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Articles Home » Interviews » Paton, David - 2012 Interview (originally written in 2010)
Paton, David - 2012 Interview (originally written in 2010)

ARTIST: Paton, David
ALBUM: Interview (originally written in 2010)
YEAR: 2012


This is my second interview with David Paton; the first was conducted and published 10 years ago. My original intention for a follow-up chat in 2010 was to write a full-blown article on David's band Pilot for a British magazine. That failed to materialize due to a computer crash and related issues and I feared the interview was lost forever. Fortunately not so, since I've recently recovered the full text and despite being two years old, is still informative and relevant. Apologies to David for the long delay but there's no reason to allow a good interview goes to waste, so read on!

EA: Let's start at the beginning with your early role in the Bay City Rollers.

DP: I felt more like a teacher than a guitar player in the band. Most cover bands learn the songs by listening to the record and learning by ear. None of them could do that and I ended up showing them what to play. I'd learned the Beatles repertoire that way so it was second nature. It got to the stage where I could tell what the chords were just by giving the song one listen. No, I'm not bragging; it should be a piece of cake for anyone who calls themselves a serious musician. Tam Paton was more interested in what the band looked like than their musical ability. That was a big part of my frustration with being a Bay City Roller. The last straw was when Tam introduced our new rhythm guitar player who couldn't play a note. I tied his guitar lead around my amp handle and a few guys out front noticed and caused a great deal of embarrassment for all of us. I was ready to move on when the Bell Record contract was due to be signed; I just couldn't bring myself to sign the thing. I was tired of it. I'd been listening to bands like Free, Genesis, The Band, Led Zeppelin, Yes and Little Feat and I wanted to be doing something like that. My head was out of there and I thought I'd rather have no success than become a successful Roller. I had to bow out then or go all the way with it. I chose to bow out, but Tam didn't make it easy for me, he really wanted me to stay and he kept appearing at my door telling me how silly I was being and that I was losing out on a golden opportunity of success. It's a bigger picture now and I can look back and see how this led to that and so on. There you go but I'm sure we all look back on circumstance and think 'if I hadn't done this then that would never have happened' or 'if I hadn't gone to that club, met that person, got on that bus, smoked that first cigarette, gone to the hospital for that x-ray..' It's endless, that's life.

EA: Moving on to Pilot, how did the initial deal with EMI come about?

DP: I had a resident gig at a nightclub in Edinburgh and Stuart Tosh was the stand in drummer. He said he had a contact at EMI and I should think about going to see him with the songs I'd written. A meeting was arranged with Stuart's old school pal John Cavanagh who was then a label manager with EMI. We set off on the overnight train from Waverley station Edinburgh to London King's Cross. Somehow we got lost but made it to Selfridges and asked directions from there to Manchester Square. We arrived and were met in reception by John who took us to his office and we played our tapes. I seem to remember it being a ? tape that we took with us and he had a recorded in the office. As he listened his eyes lit up and said 'I'd like to play this to another label manager guys do you mind'. 'Not at all John' we replied and he disappeared to another office and returned with Tim Heath. We were introduced and played a couple of songs again, Tim thought the songs were excellent and suggested that we should meet with the head of A&R Roy Featherstone. We had booked the return train for that evening so a meeting was quickly set up for that afternoon. We headed off to the pub and discussed our good fortune at receiving such a positive response. It wasn't long before we were back at EMI meeting with Roy Featherstone. He too couldn't hide his joy and enthusiasm for our music, we had a deal and just needed to find ourselves a manager and lawyer to help negotiate for us.

EA: Are you still surprised by the success of 'Magic'?

DP: Surprised? Delighted! It's a huge thrill to know my song is recognized by all ages worldwide. Yes I'm really delighted that people connect with the song immediately.

That song will be around long after I'm gone. I nearly left this Planet this time last year so it kind of brings it all home now. I'm not very forward in making a big deal out of past achievements but on the odd occasion that I mention that I wrote 'Magic' I'm always genuinely flattered by the positive response. It's seems that everyone knows the song even if the group name escapes them. The song wasn't even contrived; it just popped in from nowhere. I had the chorus for the song on an ideas tape just waiting for the right verse to pop into my head. Strange thing that 'Magic' is really just a 4 bar chorus repeated once, the verse is the same, it's very simple and the most successful song I've ever written. I had to get up very early one morning delivering milk for a local dairy when Mary said to me 'I've never been awake to see the day break', I heard her words as a melody and I knew they would fit with my 'Magic' chorus, but it was too late to sit at the piano in the flat so I wrote the melody down on a piece of manuscript together with the chords I could visualize in my head.

EA: Is it true the label was not pleased with the addition of Ian Bairnson?

