Oh Ho Ho………Its Pilot


By the mid 70’s my record collection had hit double figures. I had the Beatles ‘blue’ compilation album, 24 Caret Purple and, bizarrely , the Jesus Christ Superstar Soundtrack. I bought the latter because it was cheap of course.

All around me amazing things were happening in music but I could only find out about them by reading the Music Press, my parents declined to commit to a regular newspaper but in those days Rock and Pop were pretty much excluded from the serious news anyway.

So the only way to get any musical fix was to listen to the radio which meant Wonderful Radio One.
Today, of course, we know that the radio was dominated by shallow bitter men who were probably sex pests but that was all we had and between tales of their wives,country homes and roadshow adventures they did play a bit of music.

Well; as Stephen Stills advised me ‘if you cant be with the one you love,love the one you’re with’. Good advice Stephen and one that I adopted in listening to Radio One. I tried very hard to find something appealing about the records they served up in close rotation, it might be a bass riff, a drum fill or the way the singer pronounced a certain word. After repeated listening I could usually find something appealing enough to get be through to the next half arsed piece of music.

Which brings me on to Pilot

Pilot dominated the airways between 1973 and 1975 and if they weren’t on the radio they would be on Top of the Pops or Cracker jack or Seaside Special.

Two members of Pilot were refugees from the Bay City Rollers which isn’t that surprising as just about any nubile lad in Edinburgh who could carry a tune in a bucket passed through the Roller’s ranks in the early 70’s. Keyboard player Billy Lyall left the band to to work in recording studio where he managed to accrue enough time to record demos with ex Roller/bass player/high voiced singer David Patton and drummer Stuart Tosh. On the back of these they were signed by EMI and recorded their first album where they were joined by Guitarist Ian Bairnson. It was Bairnson’s playing which attracted my attention. I remembered him a some full maned lanky Brian May type character but subsequent videos show he was a fairly weedy guy whose rapidly receding hairline means its fairly easy to place those videos in chronological order.

Bairnson was interesting though. He was born in Lerwick Shetland Isles which in the 70’s was about as far away as Pluto. Reportedly he didn’t have a record player or a radio (which at least meant he didn’t have to listen to his own records which were on every 20 minutes) in fact all he had at home was a tape recorder so the only music he listened to was himself.

Their first hit Magic (Oh Ho Ho) started with his distinctive playing, OK is wasn’t free jazz but I think its rather special so here it is just for you.

‘January’ was their biggest hit with its two note flute refrain and of course who could forget ‘Just a Smile’? (well I did until I did a bit of research).But that was it for Pilot, the Radio had loved them but it was all over. They are back on Radio Two now of course, their music will never die.

I had a theory that Pilot were actually better than I thought they were. They were undoubtedly good players and like a lots of Scots they looked to America rather than England for their inspiration. In my fertile imagination if you imagined Donald Fagen singing the tunes they might sound a bit like Steely Dan. Unfortunately having listened to some of their non chart stuff I must I confess I was wrong, its more like Andrew Gold or Rupert Holmes and really that’s more than we need. Theres also some clunky lyrics, ‘Canada’ for example rhymes .California’ with ‘should have warned ya’ more than once ( I didn’t make it to the end) 10cc might just get away with that sort of stuff claiming its ironic but there was nothing ironic about Pilot.

Post Pilot they carried on playing with the bizarrely popular Alan Parsons Project (always popular with middle managers in the 70’s and 80’s) Bairnson even wrote some songs with Bucks Fizz , Lyall played with Dollar, Tosh with 10cc and Patton played with Elton John.

One of the bizarre things about the band is their habit of reconvening to record old hits in the the style of the day (so you can hear Magic with a bit of slap bass) which really does suggest they have too much time on their hands.

Tragically Lyall never got to participate in these reunions he died aged just 36 from Aids related causes.

For me however the band attained a level of credibility that they could never achieve on their own when they worked with Kate Bush. That’s them doing a lot of the hard work on ‘The Kick Inside’ playing with Kate before she was famous.

So rather than another Pilot track lets have ‘Wuthering Heights’. That’s Bairnson soloing away at the end

Now that is Magic (sorry!)

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