‘Unrelenting behind-the-scenes darkness’ Bookseller
‘Best music book I ever read… a stunning story … very dark, very detailed, a difficult and incredible read. Brilliant.’ Adrian Durham, talkSPORT radio
‘Spence pulls no punches in a well-written book that takes a thorough approach to its grubby subject. It’s all here in profuse, sticky detail … justifiably dives into the excesses of the music industry cesspool’ The Irish Times
‘Riveting’ Caroline Sullivan, The Guardian
‘Very well written … full of nastiness and sleaziness … as the band is manipulated and exploited by sordid and distasteful characters … the music industry side is very, very well done. Recommended’ RTE Radio 1
‘An impressive work with some truly fantastic set pieces’ Johnny Rogan, author, Ray Davies: A Complicated Life
‘Lifts the lid on the squeaky clean 70s teenyboppers’ Writing.ie, Music Books To Watch Out For In 2016
‘They were five handsome wholesome boys but their gilded lives masked a maelstrom of depravity, shocking by even the standards of rock ‘n’ roll’ The Scottish Daily Mail
‘A comprehensive, forensic, study’ Matt Bendoris, The Scottish Sun
‘Lurid revelations about incessant sexual abuse and record industry rip-offs … the first full account of the horrendous saga of the Bay City Rollers and their impossibly sleazy manager Tam Paton … stomach-turning, grim, often jaw-dropping reading.’ Record Collector
‘A grim but fascinating account … a well-written expose … disturbing and absorbing … anyone who thought this boy-band prototype was as clean-cut as their tartan-striped dungarees will be in for a shock’ The Australian, Book of the Year
‘In terms of rock ‘n’ roll debauchery Led Zeppelin have nothing on the Rollers … tells of how manager Tam Paton was a “Mr Big” of the Edinburgh drug trade and died surrounded by gun-toting enforcers, rent boys, cocaine and bin bags filled with £1.5 million in cash’ The Daily Record
‘Detailed horror laid out … unsparing tales of tawdriness … tenaciously researched‘ The Beat
‘One of the most depraved and debauched stories in rock history’ The Scotsman
‘Full of shocking revelations … reveals how their manager urged them to have sex with a paedophile DJ and drugged band members before abusing and raping them’ Glasgow Evening Times
‘Reveals how, in 2016, the band were forced to settle out of court for less than £70,000 each after a decade long court battle with music industry giants Sony in which they claimed they were owed more than £70 million in unpaid royalties after selling more than 120 million records’ Edinburgh Evening News
‘An unsettling, enjoyable and thorough investigative work … brilliantly researched.’ Samira Ahmed, BBC Radio 4
‘Spence pulls back the tartan curtain and reveals what was really going on, and it’s not a pretty sight … a sad and fascinating story’ Loud and Quiet
‘The full horrific story of the “Scottish Savile” Tam Paton and the Bay City Rollers … Spence should be commended for his brutally forensic detail over 540-pages interviewing Rollers, associates and victims … not for the squeamish’ Mojo
This Day In Music documentary: Bay City Rollers: When the Screaming Stops
The dark history of one Britain’s most successful boy bands. What happened to the group is one of the greatest scandals of the music history.
Mojo 278 /January 2017
The Beat magazine Nov 2016
“At times he lays on a level of detail that would be excessive in a three-volume Churchill biography.”
- You’ve written books about the Stones and The Stone Roses, what was it that inspired you to write a book about The Bay City Rollers?
I worked for almost ten years with Andrew Loog Oldham, the Stones manager, producer and Svengali, on several volumes of what turned out to be autobiography. The Roses were my favourite band when I was in my teens and they helped me get my start in music journalism – with them it was a classic case of the right place (Manchester, their hometown where I’ve lived for the past 10 years) and right time (the band reformed as we were making the book). It’s my biggest hit to date although I realize the Roses don’t mean much in America.
I’d read about Tam Paton in the book Starmakers and Svengalis by Johnny Rogan, the same book where I’d first read about Loog Oldham. I spent quite a lot of time exploring the possibility of doing a book on the Rollers before committing. It became obvious to me that theirs was one of the great rock n roll stories and in my opinion had not been given a serious, detailed treatment. Even a well researched cut and paste, put together from the incredible amount of controversial incidents detailed in the press, would have been a good read. It took me almost six months to read all the press and then to try and make sense of it. I then wanted to find the real story.
