‘Shirking expectations multiple times, Swimmer One are as difficult to pin down as a greased-up eel with a mysterious past… Their tech-packed noir-pop is frequently remarkable, glowing bright with intelligence.’ The Skinny.
‘They give intelligence a good name and are more windswept than worthy. Their music has the quirky intricacy of Belle & Sebastian and the soaring atmosphere of Blue Nile, and it is very, very good.’ The Guardian.
Swimmer One are my band (I should probably say ‘were my band’ since we’ve been inactive for quite a while now – you never know though). We’ve been compared to everyone from the Pet Shop Boys and The Associates to the Blue Nile and The Who, which is another way of saying that no two songs sound anything like each other. This has probably worked against us in some ways, since nobody has ever known quite what to do with us. We’re one of those bands that (most) critics heap praise on and the public largely ignore, which was never the intention but there we go.
We began life as a studio-based project by myself and Hamish Brown. We released our first single, We Just Make Music For Ourselves, in 2002, on our own label Biphonic Records. Much to our surprise, it got played on daytime Radio One two weeks later by Mark Radcliffe, who went on at some length about how much he loved the song. A nice woman from a London record label flew up to Edinburgh to meet us. We went for lunch in Leith and talked about how much we all liked the Human League, and Cher, whose Believe single had been masterminded by her boss. We got on very well, but since we had no live act and no other finished music for her to listen to, she went away again and never came back.
Eventually we got a live show together, and performed sporadically in London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Perth, Dunfermline (Carnegie Hall!), and, on one occasion, Biella in Italy (doing We Just Make Music For Ourselves, an experimental fusion of live gig and live art that we’d created with the theatre company Highway Diner for the Arches Live festival – a collaboration we later returned to in the video for our single The Balance Company).
It took us five more years to release our debut album, The Regional Variations, by which time most people had forgotten about We Just Make Music For Ourselves, the single and the show. The album got great reviews, like this one and this one and this one (the exception was the NME, which was really snotty about it for some reason) and there was a big feature about us in the Independent and a little one in the Guardian. We got more airplay on Radio One. Our friend Laura from Highway Diner (who would later become my wife) joined the line-up and the live show became significantly better as a result. One of the songs on the album featured in an Ashton Kutcher film called Spread. We played some good gigs and had some good times.
It took us three more years to finish our second album, Dead Orchestras, released in the spring of 2010. It got great reviews – like this one and this one – but almost no radio play. It probably didn’t help that we didn’t release any singles from it (partly because we could never decide which song was most representative of the album, because none of them was – although we did release a video for the song Ghosts in the Hotel). Personally I think the album is a masterpiece, and that it’s a crying shame that so few people have heard it. Oh well. It has its admirers, and perhaps it will be rediscovered one day.
In 2011, just as I was starting to wonder what the point of it all was, I got a phone call from my old friend Cora Bissett, who had sung on a couple of early Swimmer One songs and, conveniently for us, had since become an award-winning theatre director. She had been asked by the Arches and Creative Scotland to put a big project together, and wanted to do something that combined theatre and indie music. Would Swimmer one like to be her creative partners on it? Why yes, we would. This evolved into Whatever Gets You Through The Night, and, for the next two years, Swimmer One found a new purpose.
Since then Swimmer One has been mostly on hold again. The three of us still work on other projects together, like All Back to Bowie’s, (g)Host City and Seafieldroad, but we haven’t recorded any new Swimmer One music since All The Things That Make You Want To Disappear, our song for Whatever Gets You Through The Night. We might, at some point, so I wouldn’t like to say we’ve ‘split up’. But given how many other things we’ve all got going on in our lives – and how long it took us to make Dead Orchestras – we might need a strong incentive. In the meantime, lots of bands who sound quite a lot like us keep becoming wildly successful. Oh well.
Still, I got to go on Fred Macaulay’s radio show one time to talk about the Largs Hum. Morrissey came to one of our gigs (he was there to see another band, the Boyfriends, but still). We got to give Ashton Kutcher, the Pet Shop Boys and Tilda Swinton copies of our albums. And we supported John Foxx, the original frontman of Ultravox, on his Metamatic tour in 2007. We were offered that one because his management assumed an electropop band called Swimmer One must be big John Foxx fans (one of his songs is called Swimmer 1). Actually we’d never heard of the song, and were only dimly aware of Metamatic, but once we’d had a listen we gladly accepted the offer. It was a great gig, John was very charming, and we made more money on the merch stall than at any other show we’d played.
So it’s definitely been worth it.