THE BATHERS-KELVINGROVE BABY.

THE BATHERS-KELVINGROVE BABY.

2015 marks the thirtieth anniversary of a Scottish musical institution, The Bathers. They were formed in Glasgow, in 1985, by singer, songwriter and troubled troubadour Chris Thomson and released six albums between 1987 and 1999. The Bathers fifth album was Kelvingrove Baby, a minor classic, that’s one of the finest Scottish albums ever released. Sadly, Kelvingrove Baby and The Bathers is a story of what might have been.

With Chris Thompson at the helm, the Glasgow based quintet could’ve, and should’ve, been one the biggest Scottish bands ever. After all, The Bathers music is articulate, beautiful, dramatic, ethereal, elegiac, emotive, languid, literate and melancholy. This is music for those that have loved, lost and survived to tell the tale. Sadly, however, The Bathers never reached the heady heights their music deserved. As a result, the six albums The Bathers released between 1987s Unusual Places To Die and 1999s Pandemonia, never reached the audience it deserved. For Chris Thomson, history was repeating itself.

The Bathers were formed in Glasgow in 1985. They formed after Chris Thomson’s previous group Friends Again split up. Initially, The Bathers were a vehicle for singer-songwriter Chris Thomson. However, in 1987, The Bathers secured their first record deal with Go! Discs Records, and released their debut album Unusual Places To Die.

Unusual Places To Die. 

For their debut album Unusual Places To Die, Chris Thomson penned ten tracks. These tracks were recorded by The Bathers’ original lineup. This included bassist Sam Loup, drummer James Locke and Chris on guitar and keyboards. Joining The Bathers, were Michael Peden of The Chimes, Douglas Macintyre and James Grant of Love and Money. They played walk on parts on Unusual Places To Die, which was released later in 1987.

When Unusual Places To Die was released in 1987, it was to widespread critical acclaim. Chris Thomson’s songs seemed to strike a nerve with critics. They described the music as variously engaging, emotive and dramatic. One critic went as far to wonder whether Unusual Places To Die was the work of a genius? Despite this critical acclaim Unusual Places To Die wasn’t a commercial success. This was nothing to do with the music though.

Instead, Unusual Places To Die fell victim to the internal politics within the record company. As a result, sales of Unusual Places To Die were poor. Given the critical response to Unusual Places To Die, this was disappointing. So, it wasn’t a surprise when The Bathers switched labels for their sophomore album, Sweet Deceit.

Sweet Deceit.

After the Go Discs! internal problems sabotaged the release of Unusual Places To Die, The Bathers moved to Island Records, where the recorded Sweet Deceit.

Sweet Deceit was an epic album, featuring fifteen tracks. Chris wrote thirteen of the tracks, and cowrote the other two. He co-produced Sweet Deceit with Keith Mitchell, and the album was released in 1990.

Three years had passed since Unusual Places To Die was released. The Bathers were back, and according to critics, better than ever. Sweet Deceit was described as impressionistic, beautiful and spellbinding. One critic, quite rightly referred to the album as a mini masterpiece. However, The Bathers had been here before with Unusual Places To Die.

On Sweet Deceit’s release, lightning struck twice for The Bathers. Sales of Sweet Deceit were disappointing. Despite the critically acclaimed reviews, Sweet Deceit seemed to pass record buyers by. For The Bathers, this was a huge disappointment. 

Especially when Island Records didn’t renew The Bathers’ contract. There would be another gap of three years before we heard from The Bathers again. However, Chris was still making music.

Following Sweet Deceit, Chris Thomson joined with two former members of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, Stephen Irvine and Neil Clark, to create a Scottish supergroup, Bloomsday. They released just one album, Fortuny, which is now regarded as a classic Scottish album. Just like The Bathers two previous albums, Bloomsday’s debut album, Fortuny, was released to critical acclaim. Unfortunately, commercial success eluded Fortuny. However, a more fruitful period was round the corner for The Bathers. 

Lagoon Blues.

After signing a record contract with a German record label Marina, the group released three albums in a four year period. In 1993, they released Lagoon Blues, their Marina debut.

