Les McKeown on Bay City Rollers Reunion, New Solo Album & Harry Styles' Future
Bay City Rollers fans are getting a treat (appropriately) on Saturday Night at the T in the Park festival, held this weekend at Strathallan Castle in Perthshire, Scotland. The Rollers -- featuring original members Les McKeown, Alan Longmuir and Stuart John Wood -- will once again don their tartans as they rock King Tut’s Wah Wah Tent at the event, which also features appearances by The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Stone Roses, LCD SOUNDSYSTEM, Major Lazer, Bastille, Disclosure, Catfish and the Bottleman and fellow Scot, Calvin Harris.
Rollermania is back on the rise, as the group --which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1976 with the single, "Saturday Night"--reunited in December for a concert and are currently working on tracks for a new album and future dates in Japan and a possible U.S. summer tour in 2017.
At the center of it all is McKeown, who will release a new album -- Les McKeown…The Lost Songs -- on Aug. 22 on iTunes. The record, which includes an appearance by Longmuir on bass, is a collection of songs the charismatic lead singer penned in hotel rooms while on the road with the group decades before. For years, the songs lay dormant in his attic, trapped in a suitcase.
In 2013, McKeown happened upon an interview with Scottish producer John McLaughlin. In the article, McLaughlin -- who produced records for Shane MacGowan, Echo & the Bunnymen, Mick Jones of The Clash and X Factor alums Sam Callahan and Jade Richards -- expressed interest in working with his dream band: The Bay City Rollers. Flattered, McKeown gave him a ring and invited him to see him perform with his band -- Les McKeown’s Bay City Rollers (in which he is the only original member) -- and that dream came to fruition.
McLaughlin’s dream is also coming true with the mini-reunion of the original Rollers, McKeown said. “John and I had an idea to float this reunion out to the other past members and only two got back: Alan Longmuir and Stuart Wood,” the 60-year old Edinburgh native said. “In reality, the live show is the same show I do with my band with the addition of Alan and Stuart.”
Billboard caught up with McKeown to talk about the album, forthcoming tour plans and his prediction about the future of Harry Styles’ solo career beyond One Direction.
These songs, The Lost Songs, have been sitting in your attic for nearly 40 years. Were they all on cassette?
In 1974, I was able to acquire a micro-cassette voice memo recorder made by Aiwa. I recorded many song ideas and memos to myself on those tiny tapes over the years 1974 to 1977, '78. As technology moved forward, I kept up to date through Walkman Pro and digital media and just forgot about my diminutive cassettes.
You never really got a chance to be a songwriter back in the day. Did that frustrate you?
Yes, it was frustrating. We were a team and I relied on the team members to be honest about my songs' potential. At age 18, I had no idea about the machinations that were afoot in the group as a whole and in particular the manager.
After you left the Bay City Rollers, you had your own group, Egotrip, so you did get to stretch creatively. Are any of these songs from that time as well?
The songs for the Egotrip project were composed in The Kinks' London studio called Konk Studios. I accumulated some of my studio musicians together, and while we were recording, composed on the fly. Egotrip was my most creative period. I was disowned by everyone who I had been involved with as a Bay City Roller, ostracized by the media, and it seemed like I had nowhere to go. The songs I wrote at that time were able to get me a lucrative publishing deal with Watanabe Publishing Japan and then a three-album recording contract with Toshiba/EMI.
How did you team up with John McLaughlin?
Around two years ago, I read an article in a Scottish newspaper about John. He was asked what he would love to do next in the music scene, and he replied, "Get the Bay City Rollers to No. 1 again." So I made contact with John, and we started a relationship. John was super excited to see my Bay City Rollers show live and my positive forward-looking attitude and decided to try writing together, and here we are: happy days.
What did you learn from your time in the Bay City Rollers? And when did you know it was time to leave? Can you relate to acts like One Direction [who had Zayn Malik leave and now Harry Styles has a solo deal] facing that kind of fame and going through those kinds of changes in public?
Every situation is different. I was fired from the Bay City Rollers for suggesting that they continue attracting the best songwriters to keep the hits coming in. The rest of the band disagreed. From what I know, Harry Styles and further back Robbie Williams were able to thrive because they had people around them to guide them through the transition. I was on my own. In a way, I think that made me more determined to succeed.
What was it like knowing you inspired thousands of teens to rock the tartans? You still look great with that look, by the way!
I’m very proud of what I have achieved as a young man and continue to achieve at my live shows and recent recordings, I feel privileged to be a part of music history.
You were on the same page with Clive Davis on so many things back in the day. What was it like being guided by Clive?
Clive and I had a good relationship that was looked down upon by certain members of the group.
You still perform “Shang-a-Lang” and “Bye Bye Baby.” Do those songs remain favorites of yours, and what does it mean that the fans still love hearing them?
I perform all over the world, and wherever I go, the Bay City Rollers goes with me in spirit and in voice. I love singing the iconic songs that I was a big part of and look forward to continuing to make new memories with the fans.
Are you still doing your Rollermania theatrer tour or shopping the movie scripts? And who would you want to play you in the movie if Hollywood gave it the green light?
Rollermania is currently being developed for the stage, movie scripts are being floated; I would leave the choice of actors to the casting director.
Next month, you are beginning a 50-date European tour with Les McKeown’s Bay City Rollers, but when is the U.S. going to get some love?
Coming to perform in the USA is very complex. The live touring business works different in many ways. I am in charge of things on my own tours and do all things from booking the equipment and travel to hotels and meals. I like to know what’s happening long before it happens. I’m looking to get USA partners who can work with us to get the right venues and the right tour.
You've been active on Periscope. How are you enjoying all of the new social-media platforms?
I really enjoy being able to reach out to and connect with people, so at the moment I am enjoying it all.
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