By Bob Shields
Les McKeown reveals why he is prepared to reform the Bay City Rollers; Former Bay City Roller Les McKeown is prepared to forgive and forget
Les McKeown wasn't exactly holding out an olive branch. In fact, he had an Embassy filter in one hand and a large voddie and Coke in the other. He wasn't even declaring an end to the 18-year-old war that's divided the most successful pop band in Scottish history. But he did say it would be good if they could all be friends again.
And in the feuding, writ-serving, mud-slinging, back-stabbing world of the Bay City Rollers, that kind of talk could get you the Nobel Peace Prize. He says: "There's a lot of bitterness still. But we're all a lot older and wiser now. "I'm not talking about getting together again as a band. Perhaps it's too late for that. "Do I really need it? And do the rest of the guys really need it either? "We'd have to sit down together and get it all out in the open.
"But if we could get all the crap out - and get rid of it - we'd all be better off. "And I don't mean financially. It would be better for my life if we were friends again." Les stops and has another swig of his vodka. But he's not drunk and he's not shooting his mouth off - two old friends that used to get him into a lot of trouble. Sitting in the corner of a pub in London's Bethnal Green with Japanese wife Peko and son Riki, the jack- the-lad of teenybop is now a contented jack-the-dad. Well, almost. Some events in the roller-coaster Roller years still invite the odd F- word. And the very mention of Tam Paton invites a whole string of them. The man who founded the Bay City Rollers and guided them to great heights is loathed. But Les is still proud of what the Rollers achieved. "We sold 70 million records. We opened up Japan, which had never been done before. We had No 1 records in America." The "we" was Les, Stuart 'Woody' Wood, Eric Faulkner and brothers Alan and Derek Longmuir.
"Some people take the mickey out the Rollers music. But I was a 17-year- old singing to 12-year-olds. What's so awful about "We sang Shang-a-lang as we ran with the gang"? "It's cool to slag us off. But we achieved so much worth remembering." It's when you ask where it all went wrong that Les snatches the fag packet and shouts at the barman for another vodka.
"We were a sick band at the end. It was like being in a bad marriage and I wanted out. "The others didn't want me to go and we had the most awful fights - real kicking and punching and swearing fights. "Eventually, I had to have my own security and stayed in a different hotel - not to protect me from the fans, but to protect me from the rest of the band! I had to get out." But when he did, Les claims the real fighting began. "I lost my house. They repossessed it. They threw me, my parents and my brother onto the street. My bank account was closed. After all those years at the top, all I had to show for it was a dollars 24,000 credit card bill.
"Tam Paton had me all tied up. Remember, I had signed things when I was 17 and without legal advice. "I sometimes wonder what might have been if we'd had a proper manager. Found someone like U2 or Phil Collins have now." But the real hurt came a few years later when Les went to court to fight for the Bay City Rollers name. And lost on penalties. "Eric won the BCR title. Him and his girlfriend telling me I couldn't use the name. Christ ... it's like someone saying 'you're not Bob Shields anymore, because I own your name now'. Can you believe it? "That really hurt me then. It still hurts me now. But what the hell, it happened and that's it. "It's the same with the money. I used to get all worked up about where it all went. A lot of folk got very rich on the back of the Rollers. But not the Rollers and certainly not me.
"Still, I have different values now. Like my wife and my son Riki. We have a nice house and Riki wants for nothing." The Bay City Rollers logo now travels with Eric, Woody and Alan. Derek is a nurse in Edinburgh and is happy to forget his famous past. Les hands me a publicity shot of his outfit - Leslie McKeown's 70s Bay City Rollers.
He's legally entitled to use the Roller name in this format - and he's been with them longer than the original Rollers. "We're off to Germany for five days. Not huge gigs, but big enough. Then we go to America for our 20th Anniversary Tour." That's right. Twenty years. Twenty FIVE if you go back to their first hit, Keep On Dancing. Their last Top 10 hit was I Only Wanna Be With You in 1976. Any plans to play in Britain - or Scotland? "Not in the near future. But we were asked to do a fund- raiser for Dunblane. We could do that." Would he do a Dunblane fund-raiser with the original Rollers? "Yes. No problem," he said immediately. "I don't know what the others would say but, yes, that's fine by me." A recent Press report claimed the "differences" were stopping the Rollers collecting pounds 2 million in royalties waiting in an American bank account.Manager Tam Paton was quoted as saying: "You can't get them in the same room, never mind around the same table." Les says: "I don't believe there's pounds 2 million there. But if there is, what would be left for the Rollers if we tried to get it? "By the time the agents, the lawyers and everybody else get their share ... I'm not too bothered. If someone sends me a fat cheque, fine. But I'm not chasing after it. I don't need to. "I'd rather we met just to sort our relationship out. Playing for Dunblane would get us together. But after that, it's too complicated to predict." The Rollers around a table again? Even better, the Rollers on stage again? It sounded too good to be true. But one quote from Les stayed in my mind long into my flight home. "After Lennon died, I bet McCartney wished he'd knocked on his door, hugged him and said 'I love you, man'."
I wonder if Les went home and played Lennon's War is Over?