If the press and the hype surrounding the Bay City Rollers' recent December 2015 U.K. reunion tour is to be believed, that reunion was pretty unique. Not only was there a new album release (a mind-boggling Christmas CD, starring Les McKeown as Phil Spector, recorded in all but name by McKeown's band a year earlier), but this was apparently also the first time since circa 1978 that the three participating members - McKeown, Stuart Wood and founding member Alan Longmuir - shared a stage for a semi-prolonged time.
That is not entirely accurate though. After McKeown's departure in 1978 followed a three year commercially disappointing but artistically rewarding period as The Rollers, with Duncan Faure as the band's lead singer, which came to an abrupt end in 1981, after the "Ricochet" album failed to re-ignite an interest in the enterprise.
In some corners of the world though, the Bay City Rollers name was still a viable asset. So in the autumn of 1982, mere four years after their initial break-up, the fab five (McKeown, Wood, Eric Faulkner, brothers Alan and Derek Longmuir) reunited for a lucrative tour of Japan. A year later they upped the ante, added Pat McGlynn and Ian Mitchell to the line up, and, in the process, recorded a double "Live in Japan" album at Tokyo's famed Budokan hall.
Inexplicably, a cover of a recent Buck Fizz U.K. hit, "Piece of the Action", was issued as a Japan-only single. Eric for one may now dismiss it as a "throwaway", but really, it wasn't half bad.
Side projects Karu (for Stuart Wood, with Duncan Faure) and Bachelor of Hearts (for Ian Mitchell and Pat McGlynn) then beckoned and put a temporary damper on the proceedings.
But in 1984 the Rollers regrouped for some recordings in the U.K. and an Irish tour which at one point featured Duncan Faure in the line-up. After the tour group co-founder and original drummer Derek Longmuir left the band for good.
Around that time it is possible that they also recorded the mysterious "Love in the World"/"It's For You (One on One)" single, previously written about in these pages as The Great Lost Rollers Single, which received a very limited release in Switzerland a year later, and is arguably the rarest Bay City Rollers item ever. And, "It's For You" very well just may be the last great Rollers song recorded. Furthermore, it is also rumoured that some recordings from this time were scrapped and re-recorded later as the Japanese "Breakout" and Australian "Breakout '85" albums. But these rumours remain unconfirmed.
The Rollers' music was now more dance oriented, which shouldn't have surprised anyone since it was now essentially becoming the McKeown and McGlynn show, with the others (Faulkner & Wood, namely) now contributing less and less.
And then there was that late '90s reunion, but don't get me started on that...
South African drummer George Spencer, who played with the Rollers during the mid '80s, was kind enough to share his recollections with me recently via a couple of e-mails.
I was working as a session player in Johannesburg when Woody and Duncan come out to do some shows with their band Karu. Initially they had an American drummer who left, then they used Neil Cloud from Rabbitt, then I got the gig. We, as Karu played a few dates, whilst the single Duncan and Woody wrote 'Where is the music' climbed the SA charts. Woody and Duncan decided to return to the USA and invited me to join them, which I did. We recorded a few demos in LA and played a few shows.
A few months later the Rollers decided to put the band back together for an album, and Irish, Japanese and Australian tour. Woody left Duncan and myself in LA to start tour rehearsals with the Rollers in Scotland. A week later, he called up and asked Duncan to front the band and bring me along on back-up vocals and percussion. During the first meetings in Scotland, Les decided to re-join and Duncan left to pursue a solo career in the USA. I stayed on, toured Ireland as percussionist and swapped to drums with Derek on percussion for a few Woody compositions during the Irish tour. After the Irish tour Derek decided he did not want to tour, so I took over the drumming responsibilities, we returned to Scotland and put in some rehearsal/demo time at Les's home studio, basically writing the Breakout '85 album.
We recorded the Breakout '85 album at Matrix in London (most of the drum parts were sequenced with very little live playing from me). Once the album was completed, tour dates for Japan and Australia were agreed upon. As a South African, politics determined that I could not tour Japan, so I had to hand write out all the drum parts, and fax them to a Japanese drum machine programmer, who together with Pat, Les and Woody created the drum tracks for the Japanese shows. The band completed their Japanese shows and flew on to Australia. I joined the band in Australia for a few rehearsals ahead of a 13 week Australian tour. Before the end of the tour Eric decided to leave, then so did Les and Pat, leaving Woody, Ian and myself to complete the last few shows.
After the Australian tour I went back to SA to join up with Neill Solomon, I invited Woody and Ian over to SA and we put "The Passengers" together. The Passengers played dates in SA and returned to Scotland for a Scottish tour. after the tour I returned with the band to SA. At this point Ian decided to stay in the UK, but Woodz came back to SA again and worked with the band and Neill Solomon for a few months before deciding to return to Scotland. I stayed in South Africa and formed another band called "Beat the Clock"....
I don't know anything about the second recording. The Breakout '85 album I know was certainly mostly driven by Les and Pat compositions. I remember Vic Martin (Ed. Eurythmics) was a session man that added some keys.
Bay City Rollers 1985. Upper row from left to right: Stuart Wood, Les McKeown, Eric Faulkner, George Spencer. Lower from left to right: Ian Michell, Pat McGlynn.
Bay City Rollers - Mid '80s Discography:
"Piece of the Action"/"Seen This Movie" (YE-22-V)(Teichiku/Overseas Records, Japan) 1983.
"Love in the World"/"It's For You" (MS 172)(Activ Records, Switzerland) 1985.
"When You Find Out"/"The Whip" (SO7P1067)(London, Polydor K.K., Japan) 1985.
"When You Find Out"/"The Whip" (PDW 0284)(Powderworks, Australia) 1985.
"Live in Japan" (UPS-675-6-V)(Teichiku/Overseas Records, Japan) 1983.
"Breakout" (L28P 1218)(London, Polydor K.K., Japan) 1985.
"Breakout '85" (POW 6015)(Powderworks, Australia) 1985.
* Breakout and Breakout '85 differ slightly, both aurally and visually *
With very special thanks to George Spencer.