Les McKeown: life and career of Bay City Rollers frontman - and best songs and other band members remembered

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The Edinburgh based band achieved massive success and were described as ‘the biggest band since The Beatles’

Les McKeown, the frontman and singer for the The Bay City Rollers, has passed away at age 65, a statement from his family has confirmed.

The Bay City Rollers were a Scottish band that became musical sensations across the UK and the US, selling more than 120 million records.

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This is the life and career of the Bay City Rollers frontman - and the best songs you have to listen to.

Les McKeown joined the Bay City Rollers in 1973, at the age of 18 (Photo: PA Wire/PA Images)Les McKeown joined the Bay City Rollers in 1973, at the age of 18 (Photo: PA Wire/PA Images)
Les McKeown joined the Bay City Rollers in 1973, at the age of 18 (Photo: PA Wire/PA Images)

Who was Les McKeown?

Les McKeown was the frontman and lead singer of the Bay City Rollers.

He was born in Edinburgh and dropped out of school aged 15 to become a member of a band called Threshold. At age 18, in 1973, he joined the Bay City Rollers, replacing the founding lead singer Gordon “Nobby” Clark.

Originally the Bay City Rollers was founded in the mid 1960s, but only became popular after MCKeown joined.

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In late 1973, the band’s big break came when they recorded a song called Remember (Sha-La-La-La) which led to a series of UK chart hits.

McKeown left the Bay City Rollers in 1978, but rejoined again in 2015 for a series of reunion shows. Whilst he was not part of the group, he launched his own solo career, with albums like All Washed Up (1979), It’s a Game (1989) and Love Letter (1993).

McKeown struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, beginning in the late 1970s. Following a four month stay in a California rehab centre in 2008, the singer went sober.

Was he married and did he have any children?

McKeown met his wife Peko Keiko in 1978, and the two have one son together, Jubei.

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Speaking to Startsat60, the singer said: “God knows why she’s up with me for this long, she could have kicked my a**e right out the door a long time ago.”

He continued: “We went through a bit of a rough patch but then we got back together again and everything is good now, I don’t want to change things round in my life now.

“I met her in 1978 and we’ve been going out ever since, how long is that?

“Sometimes when you’re going through rough times, it’s easy to throw it all away and start again. It’s harder to try and make it work, I think.”

The two were together for 44 years.

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In 2009, while filming a TV show about celebrities battling addiction, McKeon revealed that was a “secret bisexual” and had cheated on his wife with men and women over the course of their marriage.

Who were the other band members?

While the lineup for the Bay City Rollers changed over the years, the classic line up that’s remembered from the height of the band’s popularity includes guitarists Eric Faulkner and Stuart Wood, singer Les McKeown, bassist Alan Longmuir and drummer Derek Longmuir.

Alan Longmuir passed away at the age of 70 in the summer of 2018, after contracting an illness whilst on holiday in Mexico.

Other members who also played in the band in the past who have since passed away include Ian Mitchell, Billy Lydall and Archie Marr.

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What songs were the Bay City Rollers known for?

Throughout the course of their career, the Bay City Rollers released 13 studio albums.

Some of their biggest hit songs include:

- Shang-a-Lang, which peaked at number two in the charts

- Bye Bye Baby, which sold a million copies and hit number one on the UK Singles Chart for six weeks

- Give a Little Love, which was a UK number one single for three weeks in July 1975

- Saturday Night, which was the only song from the band to hit number one in the US

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- Remember (Sha-La-La-La), which featured on their debut album Rollin’, and peaked at number six on the UK singles chart

- Summerlove Sensation, which peaked at number three on the UK singles chart

When did McKeown die?

McKeown passed away on 20 April, according to a statement released by his family.

A statement from his family on Twitter said: “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.

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“We are currently making arrangements for his funeral and ask for privacy after the shock of our profound loss. Thank you. Keiko and Jubei McKeown.”

A cause of death is not yet known.

Online tributes

Grant Stott, BBC Radio broadcaster, Tweeted: “Such sad news about Les Mckeown. Hosted a gig and his band were booked close to the event. Soon as they went on stage, every single seat at every single table emptied and the dancefloor filled and stayed packed through their brilliant set.”

Writer David Quantick said: “I did a radio show with Les McKeown many years ago and was compelled to defend the Rollers in the face of the DJ’s critique. At the end of my speech, Les turned to me and said: “Way to go, Dave!” RIP Les. One of the best.”

TV presenter Gillian McKeith said: “Sad news. RIP, thank you for the music… and the Shang-a-Lang @LewMcKeownUK #ByeByeBab.”

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Newsreader India Willoughby Tweeted: “65 way too young these days. Very sad news about #LesMcKeown. Super-catchy songs. Remember them being everywhere - Look-in Magpie, the news.”

Boxer Frank Bruno wrote: “He was part of the music scene when I was growing up & I remember tartan clad girls all creaming.

“It was hysteria era music wise with The Osmond’s David Cassidy & Bay City Rollers seems like yesterday.”

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