Tributes to ex-Downpatrick man who was part of Bay City Rollers

Tributes to ex-Downpatrick man who was part of Bay City Rollers

9 September 2020

TRIBUTES have been paid to former Downpatrick man Ian Mitchell who has died at his home in California.

The 62 year-old – originally from Ardmeen Green in the town – found international fame with Scottish supergroup the Bay City Rollers which sold over 150 million records in the 1970s.

Mitchell, who had been married to Wendy-Ann Antanaitis for almost 30 years, had been living in the United States after carving out a life in California as a computer programmer and motivational speaker.

He left his home town to become one of the Scottish band’s most popular musicians and although he spent less than a year with them – contributing to the 1976 Dedication album – Mitchell’s whirlwind experience catapulted him onto the world stage.

His time with the Rollers, whose major hits include ‘Bye Bye Baby’ and ‘Shang-a-Lang,’ paved the way for a high profile pop career, including massive tours with Downpatrick band Rosetta Stone, formerly known as Young City Stars, formed by brothers Damian, Terry and Colin McKee and Mitchell himself.

In fact the Young City Stars supported the Rollers at a concert in Belfast in 1975 and months later Mitchell joined the Scottish group but subsequently returned to his home town band.

He was always proud of his roots and someone who had nothing but fond memories of Downpatrick.

He was thrilled to join the Scottish band who at the height of ‘Roller-mania’ had a team of 17 full-time staff just dealing with fan mail, their own magazine, a clothing range and a 20-part TV series in the UK and US – something only achieved at the time by the Osmonds and the Jackson Five.

Speaking to the Recorder in 2014, Mitchell said he had “known fame and some fortune” and had travelled the world and “made some of the finest friends a man can have.”

He also confirmed that he became an American citizen and was proud to be one, even though he was still Irish at heart and a “very luck Irishman indeed” during a life “which started in a small place called Downpatrick.”

Mitchell joined the Rollers in 1976 aged just 17, replacing bassist Alan Longmuir and while he did not stay for long, he made a lasting impact with the band, with whom he recorded the hit Dusty Springfield cover ‘I Only Want to be With You’. 

Following his return to the Downpatrick band in 1979, he left and subsequently formed the Ian Mitchell Band in May of that year.

The Bay City Rollers say they are “deeply saddened” by the death of their ex-member with former band mate Stuart Wood describing Mitchell’s death as “very sad, sad news”. 

He said he had “many fond memories” of performing with Mitchell, adding that he would be “sorely missed”, while US singer Kyle Vincent, who performed with Mitchell in the 2000s, said he had “some great memories” from their time together.

Writing on Instagram, he sent his “deepest condolences” to Mitchell’s widow Wendy “and Ian’s legion of fans around the world”.

Shocked Roller fans across the globe have paid tribute to the Downpatrick musician on social media with many shocked at his passing.

One wrote: “My deepest condolences. I met Ian at Foxwoods casino in Connecticut where he was doing a concert with Leif Garrett, I met his wife too. Both of them were very nice and sweet.”

Another said: “I am so sorry to hear of Ian’s passing. I’ve loved this band since I was just four years old and I remember how thrilled I was to watch them on television and to dance to their music.”

Another fan on Twitter said he was “really shocked” to learn of the musician’s death.

The fan wrote: “The Bay City Rollers were my teenage idols and the real reason I took up music and photography. I got to spend a bit of time with Ian shortly after he moved to LA in the 1980s and he was great. Such as loss.”

The Downpatrick man was also named-checked during an episode of the iconic US sitcom series Friends in 2001 when Monica and Chandler get engaged. 

Monica, played by Courteney Cox, said: ‘I want a string quartet for the processional, a jazz trio for cocktails and The Bay City Rollers for dancing.”

Chandler, played by Matthew Perry, responded: ‘You couldn’t get The Rollers anyway as Ian doesn’t play any more.”

Speaking about his mention to The Sun newspaper in 2016, Mitchell said he “fell off his chair” when he saw that particular episode.

A statement in the Bay City Rollers official Facebook page read: “We are deeply saddened by the news of Ian Mitchell’s death. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Wendy, their family and friends. Rest In Peace, Ian.”

Predeceased by his parents Alan and Mary, he is survived by his wife Wendy, brother Tony and sisters Rita, Kathleen and Geraldine.