“They gave us a little taste of what it was like being devoted to a band and what really liking music could feel like.”
Dubliner Mary McNally recalls her teenage years as a Bay City Rollers fan in 1970s Beaumont, Dublin, and shares images from her Roller’s scrapbook with Brian McMahon of Brand New Retro.
“I was fourteen when I first saw the Bay City Rollers. It was 1974, and they appeared on BBC’s Crackerjack playing their single Remember. I had already seen the likes of Mud, Slade, Sweet, Gary Glitter, and David Essex, but these five young skinny boys wearing calf-high flares, short jumpers, and platform boots were different – they were younger, not much older than me. I immediately became a fan. I cut up a kilt and stitched the tartan onto the sides of my trousers. The Bay City Rollers were my first crush, my first love. They were a sexual awakening for most of us.”
As Mary McNally recalls her teenage years as a Rollers fan in 1970s Beaumont, Dublin, she fetches her Roller’s scrapbook. The bulging book with its colourful homemade cover is a time capsule packed with newspaper and magazines cuttings. It’s the real deal; an artefact from the days before Pinterest, when cut and paste meant real scissors and glue.
Flicking through her book, Mary reminisces on their early days and the tough gigs in Edinburgh’s workman’s clubs. She talks about how their record company used session musicians for their early hits, their meteoric rise to fame (120 million records sold!), their influence on the Ramones, the Danny Fields connection, their friendship with Fran O’Toole of the Miami, the feuds, the drugs, and their gruelling schedules under manager Tam Paton.
Mary’s favourite cuttings are those from the Roller’s appearance at an awards ceremony at the Portmarnock Hotel in April 1976. “It was the first time I saw them live. It was an over 18s event, with Marianne Faithfull, the Chieftains, and others appearing. I was sixteen, so I brought an older friend and applied lots of make-up to help me get in. When the Rollers collected their ‘Best Band’ award, the place went wild. All the fans rushed to the stage. It was dangerous, they trampled on me, but I didn’t care – my only concern was the safety of the Rollers. ‘Don’t hurt Les,’ I screamed! Later that night I wrote in my diary, ‘I saw the Bay City Rollers today, and Les was gorgeous…Eric was lovely too!’ The next day the Irish Press front page carried a photo of the fracas, with me right in the middle of it. I had a lot of explaining to do to my father, who would not have let me go had I asked.” [that’s Mary circled in red in the Press photo]*
By 1978 Les McKeown had left the band and most Irish fans had long lost interest. “As the years went on I realised that their music wasn’t that hot, especially when compared to, say, Leonard Cohen, Queen, or other music I liked. It was brilliant for what it was, it was pop. It was feel-good, it was bursting with teenage joy and energy, and that’s what it was. We weren’t under any illusion of what the music was, we just grew up. They gave us a little taste of what it was like being devoted to a band and what really liking music could feel like.”
With the Internet in the 1990s, Mary rekindled her passion for the Rollers (“you never forget your first love”) as she connected with fans from all over the world. The growth in online social channels fuelled a Roller’s revival. When Les McKeown played Dublin in the 2010s, he sold out all his Olympia and Vicar Street shows. “The audience was all grandmothers, all going mad, all singing along, all screaming but not at a little thin boy anymore but at a grown-up mature man,” said Mary.
As we approach the first anniversary of Les McKeown’s death, we leave you with these words posted by Mary to the Rollermania Facebook page. “You left a thumbprint on our teenage hearts. We remember the flurry of feelings and excitement when first seeing you on TV, we fell utterly and completely in love as only a teenager can. We are older now and have lived full lives, but we will always remember the excitement and giddiness our teen idol inspired in us.”
Words: Brian McMahon, Brand New Retro
Photos: Mary McNally
- Rollers Scrapbook, cover by Mary
- Selections of cuttings from Mary’s scrapbook.
- Mary McNally today, with Rollers on back page of her scrapbook