Firstly just let me say, do not get on the wrong side of ladies who were teenagers in the 1970’s. As a photographer I have shot metal festival, punk rock shows, grindcore gigs and I can’t remember being so pushed, shoved, elbowed and (at one one point) kneed in the leg because they thought I was going to be getting in between them and Les McKeown. We got through it and as I was moving around a fair bit wasn’t too much of an obstacle to anybody for too long (I hope). Actually mostly these ladies were lovely but there were some rough diamonds in the mix.
In some ways this isn’t surprising, for many tonight is the first chance these gals have ever had to see The Rollers up close. Apart from Les appearing to sing a couple of songs on the Countdown Revolution tour in 2007, they haven’t toured Australia since 1985. And these gals are mad for some Roller action. The fervour that the Bay City Rollers generated in the 1970’s is almost impossible to convey all these years later. It was Roller-mania, overwhelming, hysterical, pre-teen crazy apeshit bonkers popstar love.
More recent ‘boy bands’ have agents, stylists, marketing departments, 360 merchandising deals, carefully stage managed ‘happenings’ and social media campaigns. In 1975, when the Rollers went into intergalactic popularity, it was utter chaos and pandemonium. There were no crash barriers at concerts, the band was routinely besieged in cars and hotels with squadrons of out of control, lustful teenagers hurling themselves bodily at anything vaguely Roller shaped. It is easy to dismiss a band like the Rollers as lightweight pop fluff in these much more cynical times, but the 1970’s was the last time pop music was allowed to be fun plain fun, good time music.
By the 80’s everybody was too busy poncing around on sail boats in their Anthony Price suits and using their art school poetry to cut to the chase of the simple pop song. Everybody was trying to ‘SAY’ something, social or deep. Don’t misunderstand me I love my 80’s poncing around on a sail boat pop music, but we had lost the art of being able to enjoy a shang-a-lang shooby do ay, which is a real shame in my opinion. The Bay City Rollers were bloody great at a shooby do ay. They wanted to give a little love and take a little love. They wanted to let everybody know that all me loved all of you. They were concerned that you might hate me after what I was about to say, but despite that there was something I had to tell you anyway. Their songs were catchy as, peppy,song a longable teen anthems. Really great, classic pop songs that, if tonights audience is anything to go by, still ring true to these fans four decades after they were released.
The Gov is packed for the second night in a row, with mostly middle aged women (and some dragged along husbands) and there is a lot people wearing a lot of tartan. Earlier in the evening Sean Kemp, once again, shows great chops at winning over an audience that is not there to see him specifically. He has become a sterling front man and shines in these support spots were an older crowd have a) never heard of him and his music and b) he is ‘in the way’ of them getting to the main course. Over the past couple of years I have seen him win over a crowd from the often difficult opening spot and tonght was no exception.
After a short break, were the hustle for poll positions intensified and tartan scarves are strategically placed on mike stands etc, it’s time for the main event. The musicians on the stage were not in the original Rollers. Some may not have been born back then, but most have been playing with the Les McKeown version for close to two decades and they are really bloody good at it. Unlike some ‘hertitage’ acts that try and re-invent the wheel by updating their arrangements and filling the set with songs from that experimental free jazz album they released which they thought everybody should love, but didn’t, the Bay City Rollers are under no illusion about why people are here. They are here to hear the songs they love, played the way they loved them. They are here to (Sha-la-la-la) remember. And McKeown and his band deliver in absolute spades!
Opening with their take on the Dusty Springfield classic I Only Wanna Be With You which was a massive hit all over the world for them in 1976. The audience is madly waving tartan scarves singing along at the top of their lungs and swooning at Les who is in great voice and is looking trim and fit. Rock’n’Roll Love Letter is next and is a great powerpop song, it could have been recorded by The Raspberries. Great riff, great chorus. The Phil Spector classic Be My Baby was on the first BCR album Rollin in 1974 and leads nicely into their wonderfully syrupy and completely epic mega-hit Give a Little Love from 1975’s Wouldn’t You Like It. Keep On Dancing was there first hit single in 1971, but when Les joined the band it was re-recorded for the Once Upon a Star record (also 1975) and is a huge favourite tonight.
The Bump was a Rollers b-side in 1974, but was a massive hit for English band Kenny later the same year. Some people even remember the dance moves and bust them out (hint : it involves ‘bumping’ bits of yourself against your partner). At the merch desk they are selling a CD called The Lost Songs, which are all songs written by McKeown back in the Rollers heyday, but rejected by the bands producers/songwriters (ie – they weren’t keen on sharing the cash around).
Tonight they play one song off that called Beautiful. It’s a solid Roller-eque track that could easily have been on one of the classic Roller albums. The pace slows slightly for the ballad The Way I Feel Tonight but picks right up again with the song that broke them in the USA. Saturday Night is just about as good as a pop song as you could ever want to hear. Thumping drums, the killer guitar riff, the stut-tut-tut-ring catch on ‘S-S-S-Saturday, the pause before the chorus. And the deal sealer is the irresistible cheerleading chant of S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y NIGHT! Emulated by The Ramones and loved by millions, it is absolute gold this evening.
The traditional Scottish song Loch Lomand (You Take the High Road) is a little reminder that Bay City Rollers are from Scotland (seriously – WHO KNEW?).
There is a great medley of songs by other 1970’s acts that have lost key members which starts with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, cranks into 20th Century Boy (T Rex) Blockbuster (The Sweet), My Coo Ca Choo (Alvin Stardust), Tiger Feet (Mud), Rebel Rebel (David Bowie) and back to a mass sing-a-long finish on Rhapsody. We got goosebumps!
Back to the first album for Remember (Sha La la la) and then the song they discovered on their first trip to Australia when they saw John Paul Young singing it on Countdown, Yesterdays Hero. Written by the bulletproof writing duo of Vanda & Young (ex-Easybeats, Flash & The Pan) the tale of fallen pop stardom was taken on with gusto by the Rollers and a worldwide hit. The set finishes up with Shang-a-Lang. It was the song that saw them derided by the ‘serious’ music press, with it’s ‘Shimmy shammy shaw’ lyrics, but it was loved by legions of Rollermaniacs and became the title of their own TV Show which brought the Scottish lads into the homes of the tartan horde on a regular basis. I love it. These gals love it. It is brilliant. Throughout the set, old photographs and press clipping flash on the big screen behind the band adding to the nostalgic air without bogging things down.
Les returns to the stage alone for a brief acapela version of Loving Feeling before being joined by the rest of the band for a euphoric Bye Bye Baby. It is perfect. People around me are genuinely overwhelmed at seeing the Rollers live in concert. I suspect with the success of this tour, BCR will be making Australia a regular inclusion on future tours. Looking back to pop music from the 70’s has never been quite so much fun.
Review by Ian Bell