“WHAT really put the brakes on was I ran into legal problems with an ex-manager. A couple of bailiffs turned up at the door and said, ‘Have you got 30 grand?’ They were very nice. But I said no. They said, ‘Your bank account has been frozen.’ I said, ‘Well, fortunately I’m in overdraft.’”

Chris Thomson, once upon a time a member of the could-have-been-huge 1980s pop band Friends Again, and sometime frontman of his own band The Bathers, is smiling when he tells me this. He likes a good story. He has a few of them. This is the one that helps explains why he hasn’t made a record for the best part of 20 years.

As may already be obvious, the grief with his ex-manager had something to do with that. “It was all sorted. I had to borrow a bit of money to pay him out. It was all sorted relatively amicably.”

Other things got in the way too. Good things. Marriage and a family. But as a result, Thomson was in danger of becoming one of Scottish pop’s lost boys. Not that that seems to bother him particularly. Perhaps that’s because, he will later tell me, “I’ve always taken a bit of a long view.”

Still, here we are in Pollok Park on a Friday morning in October, the day crisp and bright, like a new beginning. Maybe that’s what this is.

This is the story of one of Scotland’s most underrated singers, who is also one of Scotland’s most overlooked songwriters. This is the story of a young man who almost became a pop star and then carried on making music – some of it glorious – in the face of general indifference. This is a story of love, romance, fatherhood, managers, money (or, more usually, the lack of it) and good hair, that, in passing, takes in Bothwell Castle, Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins, Marcel Proust, Joy Division and gardening.

We are here today because three of Thomson’s old Bathers albums – albums full of romantic sturm und drang dressed up in epic orchestral arrangements and accompanied by a voice that is equal parts, tar, whisky and Tom Waits – are about to be reissued by the Marina label.

But there is also a new album, Sirenesque, in the offing, one that was first promised in 2016, the last time The Bathers made an appearance performing in public. Four years later the album is still not quite here. Maybe in the New Year, Thomson says.

The good news is he’s happy with it. “I think it has gone super-Bathers, really saturated orchestral. I am very pleased and excited by it. I think you’ve got to feel it’s your best one yet, but that’s the way I’m feeling.”

Chris Thomson is 58, still has great hair and still wants to make music.

All that said, he has spent most of this century gardening.

Some 14 years ago Thomson decided to start his own gardening business. “I’m not a classical player or a session player who can be constantly busy,” he explains. “That was never my bag anyway. So, you’ve got the singer-songwriter option. Can you tour constantly? Those options were neither completely appealing or completely viable. I never reached a commercial level to sustain that.”

And so, he picked up shears and went to work. “This seemed to fall in my lap. It was something that I could do that paid the bills that was also very good mentally.”

He looks after some 40 gardens in the Pollokshields area. “I’ve always had an affinity with nice Victorian houses, and I get to work in them every day.”

It was very much a case of learning on the job, he admits. “Yeah, sitting weeping the first time you have to reload a strimmer head.

“I’ve got one piece of kit that has survived all this time. A German-made leaf blower. You can’t beat it.”

Apart from the time he tried to use it to clean out the boot of his car and ended up in hospital needing liquid morphine for corneal lacerations from the dust. Blame the worker not the tool, he says.

He enjoys the job very much, thinks he’s good at it and, more importantly, he makes a living from it.

“That’s a key part of the story, especially in these times for musicians. I’m not saying we should all retrain as gardeners …”

Read  More: Chris Thomson on the Marina Trilogy

Even so, the music is still there for Thomson. It always was.

Chris Thomson grew up in Uddingston, the son of a primary school teacher mum and a British Steel salesman.

There was always music around. Sunday afternoons were spent listening to his dad’s Der Rosenkavalier cassettes. “I would fall asleep in 10 minutes,” he says, smiling.

His own interest started, he says, with a box of singles – A Hard Day’s Night, Strawberry Fields Forever, Paperback Writer – most of them borrowed from his mum’s cousin, a huge Beatles fan and never returned.

And then Top of the Pops on Thursday evenings, watching for Bowie, obviously, but also Mud, The Sweet, “the pretty naff side of glam rock.”

And Suzi Quatro, of course. “Oh yeah, pretty much first crush time. She was quite something. I just remember that strange feeling of embarrassment when she came on in that jumpsuit watching with my parents. ‘Why do I feel so uncomfortable?’”

He was a teenager when punk arrived. Walking across the cricket pitch at Uddingston Grammar, he recalls, someone said they should start a band.

Thomson sold a few Clash singles and bought a Gibson Les Paul copy from one of the prefects at his school. Soon, he and his friends were doing gigs in the local scout hall, “with the guys who became the Bluebells in the end, Ken and David. They were musical sophisticates compared to us. We were rough. Tuning was a concept that was quite alien to us. Even by punk standards we were not accomplished.”

Still, as the band developed, it transformed from Joy Division wannabes to a pop band, Friends Again, influenced by the Postcard scene that had suddenly made Glasgow the hippest city in the country

But it was the arrival of James Grant – later to find fame with Love and Money – that was to be the making of Friends Again, Thomson admits. Grant was drafted in when the previous guitarist left after his pal, the band’s manager, ran off with all the money from a gig to buy drugs.

Grant wasn’t into Postcard particularly, Thomson explains, “but because he was such a great guitar player that accelerated us.”

They started dressing in check shirts and bootlace ties bought from Flip in Queen Street and soon they their first single Honey at the Core, which namechecked Bothwell Castle (“Bothwell Castle is falling down …”) was single of the week in the music press and everyone loved them. Well, nearly everyone.

“My pal in the band, Paul McGeechan, his dad was mightily cheesed off because he was the stonemason who had just repaired the castle. He took that line about Bothwell Castle falling down very literally.”

