Les McKeown shot to prominence as the teen in front of Rollermania sensations the Bay City Rollers. The tartan terrors were touted as the next Beatles – and claim the the title of ‘one of the most screamed-at teeny-bopper acts of the 70s’. So who’d expect that Les would still be donning the tartan 40+ years later.
The audience might not scream quite so hard, or for so long, “but they’re still pretty excited,” says Les. “I feel like I’ve got a different relationship with the audience now – it’s almost like they’re my mates now. I’s weird, cos I’ve been singing for, what, 47 years now so they’ve got to know me a bit. All my nooks and crannies, my good bits and bad bits. So we’re at a stage now where we just seem to get on.”
When you buy a ticket to see the Bay City Rollers you can expect all the hits from the Bay City Roller days. “People want to hear the original tunes and they want to hear them done in a proper way – so it sounds like it does on the record,” Les says. “That’s what I always strive for and that’s why I do a two-hour sound check before every show. We go through the whole show and if there’s a wrong harmony somewhere we fix it. I just want it to be the best I can make it.”
Les obviously loves performing, you don’t tour as much as he does if you don’t. “I’m 62 years old now, so I’ve slowed down a lot so instead of doing six gigs a week, I’m only doing, like maybe three gigs a week,” he chuckles wryly.
“I still get a goosebumpy feeling every time I go out on stage and everyone’s smiling at me… It’s such a good feeling that they’re all there after all these years.”
Now, I have to ask: will there be tartan? “Will there be tartan? Oh there will be tartan in abundance!” (you’ll need to imagine this spoken stridently in a rich Scottish brogue)
Every fan has a favourite Bay City Rollers tune, does Les? “Oh, Shang-A-Lang is definitely my favourite song because It’s-the-best-song-the-Bay-City-Rollers-ever-recorded!” Les shouts enthusiastically and Scottishly. “When you hear the drums and the guitar you know it could only be the Bay City Rollers – no other band could make that sound.”
“Other bands have a distinctive sound, and that’s the song for us. Of course we had other hits in Australia with Bye Bye Baby and Yesterday’s Hero, but that song is definitely my favourite song. Every time I play it I get an internal smile.”
Bye Bye Baby is apparently now getting quite a rotation in funerals in the UK thanks to Love Actually, but it’s actually the band’s final song when they play live. “So we play Shang-A-Lang and then we do the fake ‘thanks and goodnight’ and walk off the stage. But then we come back and say ‘We’re the Bay City Rollers and we can only say goodbye in one way and that’s with Bye Bye Baby’ so that’s our finale song – but don’t tell anybody that,” he says with a chuckle.
“There’s got to be that fake goodbye where we go off the stage and they say ‘We want more, we want more’ and then we come back and do Bye Bye Baby.”
One of thing that Les loves about Aussie audiences is that we get his jokes. “It’s easier for me to crack a joke in Australia than it is in the UK,” Les confides. “In the UK there are so many different dialects that they don’t understand my slight Scottish accent. But in Australia I don’t have a problem at all – everybody gets the craic no problem.”
While the Bay City Rollers have had many incarnations over the years, Les and his band have been together for 29 years. So while he admits they’re a bit ‘long in the tooth’ they know what they’re doing. “We want to have a great time, the audience wants to have a great time, so let’s do it together.”
PS: Les signed off our phone interview with “I love you” and seven-year-old me died and went to tartan heaven.
The Bay City Rollers will be playing at Wests New Lambton on Sunday July 15. Tickets available here.