When Glen Matlock wrote his autobiography, he called it I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol. If David Paton were to write his, he almost certainly wouldn't title it I Was A Teenage Bay City Roller, but at least he'd have the right to do so. Actually he doesn't like to talk about the Rollers much: he was a member in the early days, left them shortly before 'Keep On Dancing' and regards the whole thing as being an experience he would never want to repeat: 'I probably learned something from it, but it's not something that I'm extremely proud of.'
So when David formed his own band, he studiously avoided pursuing the teenybopper route. The result was Pilot, a truly fantastic pop group that brought together the writing and musical talents of Billy Lyall (another ex-Roller), Ian Bairnson and Stuart Tosh. Paton, however, was the frontman, the key to the whole enterprise and the man who wrote 'January', their biggest British hit, which reached #1 in 1975. It wasn't necessarily a role that he relished: 'We were reluctant pop stars and I was a very reluctant frontman - I'm very happy playing bass somewhere. I enjoy music so much, and playing so much, that it's very fulfilling. Fronting the band and having all the responsibility was just a bit too much for me really.'
That attitude - undoubtedly influenced by the early Rollers experience - was part of the reason why Pilot never made it as big as they should have done. All the reports of Pilot gigs at this stage, including the national tour that followed the success of 'January', suggest that they went out of their way to avoid being perceived as a teen-band. They saw themselves as being something a bit more classy. Which was clearly the truth - like Badfinger, they picked up on the pure pop elements of the McCartney side of The Beatles and produced a series of impeccable records that were never accorded the respect and sales they deserved. Apart from 'January', the only hit singles were 'Magic' (the biggest international success), 'Call Me Round' and the fantastic 'Just A Smile', which is begging for a cover version. Later classics like 'Running Water' simply disappeared entirely.
It needn't have been that way. Pilot signed to EMI at around the same time as Queen and Cockney Rebel, and there was a feeling of a new generation taking over Britain's most establishment label. There was also some serious rivalry between these three to get a #1 single - a race won by Pilot. But the fact that 'We were a bit reluctant to become successful', combined with the usual appalling management problems, eventually marginalized the band. When Billy Lyall was persuaded to leave for a putative solo career, it was clearly all over, despite a 1977 album Two's A Crowd.
All the members of the band continued to turn up as session-players on records through the next couple of decades, including stuff by The Alan Parsons Project, Kate Bush and Rick Wakeman. Stuart Tosh joined 10cc, Lyall tried a solo album that didn't find favour and Paton played bass for Elton John at Live Aid (he's also on 'Mull of Kintyre'). Sadly Billy Lyall died a few years back of an AIDS-related illness, but David Paton is still around, now playing his own music that draws on Scottish traditions and blends them with his pop genius. A 1997 album Fragments won impressive reviews and began the process of establishing a new career-phase for this great talent.
1974 Magic (#11)
1975 January (#1)
1975 Call Me Round (#34)
1975 Just a Smile (#31)
1975 Magic (#5)