THE BATHERS-SWEET DECEIT.
THE BATHERS-SWEET DECEIT.
Usually, the music business is quick to celebrate anniversary. Especially, a thirtieth anniversary. That usually, is a cause for celebration, and would result in a reissue of all the band’s albums.
Each album would be remastered and released in various formats. Usually, there’s lavish double albums, featuring outtakes, unreleased tracks and live tracks. Then there’s box sets and vinyl versions released on heavyweight vinyl. I say usually. However, in the case of The Bathers, their thirtieth anniversary is passing almost unnoticed.
That’s a great shame. The Bathers are, without doubt, a Scottish musical institution. They were formed in Glasgow, in 1985, by singer, songwriter and troubled troubadour Chris Thompson and released six albums between 1987 and 1999, including Sweet Deceit which was released twenty-five years ago in 1990. Sadly, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of Sweet Deceit is passing unnoticed.
Twenty-five years after the release of Sweet Deceit, and sixteen years since The Bathers released their swan song Pandemonia, occasionally there are rumours of a comeback. They never come to anything. It seems unlikely that we’ll ever hear from The Bathers again. That’s a great shame, as undoubtably, The Bathers were one the most talented bands of their generation.
With Chris Thompson at the helm, the Glasgow based quintet could’ve, and should’ve, been one the biggest Scottish bands ever. The Bathers music was 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 scaled the headiest of heights. Instead, The Bathers’ story is a case of what might have been. It begins in 1985.
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 Thompson 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 Thompson’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.
After the Go Discs! internal problems sabotaged the release of Unusual Places To Die, The Bathers moved to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records. It had a much higher profile that Go Discs! Island Records also had an illustrious roster. Previously, Island Records had been home to everyone from Nick Drake and John Martyn to Bob Marley and The Wailers to U2. The Bathers were following in the footsteps of some of the biggest names when they began work on Sweet Deceit.
Despite the critical acclaim that accompanied their debut album Unusual Places To Die, the album wasn’t a commercial success. So, Chris Thompson decided to rethink how The Bathers approach their sophomore album, Sweet Deceit. Now signed to a major label, he didn’t want to repeat past mistakes.
Chris was determined that The Bathers brought their A-Game to the studio. He and Keith Mitchell had penned fifteen tracks. This would include some of The Bathers’ best known tracks, including Perpetual Adoration, Two Cats On A Piano and Desire Regained. It seemed Chris and Keith Mitchell had hit a rich vein of form. Hopefully, this would continue when The Bathers entered the studio.
Just like Unusual Places To Die, Sweet Deceit was recorded mostly in Glasgow. There were occasional excursions to the “other side,” with some sessions taking place in Edinburgh. Chris played guitar and keyboards and added lead vocals. He was joined by bassist Sam Loup and drummer James Locke. Other musicians made a guest appearances as Sweet Deceit took shape. Producing Sweet Deceit were Chris and Keith Mitchell. They honed what they hoped would be their epic, breakthrough album. It was ready for release 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 in 1990, 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 for Chris Thompson. He cowrote and co-produced Sweet Deceit. He also poured his heart out on Sweet Deceit, delivering a series of soul-baring performances. That had been the case from the opening bars of The Pursuit Of An Orchid. Literally, Chris threw himself into the song, and gave something of himself. This continued on Two Cats On The Piano and Memory Fever. They were captivating short vignettes from the Glasgow born troubadour. This continued on the stark but compelling For The Delicious C and Desire Regained, which became a Bathers classic. The Bathers it seemed, could do no wrong.
Certainly not on Get Out Of Life. It was quite different from the understated sound of the previous tracks. The arrangement had a fuller sound, and more than hinted at the direction that The Bathers would take. Against this arrangement, Chris delivered what was his most heartfelt vocal. It was as if he had lived and survived the lyrics. Pistol Crazed with its jaunty arrangement, sees the return of Chris Thompson, troubled troubadour. He breathes life and meaning into the lyrics. Then the ethereal beauty of The Wreck In The Day sets the scene for the balladic beauty that’s Reason To Feel. It’s one of the most underrated tracks in The Bathers’ back-catalogue. After this, Chris returns to the past.
