crowds of girls. It could be bloody frightening.
'People would go mad. We'd have to stop concerts mid-flow because things got too dangerous. We were frightened that someone would be killed. 'I became so fed up and frustrated. I was the oldest in the band by three years and felt I had a life to lead. I had great respect for the fans as they made the band what it was but I yearned for a bit of privacy. I no longer had any control over my life. I depressed and felt desperate.' Having already bought a smallholding in the village of Dollar, near Stirling, in 1976 at the age of 27, Alan Longmuir announced his retirement from the band. His replacement was 17-year-old Irishman Ian Mitchell - he lasted just six months. Around that time, Alan was reported to have tried to take his life. But he insists there's no truth in that. Either way, before very long he was playing in a two-bit country and western band, dabbling with the odd bit of plumbing, breaking in horses and spending time with his fiancee, Julie, a girl from a neighbouring village. 'I got my life back,' he says. 'I'm so grateful for those two years. I'll treasure them for ever.' Still involved with the band financially, in 1978 Alan agreed to help them out with a new album. Then a television producer offered them their own variety show - but on American television. Like it or not, Alan was back in and his dream of obscurity dissolved, along with his engagement to Julie.
Wasn't it a strange decision to become involved with the band again? 'I think
it was in my blood. The guys said why don't you come back and lend some support
and I didn't want to let them down. 'I only ever imagined I'd stay for two
or three weeks, but I got the bug again and, second time around, I did enjoy
it all much more.' Apart from the elocution lessons to tone down their
Scottish accents for American audiences, life in Los Angeles was one big
'Drugs were everywhere,' he says. 'I never had to pay for them. I haven't touched them since but I experimented with everything back then. At producers' houses there were big bowls of coke and guys would walk round, their noses pure white. 'But my biggest problem was drink. After each gig instead of having just one or two whiskies to calm down, we'd have to make sure the whole bottle had gone.' Then in 1978 Les McKeown, the colourful front man of the group, announced that he wanted a solo career. The band never split, but once all the fuss finally died down, they were allowed some privacy at last. While Les formed another band, (later rejoining the Rollers) Derek, who owns a property company, trained as a nurse and now works at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary; Eric and Woody, who both married recently, work in record production. As for Alan, in 1985, he married Jan, manageress of a pub restaurant and the mother of their son, Jordon James, now 11. For a time, they ran a hotel together but a combination of Alan's heavy drinking and the demands of the business took their toll on the marriage. Following his divorce in 1990, Alan's drinking worsened, culminating in a heart attack two years ago. 'That made me cut back on drink which I'd been abusing,' he says. 'Smilarly with the stroke, that's changed me too. I'm determined not to worry about things so much.
'Three years ago I met Eileen, a civil servant, and we're engaged. She really is a lovely, caring woman. 'If we're talking about regrets, yeah, I regret not having a more normal life,' he says. 'If I had the time over again, I'd definitely choose the life of a plumber, find myself a good wife and have three, maybe four kids. Yes, I think that would've made me a very happy man.'