Also, after Tam’s death, due to British libel laws, I realized there’d be more that could be said about him. He seemed, even at the outset, such a gigantic character. The fact the band were then still ensnared in their long-running court case over their missing millions also intrigued me.
- Are you a fan of their music?
I bought all the albums. I kept hoping the next one would be an all-time classic but it never quite was, although on each album there are some great, great moments. Maybe the Americans got it better with some of those early albums cobbled together from the best of UK material. But I appreciate everything up to Ricochet, and really enjoyed their idiosyncrasies. I love many Faulkner/Wood songs. I treated the Rollers as I would any other band and I always intended to give them a fair hearing, which I think I have. The early pop stuff is magic and the Maslin era is great as well. I like much of the Faure period too. There is something very strong at the heart of the band. The live album, Rollerworld, is a fantastic listen too – maybe they were strongest as a four piece. I wrote about the music quite a bit. I was advised not to but I did anyway. I interviewed every producer they had (who is still alive) in depth.
I am a huge fan of their look from the period when they dropped the platforms and started wearing the beat-up high-tops. I don’t think a band has bettered that. For me the music and the look, the aura, is what it was all about, encapsulated by the band live (a couple of Midnight Special performances stand out) or even when just miming, as at the late 1975 London event directed by Mike Mansfield and part transmitted live to America. I wish I’d seen them live.
- The book deals with some very intense and uncomfortable issues. How did you prepare yourself for this, or did they reveal themselves as your research unfolded?
Well, the initial proposal was a basic compendium of all the juicy or tragic bits. It had to be to get the publishers interested. So rape, sexual abuse, prison, suicide attempts, car crashes, death, drug dealing, blackmail, rent boys, arson, missing millions … I glibly trotted all that stuff out not really thinking too deeply about it, just treating it as great action for the book. It was when I started interviewing I realized it was going to be an extremely difficult process. The territory was alien to me. I hadn’t thought about how to deal with the real people attached to all the stories and how to react to how deeply affected they were by them. Dr Sarah Nelson, one of Scotland’s leading experts of survivors of sexual abuse, who provides the foreword for the book, advised taking lots of long walks in the countryside. I just learned to live with bad thoughts keeping me awake at night.
I certainly didn’t, at the outset, anticipate having a 40-odd year old man detail how he was groomed, raped and ensnared by Paton’s circle as a teen. Or to have a man from a care home background explain how, aged 13, he was drugged so that Paton and his cronies could have sex with him. Or to hear the catalogue of stories Pat McGlynn shared with me. It was unrelenting. Gert Magnus and certain Rollers also told troubling stories. I think eight Rollers tried to or did commit suicide and in Paton’s wider circle there were hundreds more troubled souls.
There were some highly dubious people around Paton and the Rollers: some of their crimes are truly horrific. It was harrowing. Then it you start to read around these people, looking at the paedophile circles in Lisbon and Sri Lanka, for instance, it’s horrendous. Even more difficult, maybe, was to have the publisher’s lawyers refuse to allow me to publish some of the names or incidents. I’d say some of the un-named have definitely got away with it while others have duped the public.
- There is a lot of shocking incidents throughout this amazing story. Was there any one incident that stands out as most shocking? If so, what and why?
Some of the most shocking stories remain unpublished. It’s difficult to pick out one incident in the book; there’s so much. There are some serious questions Derek needs to answer. Away from the sexual stuff, there’s the police collusion, the corrupt Judiciary, the insidious advisors, the various, seemingly inter-linked, European paedophile circles, and the long, long, long story behind the band’s business affairs. I think maybe the most chilling part is that the record industry seemed to if not sanction all this, certainly turn a blind eye to it. In the 1970s music scene the abuse of youngsters, sexually and financially appeared commonplace and widespread. I’d suggest it still is. That’s probably the most shocking part.
- The book concentrates heavily on the strange life and actions of the band’s manager Tam Paton (1938 – 2009). Why do you think: a.) The band did not expose him; and b.) why certain band members, (i.e. Ian Mitchell) remain fiercely loyal to him?
The first part of the question is very complex. Despite everything, I think Tam had a very loveable side. It was easy to see why young lads could be in thrall to him. That he abused certain band members is beyond question and why they did not report this at the time is down to the individual. You have to imagine the shame, the confusion, the guilt … all the emotions common to these awful situations. Plus, for the band, the fact Paton always had a retinue of lads who could easily take their place if they caused trouble, so fame would be snatched away in an instant.
