More ‘Roller’ than ‘rocker’
Last week, popular music fans of all kinds were rightly mourning the passing of Aretha Franklin – the “Queen of Soul”. Hers is a success story if ever there was one. There’s not much I can add to all the fine words that have already been written about her.
So I thought I’d comment upon another musician’s recent passing – one that garnered far less attention.
If you don’t recognize the name Alan Longmuir, I don’t really blame you. It didn’t mean much to me either. But how about the Bay City Rollers? Some nods of recognition perhaps?
For those who don’t know, the Bay City Rollers were a Scottish pop band who had some success in the 1970’s. They were also one of the first “boy bands” – i.e. hyper-managed pretty-boys, chosen more for their appeal to female teenagers than their musicianship.
Alan Longmuir was one of the founding members of the band, and for most of their duration, the band’s bassist. He passed away in early July at the age of 70 after a brief illness contracted while on vacation in Mexico.
The Rollers seemed like a joke to me
When I was a teenager in the 70’s, the Bay City Rollers were a bit of a joke. At least they were to me and most of my friends. You’d occasionally hear them touted as the “next Beatles” on the radio or in print. Of course, every other band that came along in that time was similarly touted. In this case, like the others, the source of such claims was the band’s management, not reputable music critics.
The only song of theirs I knew at that time was “Saturday Night”, a pretty forgettable pop tune. As I was a guy fully engaged in the rock music that was swirling about at that time, “Saturday Night” and the pretty “Rollers” seemed just too lame.
But there was more to the man than I expected
But it’s with interest that I read a really excellent obituary of Alan Longmuir in the Daily Telegraph (if you can’t access the Telegraph site, you can read an extract here: A Longmuir – Telegraph obit). It gives a good overview of the man’s life, and reveals sobering truths about the lives of people caught up in the pop music scene – especially those subject to heavy promotion by unscrupulous management.
There was much I didn’t know about the Rollers. Firstly that they actually formed in the late sixties – by Alan Longmuir and his younger brother Derek. But it was not until they turned management over to “their Svengali-like impresario Tam Paton” that they found success, after he moulded them into a boy band, wearing cute tartan-lined outfits to go with their fetching grins. According to the Telegraph obit, “Paton repeatedly changed the line-up and the Rollers would usually mime in concert, musical ability being a less important requirement than a capacity for looking winsome in tight jumpers and three-quarter-length flared trousers festooned with tartan accessories.”
Second surprise – they were actually a pretty big deal – particularly in the UK where they had 9 top-10 hits between 1974 and 1976 – but also in Japan and in some parts of the USA. They even had a TV show for a while – modelled on “The Monkees”. But the most jaw-dropping fact of all – for me – was that they have apparently sold well over 120 million records! Unbelievable.
Rags to riches… and back to rags
But that’s where the story turns sad. For despite such fame and sales, Alan Longmuir was not a happy man. It seems he wasn’t comfortable with the direction Paton had turned his band. In fact, he left the band at the height of their popularity in 1976. And, all those sales did not translate into the life of luxury and leisure that so many other big-time 70’s rock and pop stars glided into. Sure, he was able to live for a while in a nice country house back in Scotland and party in Malibu with other stars. He even owned a small hotel for a while. But, the money seemed to run out early. To make ends meet in midlife, he eventually returned to the occupation he originally trained for – plumbing.
Through the years after the Rollers’s success, there were many squabbles over money felt owing to various band members – Longmuir included. Unfortunately, this seems like an all-too-familiar tale – where artists’ success goes to line the pockets of their managers and record company execs, rather than the artists themselves.
Despite the Rollers being more about image than ability, Longmuir was not an untalented man. Aside from his skills as a pipe-fitter, he was also a multi-instrumentalist, playing several different instruments in recordings and sometimes on stage.
What is success? What is a happy life?
But, he was less skilled in everyday life, it would seem. In addition to his career and money issues, he also ran into health and marital problems later in life, perhaps related to excessive drinking, which he succumbed to during and after their fame.
So, with all he’d been through, it is understandable that he said in 1997: “If I had the time over again, I’d definitely choose the life of a plumber, find myself a good wife and have three, maybe four kids. Yes, I think that would’ve made me a very happy man.”
Those are words to ponder, for those of us fortunate to be able to consider the next chapters in our lives. “Success” doesn’t necessarily mean what society wants us to believe it is.
R.I.P. Alan Longmuir