Additional note: July 5th 2005. Although this piece was only originally written for the small audience who reads my weblog, Google has seen fit to give it a high ranking for the artist concerned. I should therefore sound a note of caution for people who have arrived here via search engines. What follows is a harsh review, which some might consider disrespectful or even offensive. It is, however, an honest and accurate record of the thoughts which went through my mind while watching the show in question. As a blogger, I make no claims to objectivity; however, it is also not my intention to cause gratuitous offence. If this review offends you, then please accept my apologies, whilst bearing in mind that this is just the personal point of view of some random bloke off the Internet. After all, it would be a boring world if we all thought the same way…
As this was the first night of the “Once In A Lifetime” package tour of former 1970s teenybop idols, neither Miss Mish nor I knew quite what to expect. So we were initially a little bowled over by the demographic make-up of the audience, which was almost completely comprised of very excited women in their forties. Very, very excited women in their forties. With tartan accessories. (Some of them had been awfully busy on their Singer sewing machines.) And custom-printed T-shirts. (One lady in front of us had SHANG-A-LANG emblazoned on her back, while her companion had plumped for the more direct LET ME IN.) And cellophane-wrapped floral tributes, to hurl over the barricades at Les, or Merrill, or Little Jimmy, or one of the two Davids. And, in the case of one particularly determined Bay City Rollers fan who spent a good ten minutes before the show engaged in protracted negotiations with no less than three security guards: a teddy bear with a tartan bow around its neck.
(One shudders to think of the negotiation tactics she was prepared to wheel out, although the stony-faced but slightly fearful expressions on the faces of the three guards spoke volumes. At one point, she even started waving the paw of the teddy bear at them (“Look, he’s saying hello!”), in a last-ditch bid to melt their hearts. Conclusion: be very, very afraid of middle-aged women bearing teddy bears.)
As the Bay City Rollers – sorry, Les McKeown’s 70’s Bay City Rollers (there’s a clue in there for you) – took to the stage, almost the entire first three rows of the audience stormed down to the front, where they formed a kind of hormonal mosh-pit. (With so much polyester rubbing together, it’s a wonder we didn’t see sparks flying.) As Mish and I were in the fourth row, on the end of an aisle, we were therefore granted excellent sight-lines to the stage. However, we also had to endure the din of an almost constant pitched battle next to us, as teeming hordes of stoked-up, tartan-clad Angelas and Nicolas and Deborahs and Amandas begged, beseeched and clamoured to get past the security guards that were stationed right next to us. They never gave up, either. Sometimes, one of them managed to distract the guards long enough to allow three or four more to barge through, squealing with glee, camera phones primed and ready. You wonder whether any of them were listening to the music at all.
Mind you, one could hardly blame them for having other concerns. Alone out of the four acts on the bill that night, the music of the Bay City Rollers has steadfastly refused to accrue any modicum of nostalgic appeal whatsoever. It has always been, and will always be, wretched, piss-poor, joyless stuff: cranked out by backroom hacks to fill a lucrative niche, and performed by useful (and ultimately expendable) idiots, with no artistic or emotional investment in their craft, on any level. And I speak as someone with a considerable fondness for supposedly “manufactured” pop, providing it is done with style, or wit, or love (three boxes which the likes of Take That managed to tick effortlessly).
So imagine how much more reduced the experience would be when confronted by “Les McKeown’s 70´s Bay City Rollers” – featuring singer Les McKeown, and an anonymous bunch of hired hands. OK, I’ll give them their due: they were a tolerably competent bunch of hired hands, who blustered efficiently through the Rollers canon while a scarlet-jacketed McKeown (there was an inescapable whiff of Butlins about this) dutifully trotted out the sha-la-las and shang-a-langs with all the emotional engagement of the slightly sad-looking geezer on his own in the corner of the pub on karaoke night.
It was the eyes that gave him away, really. They were the dead eyes of someone who found himself shackled to a body of work which he had almost certainly grown to despise, but which – not having had sufficient wit in his youth to avoid the pitfalls of unscrupulous managers and dodgy contracts – he was obliged to perform, in perpetuity, in order to put bread on the table. Not having made any true emotional investment in his glory days, there was therefore no way for him to recoup any of that investment in middle age. Through his grim-faced, disconnected, slightly pained performance, you could see that performing had probably never held much joy for him in the first place. Yes, he was badly advised and ripped off in the past. But nevertheless, you reap what you sow.
Not that any of this really mattered to the assembled Angies and Nickys and Debbies and Mandys, for whom the years were rolling back apace. They just wanted to sway their hands in the air to Bye Bye Baby and Give A Little Love, go a little mad for a night, and relive the follies of their youth. McKeown was just the catalyst for this collective act of remembrance. It was barely even about him. (Maybe it never was. Maybe he knows that now.) All he really had to do was turn up, stay in tune, and not f**k things up too badly. Easy work, when you think about it.
Even so, McKeown was able to get away with granting himself the odd mild indulgence: a re-arrangement here, a different rhythm there, and even a barmy section in the middle of Shang-A-Lang, where the band suddenly lurched into a few bars of Deep Purple’s Black Night. (Maybe that was one for the small contingent of stoic husbands who had been dragged along for the evening.) Towards the end, he even flashed a couple of broad smiles. However, and without wishing to labour the analogy unfairly, they still struck me as the smiles of a deluded addict chasing a long-vanished high.