Just like Sweet Deceit, Lagoon Blues was another epic album penned by Chris Thomson. It featured sixteen songs, which were the perfect showcase for Chris’ octave defying vocal. Accompanied by what was essentially The Bathers and friends, sixteen tracks were recorded at Palladium Studios, Edinburgh and mixed at Palladium Studios and Cava Studios, Glasgow. Once Lagoon Blues was completed, it was released in 1993.

On its release in 1993, critics remarked that Lagoon Blues was a more eclectic album. There were diversions into jazz-skiffle on Pissor, while the album opener Lagoon Blues showcased a string quartet. The strings would play an important part on Lagoon Blues, which was hailed as poetic, elegant, sumptuous and intense. The same critical acclaim accompanied Lagoon Blues, however, this time The Bathers’ music found a wider audience. It seemed after three albums, The Bathers’ star was in the ascendancy.

Sunpowder.

For The Bathers’ fourth album, and followup to Lagoon Blues, they returned with Sunpowder. It marked the debut of a new lineup of The Bathers. 

Sunpowder marked The Bathers’ debut of drummer and percussionist Hazel Morrison, keyboardist Carlo Scattini and string players Ian White and Mark Wilson. These new additions would change The Bathers’ sound greatly. Many people refer to this as the classic lineup of The Bathers. This classic lineup, plus guest artist ex-Cocteau Twin, Liz Fraser, who features on four tracks, made its debut on Sunpowder.

For Sunpowder, Chris Thomson had written eleven new songs. They were recorded a at Palladium Studios, Edinburgh. Chris and Keith Mitchell produced Sunpowder, which was released in 1995.

When Sunpowder was released, it received the same critical acclaim as The Bathers’ three previous albums. Sunpowder was called sumptuous, sensual, dramatic and ethereal. Liz Fraser, an honorary Bather was the perfect foil to Chris, forever the troubled, tortured troubadour. The result was, what was The Bathers most successful album, Sunpowder. That however, would change with Kelvingrove Baby.

Kelvingrove Baby.

Kelvingrove Baby would be The Bathers’ Marina swan-song. They were certainly eaving the German label on a high.

Chris Thomson had written thirteen new songs for Kelvingrove Baby, which was recorded in Glasgow and Edinburgh. It was at these locations that The Bathers’ expanded lineup reconvened.

Picking up where they left off, were The Bathers’ new lineup, plus a few friends. The Bathers’ rhythm section included bassists Sam Loup, Douglas MacIntyre and Ken McHugh, drummers Hazel Morrison and James Locke, who also played percussion. Joining them in the rhythm section were guitarist Colin McIlroy. They were joined by accordionist, pianist and and organist Carlo Scattini, string players Ian White and Mark Wilson. Fermina Haze plays organ, James Grant of Love and Money plays acoustic guitar and with with Hazel Morrison and Justin Currie of Del Amitri, adds backing vocals. Chris  plays acoustic guitar, piano and adds his unmistakable vocals. He produced most of Kelvingrove Baby, apart from Thrive, which was produced by James Locke. Once Kelvingrove Baby was completed, it was released in 1997.

Just like each of The Bathers’ four previous albums, Kelvingrove Baby was released to overwhelming critical acclaim. Kelvingrove Baby was hailed The Bathers’ finest hour. It seemed everything had been leading up to Kelvingrove Baby.

Opening Kelvingrove Baby, is the James Locke produced Thrive. Just a strummed acoustic guitar takes centre-stage, while subtle washes of keyboards flit in and out. They provide the backdrop for Chris Thomson’s vocal. For the first time on Kelvingrove Baby, Chris dawns the role of troubled troubadour, playing it to perfection. It’s as if he’s experience, lived through, and survived someone leaving him. His vocal is full of emotion of swells of strings sweep in. They’re the perfect accompaniment as Chris delivers the lyrics “up on the west coast waiting, I wear the rain like tears.” In doing so, Chris’ hurt and loneliness is there for all to see and hear.

Girlfriend is akin to a devotional from the pen of Chris Thomson. A piano and bass probe, while a cymbal is caresses. This sets the stage for Chris’ tender, emotive vocal. There’s almost disbelief in his voice that he’s found someone to call his own. He’s fallen head over heels, hence lyrics like “I’m the kind of guy, whose dreams rise unashamed, who will love you ’til the end, cos you’re my girlfriend.” With just a subtle,  meandering piano, understated drums, washes of ethereal harmonies and crystalline guitar, Chris delivers a heartfelt devotional.

