“There goes another piece of my childhood”. One fan’s poignant tribute to Bay City Rollers frontman Les McKeown, who died suddenly on Tuesday at the age of 65.
The Scottish pop vocalist, known for his romantic lyrics and flamboyant fashion sense, was the frontman of the group during their 1970s heyday.
His death was confirmed in a statement by his family.
Wife Keiko spoke of her shock after the “profound loss” of a husband and father, who captured the hearts of legions of teenage girls in the band’s 1970s Rollermania heyday.
His former manager John MacLaughlan, who dealt with his comeback shows in 2015, led tributes to the Edinburgh singer, saying the Rollers “flew the flag for Scotland”.
McKeown, born in Edinburgh to Irish parents, joined the Bay City Rollers in late 1973.
His arrival coincided with the Bay City Rollers’ ascent to fame and McKeown remained lead vocalist until 1978, appearing on Top Of The Pops on a number of occasions.
Formed at the end of the 1960s, the Rollers enjoyed huge success at home and abroad with their distinctive tartan outfits and upbeat pop tunes like Bye Bye Baby and Shang-a-Lang.
They finally broke through into the mainstream in 1974, going on to sell more than 100 million records. In the press were heralded as “biggest group since The Beatles”.
Before they made the big time they had released a series of singles which failed to dent the charts.
Alongside McKeown and Alan Longmuir, the classic line-up also included guitarists Eric Faulkner and Stuart Wood, with Longmuir’s younger brother Derek on drums.
McKeown, Longmuir and Wood reunited for a comeback tour in 2015 with tickets selling out in minutes.
The news comes after bassist Alan Longmuir died aged 70 in the summer of 2018.
Bassist Ian Mitchell, who joined the band in 1976 when he was 17 to replace founding member Longmuir, died aged 62 in September 2020.
The band’s first return show at Glasgow Barrowlands in 2015 sold out in three minutes, the second in 15, a testament to their enduring popularity.
Mr MacLaughlan said: “The Bay City Rollers were the biggest band in the world in the mid seventies and beyond.
“They had their own TV show and Rollermania. They flew the flag for Scotland and made me think as a wee boy watching the telly you can be a pop star and in music and they meant a lot to me getting involved in music and the industry and the clothes and the hair and image were brilliant and the gang mentality was amazing.
“I’m honoured to have worked with them.”
The announcement was made by his family on the band’s Facebook page this afternoon.
The statement read: ‘It is with profound sadness that we announce the death of our beloved husband and father Leslie Richard McKeown.
“Leslie died suddenly at home on Tuesday 20 April 2021. We are currently making arrangements for his funeral.
‘If you would like to remember Leslie, please make a donation in his name. We thank you and ask for privacy after the shock of our profound loss.
‘Thank you. Keiko and Jubei McKeown’
A cause of death has yet to be declared.
Stuart ‘Woody’ Wood, former Bay City Rollers, guitarist, said: ““Les and I had our differences over the years but even though we had disagreements we are sending our heartfelt condolences to his and his son Jubie and all the Bay City Rollers fans. It’s a sad day in Bay City Roller history.”
Bay City Roller fans flooded social media with tributes, sharing memories of the band’s heyday.
Martin Knight posted on Twitter: “Shocked & saddened to hear Les McKeown has died suddenly.
“He captured young hearts like few others ever did and across the globe, tonight thousands of middle-aged mums will be shedding tears.”
Neil Pace tweeted: “Very sad news. When I was 11 my girlfriend, also 11, dumped me to spend more time with her Les McKeown posters and Bay City Rollers records.”
Another fan posted: “Gutted to hear about the passing of Les McKeown. Difficult to comprehend how an 18-year-old could’ve coped with such a level of superstardom.
“Over 120 million record sales, topped the charts in nearly every record-selling country in the world. Not bad for a boy from Broomhouse #RIP.”
sic…and the Shang-a-Lang @LesMcKeownUK #ByeByeBab.”
Former home secretary Jacqui Smith also paid tribute.
She wrote: “One of my first loves. I’m feeling some teen heartache but know it’ll be very real for his family and friends.
“Sending love, condolences and thanks for the memories.”
Boxer Frank Bruno wrote: “He was part of the music scene when I was growing up & I remember tartan clad girls all screaming.
“It was a hysteria era music wise with The Osmond’s David Cassidy & Bay City Rollers seems like yesterday. I was more into Reggae & soul music.”