Tribute to Bay City Rollers Les McKeown from NI songwriter who penned hits

The Northern Irish songwriter who wrote a string of hits with The Bay City Rollers said Les McKeown was “driven to be on stage”.

Friday, 23rd April 2021, 1:01 pm
Les McKeown's Bay City Rollers on stage at Glenarm Castle in 2018. INLT 30-629-CON

Phil Coulter and Bill Martin were recruited to write songs for the Scottish band just before Les came on board as lead singer.

He paid tribute to the frontman who died suddenly at home on Tuesday at the age of 65.

Talking to the Good Morning Ulster radio programme, Phil said: “Les was a star, it’s as simple as that.

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Phil Coulter wrote a string of hits for The Bay City Rollers

“When he was signed into The Bay City Rollers he replaced Nobby Clark and he transformed the band.

“He was, in many respects, The Bay City Rollers. They had been toiling to get records in the charts before. Bill Martin and myself were brought in by the record label, Les arrived shortly after that.

“That changed the fortunes of The Bay City Rollers. We had a string of hits – Remember, Shang-a-Lang, All Of Me Loves All Of You, Summerlove Sensation – all songs which were written specifically for The Bay City Rollers and more particularly for Les McKeown.”

He discussed the arrangements for studio recordings which involved hardly any of the band: “It’s kind of an open secret, that on those hits, the only presence of The Bay City Rollers on the recordings was Les McKeown. The tracks were played by session players, Les was then drafted in to do the lead vocals.”

Les McKeown of The Bay City Rollers performing at London Weekend Television's British Music Awards in 1975. Photo credit: PA/PA Wire

The explanation was that studio time was so expensive in the seventies that they hired session musicians to speed up the process.

“Even to this day I’d love to know who actually played on it,” said Les in 2014.

As well as playing Northern Ireland’s famed venues like the Ulster Hall in their seventies pomp to crowds of screaming fans, The Bay City Rollers, in recent years, returned to these shore to play places like Donaghadee in 2017 and Glenarm Castle in 2018.

Phil said: “Last time I saw Les he was playing in Dublin at the Leopardstown Festival, a few summers ago.

“I joined Les on stage to do Shang-a-Lang. It was just a lot of fun, a lot of nostalgia.”

Despite their huge success the band finished with little to show for it.

Phil said: “Without a shadow of a doubt they were badly treated. They were ripped off by management, by their accountants. It was a source of great frustration to all of them, including Les, that having sold hundreds of millions of records that they had very little to show for it.

“I’ll say this for Les, given all those trials and tribulations, the lawsuits, etc, he never stopped gigging.

“It says a lot about Les McKeown, he was just driven to be on that stage. He was a great character, he was fun to be with and he’ll be badly missed.”

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