So there I am backstage at Rebellion punk festival hanging out with a slightly grizzled old rock n roller who is talking ten to the dozen. His thick Scottish brogue belies years of living in Spain and his endless funny tales of the seventies pretty soon narrow him down to being Woody from the Bay City Rollers. Turns out that Woody is a cool guy and the Rollers have just gone a storm at the punk festival.
Of course we hated them at the time.
We thought that the Bay City Rollers were gurning buffoons committing pop crimes. They arrived at the tail end of glam rock with overgrown feather cuts and Stonehenge teeth smiles caught in one of those screechy, screaming, pop rolercoasters that used to have mania thrown on the end of them as a desperate echo of Beatlemania. For a couple of years they seemed to be equal in intensity to the mad Beatles wet knicker landslide that had so altered the sixties instead they ended up like so many since then- enormous for a few glorious months, a young dumb and full of cum fantasy for pre pubescent, sexually explosive mid teens looking for an imaginary grope and a cuddle from their favourite goofy pin ups.
The Bay City Rollers story is the ultimate tale of the road to ruin, roller coaster ride of pop. Years of graft on the Scottish club circuit then a brief three years of being teen sensations. Then the big time in the USA before the wheels came off, they then lost millions, there was dingy sex, drugs, jail, a dark afterlife after the brief orgasm of thrilling success. Somehow there is a residual love for the band, the teeny hoppers are now middle aged women turn out for the band and at the Rebellion punk festival one of the many line ups of the Rollers went down a storm with non ironic good time sing a longs from punk rockers old enough to know better. They still tour in dribs and drabs- ghosts of some long lost screamathon celebrating lost youth and white half mast kecks with bits of tartan sewn on them.
And yet somehow there is something of the classic about the band.
They were just not that bad.
In these Cowell-pop days when all pop seems to be slushy- auto tune- ballads that have no sentiment the leering joyous come on of the Bay City Rollers sound like the perfect naive teenage anthems. These songs were the first fumbling grope in a freezing cold mid seventies youth club and the soundtrack to a million half hidden zits and disappointing hand jobs.
There is a brilliant pop naivety to their upbeat anthems and a simple doe eyed melancholy to their sadder tunes that even then harked back to a less complex time of the late fifties.
‘Shang A Lang’ is anthemic, ‘Bye Bye Baby’ is mercurial in it’s innocence and seemed to be number one for ever, ‘Money Honey’ was when they almost convincingly rocked it up for that much hoped for but rarely achieved crossover- the point when the boys had to gruntingly admit that were not that bad before attempting to spell Led Zepplin correctly as they carved it into the school desk with a flick knife.
The Bay City Rollers first hit, ‘Keep On Dancing’, was in 1971- oddly this seems forgotten in the scheme of things- like original singer Nobby who was replaced by the ragamuffin Les Mckeow, whose crooked smile made him look like the hard kid trying to be cute for the girls. Mckeown looked like the fairground dodgem hustler- a job that oozed seventies glam and ambition and his leering charisma ignited the band into the big time.
They didn’t get another hit till 1974’s ‘Remember Sha La la’ and then for three years they were pop gods. The hits kept coming including their first number one in America, ‘Saturday Night’. Rollermania briefly threatened to engulf the world- well the tabloids, their singles were massive and there were number one albums. They sniffed the hairy buttocks of the top twenty in America before the wheels came off with scandals, fuck ups and a fashion sea change when punk made them obsolete and the Rollermania girls hid their tartens and swopped them for the heavy manners. punk rock gear and were embarrassed about their Roller love.
Oddly the band was one of the unspoken influences on punk rock. Malcolm Maclaren wanted the Sex Pistols to be a ruder version of the Bay City Rollers and there is a whiff of the Rollers in the Clash or Generation X, their converse, hitched up pants and spiky hair were oddly more in tune with what came next than some of their contemporaries.
The Rollers songs with their nod to classic power pop and girl group melodicism- the neon saturday nights of teenage lust and fish and finger pies weirdly sound like Jesus And The Mary Chain and classic indie pop. Revisiting the Bay City Rollers anthems is a goofy not guilty pleasure and a timely reminder of the power if classic pop.
It’s oddly, that good.