The Hamilton Spectator
Need to know
What: Back To The '70s, featuring former Bay City Roller
Ian Mitchell, Pat Curtis, Hidden Agenda
When: Thursday, March 21, 9 p.m.
Where: The Hanging Tree, 484 Plains Rd. E.,
On August 24, 1977, the Bay City Rollers visited
Bay City, Michigan, the town which gave the group its name. But it was
already too late for the Bay City Rollers.
By late summer of that year, the glorious, tragic
bubble that hoisted the tartan-clad lads aloft had all but burst.
The band's first and only No. 1 hit in the United
States, Saturday Night, had peaked in January of 1976, and there was only
turmoil and diminishing returns to come for the Rollers.
The Bay City Rollers. The world's first bona fide
teenybopper band. There is much to learn here, and almost none of it is
And who can forget those pants?
"It's a very sad story, really," says Ian
Mitchell, a former Roller guitarist who will be performing the band's hits
at a nightclub '70s medley show in Burlington tomorrow.
Mitchell didn't make the trip to Bay City. He was
"retired" by then, having replaced a "retired" Alan Longmuir on April 1,
Then Mitchell himself was replaced by Pat McGlynn,
on November 9 of the same year.
By May 1977, McGlynn, too, was "retired."
But wait, you're not confused enough yet.
Mitchell and McGlynn would rejoin another version
of the Bay City Rollers in 1983, when the Japanese market was still
That outfit is not to be confused with The New
Rollers, a short-lived band formed by original Roller Eric Faulkner that
included his girlfriend, Kass.
Mitchell's right -- this is a really sad story.
In all, there are 10 people who can count themselves among the various
sonic incarnations that tried to earn mileage from the pop petrol flash
that was the Bay City Rollers.
Ten people, one band, and not much of anything to
show for it.
Not even friendship.
"There are just too many walls built up now,"
Mitchell says of the cross-pollinated acrimony. "We spend most of the time
suing each other."
It didn't have to be that way, of course. The Bay
City Rollers could easily have been another KISS -- re-spending valuable
pop culture currency built up over the good years, then laughing their
cartoonish, aging mugs all the way to the Swiss banks to cheerfully close
out the legend.
Not so for the Bay City Rollers. They were a real
band caught up in an unreal situation, and what transpired still serves as
a general template of how not to conduct oneself in the throes of
"What a lot of people don't realize is that the
whole thing happened by accident," said Mitchell, sucking on an Export and
an Export A before a practice in the basement of a home on Barton Street
East one night last week.
He's talking about both the hype and those
hip-hugging pants -- skinners, they were called -- and they played a big
part in what became known as Rollermania.
"Everyone in Scotland was wearing skinners then.
But one day Eric put a tartan stripe down the side of his," said Mitchell,
"and it just took off."
What's to be remembered, Mitchell says, is that
the Rollers were not a pre-fab outfit, "like the Monkees or the Backstreet
They were, instead, an obscure unfocused pop act
in tidy suits with an opportunistic manager, Tam Paton, desperately trying
to get the lads noticed. Mitchell relays a story about Paton hitting up
late Beatles' guru Brian Epstein for advice at a battle-of-the bands event
in Scotland in the early '70s. Slade had stolen the show, and Paton wanted
some tips on how to showcase the boys better.
"Brian told Tam he had to create some mystery
about the band, so from then on the fans would only ever see us onstage,"
said Mitchell. "We'd appear onstage, then disappear and not be seen."
It was Paton who orchestrated a new name for the
band, from Saxon to the Bay City Rollers -- Bay City, Mich., was simply a
spot that a finger landed on a map of the U.S.
The Irish-born Mitchell was 17 years old when he
spent his eight months and eight days as a Bay City Roller. He went on to
form Rosetta Stone and later the Ian Mitchell Band, but the Roller era
follows him around, and he follows it.
On his Web site, there are pictures of Mitchell
jamming in Japan with the J City Rollers -- the Japanese version of the
band, whose members have names such as Ian Taro and Woody Syuichi.
And Mitchell, who has lived in California for the
past 11 years, frequents Hollywood celebrity shows on weekends. "Has-been
shows," he unabashedly labels them.
At one such outing recently in the New Jersey
Meadowlands, Mitchell shared space with Dee Snider of Twisted Sister.
Autographs were going for $15 per scribble.
The Bay City Rollers, in its heyday, was a
marketer's dream. They had the tartan cloth, the nicknames, the jangly,
innocuous pop love songs, the cuteness and the funny hair.
And the group was not a one-hit wonder phenom.
Saturday Night was its mammoth hit (S-a-t-u-r-d-a-y Night!), but there was
also Money Honey, Rock-N-Roll Love Letter, I Only Want To Be With You, and
It's A Game.
At its height, the Rollers' run was Beatle-esque.
At every stop there were young girls screaming and crying and holding
tartan scarves aloft, the precious cloth bearing the name of their
personal favourite -- Woody, Eric, Stuart, Derek and, near the tail end,
North America, still nursing a post-Beatles
hangover, was convinced all good pop things came from the British and, for
a short while, the Rollers were it.
The band broke fast and hard on colonial soil,
although something, perhaps the Scottish heritage, let the star burn a
little longer in Canada.
Mitchell recalls one scary outing in Toronto's
Nathan Phillips Square when 60,000 fans jammed the plaza, and the nervous
police prevented the band from playing.
"We were allowed to go up onstage, walk across
and wave, and that was it -- back to the hotel room."
It was often that way, Mitchell said.
One of the fallacies of teenybopperdom is that
band members are awash with the vices of fame -- the sex, the booze, the
"It was lonely if you stuck by the rules -- and
we stuck by the rules. It was literally milk and cookies with the Bay City
Rollers," Mitchell said. "It was maddening. I mean we were all pretty
young, and there were all these girls screaming in front of you, then it
was off to the hotel alone after the show."
If there's one thing Mitchell looks forward to
now, it's playing the music, a lot of which hasn't gotten its due in the
whirlpool of pop.
"I can change the songs up to how I think they
should've sounded," he said. "We were actually a thrash band live. We
played loud and angry and fast, like punk.
"It was nothing like you heard on the radio."