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The Coral

+ {Ian Skelly} + {James Skelly & The Intenders} + {Serpent Power}

Another combo in a long line of Scouser success stories (from The BEATLES to ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN, to The LA’S and former labelmates The ZUTONS), The CORAL have extended their longevity beyond their retro-roots angle and boundaries, albeit largely ignored in the States where they’d signed to Columbia Records. Influenced by a spirited cocktail of neo-psychedelia, country, Motown and Merseybeat, several albums have been served up since the early millennium, whereas inventive hit singles `Dreaming Of You’, `Don’t Think You’re The First’, `Pass It On’ and `In The Morning’, have reached out to a whole new generation of post-Britpop trail-blazers.
Founded 1996, in Hoylake on the Wirral in Merseyside, neighbourhood friends James Skelly, younger brother Ian Skelly (drums), Paul Duffy (bass), Bill Ryder-Jones (lead guitar), Lee Southall (rhythm guitar) and finally, a few years on, Nick Power (organ), rehearsed/jammed in the basement of their local Flat Foot Sams pub. Discovered by reluctant manager-to-be Alan Wills (former WILD SWANS/The ROOM drummer), who was about to launch his own imprint, Deltasonic, The CORAL were instantly hailed as England’s next-big-thing in guitar groups by the NME on the strength of debut 2001 single, `Shadows Fall’. Picking up where the aforementioned LA’S left off (hinting on a dubbed SEARCHERS), the sextet added to their CV with the release of `The Oldest Path’ and `Skeleton Key’ EPs.
As hype surrounding the band began to almost reach fever-pitch, the momentum was carried into 2002 with `Goodbye’, a near Top 20 hit from their self-titled, Top 5 debut album. A joyous, kaleidoscopic set, THE CORAL {*8} established the sextet as natural successors to the great Liverpudlian bands – and, no, that did not include SPACE. Not only were they anchored in Merseybeat motifs, a variety of West Coast US outfits were cited as an inspiration (The DOORS, LOVE and QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE) in a treasure trove of tracks such as the aforesaid singles and the forthcoming sing-a-long smash, `Dreaming Of You’; add to that, `Simon Diamond’, `Wildfire’, `Spanish Main’ and the dreamy `I Remember When’, one could hardly wait for chapter two.
Exactly a year on, previewed by Top 10 hits, `Don’t Think You’re The First’ and `Pass It On’, summer 2003 produced yet another fantastic set of IAN BROUDIE co-produced songs via sophomore set, MAGIC AND MEDICINE {*8}. A chart-topping, Mercury Music Prize-nominated record, The CORAL had passed another test, recreating a feel for the past, while still having twelve feet firmly lodged in the present/future. Despite their home-soil success, Europe and Asia were relatively slow to pick up on the likes of J. Skelly’s `Secret Kiss’ and the CSN-chugging `Bill McCai’ (two further Top 30 entries), plus other highlight `Careless Hands’.
BROUDIE remained on board for the limited-edition half-hour set, NIGHTFREAK AND THE SONS OF BECKER (2004) {*7}, a Top 5 entry that plugged the gap between albums. The mini-album was indeed a product that reflected the alt/indie 80s rather than this decade, but somehow it worked for the beachcombing boys of the north. Recorded in Bryn Derwen Studios, Wales, over a month, the low-key nature of songs such as `Precious Eyes’, `Venom Cable’, `Grey Harpoon’ et al (probably destined for worthy B-sides), added another dimension to the band.
