The band originally consisted of Bob Bellis (drums, vocals); John (J.J.) Campbell (vocals); Martin Dempsey (bass guitar, vocals) (later replaced by first Ray "Chopper" Cooper, then Mick Shiner and finally Glyn Havard); Henry Priestman (born Henry Christian Priestman, 21 July 1955, Hull. Brought up in Liverpool) (vocals, keyboards); and Martin Watson (guitar, vocals).
They played their first show (as ‘Yachts’) at 'Eric's' nightclub in Liverpool, supporting Elvis Costello. This led to a recording contract with Stiff Records, where they released one single, the witty and self-referential "Suffice To Say", written by Priestman and Campbell and produced by Will Birch. They also released a novelty single, "Do The Chud", as the Chuddy Nuddies.
On 9th October 1978, a few weeks after releasing ‘Look Back in Love (Not Anger)’, their first single on Radar, the band recorded the first of two sessions at Maida Vale 4 studio, for John Peel at BBC Radio 1. The tracklisting was ‘Hits’, ‘Yachting Types’, ‘Look Back In Love’, and ‘Then And Now’. (The band’s second session was recorded in June 1979).
The band recorded their debut LP in New York with producer Richard Gottehrer. One reviewer raved that “this record is killer power pop and what's wrong with everybody that they can't see it? They've got this cool cheesy keyboard sound with a nice chunky guitar underneath and in addition to being catchy tunes, their songs have hysterically funny lyrics, like "Yachting Type", where the guy's girl runs off with a yachtsman, or "Mantovani's Hits", which hypothesizes a rock and roll world where Elvis records hadn't been hits but Mantovani's had, or "Box 202", where the guy's girl is killed in an airplane crash so he puts out a classified ad to look for a replacement. The others deal with romance in equally oddball ways, but always rocking and always catchy as hell” .
Campbell left the group in 1978, and Dempsey departed in 1980. Dempsey became a member of Pink Military; and Campbell helped to found It's Immaterial. Yachts finally split up in 1981. Priestman, who for a time was a member of both Yachts and Bette Bright & the Illuminations, then went on to join It's Immaterial, Wah! and, most notably, The Christians, more recently working as a producer with Mark Owen and Melanie C.
Retrospective appraisals of the band’s output vary. M.C. Strong dismisses Yachts as “one of the many outfits jostling for recognition in the overcrowded pop / rock marketplace” . Colin Larkin is more generous, writing that “Yachts’ popularity was fleeting but they left behind several great three-minute slices of pop, including a cover of R. Dean Taylor’s ‘There’s a Ghost in my House’” . Vernon Joynson summed up Yacht’s approach. “Lyrically, much of their material was in the usual boy / girl realm but with humour. Musically, they ranged from sixties influenced rock with cheesy organ to fast-paced punk-cum-power-pop” . Steve Gardner loved this approach. “They hammered out these rocking power pop songs surrounded by swirling washes of cheap keyboards. Lots of their songs strung together common threads of boating and strange tales of love, and they had some hysterically funny lyrics, like "I wouldn't climb any mountain for you/Ford any stream that's a daft thing to do/'Cos I'm cynical cynical cynical through and through" from ‘Love You, Love You’” .