The Coral are arguably too big to be regarded as a ‘cult band’ but not big enough to dominate the festival circuit.
The Liverpool quintet have spent nearly 20 years sustaining a loyal fanbase; loyal for good reason. Despite forthcoming album Coral Island being their eighth studio effort (ish….it’s complicated), their quality control across each has been incredibly high.
Indeed, the new album can stake a realistic claim of being their best yet, as recent singles Faceless Angel, Love Undiscovered and Vacancy emphatically attest to.
Yet surely it must be a source of frustration to the band that they’ve never truly cracked the mainstream permanently? Not a bit of it.
“Because we’ve been doing it continuously, we go up and down the (festival) bills like a yo-yo,” Nick Power, ivory-tinkler (amongst many, many other things) told Live4ever when we spoke recently.
“We don’t really care. The Coral go on, it’s Coral time, and we go off. We’re not really that bothered where we play on the bill, we’ll always go on and be good. I don’t have an ego with other bands like that. If they’re bigger than you, they’re bigger than you.”
“I think it (their current level) suits us, really. We were always fighting with labels because we wanted to do this or that. We are better doing our own thing. It would be nicer to be financially secure, but you can’t have everything. I get up and I get to be creative every day. That’s why I started it, and that’s all I ever want from it.”
Coral Island contains creativity in spades. Vaguely a concept album (and a double at that), it paints vivid images of abandoned funfairs from days gone by, complete with eccentric characters. Power explains the concept behind the album:
“I think we wanted to update that thing. It’s like a memory of a memory, but in the modern day. If you walk around New Brighton or Llandudno that sound would fit perfectly. Those places always seem to be playing spooky pre-rock and roll.”
“There’s an unspoken agreement between them all: ‘We can only play these songs. We’ve got to stay true to the fair’. We’ve always been into that, Joe Meek and Eddie Cochran. British bands trying to impersonate rock and roll, there’s a certain spookiness to it.”
“I don’t know if a lot of people can actually play like that anymore. It seems to be a dying thing, that way of drumming, or that way of harmonising. If you can do something that no-one else can do, then it’s one of your strengths.”
“It’s something we’ve always touched upon,” Power continues, “painting a picture of an abandoned pier because that’s where we grew up. New Brighton was nearby, Blackpool’s 40 minutes up the road.”
“Most of us used to go on holiday to north Wales, like Rhyl and Llandudno. If you live where we live in the north, or near Margate in the majestic south, then you can totally relate to it. We just thought, ‘Let’s just consolidate all of those images that we love into one album’.”
“I don’t think we set out to do a double album, but as we went on it was like, ‘It’s something we’ve never done, no-one’s really done one for ages anyway’. They’re really out of fashion and that kind of suits us.”
Because of their prolificity, the individual members of The Coral submit musical ideas for consideration frequently.
Indeed, the album is only a part of the Coral Island package. Also released is a book (written by Nick) which elaborates on the characters introduced across the album, with artwork by Ian Skelly. Which idea came first?
“Music first, then as we were doing it, I thought a book would be a good idea. Songs are usually about brevity and what you don’t say. You can’t really cram that much in, but you can expand on some of the characters and things in the songs. We thought that would be great if you were a fan. To get lost in that, especially now people have got a lot of time on their hands.”
With such creativity bristling through the band, there surely can’t be a set methodology that they work to, but Nick confirms that they had specific intentions when completing the new album.
“Coral Island was different because we intentionally tried to make it like a patchwork. A lot of the time James and Ian would be at the desk and we’d be coming in and out separately, in a White Album kind of way.”
“It was on purpose to make it a patchwork. It’s a magnificent joint effort because everyone contributed. Everyone sings at least one song, everyone contributed at least one song, and we’ve not had that before. In terms of group effort, it’s probably our greatest.”
When Live4ever puts it to Nick that there are echoes of Small Faces’ classic Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake within Coral Island, he once again gives a refreshingly honest answer:
“Definitely. When we were young we loved that album, and still do. It’s pointless trying to deflect that, that’s what it is. A psychedelic album with bits of narration. It’s a big influence on us.”
The band have been sitting on the album for a few months now (for obvious reasons), but weren’t able to resist the temptation to tweak; “We planned to put it out in September but obviously…”
“We’ve been sitting on it for a while but it gave us a chance to really perfect it, in its imperfect way. To make it sound more crappy! You want it to sound like a broken music box.”
“If you touch things up too much it ends up being too slick and takes the mood out of it. You want it to sound like it’s being played through a broken tannoy at the arse-end of the arcade in 1998.”
Coral Island is the band’s third album since their return from an extended hiatus although, in classic Coral fashion, they were still able to release an album of unreleased material during that period.
The Curse Of Love was released in 2014, having been sat on the shelf for the best part of decade: “That was from 2005. We were doing it as demos for a new album and we wanted to release it, but because we were on a major label they were like, ‘That’s not enough’.
“At the time we were like, ‘Well f**k off then!’. How insane do you have to be to want to release that on Sony!? We sat on it for a few years and thought we should release it. We had our own label so why not?”
Distance Inbetween (2016) and Move Through The Dawn (2018) saw the band return with purpose and verve, and Coral Island sustains that momentum. With the benefit of hindsight, does Nick feel that the break informed where they are now?
“It’s different. By the end I didn’t know why I was doing it. You just take it for granted really, and I didn’t know why I was in it. You just want to be normal for a bit. I wanted to fight for something again, and I was just taking it for granted.”
“You’ve got your income coming in, and then the crash happened. Nobody really wanted to hear another album from us, so it did all go tits up. It was like a period of growth that we needed. It became clear that it was my life. Why are you running away from it? Just go and do it, that’s what you’re good at!”
“If people expect another good album from you, it can get a bit like that at times. I think Nick Cave – not comparing him to us – but you take a great Nick Cave album for granted. He, or we, aren’t bothered because writing is about your experiences in life. When do you do go away for a bit and then come back, people remember why they like you, and that rejuvenates you.”
When Live4ever asks Nick about the future, we expected to hear that The Coral were already looking at the next thing, as is their wont, but he has other ideas.
“I would really like to just put everything into this one because it’s getting received really well. Sometimes we do just move on to the next thing and then things get left behind. I’d like to focus on one album for once and see it through, take it to people. But it’s out of our hands.”
Touring is a real possibility, with dates pencilled in for later in the year (“emphasis on the word pencilled”). The band would like to “do a tour of seaside towns”, but what of the possibility of performing the album in full? As a ‘concept’ album, it would lend itself well to a staged production. Nick is open to the idea but also realistic:
“It would be difficult to do that, but I’d love to do it. I’d love to have their (the Skelly brothers) grandad on stage doing the interludes. It would be hard though because it’s a double album. To get everyone in, on the premise of doing that, you’d have to wait for five or six years before people would really love it.”
“If it’s too new, people would be having a bevvy and start getting bored. It’s got to really capture people if you want to play a double album from start to finish.”
Coral Island won’t fail to capture people, so perhaps it’s time to start staycating at those abandoned seaside towns. You never know who you might run into.
Coral Island is due for release on April 30th