Les McKeown

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Les McKeown
McKeown in 1976
McKeown in 1976
Background information
Birth nameLeslie Richard McKeown
Born(1955-11-12)12 November 1955
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died20 April 2021(2021-04-20) (aged 65)
London, England
GenresPop rock
Years active1973–2021
Peko Keiko
(m. 1983)

Leslie Richard McKeown (12 November 1955 – 20 April 2021) was a Scottish singer. He was the lead vocalist of the pop rock band Bay City Rollers during their most successful period in the 1970s.

Early life[edit]

McKeown was born in Broomhouse, a suburb close to the south-western city limit of Edinburgh, on 12 November 1955.[1][2] His father, Francis, worked as a tailor and was deaf;[1] his mother, Florence (née Close), was a seamstress[2] who moved to Scotland after getting married.[1] Both emigrated to the United Kingdom from Ireland.[3][4] The family communicated with his father via hand signals.[1] McKeown was raised in a city tenement block,[5] attended Broomhouse Primary School, then nearby Forrester High School, and volunteered in the Boys' Brigade.[1] He left school at 15 and became a member of the band Threshold.[6] He was employed at a paper mill in between the group's gigs, which earned them £20 per show.[2] In his autobiography, Shang-a-Lang: Life as an International Pop Idol (2003), he admits he had a happy childhood in Broomhouse, but Edinburgh, in his view a drab place to live, became a place to escape from. Among the core members of the band, McKeown was the only one, after the band ran its course, who did not go back to live in Scotland.


Bay City Rollers[edit]

McKeown joined the Bay City Rollers in November 1973,[2] replacing founding lead singer Gordon "Nobby" Clark.[4] He was initially reluctant to join the group, later stating in his memoir that it was not "high on my list of bands I'd have wanted to join".[2] The band only achieved national, and then international, popularity after McKeown joined.[7][8] That said, the locally well-known band, with a recording contract with a minor label, was already established and the newly recruited singer, in his autobiography, maintains that there always was a chasm between him and the rest of the band, despite the fact they were of, more or less, the same age and shared similar backgrounds. The rest of the band members were all from Craigmillar/Liberton, suburbs of similar character to Broomhouse, but near to the southern border of the city, and as the subtitle of his autobiography suggests, McKeown had no pretension to be a rock musician/artist unlike some members of the band.

His arrival also coincided with an overhaul of the group's image introducing half-mast trousers, platform shoes and tartan.[9] They had four songs in the Top 10 in 1974 ("Remember", "Summerlove Sensation", "All of Me Loves All of You", and "Shang-a-Lang" which featured McKeown as the frontman).[2][8] This was followed by 2 UK number ones ("Bye Bye Baby", "Give a Little Love") and a U.S. number one ("Saturday Night", which was re-recorded with McKeown as the lead vocalist)[8] a year later.[5]

Their manager Tam Paton, who was concerned about the inadequacy of the band's musical capabilities, apart from McKeown's singing talent and good looks, chose songs for them and hired song writers and competent studio musicians for the recordings. As a result, often in the Bay City Rollers' recordings, McKeown's vocals were the only musical contributions from the band.

McKeown later wrote that he was raped by Paton and that Paton provided him with Mandrax and amphetamines to help him cope with the pressures of touring.[2][10]

McKeown left the group in 1978 as its popularity began to decline.[5]

Later works[edit]

He established the pop band Egotrip and released a solo album in 1979 titled All Washed Up,[11] which was successful in Japan. He went on to release eight more solo albums.[5] He rejoined the Bay City Rollers in 2015 for a series of reunion shows, the first of which, at Glasgow's Barrowlands, sold out in three minutes.[12][13] He released his final album, The Lost Songs, in 2016.[5]

Personal life and death[edit]

McKeown married Peko Keiko, a native of Japan, in 1983.[1] They had a son.[2] In 2008, McKeown stayed at a treatment facility in California for four months, successfully overcoming his addiction to alcohol.[2] One year later, in the Living TV show Rehab, covering celebrities fighting addiction,[10] he disclosed that he was a "secret bisexual" and admitted being unfaithful to his wife with both men and women.[14][15]

McKeown killed an elderly neighbour in 1975 as a result of reckless driving, for which he was banned from driving for one year and fined £100.[5] He later revealed how the guilt he felt over the event played a key role in his alcoholism.[11] He was fined and banned from driving for 18 months after another incident in 2015 when driving while drunk.[5]

McKeown died on 20 April 2021, at the age of 65, after going into cardiac arrest at his home in London.[11][16][17] A coroner's report concluded that his death was from "a combination of natural causes"; he had cardiovascular disease and hypertension, at least partially caused by years of drug and alcohol abuse.[17]



