An open letter to James Skelly (and The Coral)

Let me start off by congratulating you on the new record ! It’s probably your best front to back effort since The Invisible Invasion (perhaps even Magic & Medicine) and you have a lot to be proud of.

I’ve been a fan since the first time I heard “Dreaming of You” in 2002, although at the time, I didn’t actually care for the album itself (I think “Skeleton Key” threw me off). It wasn’t until “Pass It On” came out (and blew me away) that I went back to the first record and fell deeply in love with it (even Skeleton Key !). It became one of my favourite albums of all time (arguably my favourite, depending on the day) and it reminded me that sometimes we need to re-evaluate records as we grow and mature.

“Dreaming of You” is still one of my favourite songs of all time, and I insisted on playing it at my wedding last year (well, technically YOU played it, I just queued up the speakers). Seeing the development between your early demos of “DOY” and “PIO” and the released versions is truly astonishing, and I’m grateful to have heard the rough beginnings ! Although I prefer the final versions (can’t beat that xylophone), there’s something sort of fun about the Ringo-esque “Pass it on ! Pass it on !” bit that was later dropped.

Anyway, after that point I never missed a record. I was working at HMV here in Canada and would constantly be importing Coral singles so I could get the b-sides. I have every single from the first two records (including both CD’s of “Secret Kiss” as well as the 45). Obviously I had to get the 45 AND Maxi-single of “Pass it On”, partly because those b-sides were so great ! Ironically, I DO think I was the first … to order that many Coral odds and ends.

It was a special time back then. You and The Zutons dropped instant classic debuts, and all of a sudden I went from listening to dwell-y BS like Embrace, Travis, etc to wanting to rock out with this obscure sounding mersey-pirate-beat. I felt so blessed to be able to see both you AND The Zutons in Toronto around 2005 (Zutons must have been a bit earlier than that, as I checked out after the second album. No offense to them, but … did not care for a lot of the third record).

Part of what compels me to write this is that this new record, and it’s return to the unpredictable angle of the first record, caught me off guard, and made me realize that I hadn’t listened to you in awhile. I was so taken aback by “Roots & Echoes”, I just didn’t know what to make of it at first. Bands change, mature and adapt, but it began to feel like Invisible Invasion (or perhaps “Curse of Love”, if we’re going by recording date) was a send-off to that raucous Coral I had fallen in love with. It isn’t that R&E was a “Bad” record. “Put the Sun Back” may be the loveliest tune you’ve ever crafted, but I guess part of me was afraid we would never get that Beefheart quality back again. That said, “In the Rain” certainly would fit on those early records, so really this speaks more to my frame of mind in 2007 than now.

“Butterfly House” was interesting, because it essentially walked the line between R&E, but with the production of Invisible Invasion (obviously not the same producer, but I mean that it had more of a psychedelic swirl to it than R&E did). Although it contained many lovely melodies, the undercurrent was still a lingering folky quality, leading me to wonder about the future (and past) of the band. And don’t get me wrong, I LOVE folk music. I was lucky enough to grow up with a nice LP collection that went from Kingston Trio to Tiny Tim to Easy Rider to Platoon to Abbey Road to Neil Young and beyond.

That said, I guess what always worried me was the thought that perhaps label pressure (or perhaps your own pressure) over crafting “hits” was superseding making whatever you wanted, like it used to be. This is, of course, only a fear I once had and not something I have any proof or backup of. I guess I always had a bit of a chip on my shoulder on your behalf because you have Alex Turner come in and (seemingly) effortlessly conquer the music world, or have a Zutons song covered by a popular singer and blow up, but what of the originators ? What of my precious Coral ??

Fact is, I love Arctic Monkeys too (as I’d imagine you do as well, or those would’ve been pretty awkward shows to play). I can’t possibly compare you as bands, because it’s just not the same thing, nor does it attempt to be. I always kind of saw Alex as your little brother who loved what you were doing and wanted to be a part of that energy. In some ways, it felt like they used the first Coral record as a jumping off point, but took it in a different direction. In that way, all fans of AM have you to thank for blazing the trail, and I’ve been sure to spread the gospel of the Wirral wherever possible.

