The middle-aged hearts of women around the globe sagged when it was announced without fanfare that Leslie McKeown, lead singer of the Bay City Rollers, died suddenly at home at the age of 65 on April 20, 2021.
Unless you slept through the seventies, you know the Bay City Rollers.
When they were most popular UK journalists compared them to the Beatles. Artistically that’s a considerable reach. Although Rollermania originated in Scotland the group’s international appearances were characterized by familiar mobs of screaming, swooning and sobbing teenage girls.
Leslie was my first romantic love.
I had all the albums. Posters and Tiger Beat centrefolds covered my walls. I prized my Bay City Roller slippers, and pencil case.
In 1976, the Bay City Rollers camped in Toronto, recording their top five album Dedication.
They made an appearance at Nathan Phillips Square where they were greeted by 65,000 fans, 400 of which required medical attention due to fainting.
The following year they appeared at the Canadian National Exhibition in the same city.
I begged. I cried. I promised to throw myself out the bedroom window and splat all over the running beans in the garden below, if I wasn’t allowed to go.
Unreasonable parents. Just because a person is 10 doesn’t mean she can’t buy a ticket, take a bus, and find her way to the stage at the CNE.
With McKeown as front man the Bay City Rollers recorded number one hits in the UK, Canada, the USA, Japan and Australia.
Those song titles will resonate: Bye Bye Baby, Give a Little Love, Summer Love Sensation, Remember. To this day there isn’t a buck and doe, wedding or street dance that is complete until the deejay plays Saturday Night.
Fame wasn’t especially kind to Leslie. He developed an addiction to alcohol, and wrote that he was raped by the band’s manager, then fed drugs to sustain his ability to perform.
In 1975 he killed an elderly neighbour as a result of reckless driving. In 2005 he was fined, and his license suspended, for impaired driving and leaving the scene of an accident.
He was a husband, and father.
McKeown left the Bay City Rollers in 1978 and pursued a solo career with moderate success.
In 2014 he toured with a group of musicians, and played in Orillia, Ontario, just outside of Toronto.
My daughter and I went, with her just old enough for admittance to the casino venue.
When I arrived downstairs, ready to go, she expressed alarm.
‘Mom, you aren’t going out in public like that!’
I’d a tartan scarf and belt, and tartan sewn onto the cuffs of my bell-bottom jeans.
She would get it when we got there. And she did.
It was a night touched by bliss and magic, and the memory comforts my sagging heart.
“As time goes by, don’t let the music die.” – Bay City Rollers, from the album It’s a Game, 1977.
Andrea DeMeer is the publisher and editor of the Similkameen Spotlight.
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