If Love Could Last Forever is the perfect showcase for The Bathers’ unique brand of cerebral, literate and poetic pop. After all, who apart from The Bathers write: “they flutter down like fireflies, tugging at your sleeves, somehow rise to shame you, bring you to your knees?” It’s a beautiful, soul-searching song about love. That’s the case from the opening bars, when an acoustic guitar is strummed, a guitar chimes and drums mark the beat.  Then, longingly and hopefully, Chris, accompanied by cooing harmonies, sings “ If Love Could Last Forever, forever and a day.”  Effortlessly, Chris breathes life, meaning and emotion into what’s a timeless paean.

While East Of East Delier has an understated arrangement, it allows Chris to unleash his full and impressive vocal range. Drums are caressed and a piano meanders. Meanwhile, a bass adds an element of darkness. This  is reflected in the hurt, loneliness and regret in Chris’ vocal. His vocal soars above the arrangement, with frustration omnipresent at the love he once had and lost.

Accompanied by firmly strummed acoustic guitar No Risk No Glory, unfolds. A guitar chimes as fingers flit up and down the fretboard. Meanwhile, Chris’ vocal is a mixture of power, emotion and hurt. The hurt is obvious from the moment he sings “I was born to love her,” it’s a case of infatuation and unrequited love. With harmonies, an accordion and guitars for company, Chris delivers a cathartic outpouring of hurt. He wouldn’t have it any other way, singing ruefully “no risk, no glory.”

Dramatic and moody describes the dark, but sparse piano lead introduction to Once Upon A Time On The Rapenburg. If a picture tells a thousand stories, so does a piano. It sets the scene for Chris, as once again, he dawns the role of troubled troubadour. With shimmering strings and a deliberate gothic piano for company, Chris remembers the love affair that almost was.

Kelvingrove Baby is the centre-piece of Kelvingrove Baby. It’s a seven minute epic about an unnamed femme fatale from Glasgow’s West End who toyed with Chris’ affections. From just a strummed guitar and subtle piano, the arrangement builds. The piano plays a more prominent role, adding an element of drama. After ninety seconds drums pound and ethereal harmonies sweep in. They give way to Chris’ worldweary, lived-in vocal. Meanwhile, Hazel Morrison adds ethereal, elegiac harmonies. This seems to spur Chris on. Using his wide vocal range, he unleashes a needy vocal tour de force. Hopefully, he sings “someday I know, that you’ll be back…I don’t know, maybe then you can be my Kelvingrove Baby.” Behind him, the epic, ethereal and dramatic arrangement is the perfect accompaniment for what’s without doubt, The Bathers’ finest hour on Kelvingrove Baby.

Memories come flooding back to Chris on Girl From The Polders. Instantly, he’s transported back to another time and place. That’s when they first met, and where “I first kissed you.” With the rhythm section and piano providing a backdrop, Chris delivers another hopeful, needy vocal. He hopes that when summer returns, and heads back to Poolewe, his “songbird, melodious and pure,” is there. 

Against a backdrop of quivering strings, Chris delivers a vocal on Lost Certainties that’s equal parts power, passion, frustration and sadness. Below the vocal and strings, the rhythm section drives the arrangement along, adding to the drama and intensity of this soul-baring refrain about a bewitching woman.

After the intensity of Lost Certainties, Dial has a much looser, laid-back sound. Chris eschews the power of the previous track, as The Bathers deliver an understated, spacious, melodic track. Hazel Morrison, James Grant and Justin Currie add harmonies that are yin to Chris’ yang, as he almost croons his way through Dial.

Orchestral strings and a pounding rhythm section set the scene for Chris’ vocal on The Fragrance Remains Insane. There’s an intensity in Chris’ lovelorn vocal, on this tale of love gone wrong. He’s struggling to come to terms with the breakup of his relationship, despite his claims “that I’m not crazy about you.”

If Chris Thomson had been born twenty years earlier, he’d have been a crooner. That’s apparent on Hellespont In A Storm, where he literally croons his way through the track. Accompanied by washes of accordion, swathes of strings, a subtle rhythm section and acoustic guitar. As Chris croons, emotion and regret are omnipresent. Especially when he sings “spread your wings, above you, the time has come to fly away, where I can’t follow.” Given this is the ultimate sacrifice, the beauty and emotion is almost overwhelming.

