Tam Paton & Michael Wale
|Tam Paton's sensational inside story of Britain's No. 1 pop group||The most popular singing band to come from England since The Beatles!||My tragic love affair with the Bay City Rollers|
The Bay City Rollers had two glorious years in the sun (plus, of course, an after-life in the Sun). After years of struggle and disappointment, they finally in 1974 unleashed a series of summer-lite singles, played by session musicians, which established them as the replacements in Britain for both glam and the Osmonds. Then, in 1975, they decided to play their own instruments and made it really big: two British #1 singles and - wonder of wonders - a #1 in America, a market previously impervious to Britpop teen-fodder in the '70s.
The first two of these books date from the cusp, just before the tartan tidal wave broke across America, when it seemed like anything was possible, even that absurd reference to The Beatles. For some reason, George Tremlett had decided that the Rollers were beneath his contempt, unworthy of his scissors and his glue (though he soon rushed out a biog of the pseudo-Rollers, Slik) and the way was clear for someone else to have a go. The one written by Michael Wale is marginally more interesting, since it's the authorised version, written with the co-operation of 'Colonel' Tam Paton, but to be honest, both are simply awful. If the kids still have to settle for this kind of stuff today - and I'm way too chicken to try to find out - then I pity them.
Caroline Sullivan's book is a kettle of a different colour altogether. Written in the post-Fever Pitch publishing climate in which autobiography filtered through popular culture is hot stuff, it's one of the better entries in the field. This could be because it's about the Rollers - something of a step up from boring, boring Arsenal - but it could also be because she has something to say about the nature of fan-worship that has very seldom been explored in print.
Sullivan is a pop journalist from the serious end of the market - the Grauniad out of Melody Maker - but in an earlier life she was a teenager in an American suburb when the Rollers arrived and took over her life. Part of what's interesting is that she wasn't an 11-year-old unversed in the ways of rock & roll, but a 15-year-old Anglophile with a regrettable fondness for hairy rock rubbish - her first gig was Savoy Brown, for chrissakes. She'd even been to see Led Zep and realized just how self-indulgent and downright dull rock could be: the appearance of Les McKeown shocked her out of this nonsense and set her on the course of appreciating the simple end of pop.
As someone who found The Ramones followed on quite naturally from the Rollers, I appreciate her position on this. When I was a kid, I too had a look around at the likes of Focus and the Groundhogs and decided without too much hesitation that the Rubettes and the Glitter Band were a much better bet. On the other hand, I didn't stay around long enough even to hear the Rollers' 1981 album Ricochet, nor did I fuck Woody - I mean, there is a limit to one's enthusiasm.
Two things make this an excellent book. One is that Sullivan was a genuine fan, caring for this band in a way that I've never cared for any pop act, and it has a grim fascination to the outsider. The other is the sheer misery of the Rollers' declining years, post-punk and post-disco, when they didn't have the sense to go away - there's something about letting daylight in on the darkness that is simply horrifying.
The major quibble is that she won't give Les credit for having a fantastic pop voice.
packing a punch