Alan Longmuir obituary

Alan Longmuir, second left, with, from left: Eric Faulkner, Les McKeown, Stuart Wood and his brother, Derek Longmuir. Like the rest of the band, Alan felt trapped by fame and disliked the erosion of his privacy
Alan Longmuir, second left, with, from left: Eric Faulkner, Les McKeown, Stuart Wood and his brother, Derek Longmuir. Like the rest of the band, Alan felt trapped by fame and disliked the erosion of his privacy

“Just a plumber from Edinburgh who got lucky” was Alan Longmuir’s dry assessment of his career. To the young girls who lionised his band, the Bay City Rollers, he was considerably more. The group’s founding member, Longmuir, who has died aged 70 after contracting a virus while on holiday in Mexico, was the often unwilling object of the wildest adulation 1970s teenhood could muster.

The group he started in 1964 dominated mid-70s pop both in Britain and internationally, selling around 100m records – the precise total, and royalties owed the band, have never been established, spawning a long-running dispute with their former record label.

In their peak year, 1975, they had two UK No 1 singles, including the signature hit Bye Bye Baby; the end of that year saw them top the American chart with the stomping Saturday Night – a foundational influence on the Ramones. When they played live, fans showed their appreciation by breaking seats; consequently, many venues refused to book them. They were the biggest pop sensation since the Beatles, and of the pop idols who have followed, only One Direction have inspired quite the same frenzy.

Alan Longmuir in 1977.
Alan Longmuir in 1977. Photograph: Andre Csillag/Rex/Shutterstock

Like the rest of the Rollers, Longmuir, the band’s bassist, felt trapped by fame and the concomitant erosion of their privacy. Unlike the others, he refused to observe their manager’s edict against drinking alcohol and having girlfriends. In 1976, he was sacked because he was “too old and too hard to control”, according to Simon Spence’s 2016 biography The Dark History of the Bay City Rollers. Longmuir himself said: “I had a fallout with [manager Tam Paton] because I wanted to get a life.”

The public were told that he had chosen to go; in his first photo session as an ex-Roller, he wore a three-piece business suit – tantamount to sticking two fingers up at the band, who were forced to wear matching tartan outfits during all public sightings.

In 1978, Paton asked him to rejoin, thinking that Longmuir, then nearly 30, would exert a stabilising influence. He left again in 1983, and repeated the process several times, culminating in a successful 2016 reunion tour. At the time of his death, the band were again inactive, and he was working on the latest version of his successful Edinburgh fringe show, a music-and-memories production called I Ran With the Gang. He was also preparing an autobiography for release in the autumn.

Longmuir was born in Edinburgh, one of four children of Duncan and Georgina Longmuir, who encouraged their interest in music. His father was an undertaker who allowed Alan to wear his top hat and long frock coat when performing for guests at the family home. Alan and his younger brother, Derek – the Rollers’ future drummer – went to Tynecastle high school, which Alan left at 15. After a year of office work he was apprenticed as a plumber, but the job was secondary to his yearning to be a musician. The band that would eventually become the Bay City Rollers – the most famous lineup was the Longmuirs, the singer Les McKeown, guitarist Eric Faulkner and guitarist Stuart Wood – got their break when Longmuir asked the Edinburgh bandleader Paton for help.

Alan Longmuir and Les McKeown performing in Glasgow in 2015.
Alan Longmuir and Les McKeown performing in Glasgow in 2015. Photograph: Michael McGurk/Rex/Shutterstock

He became their manager, and moulded the attractive but ordinary teenagers into a unit that looked like a cross between a street gang and a group of spindly tartan dolls. Paton, who in 1982 was sentenced to three years’ prison for gross indecency, dictated what they wore – cropped jumpers and tartan trousers lopped off below the knee – what they drank in public (milk) and who they were allowed to date. Despite huge success that began with the jaunty 1971 single Keep on Dancing, Longmuir, the oldest Roller (at Paton’s insistence he claimed to be several years younger), chafed under the restrictions, and began to go his own way.

After leaving the group in 1976, he released a solo single, I’m Confessing, but spent much of his time fishing and looking after his horses on his farm in Dollar, Clackmannanshire. During one of his returns to the group, he played a mechanic in a 1980 Roller feature film, Burning Rubber, but was little seen in the ensuing decades other than at Roller reunions.

He returned to working as a plumber and from 2000 until retirement was a bylaws inspector. His fringe show debuted in 2014 and came back to the festival every year since – tickets for this year’s production were on sale when Longmuir died.

He viewed the 70s with wry humour, saying in 2008: “I remember sitting at the bar of the Beverly Hills hotel – there was Patrick Magee, Barbra Streisand, David Soul – and Alan Longmuir, the plumber from Edinburgh.”

He is survived by his wife, Eileen (nee Rankin), whom he married in 1998, his son, Jordan, from his first marriage, to Jan, which ended in divorce, two stepsons, Kyle and Nik, and his siblings, Derek, Betty and Alice.

• Alan Longmuir, musician, born 20 June 1948; died 2 July 2018