Monday, June 9, 2008

Scottish Quartet Land On Top Of The Charts

Scottish group Pilot narrowly missed reaching #1 in Britain during January 1975 with their mega-hit single ‘January’. The song officially notched up top spot on 1st February and proceeded to hold off the opposition for the next three weeks. From the group’s sophomore LP ‘Second Flight‘, the song (and album) was produced by Alan Parsons, he of the ‘Project’ fame, and the man at the production controls for many other hits, though ‘January’ was his first #1. As a matter of trivia, Alan Parsons didn’t have to wait long to produce his second U.K. #1, which came immediately following in the form of ‘Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) by Steve Harley And Cockney Rebel.

Pilot’s cabin crew comprised singer/songwriter/bassist David Paton, keyboardist Billy Lyall, guitarist Ian Bairnson and drummer Stuart Tosh. Interesting to note that Lyall and Paton had earlier played with Bay City Rollers. Pilot formed originally in Edinburgh during 1973 as the trio of Paton, Lyall and Tosh, and later recruited session guitarist Bairnson to their lineup in time to contribute to their eponymous debut album for EMI in 1974. The band’s sound cleverly melded the more serious elements of bubblegum pop with the lighter elements of prog-rock.

‘January’ was not actually Pilot’s first flight on the U.K. or U.S. charts for that matter. That honour went to ‘Magic’ which was released in the latter part of ‘74, spending 11 weeks on the U.K. charts and peaking at #11. ‘Magic’ performed a better trick on the U.S. charts soaring as high as #5 in mid ‘75. The song was released in the States on the back of Pilot’s successful ‘January’ flight at home, but ’Magic’ was actually lifted from Pilot‘s debut self-titled album. Bizarrely ‘January’, which topped the U.K. and Australian charts, missed the mark completely in the U.S., barely lifting off the tarmac (#87).

‘Magic’ faired well on the Australian charts (#12) following in the slipstream of ‘January’ and backed by a specially commissioned promo clip for ‘Countdown’, filmed in Paris as guest host Daryl Braithwaite proudly boasted. The strange thing about it was that ‘Magic’ had been recorded and released as a hit (in the U.K.) before ‘January’ was even recorded, and when you see Ian Bairnson wailing away on the guitar in the Countdown clip for ‘Magic’ keep in mind that Paton had actually played guitar on the recorded track from the first album, because at that time Bairnson hadn‘t yet joined fulltime. A couple of other minor hits followed for Pilot over the course of ‘75/’76, namely ‘Just A Smile’ (UK#31, US#90, OZ#49) and ‘Call Me Round’ (UK#34). Two more albums also followed, ‘Morin Heights’ in 1976 and the harder edged ‘Two’s A Crowd’ the following year (by which time Pilot was just the duo of Paton and Bairnson), but neither launched any more hit singles and Pilot found themselves grounded, unable to reach the lofty chart heights of previous efforts. Soon after Pilot called it a day.

Band members David Paton and Ian Bairnson both played on Kate Bush’s debut LP ‘The Kick Inside’, as well as Alan Parsons and Chris DeBurgh. Stuart Tosh was called into 10CC’s revamped lineup to replace Kevin Godley on the drums. Billy Lyall played with Dollar for a time but passed away in 1989 from an AIDS related illness. During the 80s David Paton was also the bass player for Elton John’s touring outfit and has released five solo albums from 1991’s ‘Passions Cry’ to 2007’s ‘Fellow Man’. Paton also relived some of Pilot’s old glory days when he toured with the Countdown Spectacular 2 concert shows across Australia during 2007, and he and Pilot drummer Stuart Tosh played together in Japan in November ‘07.

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