‘I knew straight away that it was a hit, possibly a number one. For me, it had everything: a buoyant, fun pop song with a great beat and chorus that people couldn’t help but hum or whistle.’
Extract taken from I Ran With The Gang: My Life In and Out of The Bay City Rollers
By Alan Longmuir with Martin Knight
Published by Luath Press
At the recording session for Remember Mark 11, we were introduced to the follow-up single from Martin and Coulter, Shang-A-Lang, and we re-recorded Saturday Night while we were at it. I don’t think anybody was considering re-releasing it, but I guess vague plans for an album were forming and the producers wanted to keep things consistent vocalist wise. Shang- A-Lang was a fantastic song. I knew straight away that it was a hit, possibly a number one. For me, it had everything: a buoyant, fun pop song with a great beat and chorus that people couldn’t help but hum or whistle. It also touched on gangs, juke boxes, blue suede shoes, dancing and rocking. It could have come out of the Brill Building, the New York song-writing factory, that ten years earlier had produced Up on the Roof, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Spanish Harlem and scores of others. Bill Martin has said that was his intention.
There have been several reasons put forward as to what Shang-A-Lang actually means. Bill has said he wanted to emulate the clanging noises of Glasgow’s shipyards, but Judy Garland had beaten him to it by using ‘clang clang’ in a song. He also said that Shang-A-Lang was a substitute swear word that he had used as a kid. For example, when his mother told him off, he told her ‘Aw, Shang-A-Lang’ instead of something like a phrase ending in ‘off’. Who knows? It may have been because he found something that rhymed with gang. Perhaps it didn’t go unnoticed by Bill and Phil that Mr Glitter did well with his rousing Do You Wanna Be in My Gang?
Bill Martin has also said he was referencing the Glasgow gangs, too. We knew all about gangs from Scotland. It was part of Scottish street life back then. Glasgow razor gangs, real or imagined, had been sending the tabloid press into apoplexy since the war. Indeed, some people thought we were a street gang. Yes, during our formative years graffiti declaring ‘B C R’ started appearing on walls around Edinburgh and some people believed this was the graffiti tag of a fearsome street gang. It was in reality Tam sending some young zoomer out at night with a spray can. It was an unsubtle way of spreading the word about us like he did with the David Cassidy fan club list he ‘found’ years later. You can imagine it. Two Edinburgh laddies in the park:
‘Are you in the bcr?’
‘What’s the bcr?’
‘What’s the bcr! They’re a gang, pal. Right nasty gang. They come oot at night dressed in short trousers and yellow and black stripy socks. If they catch you, they throttle you with a silk scarf until yer eyes explode…’
Some years later, when we were more famous, Tam sent us out, by then all in our tartan, with soapy water and brushes to clean off the graffiti or, at least, pretend we were. Of course, he rang the press to make sure they recorded it all for the newspapers the next day.
Shang-A-Lang, the song, has stood the test of time. In fact, a very prominent person when collecting his MBE recently from Buckingham Palace called for it to be made the Scottish national anthem. He described the incumbent one, Flower of Scotland, as a dirge. That person was Bill Martin.
Shang smashed the charts. This time there was no waiting around or biting of fingernails. The song was a hit. It might even have flown to the number one spot had it not been for The Rubettes with their song Sugar Baby Love. The Rubettes were the opposite of us: they had been made up of session musicians, brought together by John Richardson. The band Showaddywaddy had turned down Sugar Baby Love initially, and the Rubettes recorded, and then were brought together by, that song. They went on to enjoy a long and successful career. John Richardson is now a Hare Krishna devotee and goes by the name of Jayadev.
To give a flavour of the charts at the time, behind us was Sparks with This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us and, just slipping down the from top twenty, ABBA with their breakthrough Eurovision Song Contest winner, hit Waterloo. We’d soon meet ABBA and they seemed a decent and happy pair of couples. Like us, they had suffered from being considered to be musically lacking for many years. If you had friends coming around to dinner you’d stuff your ABBA lps behind a cushion. They were the by-word for naff but a decade or two later they were allowed out of the closet and the public opinion shifted. ABBA were brilliant and supremely talented. Dancing Queen and Take a Chance on Me are classic songs. The fickleness of taste.
I Ran With The Gang: My Life In and Out of The Bay City Rollers by Alan Longmuir with Martin Knight is published by Luath Press, priced £14.99
Another Christmas recommendation: Made in Scotland: My Grand Adventures in a Wee Country by Billy Connolly, published by BBC Books, priced £20.00