Another installment in the Edinburgh Exorcism series of posts. Read this if you’re late joining in.
As my regular readers know, I have a fondness for Lone Pop Geniuses.
Dennis Wilson, Todd Rundgren, Van Duren, Chris Bell … the list goes on. Show me a talented guy outside the mainstream, pursuing a creative artistic vision that is both uncommercial and catchy, and I’m sold.
(The same principle extends to people like Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney and Prince, who can package their talent and creativity into settings that move millions of records. But usually I go for the cult heroes above the platinum sellers.)
A casual music fan might not expect to find a performer like that in the Bay City Rollers’ orbit, given the Rollers’ entrenched image as a manufactured pop band for teenage girls.
But the Rollers did harbor such a musician, however briefly. And while I don’t know much of his story, I’ll repeat what I do know, in hopes of turning a couple more sets of ears his way.
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The Rollers went through a lot of members in their first five years or so, before Rollermania took hold, first in the U.K. and then here.
One of them was a keyboardist — a fairly rare thing in the Rollers’ universe, as they favored a singer, two-guitars, bass and drums lineup for most of their career.
His name was Billy Lyall, and he passed through the group fairly quickly in 1970-71, along with a guitarist named Dave Paton.
One account I’ve read claims that Lyall and Paton considered themselves serious musicians, and were put off by the teenybop aspect of the band.
Subsequent events support the first half of that sentence, if not necessarily the second. Lyall and Paton went on to form Pilot, an Edinburgh pop band that scored a Top 5 U.S. hit with “Magic” and a U.K. Number One hit with “January.”
From Pilot, Paton went on to a successful if low-profile pop career, recording with the Alan Parsons Project, Elton John and Rick Wakeman.
Lyall, for his part, recorded a solo album, Solo Casting, released in 1976 under the name William Lyall. (Session players on the album included Paton, Phil Collins and bassist Phil Chen, who played with Rod Stewart around the same time.)
I had absolutely no idea this album existed until about a week-and-a-half ago.
And y’know what? It’s an interesting, ambitious record, and pretty damn good in spots.
(Thankfully, someone uploaded it to YouTube. You won’t find it in the iTunes Store, and a used CD on Amazon will run you $50 a shot.)
Lyall’s tunes bounce unpredictably from style to style and section to section in a way that reminds me a little bit of Dennis Wilson’s. There’s some pop, and some prog, and some rock, and some piano pounding.
At other times, his music reminds me of Rundgren — none more so than “Don’t Be Silly,” with its heavily processed vocal swoops, creative backing vocal interjections and biting rock guitar solo:
“Us” is cut from similar cloth. Or, to use a better simile, it flows from a deep, lush, familiar well of Seventies pop. Except for some of the weirder vocal effects, it would have been right at home riding the singles charts alongside “Afternoon Delight”:
The title track of Solo Casting starts off as midtempo pop, drops into a slower middle section, emerges almost Fifties-flavored with a sax solo, then fakes an ending and pops back up again, ending for real on a sustaining pillow of strings and piano:
“Sleep,” meanwhile, is a lengthy orchestral instrumental built around a repeating piano pattern. It doesn’t really make me think of sleep, per se, but it’s a nice wide-screen piece of writing and arranging that would play well in a big-budget movie:
Unfortunately, Lyall died in 1989. And as far as I can discover, Solo Casting is his only solo recorded legacy. I would have liked to hear more from him.
Perhaps the age of the MP3 reissue will someday make Solo Casting readily available again — just as the digital music age gave new life to Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue and Van Duren’s Are You Serious?
I definitely think it’s a record I could spend some time with, if I could find it in a format that allowed that.
And maybe a re-release would bring some attention to a musician who deserves to be more than just a footnote to the Bay City Rollers story.