THE BATHERS ARE BACK, AND ON THE COMEBACK TRAIL.

THE BATHERS ARE BACK, AND ON THE COMEBACK TRAIL.

Nowadays, anniversaries are a cause for celebration in music. They’re also the perfect excuse for record companies to reissue an album. Especially, if it happens to be a the twenty-fifth or thirtieth anniversary of an album’s release. This gives a record company the perfect excuse for record companies to reissue albums on a myriad of formats. That was the case last year, and in previous years.

Last year, not only were their reissues celebrating the twenty-fifth or thirtieth anniversary of an album’s release, but reissues celebrating the thirty-fifth and forty-fifth anniversary of an albums release. For the umpteenth time, record buyers were expected to by yet another copy of an album they’ve bought countless times before. Many people did, and welcomed what were often, lavish and luxuriant reissues. They were seen as the perfect way to celebrate a whole host of important musical anniversaries. Sadly, one important anniversary passed unnoticed.

2015 marked 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.

Between 1987 and 1999, The Bathers released six albums of critically acclaimed music. Despite this critical acclaim, The Bathers remained Scottish music’s best kept musical secrets. Things should’ve been so different for The Bathers.

With Chris Thomson at the helm, the Glasgow based quintet could’ve, and should’ve, been one the biggest Scottish bands ever. After all, The Bathers music was variously articulate, beautiful, dramatic, ethereal and elegiac It was also 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. Since then, it’s all been quiet on The Bathers front.

After Pandemonia, many critics thought that The Bathers would return with a new album after two or three years. The Bathers never were, the most prolific band. Instead, The Bathers were like master craftsman, gradually creating a mini musical masterpiece. Sadly, not this time.

Two years became three, and three became four. Soon, five years had passed. Five became ten, and ten became fifteen. By now, many Bathers’ devotees had realise that it was highly unlikely that The Bathers would release another album. It seemed The Bathers’ story was over. Or was it?

Last year, I heard that Chris Thomson was in the process of recording some new music with The Bathers. These rumours weren’t new. Every couple of years they seemed to circulate. This time, though, there seemed some substance to the rumours. However, surely The Bathers weren’t on the comeback trail?

Then on 20th October 2015, came the announcement that The Bathers would be playing at The Celtic Connections festival on 21st January 2016. Cue celebrations from Bathers fans all over the globe. Flights are booked by expats, who have decided to head back to Caledonia to see The Bathers as the hit the comeback trail. It would be the first Bathers gig in a long time.

The last time The Bathers took to the stage, was with James Grant of Love and Money in June 2015. They even recorded a love session for BBC Scotland. However, nobody thought that The Bathers were about to awake from their slumbers.

Three days before Christmas, came the announcement that The Bathers were playing a second date at The Celtic Connections festival on 22nd January 2016 at The Mackintosh Church. However, that wasn’t the end of the good news. There was more to come.

The rumours that The Bathers were about to release a new album were getting stronger. It looked increasingly possible that The Bathers were going to release their seventh album, and first in seventeen years. This was almost too good to be true. However, it seems that The Bathers were release their comeback album later in 2016, some thirty-one years after Chris Thomson founded The Bathers.

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.

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.

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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.

For 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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Thomson 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.

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 Thomson. 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. Musically, Kelvingrove Baby was a career high from The Bathers. 

The Bathers fifth album Kelvingrove Baby, was unquestionably a minor classic. It was one of the finest Scottish albums ever released. Sadly, Kelvingrove Baby and The Bathers is a story of what might have been.

Sadly, Kelvingrove Baby didn’t sell in vast quantities. If ever an album deserved to reach a much wider audience, it was Kelvingrove Baby. This almost flawless epic passed almost unnoticed, except in The Bathers’ native Scotland. Even there, it was only discerning music lovers that embraced Kelvingrove Baby. No wonder.

Kelvingrove Baby was filled with devotionals, paeans and songs about unrequited love. They sat along tales of  betrayal, hurt and heartbreak. Kelvingrove Baby was an emotional roller coaster. It was brought to life by Chris Thomson’s lived-in, worldweary vocals, which were augmented by ethereal, elegiac harmonies. Despite The Bathers’ having released what many critics regarded as their Magnus Opus, they still hadn’t made a commercial breakthrough. All they could hope was their next album, Pandemonia, would result in a change in fortune for Scotland’s best kept musical secret.