Title Album details
  • Released: October 1974
  • Label: Bell
Once Upon a Star
  • Released: May 1975
  • Label: Bell
Bay City Rollers
  • Released: September 1975
  • Label: Arista
Wouldn't You Like It?
  • Released: December 1975
  • Label: Bell
Rock n' Roll Love Letter
  • Released: March 1976
  • Label: Arista
  • Released: September 1976
  • Label: Arista/Bell
It's a Game
  • Released: July 1977
  • Label: Arista
Breakout '85
A Christmas Shang-A-Lang
  • Released: December 2015
  • Label: Forrest Boombox

Live Albums[edit]

Title Album details
Live in Japan
Rollerworld:Live at the Budokan 1977
  • Released: 2001
  • Label: Bodyguard Records


Year Title
1971 "Keep on Dancing"
1972 "We Can Make Music"
1974 "Remember (Sha-La-La-La)"
"Summerlove Sensation"
"All of Me Loves All of You"
1975 "Bye, Bye, Baby"
"Give a Little Love"
"Don't Stop the Music"
"Love Me Like I Love You"
1976 "Saturday Night"
"Money Honey"
"Rock and Roll Love Letter"
"I Only Want to Be with You"
"Yesterday's Hero"
"Don't Worry Baby"
1977 "It's a Game"
"You Made Me Believe in Magic"
"The Way I Feel Tonight"
"Don't Let the Music Die"
1983 "Piece of the Action"
1985 "When You Find Out"



Title Year
All Washed Up[18] 1979
The Face of Love[1] 1980
100% Live[1] 1980
The Greatest[1] 1980
Sweet Pain[19] 1981
Heart Control[19] 1982
It's a Game[20] 1989
Love Letter[21] 1993
The Lost Songs[22] 2016


  • McKeown, Les; Elliott, Lynne; Welsh, Irvine (2003). Shang-a-lang: Life as an International Pop Idol. ISBN 1-84018-651-8.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Les McKeown, frontman of the Bay City Rollers, darlings of 1970s teenyboppers whose hits included Bye, Bye, Baby and Give a Little Love – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. London. 22 April 2021. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Sullivan, Caroline (23 April 2021). "Les McKeown obituary". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  3. ^ "Still on a roll: Former Bay City Roller Les McKeown". Belfast Telegraph. 24 May 2015. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  4. ^ a b "Les McKeown, who fronted the Bay City Rollers, dies at 65". Associated Press. 22 April 2020. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Beaumont-Thomas, Ben (22 April 2021). "Les McKeown, Bay City Rollers frontman, dies aged 65". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  6. ^ "Former Bay City Rollers frontman Les McKeown dies aged 65". BBC News. 22 April 2021. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  7. ^ Hattenstone, Simon (18 June 2005). "The Roller coaster". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  8. ^ a b c Kreps, Daniel (22 April 2021). "Les McKeown, Bay City Rollers Singer, Dead at 65". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  9. ^ "Scotsman Obituaries: Les McKeown, lead singer with the Bay City Rollers". www.scotsman.com. 23 April 2021.
  10. ^ a b Latif, Leila (29 June 2023). "Secrets of the Bay City Rollers review – one of the most disturbing accounts of abuse imaginable". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 30 June 2023.
  11. ^ a b c "Former Bay City Rollers frontman Les McKeown dies aged 65". BBC News. 22 April 2021. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  12. ^ "Bay City Rollers Frontman Les McKeown Dead at 65". Ultimate Classic Rock. 22 April 2021.
  13. ^ Wilson, Caroline (22 April 2021). "Fans' tributes to Bay City Rollers frontman Les McKeown after his death". HeraldScotland. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  14. ^ Shennan, Rhona (23 April 2021). "Les McKeown: life and career of Bay City Rollers frontman – and best songs and other band members remembered". The Scotsman. Edinburgh. Archived from the original on 24 April 2021. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  15. ^ "Bay City Roller Les McKeown's gay sex romps revealed to wife on TV". The Scotsman. 18 February 2009.
  16. ^ Aitchison, Jack (22 April 2021). "Les McKeown, Bay City Rollers star, dead aged 65 as family pay tribute". The Herald.
  17. ^ a b "Bay City Rollers' les McKeown died of a 'heavy heart'". Data Thistle. 10 September 2021. Retrieved 15 December 2021.
  18. ^ "Les McKeown – Songs". AllMusic. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  19. ^ a b "Leslie McKeown – Heart Control". Hung Medien. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  20. ^ "Les McKeown – Album Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  21. ^ Shennan, Rhona (23 April 2021). "Les McKeown: life and career of Bay City Rollers frontman – and best songs and other band members remembered". The Scotsman. Edinburgh. Archived from the original on 24 April 2021. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  22. ^ Topel, Fred (22 April 2021). "Bay City Rollers singer Les McKeown dies at 65". United Press International. Retrieved 23 April 2021.


  • Stambler, Irwin, Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul. 1974. St. Martin's Press, Inc., New York, N.Y. ISBN 0-312-02573-4

External links[edit]