With the news today that Bay City Rollers front man Les McKeown had died, I thought it fitting to look back on the infamous day that BCR descended on the capital city.
The date was August 19 1976. Venue was the grand old Memorial Arena. The Dedication LP was being toured. I haven't found much written about the day , though sure it exists in Times/ Colonist archives somewhere. Les was a teenager , but died at 65. I know Ian Mitchell had passed away and Alan Longmuir , one of the original band. Even all these years on I remember the day well.
I had 2 sisters that were big Rollers fans . Not sure how I ended up going but we all had general admission tickets to the show. Being GA we ( like every person holding a ticket ) wanted a good spot for the show so the lineup in front of the arena started early in the day. We managed to get fairly close to the front doors actually and for some reason had carted along a load of crap we had to carry all through the show. It was morning so the masses were still fairly friendly with each other. I'm positive the arena had no idea what was coming . Sure they could have looked at headlines from the previous nights show in Edmonton, but ya, seemed unprepared.
As the line grew longer, we entered the early afternoon. This is when stuff went off the rails. Some geniuses had tailed the bands limo from the airport. As they neared the arena, they started honking their horn, leaning out the window and pointing to the car ahead of them. In another not so bright move by the band, I think it was Eric Faulkner who rolled his window down and waved at all the fans on the other side of Blanshard. There were a LOT of people amassed. ( And ya, Ill say it now...I was one of very few guys there. Pretty much all girls. ) So imagine this scene . The noise is what it must have been like at Beatles shows. Goes right up your spine. Hundreds of high pitched screams went out and a large portion of that massed crowd ran out into the oncoming traffic to chase the car. The window went up, driver hit the gas and oncoming cars hit the brakes. I think the limo was spared crushing hysteria by the light being green in their favour. Its hard to believe no one was killed just then. That one incident set in motion the continued hysteria to come. Was a lot of screaming and crying long after the car passed. This moment also seemed to pack in the crowd against the glass door to the arena. The staff on the other side started looking out with concern.
As it got closer to doors open, the crushing started to be an issue. Nobody would move for one another. I remember being worried for the wee ones. It was dangerous a lot of the time. Don't remember doors open, but I think everyone survived and the race to the stage started. We scored seats near the back. Arena wasn't really that big in the scheme of things. We still had all the crap to carry so needed seating. We took turns after that trying to close to the stage. The machine that moved this spectacle from town to town was in full motion , selling anything you could imagine to the masses. The truly dedicated packed the floor and you just had a feeling that bad things were afoot by the constant push toward stage front. I really don't remember if there was an opener. If there was I'm sure I felt bad for them at the time. They would have been completely ignored.
So to those who remember the acoustics of the Memorial arena.,..try to imagine the trapped sound of thousands of high pitched combined screams as the lights went out to start the show. It was absolutely deafening. In the pitched light from the stage , I could see the dark mass of hysteria surge towards the stage. They ran a pre show film of the Rollers ( like any ramp up was needed ) which just heightened the panic. I cant imagine what it would have been like if you were stage front security that night. After crapping yourself , you'd have the busiest night you'd ever experienced . Finally the band hit the stage , The rapid increase in volume literally blew your hair back. It was said that when the band toured, they really couldn't hear themselves play. The screaming was simply too loud. And, ya you could barely hear the music.
One thing you could see well was the constant passing of bodies over the front barricades. From what I heard and put together, lot of fainting happened, crushing, falling followed by trampling and that all constant surge. What I do remember well is the show being called after 40 minutes. There were crowd warnings barely audible between the few numbers played. It was declared the show was called because of audience risk , but interesting that the previous nights show was called at the 40 minute mark as well. The band was whipped away in a flash and the lights came up. You want to talk about witnessing a war zone. There were the mad people, feeling cheated out of a show. There were the crushed and crying many. The hallways looked like triage in a war zone. Lot of concerned parents trying to find their girls. Emergency services must have wondered what had happened . There were a LOT of ambulances and responders outside the arena.
I was pretty wide eyed, not really understanding what I had just witnessed. Was all pretty new to me. I got admittedly caught up somewhat. I was a nerdy kid at a young age. Nobody liked me much so it was easy to attach myself to something big, no matter how artificial or fleeting. I actually liked some tracks off the Dedication album.
Interestingly enough, there was a song the band did of cover of on that album.
"Yesterday's Hero" is a pop song by John Paul Young. The song was written by George Young and Harry Vanda and was released in February 1975 as the lead single from Young's debut studio album, Hero (1975). The song became a worldwide hit, peaking at No. 8 in Australia, No. 1 in South Africa and No. 41 in the United States. "Yesterday's Hero" is a song about the fleeting nature of pop stardom. It drew on Vanda & Young's own experiences as former teen idols. - Wikipedia
It really was an appropriate choice for really the last significant LP before the fast band burnout and fade into history. What followed seemed almost a written familiar script. Fast rise and fall, boatload of lost money, bad management, manipulation, greed. Band separated , fought, survived scandals, staged partial reunions and clung to anything the retro era offered in past glory.
I'm sure some of these guys were nice enough. Experienced something most don't get near and would also not really understand.
I still find it hard to imagine the Ramones being inspired by the Rollers when writing Blitzkrieg Bop. Fact.
I started a long journey of concert experiences and different genres of music moving forward. Thought it wise to try and recall this whole day and night before it fades even more. I'm glad I was there. Experience is the spice of life.