45 Years Ago: A Bay City Rollers Event Ends in Watery Mayhem
Never underestimate the power of the bagpipes.
They're rarely mentioned today, but in the mid-'70s, the Bay City Rollers were a worldwide sensation. After missing the charts with a handful of early singles, the tartan-clad Scottish pop group found their audience, and by 1975, they'd unleashed a torrent of teen screaming that came to be known as "Rollermania."
As any star that's been in the midst of their own mania can attest, all that attention can easily get out of hand — and it definitely did for the Rollers on May 18, 1975, when the group appeared as part of a BBC-sponsored event at Mallory Park, a racetrack in England's East Midlands. One in a series of "Fun Days" hosted by the network, it was supposed to be a relatively undemanding public appearance that wouldn't even involve a concert; instead, it ended in chaos, with band members being desperately ferried off an island while hordes of fans tried to swim to their idols.
"The Mallory Park circuit has a large lagoon in the middle of it and a couple of small islands at one side," explained legendary DJ John Peel. "The Bay City Rollers were being helicoptered onto the small island one at a time. Now the only security available were – for reasons that I have never known, but I don’t want to know really, it’s just the whole thing is so wonderful – were members of the BBC sub-aqua club."
Security was quickly and hopelessly outmatched by the crowds, much to Peel's lasting enjoyment. "The sub-aqua people were sort of standing there in their rubber outfits, with flippers and stuff like this, catching these strange children and carrying them back and sort of dumping them on the other side of the bank, who were pushing them back in the water," he recalled, further setting the scene by describing "The helicopters coming overhead and Bay City Rollers and lots of car noise and screaming."
According to some estimates, the event drew nearly 50,000 people, and before things even got started, BBC DJ Paul Burnett took to the airwaves to urge everyone else to stay home. According to Rollers singer Les McKeown, the whole thing was memorably surreal — and at least a little scary — for the group.
"We eventually landed on a raft in the middle of a lake. A boat was going to take us to do a radio interview. By the time we got there the girls were in the water swimming towards us. Then there were enough girls on one side of us to grab on to the boat and it tipped over," he told the Mirror. "We just thought, ‘Jesus Christ, what’s happening?’ Thank God no one was seriously injured."
Adding to the weirdness of the melee was the involvement of members of the Wombles, another briefly popular U.K. pop group who helped get the Rollers to safety while aiding efforts to fish their fans out of the lagoon. As Peel later said, he watched the whole thing unfold and thought, "If I live to be 200 years old, I am never going to experience anything like this again in my life."
Fortunately, all the speeding cars and water and Rollermania didn't add up to any lasting injury. "Four people were taken to hospital and 35 were treated for minor injuries at the site," said McKeown. "Bay City Rollers fans have always been brilliant, but at times like that, it didn’t matter where they were, they had to get at us."