Friends Again should have been bigger. They had big label backing from Mercury Records, an ear for a jangly single and support gigs with the bands of the moment. But they never quite parlayed those advantages into a real hit. They broke up a few weeks before their debut album came out.

“I think we were closer to making something happen than I any of us had realised at the time,” Thomson suggests now.

Instead, Grant phoned Thomson to tell him he was leaving the band. Oh yes, and he was taking the rest of the band with him.

Quite the phone call. “I think the line that has been quoted was: ‘I have got something heavy to lay on you, man.’” Thomson recalls. “I do love that line. I think in his nervousness, the old hippy emerged. A few years before Jim came into the band, he did have the dreaded bedroom hair. That’s when he learned all his wonderful guitar playing studying [Jimmy] Page and all the rest of it in great forensic detail.”

What impact did that call have on Thomson? “I think it hit hard at the time, but I don’t think I realised how hard it hit until looking back. I was 22 by that point. I’d gone from something that had been my focus since I was 17, 18. In a band for four years with all your pals, some of whom you’d been at school with.

“It was like a break-up call really. You’d not only lost being in the band, but it was your pals.

“There’s a bleakness when I look back on it. It took a couple of years, but it worked out in the end.”

Grant and Thomson were soon reconciled and in 1987 Thomson emerged in a new guise, The Bathers (a name inspired by his love of French impressionist paintings), with an album Unusual Ways to Die.

By the time of its follow-up, Sweet Deceit in 1990, The Bathers model – a mutant Glaswegian gene-splice of Tom Waits, Van Morrison and late-era Talk Talk, all distilled through Thomson’s love for European literature (he discovered Proust in John Smith’s book shop, while looking for a last-minute Christmas present for a girlfriend) – was well established.

There was, he admits, a conscious effort to put some distance between his new band and the poppiness of Friends Again. He started writing songs called Pissoir/The Ornella Mutiny and Once Upon a Time on the Rapenburg. Some might – some did – call him pretentious.

And then there was his new voice, one that sounded like it had been weathered in a cask of alcohol on a Scottish island for 50 years.

“In Friends Again we all disliked this twee label that seemed to fly around,” he says, by way of explanation.

“I just wanted to do something that was a bit harder. I think I may have gone a bit over the top. It was definitely a conscious effort to reinvent.”

What The Bathers were never about, however, was chasing chart places. “I think being successful in any commercial sense was a low priority,” Thomson admits.

“One of the things that split Friends Again up was it really hurt James that we weren’t commercially successful. He really wanted that. That was a massive driving force, and fair enough. I didn’t feel that same compulsion.”

That has consequences, of course. Money was always a problem, Thomson admits. To make records he would often have to borrow money which in turn led to stress which then manifested itself in various phobias: sometimes stage fright, once a “no flying” period. “To this day I avoid underground trains,” he says.

“My one big advantage through all that post-Friends Again period was I had bought a flat. A four grand deposit got me a nice flat in Finnieston and it had enough rooms to rent out, so that absolutely saved my bacon. So even in the very, very lean times I always had a couple of lodgers and we got by somehow. And I enjoyed the camaraderie.”

There were other side projects, like Bloomsday, a collaboration with ex-Commotions Neil Clark and Stephen Irvine. But The Bathers were his main concern. On the 1995 album Sunpowder Liz Fraser even came to the studio to add backing vocals because she had loved his previous album Lagoon Blues so much.

Who was the young man who made those albums, Chris? “He was a bit of a romantic. A lot of the records are about evoking places like Venice, romanticised versions of great European destinations. Yet in a way they seemed to be getting further and further out of my reach. My inclination to go was at a very low ebb.”

Love, the tortured kind, was a constant theme. There’s a line in the song The Angel on Ruskin, I remind him, which goes, “I was always in love’s power.”

“I think that would apply to that young man, absolutely,” Thomson says. “He was definitely caught up in those heightened emotions, almost as a creative device as well.

“It becomes very blurred. You’re not sure where your real life starts and ends with that sort of stuff.”

Here’s the question, I say. Did you mess up relationships just to have something to write about? “Ah, I wouldn’t go that far on my behalf. I’d like to think not, but who knows?”

Well, how far did you pursue the idea of love as all-consuming then? “There were points were it certainly wasn’t at a distance. It was front and centre of all things. You do start to lose sight …”

He pauses and begins again. “I wouldn’t say I was a bad person as such, but you do lose your grip on everyday realities.”

In 1999, The Bathers released a seventh album, Pandemonia, based in part on his relationship with the painter Alison Watt. Two years later, Desire Regained, a best of compilation featuring new recordings of familiar songs appeared. And then – those gigs in 2016 apart – radio silence.

Life had changed for him. He met his wife Vanessa in 2001. They married a year later, just before his 40th birthday. Suddenly, Thomson had a stepson. A daughter soon followed.

How, I wonder, did family change his idea of love?

“I think it becomes a more liveable, real, grounded thing. Becoming a parent, that sort of love takes over. It replaces the space for the madcap adventures of youth and heightened romanticism to generate songs.”

Maturity then? “The M word. We grow up.”

For a long time Thomson contented himself by trying to become a better piano player and making music just for himself. But now there is another Bathers record, Sirenesque, nearly ready. Another chance to remind us of his singular talent.

What does music mean to him now? “There’s still the desire to try and capture some sense of the beautiful that is all around us,” he says.

Chris Thomson has spent his musical life in search of the ineffable. There are worse ways to spend your time.

The Bathers will perform a live streamed performance of Kelvingrove Baby from the Clipper Room, Woodside Hotel, Aberdour on November 21. Visit event.bookitbee.com for tickets. Lagoon Blues, Sunpowder and Kelvingrove Baby have all been reissued by Marina Records.