Boy bands have come and gone over the decades but when I spoke to Les McKeown recently, I was very aware I was speaking to one of the original teen idol heartthrobs.
Les became the lead singer of Scottish pop group the Bay City Rollers just a few days after his 18th birthday and, with the addition of his voice and personality, they notched up nine UK top 10 hits and two number ones, with songs such as Bye Bye Baby, Shang A Lang, Summer Love and Give A Little More.
Les is now back on the road once more and will be taking Rollermania: The Bay City Rollers Story to The Castle in Wellingborough on Thursday, November 21.
The show will turn the clocks back to the 1970s to celebrate those hectic days of hit songs, touring, TV shows and behind-the-scenes pandemonium.
Les said: “Audiences can expect all the promises from all those products that promise you age rejuvenation. We will transport you back 40 years. It does have a great effect; in conservative areas, people will be sitting down but eventually the music and memories take their effect and it is great to see that change in a conservative audience.”
For Les, music became a factor in his life from a young age. He said: “It started for me when I was four or five. My big brother bought a Bush tape recorder and five inch reels and a little mic. I was in the living room singing ‘I want to be a fireball XL-5.’
“My mum was a great singer, she was in Belfast Girls’ Choir, she would sing Irish songs and I got in the habit of singing with her. I did it on my paper round and on my milk round, I would sing to the horse as I was driving the milk float. I used to sing everywhere. In those days we did not have ipods so we would memorise songs from TV.”
Leaving school at the age of 15, Les saw an advert for a singer in a band and responded. He recalled: “They thought I was 17 but I was 15. I started doing local gigs for £15.”
But Les’ big break came when he joined the Bay City Rollers. Between 1974 and 1978, the band reached number one in Britain, America, Japan, Australia and in Europe. Wherever they went in the world they were constantly mobbed and mass hysteria followed their every move. By 1975 Les was said to have been “one of the most adored men on the planet” and his face could regularly be seen on the covers of magazines.
Les remembered: “We spent those three years together and we never had any time to ourselves. Girlfriends were completely banned. In three years, and this is hard to imagine, I got six days to see my parents. It did not become an issue until post fame.”
But what does Les think of today’s boy bands?
“They are turning young people on to music, you get involved with your favourite band and then music takes you on a journey. Someone’s daughter was telling me that One Direction had done a cover for an old song and that turned her on to blues music.”
Les is currently working on his new album, which he hopes will be released in February. To find out more about the Wellingborough show, ring 01933 270007.