Les McKeown: The man who made us all Shang A Lang

In every house across Scotland tonight, the chorus to ‘Shang A Lang’ should be blasted out in memory of Les McKeown - the man who made millions of memories for a generation of teenage girls, and millions of £s for many others.

Friday, 23rd April 2021, 8:32 am
Bay City Rollers fans go wild as the band take to the stage at the Odeon in Edinburgh in 1976

His sudden death at the age of 65 was one of those moments which made you stop and take stock.

He was part of my 1970s childhood - a decade of glam rock and punk rock, Crossroads, the Texaco Cup, TOTP every single Thursday night, Crackerjack on a Fridays, Nationwide with Frank Bough before his scandals, and albums released by now forgotten labels such as Rak, and KTel, and, for Rollers’ fans, Bell Records.

You didn’t need to be a fan to know about the Rollers thanks to the phenomenon of Rollermania; a mass hysteria only ever matched by The Beatles a decade or more earlier.

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Bay City Rollers - advert for their clothing in a Kirkcaldy High Street shop Fife Free Press 1974

The Rollers weren’t the best looking or the best dressed, but the soundtrack and footage of their screaming fans pursuing them everywhere was something that none of their TOTP contemporaries - Showaddywaddy, Mud, Slade and Suzi Quatro - could match. Few bands have since either.

Record sales estimated at 120million, world tours, chart hits in almost every country, and astounding media interest wherever they went. Not bad for a boy from Broomhouse in Edinburgh.

For a band which sparkled only briefly - ‘74-’76 and it was pretty much over - the memories associated with McKeown, Woody, the two Longmuirs and Eric Faulkner endure thanks to a pocketful of perfectly crafted three-minute pop singles.

It was anything but just gold discs and limos for McKeown in a lifetime in music. He was ripped off, faced some demons, and the band’s reunions never lasted. The faultlines ran too deep.

But, 47 years after its release, any DJ who plays Shang A Lang knows it will get an instant response regardless of the age of the folk on the dance floor.

Those five instantly recognisable chords are a clarion call to the dance floor.

If nothing else, that’s a pretty good way to be remembered.

As the song itself says, music like ours never dies.

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