Following the announcement last spring that The Coral were taking a hiatus, a decade since their first album, all five band members have gone on to separate projects. Lead singer and principal songwriter JAMES SKELLY was the second alumnus to break cover, unveiling well-received solo debut LP Love Undercover in early June.
Boasting the same keen ear for melody as his previous band, Skelly’s album moves in different circles to the whimsical psychedelia of The Coral, honing in on the sounds heard emanating from Memphis and Detroit in the mid-sixties with a soupçon of Bruce Springsteen’s lyrical grit. “There’s more of a thirst as you get older; you start listening to all different stuff, mariachi music, different genres. I started off with Stax and Motown and moved into blues and soul,” James explains on the phone from his base in Hoylake.
With all the songs pulled together within a year, the immediacy in the writing process was carried over into the recording. “The direction was to go in, do the songs live, knock it out, then play it live, that was the idea of it. We recorded it in a couple of weeks. Butterfly House (2010) and all of The Coral’s albums were pretty intense, which was a good thing, but it was good to do something different. The last Coral album was so intricate, my brain didn’t have the room. When it came to this album I wanted to do something that was just banged out, give my brain a rest. I like to do different albums each time.”
Assembling a crack team of players for the sessions at Parr St. Studios, The Intenders are comprised of a mixture of Coral members, siblings from The Sundowners and James Redmond from seminal Bandwagon linchpins Tramp Attack on bass. “They did it for free, they weren’t charging me,” James deadpans when asked why Niamh Rowe and his sister Fiona, lead singers from The Sundowners, appear on the album as backing vocalists. “Nah, I wanted harmonies but if we did them with the lads from The Coral, it would have just sounded like The Coral,” he elaborates.
Another notable guest, albeit one who doesn’t appear on the record, is Paul Weller, who sent an incomplete demo for James to put words to, resulting in the stunning soul-infused stomper You’ve Got It All. The Jack White-inspired holler of recent single Do It Again and Sacrifice, a ringer for early Elvis Costello, all demonstrate the punchy arrangements and concise structures of the disc’s eleven tracks, with James in impressively full voice throughout.
In addition to the new roster of musicians another change on the record is the presence of James at the recording console, making his debut as producer alongside his brother Ian. “It is good having a producer, it’s quite hard doing it on your own,” James ruminates. “I think a producer can push you and take you in a direction you’d never thought of. This was more like I went in and just knocked down what I had kind of live; that was the spirit of it. Where maybe next time I’ll get a bit more intense and look for more of a direction.”
A highly impressive array of production talent featured across The Coral’s six studio albums, with Ian Broudie, Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley, and John Leckie all on the other side of the soundproof glass over the years. “I learnt loads from them,” James enthuses of the time spent working with the venerated quartet. “I think I’m better at producing if I’m working with another group, in a way. I’m trying to learn and get better.”
A new development in James’ writing is the perspective from which the lyrics are sung, with almost all of Love Undercover sung from the first person, minus characters such as Simon Diamond and Bill McCai who populated The Coral’s LPs. “On Butterfly House I pushed quite far into the style I was into and I just wanted to step back a bit from it,” James explains of his change in direction. “I just wanted to get straight to the point; that was the theme of the whole record, really. I didn’t think I could better it in that way, so I did something else; then I’ll do something different again on the next album.”
The influence of Bruce Springsteen can be clearly discerned in You and I and I’m a Man, songs which hark back to the blue-collar themes The Boss explored on The River. “On I’m a Man I’m sort of playing a character, he’s a working class kind of a guy, whereas Bill McCai was more the guy who works in an office and lives in the suburbs. I’m A Man is more like ‘Fuck it, I’m going out’, he’s not gonna let them beat him; Bill McCai is more of a suburban nightmare.”
Observing the album artwork the sharp eyed will notice the absence of the Deltasonic label, as the release is being handled by a collaboration between James’ imprint Skeleton Key and storied indie Cooking Vinyl. (“Ironically, we do the vinyl,” James points out of the arrangement.) Alongside himself, Ian and The Sundowners, and Birmingham band The Circles – who James heard via a recommendation from younger brother Alfie – are all signed to the set-up.
The O2 Academy celebrates its tenth anniversary this month and is the scene of The Intenders’ next gig, as well as being the location where The Coral’s story decisively kicked up several gears after future Deltasonic label founder Alan Wills saw the band supporting The Real People. Beyond that further live dates over the winter are also in the pipeline. “It’s good for live work this album, the situation I’m in,” James notes. “It’s different live, it’s heavier, there’s jams in quite a lot of the tunes, it’s bluesier. I realised in The Coral we sometimes played live a bit too much like the record, when we could do something completely different; that’s why you go and see someone live.”
With the first entry in his solo ledger completed, in keeping with the prodigious work rate established in the previous decade the next Intenders album is already being prepared. “For the new stuff me and Nick [Power] have been writing, which is good ‘cos I can concentrate on the words. In a way I’d love to be able to release two albums.”