The piano lead Twelve, closes Kelvingrove Baby. Chris lays bare his soul, accompanied by his trusty piano. Later, swathes of lush strings sweep in. They provide the accompaniment to a telephone conversation, on this story of everlasting love.

For The Bathers, Kelvingrove Baby was a musical coming of age. It’s as if everything they’d been working towards was leading to Kelvingrove Baby. The music was variously atmospheric, cerebral, dramatic, ethereal, heartfelt, hopeful, literate, needy and sensual. It’s also tinged with pathos, regret and sadness. No wonder, given the tales of love found and lost. They’re brought to life by The Bathers’ very own troubled troubadour Chris Thompson. Along with the rest of The Bathers, they’re responsible for Kelvingrove Baby, a truly enthralling album.

On Kelvingrove Baby, the music is captivating. So much so, that you’re drawn into Kelvingrove Baby’s lush, atmospheric sound. Having captured your attention, The Bathers don’t let go. Before long, the listener has fallen in love. They fall in love with music that’s hauntingly beautiful, emotive, dramatic and pensive. Much of this is thanks to Chris Thomson’s peerless vocal performances. He plays the role of the troubled troubadour, to a tee. His worldweary, emotive, heartfelt and impassioned vocal sounds as if it’s lived the lyrics he’s singing about. Lived them not just once, but several times over. As a result, Kelvingrove Baby is akin to a snapshot into Chris Thomson’s life, and very soul. Indeed, Kelvingrove Baby sounds a very personal album from The Bathers’ troubled troubadour, Chris Thomson. Kelvingrove Baby was a career high from The Bathers. However, two years later, somehow, The Bathers managed to top Kelvingrove Baby.

Pandemonia, which was released in 1999, was The Bathers’ swan-song. Just like Kelvingrove Baby, the critically acclaimed Pandemonia, should’ve transformed The Bathers’ career. Sadly, despite oozing quality, The Bathers’ cerebral, literate and melodic brand of chamber pop failed to find the wider audience it deserved. As a result, The Bathers remained almost unknown apart from loyal band of discerning music lovers. 

After Pandemonia, most people expected The Bathers to return after a couple of years with their seventh album. That wasn’t to be. Two years became three, became five, ten and fifteen. Now, sixteen years have passed since the release of Pandemonia. Throughout the last sixteen years, there have been rumours that another Bathers album is in the pipeline. With every year, that looks even more unlikely. However, maybe in the year that marks the thirtieth anniversary of The Bathers, they’ll return with their seventh album. We can only hope. After all, The Bathers have always strived to do things their way.

The Bathers are unlike most bands. They’re enigmatic, almost reclusive and publicity shy. Quite simply, The Bathers aren’t exactly your normal band. Not for them the rock “n” roll lifestyle favoured by other bands. In many ways, musical fashions and fads didn’t affect them. Their attitude was almost contrarian. Albums were recorded slowly and methodically. It was as if The Bathers were striving for perfection. On Kelvingrove Baby and Pandemonia, they almost achieved the impossible. What’s more they did it their way.

This means The Bathers aren’t willing to jump onto a musical bandwagon in pursuit of fame, fortune or starlets. Quite the opposite. It seemed to be their way or no way, in the pursuit of musical perfection. By perfection this means music that cerebral, dramatic, emotive, ethereal, literate and melodic. That describes The Bathers’ fifth album Kelvingrove Baby perfectly. Kelvingrove Baby saw The Bathers strive for perfection, and very nearly, achieve the impossible. 

THE BATHERS-KELVINGROVE BABY.

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2 Comments

  1. Kevan

    Nice piece Derek. Been a fan since Unusual Places to Die. Sad that The Bathers did not achieve the success they deserved.

    • Hi Kevan,

      Thanks for your comments. Glad that you enjoyed my review of Kelvingrove Baby. It’s one of my favourite albums.

      Like you, I’ve always felt that The Bathers should’ve been a much more successful band. Sadly, that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. Not unless Chris gets the band back together, and records another album. However, it doesn’t look like that will ever happen. We can but hope.

      Regards,
      Derek.

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