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Bathers - (With Cowboy Mouth and Sugartown), Strathaven Hotel, Strathavan, 17/6/2022

  by John Clarkson

published: 31 / 7 / 2022

Bathers - (With Cowboy Mouth and Sugartown), Strathaven Hotel, Strathavan, 17/6/2022

Strathaven is not the most obvious place for a gig. The picturesque large village/small town lies seventeen miles south of Glasgow in rural South Lanarkshire. It does have a musical history of sorts. Scottish music hall star Harry Lauder lived much of his life in Strathaven, and there was a recording studio there in the 1970s and 1980s where both Orange Juice and Aztec Camera made early recordings. Until Douglas MacIntyre, however, brought Lloyd Cole there in 2019 in the first of his series of FRETS concerts, gigs in Strathaven were confined though to those by Saturday night pub performers. Since then MacIntyre, who was brought up in Strathaven and moved back there after years living in Glasgow and London, has single-handedly done much for its tourist industry, bringing visitors into its few coffee shops and restaurants and above all the twenty-two bedroom country house hotel where the gigs take place. Guitarist MacIntyre, who has worked as a session musician and played with dozens of bands including the Nectarine No. 9 and most recently The Sexual Objects and Port Sulphur as well as run the prolific Creeping Bent label, has dug deep into his address book for the FRETS concerts which take place about once a month. The Strathaven Hotel has hosted in its function room acts including Altered Images, Hipsway, James Grant, Tim Burgess and The Bluebells, and there are the BMX Bandits, Arab Strap and Michael Head to come in forthcoming months. As FRETS’ reputation has spread, the 220-capacity gigs have largely sold out, and music fans have travelled far and wide from across the UK, booking themselves into the hotel, as well as coming down from Glasgow for a night out. Part of the appeal of FRETS’ concerts is that they have developed a sit-down atmosphere in which fans are encouraged to really listen to the largely acoustic music in an intimate setting. It signifies a lot that by 7.15 p.m., quarter an hour after doors have opened, and the time the first act Sugartown comes on stage, that the room is already three-quarters full. Tonight’s gig offers something very special as all three acts on the bill play gigs only rarely. Bathers’ gigs are always few and far between, frontman Chris Thomson preferring to make each gig an occasion. Sugartown are back to doing odd shows after a long absence, and Cowboy Mouth, the middle act on the bill, are playing their first show in over twenty-five years. All three acts have three things in common. They were all on the German label Marina, which signed several Scottish acts in the 1990s. They all have albums coming out or just out on the Glaswegian label Last Night From Glasgow, whose Past Night From Glasgow imprint seems to be snapping up and reissuing so many albums from bands from that era these days. They also all do a Lou Reed cover. Sugartown, the project of vocalist of Gwen Stewart and MacIntyre, released two albums on Marina, and have a vinyl LP, ‘Mount Florida’, coming out on PNFG shortly. Stewart jokes that she recently came across her early band Wild River Apples’ LP in the bargain bin of her local charity shop, and hopes that the same fate won't occur to ‘Mount Florida’. Across their own material such as ‘Secondhand’ and ‘Sad Eyed in the City’, with evocative support from MacIntyre and lap steel player Mick, she, however, conveys bruised hurt magnificently, and there is glorious closing cover of the Velvet Underground’s ‘I’m Set Free’. Cowboy Mouth was another of MacIntyre’s projects of the 1990s, this time with Hipsway’s Grahame Skinner. They also released two albums on Marina, and their debut LP, ‘My Life as a Dog’, is being reissued shortly on PNFG. With Skinner having something of Scott Walker in his velveteen vocals, these are reflective songs written for the solitary, late-night hours. Set highlight ‘Bad Poetry’ is a superb depiction of self-frustration and loathing. The thrashy ‘Here Comes Cindy’ ups the tempo, and their set is brought to a spirited and convincing close with a cover of Skinner and MacIntyre’s earlier band The Jazzateers’ ‘Show Me the Door’ which segues into Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’. The Bathers also have a new album out on Last Night from Glasgow, ‘Summer Lightning’, which consists of alternative versions and unreleased tracks from their 1987 debut LP, ‘Unusual Places to Die’. They also have a long-awaited seventh album of new material, ‘Sirenesque’, coming out soon, but they opt instead for a “best of” set, only playing two songs from 'Summer Lightning', the sultry ‘The Mandarins’ and as an encore fan favourite ‘Perpetual Adoration’. The group, which sometimes can have seven or eight on stage, is stripped down to a three-piece tonight, featuring Chris Thomson on vocals and acoustic guitar, Callum McNair, his face hidden beneath a baseball cap, also on acoustic guitar and Hazel Morrison on drums and vocals. Thomson has always written high poetry in his lyrics, and his songs of aching romantic yearning such as ‘22’, ‘The Belle Sisters’ and ‘Kelvingrove Baby’, sound as powerful as ever in this smaller-line-up. As good as the Tom Waits-voiced Thomson and McNair are, the absolute star of the show is the swooning-vocaled Morrison, who in a role initially sung by the great Elizabeth Fraser of The Cocteau Twins, brings an ethereal, otherworldly edge to ‘The Angel on Ruskin’ while pulling off the double track of playing her drums at the same time. For the encore, The Bathers are joined by Douglas MacIntyre, Gwen Stewart and Grahame Skinner for versions of The Velvet Underground’s ‘No Age’, ‘Perpetual Adoration’ and Thomson’s first band Friends Again’s single ‘Honey at the Core’, bringing the evening and this latest FRETS gig to a rousing close. Sugartown Set List: Secondhand Valentine (Willie Nelson cover) State I Shot the Albatross Sad Eyed In the City I’m Set Free (Velvet Underground) Cover) Cowboy Mouth Set List:: I Won’t Let It Happen Again My Life As A Dog Waiting for an Echo Bad Poetry Sea Shanty No.2 Letter from LA Here Comes Cindy Show Me the Door/Walk on the Wild Side (Jazzateers/Lou Reed cover) Bathers Set List: Thrive 22 The Belle Sisters East of East Delier Weem Rock Muse/Dealing in Silver If Love Could Last Forever The Fragrance Renains IInsane The Mabdarins Girl from the Polders Kelvingrove Baby Hellespont in a Storm Tequila Mockinngbird The Angel on Ruskin Yellow Crombie Encore: New Age (Velvet Underground cover) Perpetual Adoration Honey at the Core

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Bathers - (With Cowboy Mouth and Sugartown), Strathaven Hotel, Strathavan, 17/6/2022

Bathers - (With Cowboy Mouth and Sugartown), Strathaven Hotel, Strathavan, 17/6/2022

Bathers - (With Cowboy Mouth and Sugartown), Strathaven Hotel, Strathavan, 17/6/2022

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John Clarkson enjoys sets from The Bathers, Cowboy Mouth and Sugartown in the unusual setting of the Strathaven Hotel in South Lanarkshire.


Interview (2020)
Bathers - Interview
John Clarkson speaks to Chris Thomson, the frontman with the Scottish group the Bathers, about the reissue of their classic trilogy of '90's albums on the German label Marina Records, and 'Sirenesque', their forthcoming first album in twenty years.


An Introduction and a Profile (2002)
In the first of a series of articles, John "Girder" Clarkson profiles some of the more misunderstood bands of recent years. Scotlands 'The Bathers' have often been labeled as pretentious and as a resu

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