For five years, the Bay City Rollers dominated the world pop music charts, arguably becoming even bigger than The Beatles. Lead singer Les McKeown told SIBA MATTI about superstardom, life after 'Rollermania' and facing his demons
LES McKeown is sitting in the back of a black cab surrounded by dozens of rolls of tartan fabric when his mobile phone rings for this interview.
He is battling heavy traffic to reach his hotel in Wakefield, where the Bay City Rollers are playing a gig the following night.
In a thick Scottish accent, Les tells me the material is for a backdrop to brighten up an otherwise all-black stage.
"I don't just sing, you know! I am happy to do the 'boring stuff', like setting up the stage, organising schedules and booking hotels," he exclaims.
A distinctive trademark of the Bay City Rollers was tartaninfiltrated mainstream fashion at the height of their fame in the mid-1970s, when fans' adulation supposedly surpassed even that of The Beatles.
But life could not be more different now for the singer, who was just 18 when he replaced original lead Gordon 'Nobby' Clark in 1973.
"I guess it all started when I was about four or five and I would sing along to Elvis and Frank Sinatra," Les, now 54, explains.
"I left school a year early at 15 when I joined my first band, Threshold, named after The Moody Blues' On the Threshold of a Dream.
"Three years later, I found myself fronting the Bay City Rollers after Nobby Clark left. He didn't think the band would go anywhere but I often wonder how many times he has kicked himself when he hears my voice on the songs."
And Clark would have good reason to regret his decision. After his departure, his former band-mates enjoyed unprecedented success, elevating them to teen-idol status and heralding the beginning of 'Rollermania' - Scotland's answer to 'Beatlemania'.
"Of course it changed my life - all the things I had dreamed about were actually happening," Les remembers.
"It was a unique position for a young man to be in, being in a band at the top of the charts with girls throwing themselves at you and everyone shouting your name at the shows.
"At the height of Rollermania, everyone was emulating our fashion sense and wearing tartan. The appetite for the band became feverish."
With 300 million albums sold worldwide and nine top-10 UK singles - including the biggest selling song of 1975, Bye, Bye, Baby - the band seemed unstoppable.
But the bubble burst in the late 1970s, when pop was decimated by the rise of punk and the band were distracted by in-fighting over millions of pounds of 'missing' royalty payments.
After leaving the band in 1978, Les struggled to reclaim the limelight with various solo projects, including taking part in the UK heats of the Eurovision Song Contest with the song, Ball and Chain. It was placed fifth.
The married father-of-one has also endured well-documented addictions to class A drugs and alcohol, at one time downing a bottle of whisky every day.
He bravely fought his demons at Passages clinic in Malibu, California, in full view of the public as part of reality show Rehab, screened on Living TV last year.
"My mum and dad died in 2002 and I was at the end of my tether. I fell off the edge of the world and never came back," Les reveals.
"Not being famous actually made things worse and I felt so bad about myself that I just wanted to take more drugs. It was a nightmare.
"I suffered very bad withdrawals and, at first, I thought the clinic was rubbish but I decided to give it a go and, after meeting the therapist, I no longer felt like I wanted to escape."
But it was another six years before the bisexual singer finally kicked his habits for good, after being told by doctors in June 2008 that he would be dead by Christmas.
Today, he tells me, his health is 'almost back to normal'. "My body has kind of fixed itself and my liver is getting better, so life is looking good.
"Now, I appreciate every moment of each day of my life, and that keeps me sober."
While being hopeful about the future, Les fondly remembers the heady days of fame and will be reminiscing as part of his touring show, Rollermania, which comes to the Beck on Sunday.
As the only original member, he will perform some of the hits that influenced him as a teenager, such as The Beatles' Twist and Shout, as well the best of the Bay City Rollers.
"I will also be sharing unknown nuggets of information, such as how Derek (Longmuir, the drummer) is now saving lives as a paramedic nurse, or how we were originally going to cover The Air That I Breathe, before The Hollies released it in 1974," Les reveals.
And relations with the original band members finally seem to be thawing: "We are on speaking terms and on track towards being friends again, although our legal battles are ongoing.
"If I could go back to the 1970s there are a lot of things I would change, but would my life have changed for the better? I'm not sure.
"I have learned to look to the future - I have a new album coming out soon and I can't wait to see all the old fans on tour again. I have every reason to be positive."
where? Beck Theatre
when? Sunday (March 14) at 7.30pm
cost? from £16.50
call: 020 8561 8371