Third album proper or indeed album number four, THE INVISIBLE INVASION (2005) {*7} didn’t quite live up to its predecessors. With the LIGHTNING SEEDS man making way for PORTISHEAD production duo Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley, The CORAL sound was darker and more direct – the most impressive DOORS-of-perception outlook since the INSPIRAL CARPETS heyday. Highlights on the Top 3 set included the Jim Morrison-Paints-It-Black opener, `She Sings The Mourning’ or the PINK FLOYD-ish `The Operator’. The mid-60s were still floating around in the mix, especially on the pristine pop of their breezy semi-gem, `In The Morning’; the unfocused `Something Inside Of Me’ just failed to breech the Top 40.
In the advent of newbies FRANZ FERDINAND, KAISER CHIEFS, ARCTIC MONKEYS (the latter with whom they toured), 2007’s ROOTS & ECHOES {*7} was met with mixed reviews; it seemed, despite reaching the Top 10 for the fifth time album-wise, their old-hat, twee-pop-psych-60s approach was wearing thin with fringe fans looking further afield for their retro-folk-rock fix; singles `Who’s Gonna Find Me’ (#25), `Jacqueline’ (#44) and `Put The Sun Back’ (#64), dipped and descended down the lists; indeed, America, baulked on issuing the album altogether.
BILL RYDER-JONES chose this tender time to fully bail out on his lonesome, having already tried his hand at solo gigs in 2006; his replacement had been David McDonnell for the shelved `The Curse Of Love’ set (later issued in 2014). After practising on a few short-film OSTs, the multi-instrumentalist found a loyal audience for his subsequent albums, `If…’ (2011), `A Bad Wind Blows My Heart’ (2013), `Piggy Soundtrack’ (2013) and his near breakthrough `West Kirby County Primary’ (2015).
Not substituted by anyone this time around, The CORAL continued onwards. Seasoned producer John Leckie was Deltasonic’s choice to work on the main-stream-lined BUTTERFLY HOUSE (2010) {*7}, a flighty Top 20 album that escaped the wrath of reviewers by way of its carefree reflections of the sugary and swinging 60s. Abandoning the trippy, intense weirdness of the West Coast for Baroque-poppers BEAU BRUMMELS, The BYRDS and The RASCALS, James Skelly and Co cooked up some soothing and warm pieces through failed 45s `More Than A Lover’, `1000 Years’ and `Walking In The Winter’.
Taking a hiatus from 2012 onwards, CORAL fans had plenty to sink their teeth into; three sets in particular surfaced: IAN SKELLY’s self-scribed CUT FROM A STAR (2012) {*6} – featuring three tracks with brother James: `Nickel And A Dime’, `Caterpillar’ and the title track – plus JAMES SKELLY & THE INTENDERS set, LOVE UNDERCOVER (2013) {*6}. Augmented by his brothers Ian, Alfie and sister Fiona (here, alongside fellow Sundowner, Niamh Rowe), plus Paul Duffy, Nick Power and unconnected bassist James Redmond, the Motown motif was certainly recreated on `You’re Got It All’, `Do It Again’ etc., etc.
Important in the fact it featured newbie CORAL-ite Paul Molloy (guitarist of The Wicked Whispers) – who’d replaced a busy Southall – Ian Skelly was back in action on the eponymous SERPENT POWER {*6} set of May 2015. Not to be confused with the 60s West Coast ensemble of the same name, trippy tracks such as `Lucifer’s Dreambox’, `Dr. Lovecraft’s Asylum’ and `The Man Who Shrunk The World’, were, by definition, chips off the old CORAL block.
When The CORAL reconvened that same year with Ignition Records at the helm, thankfully, the Top 20 DISTANCE INBETWEEN (2016) {*8} unveiled a heavier cousin to all that preceded it in their 7-year itch; sadly, Alan Wills had passed away in 2014. Co-produced by Richard Turvey, and despite some happy trails back to CSN and QSM-land by way of the harmony-addled `White Bird’ and `She Runs The River’, one could almost recall CREAM and the YARDBIRDS in the bluesy `Fear Machine’ and the download-single `Chasing The Tail Of A Dream’; opener, `Connector’, was not too far removed from INSPIRAL CARPETS, The CHARLATANS or IAN BROWN.
© MC Strong 2004-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Mar2016

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