DP: Ian Bairnson had played guitar on one of our demos in Edinburgh. The song was 'Just let me be' and we wanted to re-record the song as a B-side and decided to ask Ian come along to Abbey Road to play guitar. We knew where he was; he'd left 'Tiffany's' (a Mecca owned club) in Edinburgh and was now gigging in Tiffany's London. We went to see him play with the house band, same gig and different city. He jumped at the invitation to play guitar for us and get paid, the session was fine and the guitar part was exactly what we wanted to hear. So we needed another member for the band and as I was thinking of playing guitar although Ian didn't immediately spring to mind. I auditioned a couple of bass players at Abbey Road while the mixing sessions were going on. I didn't think they were any better or in some cases worse but for whatever reason they just didn't fit. I then turned my attention to guitar players. Ian was not invited to the auditions but he had a habit of dropping in and listened to the mixing sessions, which was fine by me. It was while I was auditioning guitar players that Ian appeared. He asked me what was going on and I told him I was at the end of my tether auditioning guitar players, 'why didn't you ask me' he said? Well I had thought about it and mentioned it to a couple of people but the response was very negative. 'He doesn't look the part' was the reply. EMI were particularly vocal about this as the teeny bob band thing was huge then. Perhaps they thought they could capitalize on that with us but there's no way I wanted that to happen, that smacked of Bay City Rollers to me and so I told Ian if he wanted the gig, it was his. I'd had enough of auditions and enough of EMI wanting to promote us as lightweights. I took a lot of flak for insisting that Ian play guitar, but we were more than a bubblegum band and I didn't want EMI to promote us in that way, nip it in the bud now I thought.

EA: Touring followed, including a brace of dates with Sparks.

DP: We were given the chance to support Sparks on their upcoming tour of the UK and 'Just a Smile' was released as the first single but only made a minor impression. However, the reviews were great and the BBC's Ann Nightingale's comment 'whoever wrote this must surely have a long career ahead in music' thrilled me to pieces. 'Magic' was scheduled for release to coincide with the Sparks tour. This is when we really started to see things happen. Halfway into the tour 'Magic' charted and the concert dates were selling out everywhere. We really enjoyed the tour. Sparks were fun and although the Mael brothers kept themselves locked up in their hotel room a lot of the time, the tour was a big success and I'm sure there were a few Pilot fans in the audience.

EA: Why didn't the band tour America?

DP: We came together as a studio band. Pilot songs were studio based and any thoughts of performing the songs live were not given priority. I suppose with The Beatles being such a big influence on me I wanted to play it the same way as they did. I'd done a fair bit of playing live and the studio and song writing were where I wanted to be. Our management were a big mistake and not touring the U.S. was more their fault than the band.

EA: Pilot often draws comparison to 10cc. Would you agree?

DP: I don't really get the 10cc connection. OK, we wrote catchy pop songs and so did 10cc and a lot of bands at that time. I liked bands like Stackridge, Supertramp, and early Genesis. Ace with Paul Carrack, and Free were also big favourites. Earth Wind & Fire- hey funky Pilot! It was a very creative time and the influences were coming from everywhere. Even the Steve Wonder influence is in there somewhere.

EA: In our last interview you made the comment 'without The Beatles- no Pilot'. Just how much the fab four influenced your writing style and the bands approach?

DP: I was of the generation that discovered The Beatles in the same way as the generations before me discovered Frank Sinatra and later Elvis. These artists had a huge influence on all people. I was at a very impressionable age when I found The Beatles and their music was very fresh and exciting. It just so happened that they were writing their own music and it gave guys like me hope and aspiration to write music. In my own way I wanted to be a Paul McCartney. He couldn't put a foot wrong in my book, so when I started writing it was Macca I was trying to emulate.

EA: What was it like going into the studio without Billy Lyall for the 'Morin Heights' sessions?'

DP: Pilot wasn't the same without Billy. We were a very creative force as a unit, and we all benefited from each other's creativity. We lost a wheel and could still hobble along but not with the same drive.

EA: Why the decision to just go with Ian and yourself for 'Two's A Crowd' and not re-fill the ranks?

DP: I think we realized that nobody could fill the ranks of Stuart and Billy and getting good players in was the only answer. The songs were there and we just needed musicians to interpret them. Much the same as we were doing as session players. Arista wanted a hit and asked me to come up with a song like 'January'. That was the agenda and I think I fulfilled my part of the bargain with 'Get up and go'.

EA: Most of 'Two's a Crowd' was re-recorded and released as 'Blue Yonder' in 2002. Why?

DP: Simple, demand. Arista would not grant us a license and they had no intention of of reissuing 'Two's A Crowd'. The only way to feed the demand was to re-record. Japan is still a good market for all things Pilot and we sold a lot of 'Blue Yonder' there. We had the Pilot web site- and it was a perfect vehicle to announce the release of the album.

EA: What has been the most successful Pilot album sales-wise?

That's not easy to say although 'Second Flight' was the most successful upon release; in fact I think it was the only Pilot album to reach the top 30. The most successful CD on the DPS label is 'Pilot- The Craighall Demos'. Everything's changed now though. At our height we were selling 35,000 singles a day when 'January' reached number one so I suppose that had a knock on effect for sales of the album when it was released.

EA: Looking back at the Pilot catalog, what are your thoughts on the albums today?

DP: I like them. The back catalogue is now available through Cherry Red Records and I have overseen the artwork, added text and bonus songs. They still sound great thanks to Alan Parsons and Abbey Road. Some of the songs stand out as really well thought out pop songs. There are not many fillers on the albums as we had plenty of songs at that time. I think we had written quite a few songs before the EMI deal came along so quality was never an issue. It's been said before that Pilot probably has more respect now than they ever had during the mid-1970's. The teeny bop boom did us no favors even though we tried to steer clear of it and our main interest was in the song writing, but time is on our side and the songs are more alive now than they were back in the 70's.

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#1 | englandashes on September 24 2012 12:11:37
Excellent Eric, really enjoyed reading this!.
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