Bay City Rollers: Edinburgh band's founding father Alan Longmuir to be remembered at New York Tartan Day
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In her first interview since the passing of the founding member of the world's first global boyband, Eileen, who married Alan in 1998, reveals how his passing left her "devastated" and how she is "amazed" by the ongoing love and admiration for her "soulmate", who was born and brought up in Dalry’s Caledonian Road.
Looking ahead to her trip to New York this April, she says, “I get so emotional when I think about it; being able to honour Alan in this way. It's four years now since he left us and people have remembered him. Just to walk down Sixth Avenue in his name... God, can you imagine how proud he would be? He was such a humble man but I think he'd be sitting up there saying, ‘I can't quite believe this is happening’.”
Talking exclusively to the Evening News, Eileen recalls the moment she realised the love of her life would shortly leave her. They were on holiday in Mexico at the time, where Alan had taken ill.
“It was devastating. I don't know where I got the strength from to get through that time," she admits. “We were stuck in Mexico. I wasn't allowed to leave Alan's room, I think they were afraid I might take off and leave him with no means of payment for his treatment. I had nobody to turn to until I managed to get hold to my son. I had to ask to explore selling our house to meet the mounting medical bills.”
When Alan first took ill, Eileen thought he had caught a bug but as his condition worsened it became clear something much more worrying was happening.
“I didn't realise how ill he was and was convinced they could save him until the Doctor said the only thing that could help was a liver transplant but that at his age and with his medical history, two heart attacks and a stroke, there was no hope of that happening.
“That was when our thinking changed and Alan just wanted to get back to Scotland. From then, it was about getting him well enough for the journey home. On the journey home his condition got worse - they even wanted to land the air ambulance in Iceland to get him to hospital but he said, ‘No, I want to go home’.”
By the time Alan arrived at Forth Valley Hospital, close to his Bannockburn home, the family were asked to gather by his bed. However, although medical staff didn't expect him to make it through the night, he fought on for another three weeks.
Alan passed away at the age of 70 on July, 2, 2018, with his family by his side and having spent some of his final hours with Bay City Rollers band-mate Les McKeown and his wife Peko. Les himself passed away suddenly on April 20, last year.
“Les and Peko flew up to see him and came straight from the airport to the hospital. We knew every day was a bonus and it was only a matter of time. They sat with Alan and the family throughout the Saturday and Sunday and Alan died at 6am on the Monday morning.”
Life without Alan has been difficult, Eileen reflects. Both animal lovers, their pets got her through the early grieving process as did a growing sense of Alan always being present.
“I had to walk Minnie and Elza, our dogs, that was what got me out of bed in the morning for the first few months,” she says.
“It was really hard to start with but I just know he is here with me. Even the other day, when I was out with pals, I cracked a joke and was just about to say, ‘If Alan could hear me now...’ when I felt a tap on my back. I jumped up, turned around but there was no one there, just a wall behind me. I know that was him.”
The outpouring of affection for Alan since he died has also been a great comfort, Eileen admits. His autobiography, written with Martin Knight, was published posthumously, fans rallied to fund the memorial bench that now sits by his grave, while others worked with Eileen to create Alan’s very own official tartan, Alan Longmuir: Proud Son of Edinburgh.
“It took me a long time to read the book manuscript,” remembers Eileen. “Every time I picked it up I had to put it down again. It was too soon. I read it properly when it was published and that was when I discovered he had dedicated it to me calling me ‘his soulmate’."
Emotionally, she continues, “The memorial bench was a lovely thing for fans to do, it’s engraved with the words, ‘Alan Longmuir. The Original Bay City Roller. Don't Let the Music Die.’
“Often I just sit there and usually there are lots of little fox and rabbit footprints and the fans leave gifts, flowers, toys, angels, candles, things like that. It's comforting to know he is not forgotten. I just ask that visitors are respectful and aware of their surroundings.”
It was the tartan, however, that set Eileen's forthcoming trip to the Big Apple in motion.
“The tartan was the idea of Rollers' fan and kilt maker Lesley Stirrat,” she explains.
“Lesley wanted to create a tartan for the family to wear. With another fan, Gillian Watkins, she got in touch with me and I thought it was a good idea so we started working with Marton Mills on the design. Eventually it was registered and went to weave. Alan would have loved it. He was Scottish through and through and although he wasn't keen on the tartan-trimmed outfits of the Rollers in the early days, by the time he was doing his stage show, I Ran With The Gang, he wouldn't go on stage without his favourite tartan waistcoat.”
At the Tartan Day Parade on April 9, Eileen will lead 100 Bay City Rollers fans marching behind a banner in Alan's honour.
“It was supposed to happen in 2020 but due to the pandemic kept being put back,” she expalins. “I was invited to act as an Ambassador by Bay City Roller Fan Events, a group of American Rollers' fans, who were planning to march in the parade.
“It started quite small with just 30 fans marching up Sixth Avenue behind the pipers and the banner, now it’s 100 and there is a waiting list in case anyone drops out.”
With the emotion evident in her voice, Eileen adds, “I never expected the love for Alan to carry on as long as it has. I thought that within a year he would be forgotten, but he hasn't been.
“Alan’s favourite song was Don't Let The Music Die, with all the love that is still out there for him and the band he started all those years ago, I don’t think the music of the Bay City Rollers will ever die.”