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The Bathers iTunes Tracks

The Bathers

+ {Bloomsday}

When Glasgow’s FRIENDS AGAIN couldn’t quite live up to their name and split in 1985, frontman Chris Thomson was somewhat left out in the cold when 3/5 of his former compadres (James Grant, Paul McGeechan and Stuart Kerr) chose to fashion out LOVE AND MONEY. Musical differences aside it was still a blow to Thomson’s ego, but by 1986, he’d carved out a swimmingly fresh proposition in the shape of The BATHERS.
The singer-songwriter/guitarist was joined by bassist Sam Loup and drummer James Locke (a former cohort of PAUL HAIG), as the trio were picked up by the ascendant Go! Discs, a label probably more famous for signings BILLY BRAGG and The HOUSEMARTINS. `Fancy Dress’ was chosen as The BATHERS’ debut 45, and although it flopped when released in April ’87, it proved to be one of the best songs on their parent album, UNUSUAL PLACES TO DIE (1987) {*7}.
Many followers of Thomson’s previous post-Postcard pop group were baffled to hear the once nicest of singers turn in a TOM WAITS-via-VAN MORRISON-esque display. Penned while in Rome, maybe the Mediterranean climate was to blame, but the man and his vocal chords had undergone a complete transformation. Featuring 4th member Douglas MacIntyre (ex-JAZZATEERS) as guest guitarist, critics across the board hailed the album as a triumphant, modern interpretation of pop classicism, yet its commercial potential was subsequently buried amid internal problems with their label. `Candide’, `Perpetual Adoration’, `Fortuny’, et al, were all faves of their Caledonian crew of loyal fans, but it just couldn’t match the sales of records by the likes of WET WET WET.
History repeated itself almost three years on, as the similarly acclaimed SWEET DECEIT (1990) {*8} fell victim to a period of instability at Island Records. Remember that the label also stocked TOM WAITS, and while it wasn’t a crime to copy the American (tell that to a certain sued TV ad), Thomson was respectful in his own Scottish brogue interpretation. Circulating around the college campus areas of Scotland’s central belt, the concept record about romance, from its tender beginnings to its inevitable breakup, was catered for in great songs such as `Desire Regained’, `The Idyll Off Crown Circus’ and a re-vamped `Perpetual Adoration’.
Whether a bit of pressure was on Thomson to regain momentum with his Island masters, then he was almost immediately back in action in the form of an Anglo supergroup side-project, BLOOMSDAY, featuring two members of LLOYD COLE & THE COMMOTIONS: Neil Clark (guitar) and Stephen Irvine (drums), plus MADNESS/VOICE OF THE BEEHIVE bassist, Mark “Bedders” Bedford. The short-lived quartet cut a one-off album, FORTUNY (1990) {*6}, before Chris found himself out of contract and a tad perplexed as to know why.
Licking his wounds, The BATHERS ensemble resumed duties with 1994’s LAGOON BLUES {*7}. The first of a series of albums for the German Marina imprint, the record bore all the hallmarks of Thomson’s passionate muse: orchestral strings, heart-tinkling ivories, lovingly crafted arrangements and a Europhile’s vision of doomed romance, while additional alumni gathered to boost the trio: namely Neil Clark (guitar), Gordon Wilson (drums), Fermina Haze and Jon Turner (keyboards), Iain White and Mark Wilson (violin/viola) and Nico Bruce (double bass).
Having once again attracted a cult following of frothing critics and discerning fans, Chris and Co didn’t disappoint them with this album… and number four: SUNPOWDER (1995) {*7}; Elizabeth Fraser (of COCTEAU TWINS) guesting on a handful of elegantly lovelorn musings, including the opening three, `Danger In Love’, `The Dutch Venus’ and `The Angel On Ruskin’. 1997’s KELVINGROVE BABY {*7} was the final BATHERS set for Marina before Thomson and friends inked a fresh deal with the London-based Wrasse label (home to Ladysmith Black Mambazo). Exchanging the bright city lights of Glasgow for the emotional kitchen-sink melodrama of the suburbs through lush and jazz-inflected songs such as `Girlfriend’, `The Fragrance Remains The Same’ and `If Love Could Last Forever’, The BATHERS were awash with class and majesty.
Featuring an expanded, experienced line-up of guitarist Callum McNair (ex-APPLES, ex-SYNDICATE, ex-Bee Bee Cee), drummer Hazel Morrison, bassist Ken McHugh, trumpeter Robert Henderson and saxophonist Barry Overstreet (as the main nucleus), as well as contributions from BELLE AND SEBASTIAN’s Isobel Campbell (not yet a solo star) and Richard Colburn, 1999’s PANDEMONIA {*7} again had the critics in rapture. Early TOM WAITS, “Astral Weeks”-period VAN MORRISON and indigenous mood merchants The BLUE NILE were all consistent comparisons. To this list, one could probably add TINDERSTICKS, PORTISHEAD (for `The Belle Sisters’) and in Thomson’s wracked vocals, vague hints of BOWIE. All high praise indeed but praise which was, by and large, merited. Although Thomson’s vocal/lyrical ruminations occasionally veer too close to pretension for comfort, The BATHERS’ languid, atmospheric tapestries of strings, piano, guitar and occasional brass surely ranked them as one of Scotland’s most sophisticated pop purveyors. Pity then, that the re-workings of all their ones-that-got-away, THE BEST OF THE BATHERS – DESIRE REGAINED (2001) {*7}, was the group’s swansong set.
© MC Strong 2002-GSM // rev-up MCS Aug2013

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