BOTH hailed from Edinburgh, shared a distinctive – some might say rather unfortunate – fashion sense and hit the 1970s music scene with their infectious brand of pop. They even shared a manager, the controversial and colourful Tam Paton.
But that’s where the similarities between the tartan-clad Bay City Rollers and their younger denim-frocked “cousins” Bilbo Baggins grind to a devastating halt.
For while one city-based boy band soared to global success, the other, led by chirpy vocalist Colin Chisholm, vanished into total obscurity.
Now, however, more than 40 years on and with his bus pass on standby as he heads to his 60th birthday, Colin has launched a last-gasp bid to resuscitate his defunct music career – crooning in front of millions of television viewers on prime-time Saturday night television.
He’ll appear on tomorrow night’s BBC talent show The Voice, nervously performing for a place in the next round in front of vocal legend Sir Tom Jones and pop stars Jessie J, Danny O’Donoghue of The Script and Will.I.Am.
It will be his first venture back on the small screen since Bilbo Baggins launched an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to break into national pop stardom dressed in their band uniform of flowing denim “dresses” – bare torsos on display with the first manly chest hair just beginning to sprout, and baggy white trousers with hems trailing.
Colin, whose daughter, Chloe, surprised him by putting his name forward for the show without first telling him, was today remaining tight-lipped over precisely what kind of reaction his rendition of the Cyndi Lauper hit I Drove All Night got from the four famous judges during his nerve-wracking audition.
But just making it to the televised auditions of the Saturday night show involved a phenomenal uphill battle, with Colin at one point facing a throat cancer scare that left him wondering if he’d ever sing again, followed by an attack of “voice fright” which threatened to put him off ever performing again.
“I was angry with Chloe when she put me through,” admits dad-of-two Colin, who works as a project coordinator with campaign group Men in Childcare. “I’d been doing wedding gigs and the like but hadn’t sung for ages after having a couple of throat operations. The last one showed up something on one vocal chord and a shadow on the other which looked like early signs of throat cancer.
“It was frightening. Everything turned out fine, but it put me off singing because I didn’t want to push it and do any damage. But a couple of months off turned into a year and I got to the stage where I had ‘voice fright’ and was scared of getting on stage because I didn’t want to make an ass of myself.
“Thirty-five thousand people auditioned for The Voice, so getting to this stage has been a huge buzz. It’s very exciting.”
He was 19 when Bilbo Baggins formed in Edinburgh in 1972. Along with friends Brian Spence on guitar, James ‘Dev’ Devlin on bass, guitarist Gordon ‘Tosh’ McIntosh, all from Clermiston, and Gordon ‘Fid’ Liddle from Glasgow – introduced to the band by manager Tam Paton and now a Sheriff Court sheriff – they went on to play hundreds of gigs around the UK.
But comparisons with the Bay City Rollers were unavoidable. And although Bilbo Baggins – BB to their fans – were considered musically more adept, the Rollers’ fun style and boyish good looks won over legions of young fans.
“It just never happened for us,” says Colin, who lives with wife Gillian in Chesser. “We were tarred with the same brush as the Rollers, but we are nothing like them. What’s annoying is we had the image before them – it has been said that they stole our look – because we had all the tartan stuff long before they had it. They were still playing in velvet trousers and we were dressing in things like baggy trousers. We had a big gang following. All the kids had these denim ‘frock’ coats and we got into that.”
The band’s signature style was long, faded denim coats worn over high-waist baggy white trousers. Later they all wore school-style blazers with a pocket badge embroidered with the BB initials.
“We were much cooler than the Rollers,” says Colin. “We were rockier and altogether better, but they got the break.”
The group had moderate success with self-penned song She’s Gonna Win – eventually it got to number 42 in the charts and was performed by the band on Top of the Pops – but despite gathering a large following of fans, other songs like the Sha-Na-Na-Na Song, I Can Feel Mad and Back Home failed to hit the top 40.
Likened to 1970s legends Slade in style, the band toured across the UK, supporting acts such as the Rollers in 1976 and Mud only for headline success to elude them. At one point the band made the leap into television drama, appearing with a young unknown called Toyah Wilcox in 1978 for a television drama called Glitter, in which they played her favourite band. The singer later recalled: “They were supposed to be the drunkard version of the Bay City Rollers, it was all very embarrassing really.
They finally split from Paton’s management and by 1979 the onslaught of punk rock meant their style of music was even less likely to hit the charts and the band broke up.
Colin continued to sing at weddings and in clubs, and in 1986 the lifelong Jambo headed into the studio with the Hearts squad as they battled, unsuccessfully, to win the league. His version of the Hearts Song is still played at Tynecastle before every match. But his audition for The Voice is his biggest break in 40 years.
“To be honest, performing on Top of the Pops in the Seventies was a breeze compared to this,” he says. “Even at the first audition in Glasgow there were 500 to 600 people there and I got quite emotional when I found out I was through to the next stage.”
Unfortunately, his big moment for the judges was nearly scuppered, as he walked on to the hushed stage and encountered a fashion crisis to rival his old denim dress.
“You walk on and all you can hear are your own footsteps, it’s so quiet,” he explains. “I was wearing quite pointy shoes which were quite tricky to walk in. So I’m walking on, terrified, thinking I’m going to fall, bang!”
He kept his footing and now hopes The Voice will launch him into a new phase of his career.
“I’m turning 60 this year but I’ve decided I’m not picking up my bus pass, instead I’ve got something to look forward to,” he says. “I’ve had years of people saying things to me like ‘Here comes Bilbo’. This is my way of showing them that I can still do it.”
FIVE-PIECE band formed by four Clermiston friends and a drummer from Glasgow in 1972. Band folded in 1979.
Manager: Tam Paton.
STYLE: Long faded denim-dress style coats, open at chest, white baggy trousers.
BIGGEST HIT: She’s Gonna Win made number 42 in 1978. Other singles failed to chart.
BIGGEST GIG: Support group for the Bay City Rollers during 1976, an RAF gig for servicemen in Cyprus.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT: Poor record sales failed to earn the band money and they split with large debts.
Bay City Rollers
BETWEEN 1973 and 1977 featured Alan Longmuir on bass, brother Derek on drums, singer Les McKeown, guitarists Stuart Wood and Eric Faulkner.
Manager: Tam Paton.
STYLE: Tartan-trim calf-length baggy trousers, waist-length jackets, open to bare chest, or V-neck jumpers.
BIGGEST HIT: Bye Bye Baby in 1974, which made number one in the UK for six weeks. They had 12 top ten UK hits.
GIGS: The Rollers sold out shows across the world.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT: The Rollers’ success fizzled out and squabbles over their earnings continue today.
Bilbo Baggins - where are they now?
SINGER Colin Chisholm works as a project manager for campaign organisation Men in Childcare, which aims to generate a larger male presence in schools and nurseries.
DRUMMER Gordon Liddle studied law at Edinburgh University after the band split, became an advocate and is now Sheriff Liddle.
GUITARIST Brian Spence has continued to write music and perform with a band called The Wish, based in London.
BASSIST James Devlin quit the band in 1976 and went on to become managing director of Polydor Records.
GUITARIST Gordon McIntosh continues to perform in weekend gigs at clubs around Edinburgh.
• The Voice is on BBC One at 8.05pm on Saturday.