He had a cult-like thing going on, so to some extent the Rollers were brainwashed. Pat McGlynn did kick up a fuss when he was sacked in 1977 but he was hushed up. Victims, even now, have a tough time with the police, so imagine trying to report this stuff in Scotland back then. Tam also made a point of bragging of his relationships with senior police figures. I’d have imagined even if they wanted to speak out, it would have seemed impossible to them – especially considering the relationships inside the band. If they had, they would have destroyed themselves as well as Paton. Add into the mix dealing with the massive rush of world-wide fame and adulation, their sexual naivety, the drugs they were talking (or given)… I certainly don’t lay any blame on them for not exposing him or others at the time.
Although he was always bullying and verbally and physically abusive, after he came out of prison Tam really upped his game to become a major gangster. So I imagine there was fear involved too although both Pat and Les did come out with the rape allegations while he was alive.
Regards Ian, I arranged to speak to him but he backed out when I sent him the questions. There are several witnesses as to what went on at Little Kellerstain while he was there and subsequent incidents in his life suggest he paid a heavy price for his moment in the Rollers. Ian did speak out kindly about Tam when he died, that’s true. Les called Ian deluded for that. I’m not talking about Ian but I found it strange some lads who described their abuse at the hands of Paton would still express a strange fondness for him.
- You’ve interviewed many people who were involved with the band and people close to them. Why do you suppose the main band members declined to tell their story?
They didn’t officially decline. I made some tentative approaches either directly or via third parties, chiefly Mark St John who managed them circa 1997-2015. I interviewed Mark three or four times. I saw what was going on during the course of writing the book – Autumn 2014 to Spring 2016 – and didn’t push it. I felt Les was the only one who might open up about these things. I was pretty sure the others would serve up what they always serve up: the most recent TV documentary being a case in point.
- Was there any particular band member who’s story you really wanted?
I chased Eric Manclark, John Devine and Neil Henderson for a long time but to no avail. I did wonder if Eric – being the closest band member to St John – might offer up new stuff in light of all the information I had collected. I think he’s the most clued up about the business side too. But then he fell ill.
Last year’s reunion and the possibility of the band finally being remunerated from their record label gave fans hope for a “happy ending” for all. Sadly that was not to be. More of the “blame game” and the never ending jockeying for fan position/loyalty continue to divide the base.
- How much do you think their past plays into their current situation/attitude/success or lack thereof?
It’s undeniable. The trauma seems to have bedeviled their lives. Les, of the famous five, seems to be in the healthiest position and he’s the one who has unburdened much of the darkness. Likewise Pat McGlynn – although Pat still wants to expose others.
- What was your goal in bringing this story to light? What do you hope it can/will accomplish overall?
My main goal was selfish: I wanted to write a classic rock n roll book about the pop business. I, perhaps foolishly, also hoped that a serious study of the band’s work might lead to a critical rethinking. Vaguely, I felt the manipulation of these young kids by an older Svengali-type figure was a pattern in the music industry that needed stamping on. I also wanted to give a more rounded, authentic, picture of Tam.
As the work progressed and fresh police investigations into child abuse in the UK (particularly in Scotland where a major investigation is ongoing) chimed with what I was uncovering, I felt that the work might be of interest to the authorities. There were a lot of lads from care homes and older men happy to abuse them up in Edinburgh. I hope the work might provide some relief to those involved or might encourage others to come forward.
I don’t think any of the music industry’s governing bodies are fit for purpose and I hope this book might bring attention to practices that are unacceptable.
Ultimately, though, it’s a book about a band.
- What would you like to say to fans of the group who will have a hard time accepting (or even believing) what happened to their beloved boy band?
They would have to read the book and decide for themselves what really happened. Everything in there is corroborated by two or more reliable, independent sources. Even some of the more shocking stories that didn’t make it to print were corroborated.
I know we’ve concentrated a lot on the darkness but in the book there is a huge amount of detail about their career, some really incredible scenes, written with much love, that I am sure the same fans will appreciate.
While this is a deeply dark and sad story, it is important for not only the Bay City Rollers, but for the hundreds of other victims to have the opportunity for healing. This story is bigger than the Bay City Rollers.
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