Light Mode

Exclusive: The Lost Roller–Nobby Clark, The Man Who Walked Away From The Bay City Rollers When the Screams Were Loudest

For 21-year-old Bay City Rollers’ frontman Nobby Clark, the dream was already a reality when he walked into BBC Television Centre to record the vocals for “Remember (Sha-La-La-La)” ahead of that night’s edition of Top Of The Pops. Riding high in the charts, the song was about to be featured on the UK’s most influential music program, ensuring its climb would continue, perhaps even to the coveted No 1 spot.

Nobby, real name Gordon Clark, had first visited TV Centre two years earlier on the 30th of September, 1971. Then he had performed the band’s first Top 10 hit, “Keep On Dancing” and it had been simple; he’d signed in at Reception and a runner had been dispatched to escort him to the studio where he had recorded the vocals the band would mime to “live” on TV the following evening.

This time things weren’t quite going to plan. There was confusion at Reception. The Bay City Rollers, now firmly under the thumb of controversial manager, Tam Paton, had recorded their slot a day earlier … with their new singer, Les McKeown. Nobby was stunned.

- Advertisement -

Recalling the fateful day, he takes up the tale. “Normally, Top Of The Pops was recorded on a Wednesday and then aired on a Thursday. I had told the band a year prior to leaving that I was going to go. I’d also said that, having no plans to destroy the group, I would give them time to find a new singer. So I stayed with them for that year and did all the live performances booked for that period.

“However, as ‘Remember (Sha-La-La-La)’ began to climb the charts I said I’d see the song through but didn’t want to do any more after that. Still, there had been no inclination on the Wednesday, when I went to record Top of the Pops, the band had already moved on. No one had told me about Les. The agreement was that it would be my last performance but they did the dirty on me and recorded on the Tuesday, which was more or less unheard of back then. I felt I’d been stood on by Tam Paton’s big boot. Robbed of my farewell.”

From Left: Eric Manclark, Nobby Clark, Derek Longmuir, Neil Henderson, Archie Marr and Alan Langmuir

Born out of an ambitious school-band called The Ambassadors, formed in the Sixties by brothers Alan and Derek Longmuir, with their cousin Neil Porteous and school pal Nobby, the Bay City Rollers’ path to stardom was a long one. The Ambassadors had become The Saxons and eventually, with a couple of other name changes along the way, the Rollers emerged in 1968. They would go on to be bigger than The Beatles, briefly, sell more 120 million records worldwide and generate an industry worth the equivalent of $6 billion-plus in today’s money.

With more than 15 different band members coming and going before Top of the Pops thrust them into the public eye, Nobby may have been the most high profile departure yet, but despite the parting of the ways, sprightly 73-year-old Nobby insists his involvement with the Bay City Rollers didn’t end there. Indeed, he has long claimed that when the Rollers conquered America in 1976, it was his vocals that were heard singing “Saturday Night” in baseball parks and sports stadiums across the US as the Bay City Rollers did the seemingly impossible — “Saturday Night” topped The Billboard Hot 100 Chart on January 3 that year.

Nobby recalls, “I knew nothing about it. It wasn’t until I got a phone call from Alan, who was in the States with the band at the time. He told me, ‘Nobby, you better get your lawyer onto this, they’ve released your original version of ‘Saturday Night’ here and it’s in the charts.’ Alan also testified to this under oath during a court case in New York.

“Every play of that song on the radio was my voice. Every single that was sold was my voice. They chose to deceive the public into believing Les was on that recording but the royalties should have been due to me.”

- Advertisement -
L-R: Erik Faulkner, Nobby Clark, Alan Longmuir, John Devine, Derek Ligmuir

As Scotland’s famous tartan-clad boyband continued their journey, theirs is a story well documented, but what about the man whose vocals set them on those first steps to global success? What happened to him as the screaming reached new crescendos while fading from his ears. What was Nobby’s story, the man who came so close to being at the heartbeat of the phenomenon called Rollermania but instead chose to walk away?

