LONDON – As singer of the Bay City Rollers, the tartan-clad teen-pop sensations that conquered the world in the 1970s, Les McKeown forged a special bond with Japan that endures today.
“If you have that image of The Beatles coming down the steps on the plane, it was just like that,” McKeown, sitting across the table in a London pub with his Japanese wife, Peko, says of his first visit to the country.
“I have old pictures of us doing exactly that. We’d get on the plane in our costume, change into a tracksuit, and change back into our gear before landing, make sure our hair was looking good and get off looking like we’d just got off the stage!
“I’ve got great history of having success in Japan — they are very loyal fans.”
In the years since the band’s last visit, there were times when the notion of McKeown ever returning to Japan was, to put it mildly, a fanciful one. The fall-out from the Bay City Rollers’ fame has been as almighty as it has depressing: A fatal car crash, poverty, legal wrangles, unpaid royalties, ill health and child pornography convictions have plagued the band since their star faded in 1976.
McKeown himself has battled addiction and depression. Warned he’d be dead in months unless he got clean, McKeown went to rehab in 2008 and left a new man. With renowned purpose, the 59-year-old is back on the road (as well as in the studio) with a new band: Bay City Rollers starring Les McKeown.
“We’re trying to reproduce — with the Les McKeown vibe — the personality of the Rollers. And the fans have loved it. They say it’s just like the old days.”
Japanese fans were so keen to hear the new incarnation they partially funded McKeown’s Tokyo show.
“It’s come out of the blue, but it’ll be great to go, play a good gig and eat some great Japanese food. The fans still come in costume, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Bay City Rollers starring Les McKeown play at Duo Music Exchange in Tokyo on April 2 (doors open 6 p.m.; ¥8,000 in advance). For details, visit www.duomusicexchange.com.