Abba were the first group to take their name from the initials of the members of the band, the second were Pilot and it was lead singer and bass player David Paton’s wife who was the inspiration behind their two biggest hits.
Pilot were formed in Edinburgh in 1973 by former (early) Bay City Roller’s member David Paton and Billy Lyall. Later that year they enrolled Stuart tosh and Iain Bairnson and after recording several demo’s they were signed to a management deal and in due course a recording contract with EMI by Nick and Tim Heath who were band leader Ted Heath’s sons.
David and Billy left the Roller’s before they were really famous which seemed an odd move, David explained why, “Yes, well I always call that my apprenticeship years. There were plenty musicians around Edinburgh who had a stint in the Rollers. But after about a year with them, which was a very enjoyable time, because the manager, Tam Paton, who was no relation of mine, has us gigging six nights a week and when we had an occasional night off we went out for a meal and I think his idea was to keep us away from girls so we didn’t get involved and thus making us more desirable to the fan base. But I left because they were about to sign to Bell records and I thought to myself I would do without success than to be a successful Bay City Roller, that was just me because I wanted to achieve things musically and I don’t think the Rollers were taken that seriously and I was becoming very serious about my music and I thought I’d take a chance and it paid off.”
The name Pilot was taken from the three surnames, Paton, Lyall and Tosh and it was their manager’s girlfriend who suggested Pilot. Their first hit came at the end of 1974 and reached number 11 in the UK and a respectable number five in the USA. The song was called Magic and Paton tells how it came about, “Like a lot of songs I wrote back then, I always had a tape recorder on top of my piano and when any idea came into my head i would just slap it down and I had that chorus, which was a four-bar chorus, technically, it was just an idea and one morning I had to get up really early and my wife said to me ‘I’ve never been awake to see a day break’ and I thought there’s a line for a song that will go with that little chorus and the rest of it just fell into place.” Originally the song had a different intro. “I first recorded that intro just a piano and voice,” remembered Paton, “And then we realised that this just isn’t dynamic enough and we have to go back in the studio and put a nice new dynamic intro to it and that’s what we did.” One person who was clearly inspired by that redone intro was Carlos Santana as you will hear if you listen to the intro of his 2000 top three hit Smooth.
Their next single was Just A Smile which failed to make any impact. Next came January, which, again, was inspired by a book that Paton’s wife was reading about a girl called January and although that was part of the inspiration for it, the rest came from the success of Magic. Paton explained, “In January, the verse is totally unrelated to the chorus, the verse is more talking about the success of Magic and how it’s opened up the world to me and that’s what I’m singing about.”Pilot appeared on Top Of The Pops many times and got to meet many stars of the day, one story that Paton particularly remembered was when they met Queen. “yes, EMI paired us with Queen as we were both relatively new signings and I remembered after on show, I went over to talk to Freddie (Mercury) and Freddie said ‘Why have you come over to talk to me’ and I said, Why not? and Freddie said, ‘When I have a number one, I’ll talk to no-one!”
Call Me Round was their next single which only reached number 34 and this was followed by the re-issue of Just a smile which only managed three places higher. There were albums too Second Flight (1975), Morin Heights (1976) and after Bairnson and Lyall had left and not replaced the duo recorded their third album Two’s A Crowd in 1977.
Pilot split in later in 1977 with Bairnson, Paton and Tosh all joining the Alan Parsons Project and Tosh also working with 10cc. Paton and Bairnson did session stuff for EMI including working with Pink Floyd and most notably Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights in which Bairnson plays the guitar solo. Paton also worked with Elton John and featured on his album Reg Strikes Back in 1988.
Lyall died in 1989 of an AIDS-related illness but Paton and Bairnson reformed Pilot in 2002 and re-recorded their Two’s A Crowd album but re-titled Blue Yonder. After that all three went to live in Spain. Paton returned in 2005 and still tours as David Paton’s Pilot, whilst the other two remained in Spain. In 2012 Paton has just released a new album called Under The Sun which was inspired by a recent health scare. It includes a re-recorded version of Magic sounding mightily close to the original. Paton explains how, “I recorded that backing track originally for the BBC who had a charity day in the 80s but they didn’t want to use the original because there’s a string section on there and everybody would have to be paid so they asked me to re-record and I was using a drummer at the time who put down the track and I decided, after all these years, to dig it out and use it and it still sounds terrific.”