Memory Fever 2 picks up where Memory Fever left off. Chris delivers a vampish, soul-baring vocal. So is The Idyll Off Crown Circus, where Chris delivers a despairing vocal against a piano lead arrangement. From there, Chris moves onto one of The Bathers’ finest songs, Perpetual Adoration. It features a needy, hopeful vocal, while harmonies and acoustic guitar accompany and comfort Chris. He then combines drama and emotion on Sweet Deceit. Although it’s only thirty-nine seconds long, it leaves a lasting impression. That’s the case with uptempo, poppy sounding The Honeysuckle Rose. Then The Bathers close Sweet Deceit with the wistful and elegiac beauty of On The Steps At Park Circus. Its beauty is breathtaking and leaves you wondering why Sweet Deceit wasn’t a commercial success?
Following the commercial failure of Sweet Deceit, Island Records didn’t renew The Bathers’ contract. For Chris Thompson and Co. this was a huge blow. Lightning had struck twice. It would be another three years before we heard from The Bathers again.
Following Sweet Deceit, Chris Thompson 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.
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 Thompson. 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.
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 Thompson 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 would be The Bathers’ Marina swan-song. They were certainly leaving the German label on a high.
Chris Thompson 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. The Bathers and friends got to work, and eventually, had their Marina swan-song 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.
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 Thompson’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. That was the case on The Bathers’ swan-song Pandemonia.
Just two years after the release of Kelvingrove Baby, The Bathers released their sixth album Pandemonia. It featured fourteen new songs from the pen of Chris Thompson. They had been recorded at Cava Studios, in Glasgow. That was where The Bathers’ final hour take place.
When critics heard Pandemonia, they realised that this was a career defining album. Just like previous albums, critical acclaim accompanied the release of Pandemonia. Critics exhausted superlatives describing Pandemonia. They were almost lost for words, describing what would become a lost classic.
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 from the opening bars of Twenty-Two, right through to the closing notes of Pandemonia, Pandemonia failed to find the audience it deserves. Here was an album that was cerebral,
ethereal, literate, melancholy and melodic. Pandemonia was also enchanting and captivating. It was impossible not to be swept away by its charms. Sadly, The Bathers’ brand of chamber pop passed most people by. They failed to understand its subtly and beauty. For The Bathers, this was the end of the road.
After releasing six albums in ten years, The Bathers career was at a crossroad. The problem was, nobody new this. Everyone 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, and twenty-five since Sweet Deceit.
It’s only now that people are fully appreciating The Bathers’ music. Now, more and more people want to discover or rediscover The Bathers’ music, especially their early albums like Sweet Deceit. This beautiful, captivating, enchanting and impressionistic album is a forgotten classic. That shouldn’t be the case. Sadly, it is. There’s a reason for this.
Most of The Bathers’ albums are extremely difficult to find. Only their Kelvingrove Baby and Pandemonia are available for affordable prices. The Bathers’ other four albums are rarities, which are now collectors items. When they do become available, the prices are beyond most people. What is needed, is a comprehensive reissue program of The Bathers’ six albums. That would’ve been the perfect way to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of The Bathers, and the twenty-fifth anniversary of Sweet Deceit’s release. Sadly, a reissue program might be easier said than done.
The Bathers’ six albums were released on four different labels, that could prove problematic. However, it would be well worth the time and effort, because a new generation of music fans are waiting to discover The Bathers’ music. Then they would no longer be one of Scottish music’s best kept secrets. However, The Bathers being The Bathers, that seems unlikely.
Just like The Blue Nile, The Bathers were always determined to do things their way. They were different from most bands. They’re enigmatic, almost reclusive and publicity shy. The Bathers aren’t like most bands.
Throughout a career that’s lasted thirty years, The Bathers’ have ploughed their own furrow. They didn’t head for London, seeking fame and fortune. Nor did The Bathers revel in the rock “n” roll lifestyle. Instead, they did things their way, and adopted a contrarian approach to music. Whether that worked depends on how you measure success.
Record companies measure success by records sold. That’s why Island Records dropped The Bathers after Sweet Deceit sold badly. However, Sweet Deceit was a minor classic, and is one The Bathers’ finest albums. That’s because they did things their way. This was the case throughout their career. Albums were recorded slowly and methodically, as The Bathers were sought musical perfection. Time and time, they came so close. That was the case on Sweet Deceit, Sunpowder, Kelvingrove Baby and Pandemonia. Somehow, The Bathers almost achieved the impossible, and what’s more they did it their way. For The Bathers, and their many fans, that equates to success. While The Bathers’ neither enjoyed number one singles nor million selling albums, they created six critically acclaimed albums, including Sweet Deceit, a forgotten classic, which they released twenty-five years ago in 1990.
THE BATHERS-SWEET DECEIT.