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Pet Rock & Rollermania; Bay City Rollers with Ian Mitchell headlines at annual benefit.

Byline: Richard Duckett

Was it puppy love that had flocks of teenage girls screaming their love for the Bay City Rollers? Flash back: It was the mid-1970s and "Rollermania" was a phenomenon.

Flash forward, and one imagines it won't exactly be puppy love, per se, for the headline act - the title of the event notwithstanding - at Sunday's 11th annual Pet Rock Festival at Quinsigamond Community College, but the Bay City Rollers legacy will be keeping on rolling. The group The Bay City Rollers Featuring Ian Mitchell (Mitchell was a former BCR guitarist and vocalist) tops the musical bill at what is described as also being "the largest animal expo on the East Coast."

Now flash back again. The Bay City Rollers, a catchy pop song band of good-looking late teenage/early 20s boy/men with tartan-themed clothing, were a sensation (mostly with teenage girls) first in the United Kingdom and then the United States with hits like "Keep On Dancing," "Shang-A-Lang," "Summer Love Sensation," "Bye Bye Baby," "Give a Little Love" and "Saturday Night."

"It was incredible," Mitchell reflected earlier this week during a telephone interview. "I don't have words (to describe it)." He was 17 at the time.

Critics weren't inclined to give a lot of credit. But as a not generally favorable entry in the "Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock" had to acknowledge, "Aided by massive media exposure and, especially, support of teen-girl magazines, Rollermania burst forth in 1975 with as much fervor as the Beatles' explosion more than a decade earlier."

Mitchell recalls the band making an appearance in a Toronto stadium where the band wasn't even going to perform and drawing more than 50,000 crazed fans.

His own tenure with the band was brief - seven months in 1976 - but he was involved with recording the album "Dedication," including singing lead vocals for the title track and co-writing a song.

Some people regarded the Bay City Rollers as a sort of overnight wonder and flash in the pan, but its roots go back longer than you might think, and the fact that Ian Mitchell's incarnation is still going strong is testament to a long-lasting appeal.

The original band came together in Edinburgh in 1970, five or six years before the zenith. Mitchell grew up in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland. His late father, Alan Mitchell, was a musician and father and son would jam together. Soon Mitchell was forming his own teen bands. The interestingly named Young City Stars opened for the Bay City Rollers at concerts in Belfast in 1974 and '75. Mitchell made an impression. In 1976 he was invited by the Bay City Rollers manager to go to Edinburgh and audition. He got in.

Lineup changes in the band were not especially unusual. According to the "Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia," the group was "carefully manipulated by hard-headed Svengali Tam Paton. His ruthlessness paired with immaturity of group members was to lead to personality problems when the group made it big."

Regardless, it was Matthews' decision to get out - the whole experience was a little too much, he intimated.

But he's cheerful in recounting the memories. Indeed, he has a good sense of humor, cracking jokes and laughing along during the interview and speaking with an engaging Irish accent that's tinged with a bit of American (he is now a United States citizen and lives in California). "I still get ID'd," he said at one point. He may have only been half joking, however, because at 51 he's retained his youthful looks.

There was plenty of music to come post-BCR - Mitchell formed and disbanded bands such as Rosetta Stone. He was good friends with another pop icon of that period, the tragic Marc Bolan (best known for T. Rex), performing with him on his last show before Bolan died in a car crash in 1977. Mitchell also participated in Bay City Roller reunions, and then formed his own Roller nostalgia band. It stays busy. The band is quite a regular at Las Vegas, and its current East Coast swing included a performance last Sunday in Laconia.

This Sunday at Pet Rock his band will be singing Roller hits and other pop songs from the 1970s. He was asked why '70s music has endured. "It's simple music," Mitchell said. "Its music you can sing to, dance to, clap to and sit and listen to."

And he said the band gets plenty of young people doing all of the above. Why not? "Their parents grew up listening to us."

The purpose of Pet Rock is to promote responsible pet ownership, bring attention to animal cruelty and educate people on a variety of animal related issues in an atmosphere and setting of music and "family friendly" fun events.

Other musical acts include Fergus, New Pilot and the Matt Shwachmann Band. There will be hundreds of tables, including breed rescues, shelters and animal welfare organizations. Also, an adoptable dog parade, contests, a doggie water park, a cat photo contest, speakers, vendors and food. Dogs are welcome.

11th annual Pet Rock Festival

When: Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday (rain date, Sept. 20)

Where: Quinsigamond Community College, 670 West Boylston St., Worcester

How much: Tickets: $12 adults, $5 children. For more information, visit



CUTLINE: Cindy at the 2007 Pet Rock Festival.
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Title Annotation:ENTERTAINMENT
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Sep 11, 2009
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