Here’s the thing though. I know what you dig, and what your influences are, because I’ve always shared many of the same. Although I’m more of a “Safe As Milk” than a “Trout Mask Replica” guy, I can’t help but think of your work when I listen to my boxes of Nuggets and marvel at the power a single 45 side can bring. And to me, thats The Coral. That’s what’s more important than having a 3 minute pop tune known worldwide for a few months. You were never The Beatles, you were The Kinks. You were We The People. You were The Remains. And I hope you don’t look back, in anger or otherwise.

I’ve been writing songs for years myself, and though I’ll never achieve the heights you have, all I ever really wanted was to be the dusty 45 that some kid finds in a box outside a second hand shop. He takes it home and EXPERIENCES that song. Just like those obscure 60’s/70’s bands we love, that made 1-3 singles and disappeared. It’s that feeling I never tire of, the fine line between genius and obscurity. I think you know what I mean, though you’ve already had multiple chart successes, so the comparison is less apt.
Anyway, twitter doesn’t allow nearly enough characters to properly summarize my feelings for what you’ve created over the years. You’ve outlasted The Zutons, The White Stripes and so many others that burst onto the scene during that magical period in the early 2000’s. That’s really something to be proud of, especially when you’ve dropped a gem of an 8th record, in some ways out of nowhere. I guess I just hope you never have any regrets or any envy towards other artists, because nobody did it like you guys.

Bands and labels come and go. Trends and styles weave in and out of the musical fabric, but you guys are still here. You’ve weathered the storm, and proven your mettle with so many varying genres, sometimes within the same song ! I hope you’re proud of what you’ve created and achieved, because it’s meant so much to me, and to many others. The beauty of music is knowing that no matter what, you’ll live forever (non deliberate Oasis reference).

Thank you for the memories, and if you can make it to Ottawa, you’ve got a place to stay and some joints, pints and records waiting !

Can’t wait for what’s next,


P.S. – I made a Coral Compilation back in the day, but the new album caused me to re-evaluate it and make a new version. It’s career spanning, and includes 28 tracks (10 non-album). It was pretty tough, and I had to make some unfortunate cuts (the “bonus disc” is 31 tracks), but I think it’s a great snapshot of the band, and should help in my efforts to spread the word of The Coral ! I thought you might get a kick out of seeing what a fan of so many years has chosen to represent your work. Don’t tell “Skeleton Key” that I cut it.

P.P.S. – I hope to hear that concept album someday, if you ever let it out of the vault !

Current Coral Comp

  1. The Coral – Grey Harpoon (2:20)
  2. The Coral – She Sings The Mourning (3:08)
  3. The Coral – In The Morning (2:33)
  4. The Coral – Dreaming Of You (2:21)
  5. The Coral – Sorrow Or The Song (3:15)
  6. The Coral – Connector (4:13)
  7. The Coral – Liezah (3:31)
  8. The Coral – The Conjurer (2:59)
  9. The Coral – Monkey To The Moon (2:23)
  10. The Coral – Shadows Fall (original version) (3:14)
  11. The Coral – Travelling Circus (2:38)
  12. The Coral – Put The Sun Back (3:02)
  13. The Coral – In The Rain (3:06)
  14. The Coral – Wildfire (2:45)
  15. The Coral – It’s You (3:28)
  16. The Coral – Not The Girl (3:47)
  17. The Coral – Pass It On (2:19)
  18. The Coral – The King Has Died (3:18)
  19. The Coral – The Box (2:58)
  20. The Coral – I Remember When (3:37)
  21. The Coral – Green Is The Colour (3:22)
  22. The Coral – Return Her To Me (2:37)
  23. The Coral – Don’t Think You’re the First (4:03)
  24. The Coral – Far From The Crowd (3:39)
  25. The Coral – Bill McCai (2:37)
  26. The Coral – Late Afternoon (3:51)
  27. The Coral – Who’s That Knockin’? (2:27)
  28. The Coral – Another Turn in the Lock (3:35)