“I’d given Tam a year’s notice because things between us had become unworkable,” says Nobby, explaining why he had decided to move on. “I was the only one who challenged Tam’s controlling nature, which was about far more than making the band successful; it was a defect of character, an obsession. He had to know where everyone was 24 hours of the day and the rest of the band were terrified of him. He was a bully and an abuser.”

While Nobby is still frustrated by many aspects of how he was treated after ending his years as a Roller, equally he’s more than proud of what came next. In the studio he produced such Scottish pop legends as Billy Mackenzie and The Associates and engineered recording sessions for Simple Minds. Even The Proclaimers recorded early demos in Nobby’s studio. He also composed the soundtracks for a number of films while continuing to release his own material, although his attempts at a solo career were quickly thwarted.

“Because Tam suppressed any songwriting ability I had when I was with the Rollers, leaving released my creative talent, which I suddenly found was in great demand. It was so exciting to be working with these incredibly talented musicians and songwriters and I’m very, very proud of having been there there at the start of those careers, experiencing their musicianship, and being a small part of their story as they went on to achieve great success.”

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. There were times when the reality of what was happening around him became too much for Nobby. As Rollermania quickly spread around the globe, Paton was determined there would be no solo success for their former singer. The pressure began to take its toll, sending Nobby in search of solace at the bottom of a bottle.

Nobby today. Photo: Liam Rudden

Candidly, he admits, “It was fun to begin with, I was a heavy drinker but wasn’t aware of my alcoholism at that point. Eventually, the pressures from having my solo TV appearances pulled due to Tam refusing to allow the Rollers to appear on any TV show that used me, scared off producers — in modern parlance, he had me cancelled. At that point I turned to alcohol and recreational drugs the get me through. I was hurting so badly.”

- Advertisement -

They say that the start of any recovery comes with the acceptance of having hit rock bottom. For Nobby, by now a father, this came after realizing he was losing his family.

“I realized I seriously needed help. It was the hardest thing I have ever faced up to. After a couple of years experiencing periods of psychiatric care I was eventually admitted into Castle Craig Clinic, a rehabilitation unit in Scotland, where I was resident for five months. It changed my life. It saved me. It gave me back my life and started me on the road to recovery I have been on for more than 24 years.”

Even now, however, the ghosts of his time as a Bay City Roller are never too far away. For fifty years he refused to perform the songs that had originally carried his vocals, favorites such as “Mañana,” “We Can Make Music” and “Bye Bye Baby,” which he performed in the band’s live set over many years. Indeed, he concedes that he finds it a bit bewildering to once again be the focus of so many fans who are only discovering him since the passing of McKeown in 2021. The interest has become so great, there is even talk of a film being made of his life, based on his autobiography, The Lost Roller (available from Amazon), originally published in 2015 and recently republished in a new edition.

Nobby is currently in discussions about bringing his autobiography to the big screen.

He reflects, “Looking back, as I said on a recent TV documentary, the early years of the Bay City Rollers were the best. It all started to go wrong when we hit London and signed contracts that looked after the interests of everyone around us, but not those of the band members. Even now, I am owed royalties from the release of tracks that to this day carry my vocal — compilations, greatest hits and collection releases, there are 35 albums of which I have evidence so far. It makes me angry to find that, at this time of life, I am still fighting for what is rightfully mine.”

He adds, “It’s quite strange to find myself back in Rollerworld at my age. I’m delighted the fans who followed us all over the country back in the Sixties are still supporting me after so many years and that they continue to be excited about the new music I’m producing. I’m also surprised by the interest being shown by the American fans who never really had a chance to get to know me. Every day, I get messages on Facebook asking me about ‘Saturday Night’ and my time with the Rollers.”

If anyone had told him, even just 10 years ago, that today he’d be enjoying a resurgence in interest in his Bay City Rollers’ legacy, what might he have said to them?

Nobby thinks for a minute before offering, “It’s about time the truth was told … and if discussions currently being had about a film based on The Lost Roller come to fruition, it certainly will be.”



Liam Rudden is an award-winning playwright, broadcaster and commentator on the arts. With more than 40 years experience working in theater and media, he was for two decades Entertainment and Festivals Editor of the Edinburgh Evening News. For more of his work, check out his website. He is also on X (formerly Twitter) @LiamRudden. 


- Advertisement -