Two years ago on Thursday past, Alan's family trusted me to announce that he had passed away after a short illness. It was one of the hardest pieces I have ever had to write. Over the last few years of his life, we had become good friends after collaborating on the Fringe show I Ran With The Gang, which told the incredible story of his life from working class Dalry lad to plumber, international popstar, film star and then back to plumber.
Throughout his roller coaster ride through the murky Seventies’ world of pop, Alan would simply insist he was just ‘a plumber from Edinburgh who got lucky’ - an ordinary gadgie.
It took me three years to get Alan to agree to let me tell his story, and what a story it proved to be. As anyone who ever met him quickly realised, the oldest of the Rollers was a quiet, shy and humble man. When, with the backing of local entrepreneur Billy Lowe, I Ran With The Gang received its premiere at the Fringe 2014, Alan could not believe that fans, all now in their 50s, 60s and even 70s, flew in from all parts of the world to see their teenage crush back on stage.
The first night of the show was Alan’s first public appearance in nearly a decade and a half and he was nervous. He couldn’t believe so many had come to see him and was determined not to disappoint. They came from all over the UK and Europe, from Scandinavia, the USA, Australia and Japan and as he made a point of meeting every one of them after the show - singing autographs and posing for pictures - there were frequently tears as fans found themselves overcome to be in his presence. That always left Alan a little bemused and he would frequently remark, “I can’t believe this is happening all over again.”
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He might not have believed it, but he certainly enjoyed it, especially when the show was invited to play a Bay City Rollers’ fan event in Toronto - it actually went two years running. Organiser Kat Connor made it all happen, flying Alan and Eileen, his wife, and the rest of the I Ran With The Gang company to Canada to mark the 40th anniversary of the Rollers’ visit to the city on 27 June, 1976, when a frenzy of 65,000 fans descended on Nathan Phillips Square to see their teenage heroes.
Ironically, Alan had already left the band by that point - questions were asked in Parliament when he did, such was the hysteria among fans at the news - but that didn’t stop people flying in from all over North America to meet him four decades later. In fact, if anything, it only made the visit all the more special - cue hours of signing even more autographs and posing for more selfies.
Alan also embarked on a two-day tour of local radio stations and ended up on breakfast telly coast to coast - just like the old days. He couldn’t believe it, just like it’s hard to believe he’s gone, and not just because of all his amazing stories of the band’s heyday, but for the little things, like his love of life, the impromptu pints in Ryries whenever he was in town or nipping out for a hot dog from the street cart by our Toronto hotel, something that became a daily ritual, and watching the bashful glow that enveloped him whenever he was recognised.
It would probably surprise Alan to discover how much he is missed by so many - not bad for “a plumber from Edinburgh”. Albeit one with a special tale and the biggest, most generous heart ever.
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