70s pop star in reinvention drama – circa 1979/80

A nice plungline number
Starlight Express???

Les McKeown was the lead singer of the Bay City Rollers – a teen sensation that in the mid-70s had pubescent girls screaming their heads off and fainting in public. The same girls might have been rooting for Donny Osmond a couple of years before but their loyalties now shifted – fickle as these teenyboppers were.

The Rollers look was all about the Tartan as the lads hailed from north of the border. Flared trousers with a tartan trim that stopped just below the knees – sounds awful because indeed it was. Just another sartorial atrocity from the early and mid 1970s.

Then punk came along and blew them and a load of other bands out of the proverbial water. Or maybe they’d just had their best times and the rot was inevitably setting in. There was also the little question of dubious management and missing millions. Les McKeown peeled off to try a solo career.

The result was a ditching of the Tartan and an attempt to embrace the end of the decade zeitgeist. Well, he was very popular in Japan. But the fame of just a few years before was to elude Mr McKeown. Here are two images that might shed some light on why UK audiences decided to move on.

Should mention in passing that I had a good mate at university in the early 80s who had gelled up blonde hair and when we wanted to insult him, we’d say he had a Rollers haircut. It was deemed to be the most offensive comment you could make about somebody’s barnet back then.

TRIVIA POINT: The Ramones were to eventually credit the Rollers song “Saturday Night” with inspiring the laddish chant in their hit “Blitzkrieg Bop”. ¬†Listen to the chant in the Ramones song then compare with the Rollers below.


NWOBHM – the new wave of British heavy metal

IMG_6907Heavy metal is a genre that refuses to die – like the walking dead, it can never rest in the grave. In the early 70s, the rock scene was dominated by giants like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. But then along came punk and traditional rock banks looked a bit lost.

But rock was not dead. It was merely slumbering. Punk rubbed some of its aggressiveness and thrashiness off on to a new generation of rockers and so emerged the NWOBHM. Faster beats, a frenetic pace and audiences that no longer politely sat through gigs.

By 1979, punk had seriously run out of steam. There were some laughable punk-style acts that Sounds magazine tried to convince us were ‘working class’ but in reality were truly awful. I mean, how many times can you say the F-word and shock anybody? Let alone screaming ‘anarchy’. Punk was becoming a parody of itself. New Wave filled the void but didn’t capture the anger and frustration many young people felt as the country tanked into economic meltdown from 1979 to 1981.

IMG_6909So, along came the metal monsters. Rock had returned re-energised. Def Leppard, Motorhead, Saxon and Iron Maiden. Ozzy Osbourne, lead singer of Black Sabbath, resurrected with the comedic Blizzard of Ozz and the hilarious single Crazy Train. Black Sabbath replaced Ozzie with Ronnie James Dio and released Heaven and Hell.

Ian Gillan, formerly of Deep Purple, clawed his way back with his own eponymous band. Other Deep Purple ex-members re-surfacing included Richie Blackmore with a band called Rainbow and David Coverdale fronting Whitesnake. All these bands popped up in the late 70s coming to prominence at the end of the decade.

So you had new faces and new bands plus the old guard in different guises. AC/DC topped the charts with their album Back in Black while Canada’s Rush brought out Permanent Waves and toured the UK in 1980. Rush were a sort of prog rock band with rock sensibilities.

IMG_6908After 1976, I never thought I’d grow my hair long again but somehow I succumbed for about a year to NWOBHM. Then I lost my virginity and recovered my senses and scuttled as fast as I could away from it.

But for that year, there was a denim jacket adorned with Rush patches and badges. And I will confess to a continuing soft spot for Rush and Motorhead – who both put on amazing gigs back in the day.

In 1980, the Reading Festival was nicknamed the Can Festival – because of the amount of tinnies that hit the stage and spectators. Some were stamped on and thrown like frisbees. These were often violent times at all kinds of gigs. There was a crackle in the air and a lot of discontent. This would all boil over in riots during the summer of 1981. One interesting band at Reading was Girl – a rather camp metal combo with more than a hint of the New York Dolls about them.

NWOBHM was one safety valve for pissed off teenagers to head bang and play air guitars. DJ Tommy Vance on Radio 1 was one of the few outlets that would play the music. Top of the Pops, needless to say, was too busy with Shakatak to notice. After 1981, it all went very mainstream and most of us moved on a little embarrassed to admit we had indulged NWOBHM.

Middle East crisis…in the 80s

IMG_6949We’ve got used to today’s crisis in the Middle East – the Syrian horror, Daesh, Al Qaeda and the drift away from democracy in Turkey. Well, in the early 80s it was all about the recent revolution in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Both questions divided the left. The events of those times have rumbled through to our own time.

Iran had overthrown the Shah, a royal dictator, in 1979. The revolution had started as an urban workers movement but was hijacked by an exiled theocrat called Ayatollah Khomeini. He returned from Paris to Teheran and imposed an Islamic state to the horror of secularists and left wingers in Iran. The country has been ruled by this theocracy ever since.

In the early 80s, the left highlighted the crushing of workers’ rights by the mullahs and the use of capital punishment. Nothing much changes eh?