Pilot

When pop musicians knew how to dress to look truly ridiculous

Pilot? Weren't they that Scottish pop band that were around at the same time as the Bay City Rollers.

Well, yes they were, and therein lies the problem. Guilt by association.

The essential difference, however, between Pilot and the twee, tartan-trousered twits that were the Rollers was that Pilot actually had some talent.

But, caught up in the terrifying teenybop frenzy of the mid-seventies, talent never stood a chance. Pilot were just unfortunate that they appeared on the scene at the wrong time.

Granted, we're not talking about unbridled musical genius here, but at least they played their own instruments and wrote their own songs. And damned good little pop tunes they were too, "Magic", "January", "Call Me Round" and "Just a Smile" being the pick of the bunch from the 12 singles they released between 1974 and 1977.

David Paton, the group's songwriter, singer and bass guitarist, first met Billy Lyall (keyboards, flute and vocals) when he joined a pre-tartan line-up of the Bay City Rollers in late 1969.

To their eternal credit, both had quit the Rollers by 1971 (Paton actually left in 1970 after less than a year), presumably because they refused to wear silly tartan outfits with trousers that finished halfway up the shin and wanted no part of the Frankenstein monster that svengali Tam Paton (no relation) was creating.
Just in case they forgot who they were, the fetching t-shirts were a visual prompt for the less intelligent members of the group
Just in case they forgot who they were, the fetching t-shirts were a visual prompt for the less intelligent members of the group

Indeed, it may be some measure of just how awful Lyall believed the Rollers were becoming that he left the soon-to-be-pop-idols for a job as a junior in an Edinburgh recording studio, a move that ironically would be instrumental in Pilot taking off (pardon the pun).

By 1973 the Edinburgh pair had teamed up with guitarist Ian Bairnson from the Shetland Islands and drummer Stuart Tosh from Aberdeen to produce several demos (recorded, presumably for free, in the aforementioned Craighall Studios where Billy was now a sound engineer) and it was these which eventually caught the ear of EMI and put Pilot on the runway to success.

After securing a Top 20 hit with "Magic", the group reached the No.1 spot in January 1975 with "January", a lightweight and uncomplicated but nevertheless beautifully crafted pop song.

Unfortunately, circumstances, and poor management, conspired against the band and by 1977 Pilot had crashed and burned after a flight to stardom that was more short-hop than long-haul in its duration.

It is testimony to their ability, however, that both Paton and Bairnson are now highly respected session musicians with impressive CV's to their name.

Bairnson has played or recorded with a diverse range of performers from Kate Bush, Beverley Craven and Kenny Rodgers to Stanley Clarke, Sting, Michael McDonald and Alan Parsons.

Paton has sung and played with The Alan Parsons Project, Camel, Elton John, Rick Wakeman and Jimmy Page, amongst many others.

Tosh went on to join 10cc. Tragically, after a spell with icky pop band Dollar, Billy Lyall died in December 1989, a victim of an AIDS-related illness.

PILOT TRIVIA FOOTNOTE

PiLoT could just as easily have been called PLoT, PeLT, PLaTe, sPoiLT, sPLiT, sPLaT or even imPLanT.

The name PiLoT came, during the recording of the first album, from using the first letters of the surnames Paton, Lyall and Tosh.

The reason that Bairnson isn't included, although he did of course ultimately play guitar on the album, is because Ian at the time was not "officially" a member of the band, because he was still considering an offer to join Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel.

Just as well, really, otherwise we might now be writing about a group called PiLeBoT.

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