The Ross Bandstand origins of The City Rollers: Part One of our exclusive serialisation of the late Alan Longmuir’s autobiography
I’D had it in my head to be a pop star for some years before the loose idea of forming a band first bubbled up inside me.
The trigger was going to see a film called Jailhouse Rock at The Scotia cinema in 1958.
I was 10-years-old and the star of the film, Elvis Presley, knocked me sideways and awakened all sorts of feelings inside. However, I cottoned on to The Beatles in 1963.
Their music was everywhere. Paul McCartney captivated me. Left-handed bassists were few and far between, but he was so much more. He had a great voice that could move quickly from sweet and melodic to earthy and rocky.
On the 29 April 1964, The Beatles came to Edinburgh. It was pandemonium. They sold 5,000 tickets for the shows they played at the old ABC cinema on Lothian Road.
However, if you believed every Edinburgh person that says they went, you’d be looking at 10 times that number.
I am not one of those who will claim to have been there but I did see the huge fan reaction.
That led me to form a band with brother Derek on drums and cousin Neil Porteous.
We started to practice in the front room at 5 Caledonian Road, Dalry, the family home.
Derek had got a set of Ringo Starr drums, soon to be replaced by an even better kit and I had a Rosetti electric guitar bought with a ScotLoan.
When Derek recruited his school mate Nobby Clark as singer we named ourselves The Saxons.
Roller history has it that our first ever gig was at the Cairns Church youth club.
It was certainly our first paid appearance, but Derek recently reminded me that the three of us auditioned for something or other at the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens.
It was a talent contest and the judges decided we didn’t have any.
We were soon learning our craft on the Edinburgh club circuit. We were a tight, but raw outfit and soon got a bit of a following. However, we needed a manager. And I knew exactly who.
Tam Paton was a face in Edinburgh. I was familiar with him not only as a member of The Crusaders but as the leader of his big band in the Palais de Danse.
He was charismatic and had an aura about him. Being 10 years older than me and an established figure on the music scene, I was certainly in awe of him.
His broad shoulders were honed through years of carrying sacks of potatoes - his daytime job in his successful family business run by his parents from their home in Prestonpans.
Later, when familiarity had bred contempt, we nicknamed him Tatty Tam because of this.
Paton’s impact was immediate. He got us gigs across Scotland and beyond. For the first time, we performed in England and, in time, the northern club circuit became a mainstay of our schedule. Tam did a deal with the London agency Starlight who dubbed it the ‘chicken-in-a-basket’ circuit.
At first it was a refreshing change from the chaos and underlying violence of the Scottish dance hall scene. Chicken sandwiches were the order of the day as opposed to knuckle sandwiches.
Meanwhile we had decided to change our name. We had toyed with others, notably The Deadbeats but knew that was going nowhere, but we also knew that The Saxons was so early 1960s. I wanted something that evoked speed and the USA.
Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels was a name that had captured my imagination.
You cannot underestimate the deferential attitude most people had to American culture at the time - it was generally accepted then that we, in the UK, were 30 years behind them in most things.
Their films were superior. Their clothes were smarter. As a society we aspired to be American.
One of us had already thrown ‘Rollers’ into the mix and I decided we needed an American place name before it.
Rollers evoked the sense of speed I was looking for and could also be interpreted to refer to rock and rollers.
A map was produced one day at Tam’s family premises and I threw a dart at it. I’m not claiming the arrow landed dead on Bay City, Michigan, but most of the place names close by were unsuitable.
Bad Axe Rollers? I don’t think so. Bay City Rollers rolled off the tongue.
Success was hard to sustain. Two follow-up records [to first Top 10 hit Keep On Dancing - see panel right] were flops and Bell were on the point of dropping us.
It was a bad time. We came close to packing up and me returning to my interrupted plumbing career.
Songwriters Howard and Blaikely were drafted in to write for us. The first song was Remember.
Meanwhile, Nobby Clark had got fed up and resigned. No bother, Tam had a replacement lined up, he said.
He brought that replacement to the house in Caledonian Road.
The 18-year-old boy stood before us had feather-cut hair - half Rod Stewart half David Bowie - a thin nose and small mouth. He was stick thin and dressed in tight-fitting tee-shirt and flares.
He was a good-looking youth and visually I could see what Tam saw him in.
“This is Les,” said Tam.
“Leslie Richard McKeown,” the boy corrected him. He had a swagger and attitude and first I thought ‘Who’s this flash bastard Tam’s brought us now?’
Eric Faulkner and Stuart ‘Woody’ Wood were enlisted soon after and the classic line-up of the Longmuir brothers, Les, Eric and Stuart was in place.
Remember was released, it entered the Top 50 at 47, then clambering to 38, then jumping to 18, then rocketing to eight and peaking at six.
We were back and follow-up hits Shang-A-Lang, Summerlove Sensation and All of Me Loves All of You were rushed out in quick succession.
I Ran With The Gang: My Life In and Out of The Bay City Rollers by Alan Longmuir with Martin Knight is published by Luath Press in hardback, priced £14.99.
Launch events are: Thursday 22 November, 6.30pm-8pm, at Blackwell’s, South Bridge, Friday 23 November, 7.30pm-9.30pm (doors open at 7pm) at Espionage Nightclub, Victoria Street, and Sunday 25 November, 2.30pm-5pm at The Tartan Arms, Bannockburn. Admission to all events is free.