Tuesday, 23 April, 2024 in Music

Into Live Music Review: The Bathers at FRETS

Concert: The Bathers
Support: The Kingfishers
Venue: Strathaven Hotel, FRETS Concerts
Date: 22 March 2024

Tonight’s double header was the latest event put together by FRETS Concerts at The Strathaven Hotel and as we had the promise of The Bathers playing a unique setlist as well as a rare live outing for The Kingfishers, this promised to be an extra special occasion.

The Kingfishers were one of many fantastic pop bands to emerge from Scotland in the early 1980s, with a sound that sits somewhere between Aztec Camera and The Pale Fountains. All things being equal, they should be as well-known as both those bands, however they managed to split up before any commercial output hit the record stores! Thankfully, the songs they recorded at the time were finally released in 2023 on their album Reflections in a Silver Sound and showcase a collection of very cool post-Postcard style tunes.

The Kingfishers

Most of the short set covered the album, with the tracks Eye Of The Needle and Lapwing particular standouts. The band were on top form, sounding great with Douglas MacIntyre’s rhythmic acoustic guitar a real highlight. Finishing their set off with a Buffalo Springfield cover (On The Way Home) was an assured move and I look forward to seeing The Kingfishers play live again in the future.

The Bathers are one of those bands that are adored by those who know their music.  For those who don’t, they may well be the greatest band they’ve never heard (after Memorial Device, of course) –  one who, for over 40 years, have released some of the finest chamber pop albums one is likely to hear.

I have been to quite a few “classic album” gigs, where the artists play their most popular album as recorded. I always imagine that when an artist puts an album together, the sequencing of the tracks is agonized over, what songs to open/close each side, where to put the signature hit, where to hide any fillers and so on. Therefore, playing them in the order the artist intended should generally feel right. Kelvingrove Baby definitely falls into that classic album category. 
The band, took to the stage around 8.30pm and, without introductions, started playing the first song from the album, Thrive, which starts with: 

She stood beside me on the windy drive. Kissed me sadly, then she waved goodbye.

It’s a first line to die for, a perfect introduction to a perfect song Live, it sounds even better, sympathetically played by the four-piece band that included Callum McNair on guitar & Nico Bruce on bass (the nephew of the legendary Cream singer/bass player Jack Bruce), all augmented by the haunting backing vocals of percussionist Hazel Morrison.

Hazel Morrison on drums.

The only slight concern I had was whether it would be possible to maintain this standard. Oh boy, it certainly was.

Girlfriend was cool, with plenty of added Commotions jangle, and If Love Could Last Forever had a real 60’s vibe to it, more upbeat than the album version, with a seemingly never ending guitar outro that was last heard wandering down towards Strathaven town centre.

East of East Delier was our next piece of ear candy. I’ve listened to the song hundreds of times, and I still have no idea where East Delier is (or isn’t) In many ways, this makes the song even more mysterious, with a beautiful world-weary vocal from Thomson.

I dreamt she came from Copenhagen, many miles away from here.
Now I know I was mistaken; she came from east of East Delier.

If The Bathers have a song that defines them, their Perfect Skin, or Oblivious, then for me it’s Kelvingrove Baby. More Glaswegian than Connolly, more International than Austin Powers. It’s seven minutes of unadulterated luxury that, just when you think it can’t get any better, ends with Morrison combining drum rolls and cymbal bashing with a gorgeous, operatic vocal. Imagine Karen Carpenter having an out of body experience and you’re halfway there.

Callum McNair

Special mention should go to both Once Upon A Time On the Rapenburg (a very rare live outing) and The Fragrance Remains The Same, during which Thomson appeared to only be with us in body, his eyes closed as he seemed to drift off somewhere us mere mortals could only wish to go to.  

When the last note from the final album track Twelve faded away, the audience showed their appreciation with a standing ovation, and very well deserved it was too.

After a quick break to towel down and replenish their glasses, the band returned for a second set that gave us some of the best songs from their back catalogue. It was especially nice to see the band play Unusual Places To Drive (one of their earliest recordings) next to the opening track from their latest album, the stunning Sirenesque which had a real Tom Waits feel to it. (the Waits influence pervades throughout the set). 

22 from the album Pandemonia finished off the main set with an upbeat flourish and a thunderclap snap of the snare drum from Morrison.

Douglas MacIntyre then joined the band for the last couple of songs, adding panache to both Ave The Leopards and Never Too Late. Special occasions deserve special songs and, much to the delight of everyone in the room, the ensemble finished the evening off with a joyous rendition of Honey At The Core, a song Thomson recorded around 40 years ago with his first band Friends Again.

Douglas McIntyre joins The Bathers for the finale.

FRETS gigs at Strathaven are always great and The Bathers gigs anywhere are always special. Combined, you have a truly unique and memorable experience and I’m sure everyone there felt it a privilege to be in attendance. 

 Chris Thomson said near the end of the gig that “We never imagined all those years ago that we would be playing Kelvingrove Baby live, in full. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did”. 
We did Chris. Maybe more.

Brian Davidson





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