The Coral are one of the best and perhaps least acknowledged of UK guitar bands of the last 20 years. In their lifespan, many of their peers have fallen by the wayside. But The Coral remain, singer James Skelly's songwriting ability arguably sharper than ever.
The band combine a multitude of influences including western soundtracks, 60s garage, pop and psychedelia, dub reggae, American 70s rock harmonies with a sometimes classic north of England prose. Their singles are often short blasts of sheer perfection, existing unfettered by pretentiousness within the three minute barrier.
Still an exhilarating live band to see, The Coral have a full summer of festivals shows in summer 2018. They appear at Electric Fields in Scotland 30 August – 1 September, their own annual Skeleton Coast Festival in Leasowe, The Wirral on 1 September, and will also play Kilmarnock's Dirty Weekender and EH6 in Edinburgh, both on the last weekend in November.
Magic and Medicine, The Coral's most successful album, turns 15 years old in July 2018. In the days just prior to the anniversary, Marko Kutlesa spent several sleepless nights trying to narrow down their rich back catalogue into six of the best.
It's fair to say that few outside Merseyside could fathom The Coral when their first records started emerging in 2000. Locals had seen their incendiary live shows and knew the raw, exciting capabilities of the then spiky-sounding guitar band, but radio and record listeners maybe found them tough to pigeonhole. Were they a dub reggae band that did vocal harmonies (Shadows Fall)? Were they Captain Beefheart fans with a pirate fixation (Skeleton Key)? John Peel didn't see the need to even try and pigeonhole them and just supported them from the off.
Truth is, The Coral were both of these things and, as the release of 'Dreaming Of You' in 2002 proved, they were much more besides. The Coral were capable of producing some of the most classic pop to have emerged from Merseyside in three decades. The star single from their debut LP, 'Dreaming Of You' maybe held elements of Merseybeat, psychedelia, American west coast rock and boasted sax accompaniment that wouldn't have sounded amiss on a Two Tone or Madness hit. Christ, they just looked like young scallies in the video, but what a sound!
'Don't Think You're The First' The Magic and Medicine (2003)
The Coral's second album 'Magic and Medicine' arrived within just one year and went to number one in the UK album charts. Preceded by decent single, the lysergic 'Secret Kiss' with its Ray Manzarek-style organ, it showed the band at a slower, more sensitive pace than at their almost punk-like early concerts. But it was the album's second single that would become one of The Coral's most enduring and popular live tracks.
Truth be told, the studio version of 'Don't Think You're The First' doesn't come anywhere near to conveying the monstrousness of this track attained by the band after they'd honed it at live shows. At a festival, slightly emotional from sleep deprivation and too much partying, it would not be only the cool breeze that would make every hair on your body stand up as The Coral launched into 'Don't Think You're The First'. After the quirky, key-changing mid section, when the melodica line appears, the band again displayed their dub reggae influence and the mature power and mastery of absolute restraint.
'Pass It On' The Magic and Medicine (2003)
Boom! The Coral's first major hit, 'Pass It On' reached number 5 in the UK pop charts and was all over the radio like a rash. Its delicate and highly melodic tune held a certain melancholy, its simplicity disguising the fact that, beneath the pretty tune, its lyrics displayed a depth of maturity seldom seen from a young songwriter, comparable perhaps to a teenage Jackson Brown penning 'These Days'. Songwriter James Skelly was proving to be one of the greatest of his generation and easily the equal to any from the major northern English guitar bands that had just preceded them.
As if embarrassed by their mainstream chart success and hell bent on sabotaging it, within the year The Coral released the Nightfreak And The Sons Of Becker mini album, their most beguiling, abstract and darkly psychedelic work. A dedicated fan's favourite, for sure it held nothing that was going to bother the charts.
If anyone feared The Coral had spun off down some psilocybin rabbit hole with Nightfreak And The Sons Of Becker, never to return, all fears were allayed with the release in 2005 of their The Invisible Invasion album. The album was a rootsy affair, with production handled by Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley from Bristol band Portishead. Like all of their previous albums, even the nutjob Nightfreak, it reached the UK album top five, peaking at number three and being certified Gold for sales.
The album's lead single 'In The Morning' was perhaps an even bigger potential chart botherer than 'Pass It On', and being way more optimistic went on to be the second most played song on UK radio in 2005. Its cheeriness and matter of fact description of the morning after the night before was simply inescapable. Whistled on the way to work, hummed while at the job, it is doubtless the most easily recognisable song by The Coral for the man in the street.
'Who's Gonna Find Me' Roots and Echoes (2007)
Shock and sadness as baby faced guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones announced he was leaving the band's live performances in 2005, but happiness as it was announced he was back with The Coral for the recording of their fourth album Roots & Echoes, released in 2007.
'Who's Gonna Find Me' joined 'Put The Sun Back' and live favourite 'Jacqueline' as one of the album's three singles, but being the blistering album opener it just edges it over the other two. It announced The Coral were back. Although the return of the original line up was sadly to be short lived.
Bill Ryder-Jones left The Coral permanently in 2008, citing panic attacks and a reluctance to being part of a commercially successful, touring band. His parting gift was perhaps the beautiful string arrangements on Roots & Echoes, efforts he would pursue in his successful solo career.
The Coral themselves were far from finished. Although by this point they'd managed to write some of the best singles of the new millennium, they'd never made that masterpiece of an album. However, in 2010, they managed just that with the release of the John Leckie produced Butterfly House.
'Chasing The Tail Of A Dream' Distance Inbetween (2016)
After the release of Butterfly House things seemed to go quiet for The Coral. For almost half a decade! Fans could have been forgiven for not noticing as some way through that period the wonderful The Curse Of Love album was released. This music had been recorded as an album almost a decade earlier than its 2014 release date, but had been shelved due to fluctuating line up changes. To this day The Curse Of Love, which received only a limited release, is probably The Coral's least recognised work.
Before too long after that, The Coral were back in action. In 2016 they returned with new album Distance Inbetween, on a new label. It was preceded by great single 'Chasing The Tail Of A Dream' Was this a reflection upon the band's past successes or just life in general? Whichever, its fuzzed and distorted guitars announced that The Coral were back with a new bite and the song was used in several UK TV campaigns. 'Miss Fortune' followed as one of the albums singles and, although The Coral have toured consistently since, this was the last we would hear of them until the release, in summer 2018, of the 'Sweet Release / Eyes Like Pearls' single from forthcoming album Move Through The Dawn.