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Pandemonia.

Two years passed before The Bathers returned with their sixth album, Pandemonia. By then, The Bathers had signed to Wrasse Records. Maybe this would coincide with a change in The Bathers’ fortunes?

That should’ve been the case. Pandemonia was a fourteen track epic. However, it wasn’t just the work of Chris Thomson. Instead, Chris, Calum McNair, Alison Watt, Terence Kilmarton and Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrief had all laboured long and hard to write what what would become, a career defining album, Pandemonia.

Recording of Pandemonia had taken place mostly in Glasgow, Scotland’s musical capital. At St. Vincent Crescent, CaVa and Hyndland Church Hall Glasgow tracks were laid dawn. Sometimes, The Bathers headed east, to Drummond Place, Edinburgh. That’s where The Bathers began recording the fourteen tracks on Pandemonia,

There were a few changes to The Bathers lineup, The Bathers’ core lineup was augmented by a few friends. This included strings and horns. Even the rhythm section of drummer, percussionist and vocalist Hazel Morrison;  bassist Ken McHugh and Callum McNair on guitar, Arco bass and backing vocals was augmented. Bassist Mario Caribé; drummer Richard Colburn and Neil Cameron on double bass all played walk on parts. They were joined by percussionist David Adam; saxophonist Barry Overstreet, trumpeter Robert Henderson and violinists Davy Crichton and Ian White who also played viola. Adding vocals on three tracks was Catherine Leroy. However, Chris Thomson not only played acoustic guitar, piano and adds his unmistakable vocals, but produced Pandemonia. which was released in 1999.

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, Pandemonia remained almost unknown apart from loyal band of discerning music lovers. 

Those that bought Pandemonia discovered tales of adoration, admiration,and love from afar. Then there’s songs about deceit, heartbreak, hurt and love lost. Just like Kelvingrove Baby, an emotional roller coaster unfolds. The music is lush, ethereal, elegiac, dramatic and cinematic. It’s also very beautiful and emotive.

Glasgow’s troubled troubadour, Chris Thomson delivers a series of heartfelt, emotive vocal. It’s as if he’s lived the lyrics to this cinematic epic, set in Glasgow. On some tracks, Catherine Leroy co-stars, proving the perfect foil to Chris. They’re like a musical yin and yang. Mostly, though, it’s Chris that plays the starring role. However, this wouldn’t be possible without the rest of The Bathers.

They provide the backdrops to Chris’ vocals. They frame his vocals with the lushest of strings, melancholy horns and ethereal, elegiac harmonies. It’s captivating, enchanting, powerful. So much so, that the listener can’t help but empathise with the love lost, deceit, betrayal and regret. Other times, the music is hauntingly beautiful. That’s not surprising, as Pandemonia finds The Bathers at their very best.

That was the case from opening bars of Twenty-Two to the closing notes of Pandemonia, a thirteen minute epic. In between, The Bathers produced what was, a career defining album. If Pandemonia had been their swan-song, then The Bathers had saved the best to last. Sadly, this musical masterpiece passed most people by.

It was a familiar story for The Bathers, when Pandemonia failed to commercially. Just like Kelvingrove Baby, Pandemonia should’ve been the start of a glittering career. Sadly, Pandemonia sell in the vast quantities that The Bathers’ talent deserved. Instead, it remained one Scottish music’s hidden gems.

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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, seventeen years have passed since the release of Pandemonia, and at last, The Bathers have awaked from their slumbers, and have decided to hit the comeback trail.

The first step on The Bathers’ comeback comes tonight, at The Mackintosh Church, in Glasgow. It’s one of countless events being held at The Celtic Connections festival. Then on Friday 22nd January 2016, The Bathers return to The Mackintosh Church, and continue their comeback. Hopefully, the next step in The Bathers’ comeback will the release of 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 achieved the impossible. 

THE BATHERS ARE BACK, AND ON THE COMEBACK TRAIL

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