The Invisible Invasion: The rising cult status of The Coral and their significant return

The status of Liverpool’s darlings, The Coral has drifted in and out of popular music over the years, it has often been enigmatic despite its exceptionally bright start but now, they are set to make their significant return. Critics and press have often turned their back on the group, leaving the band to be unfortunately taken for granted at times, known as a one-hit wonder sort of group for those who were yet to dedicate themselves. A select few have stuck their noses up and sniffed out the potential of their back catalogue though and this is what I want to get at in this piece. I believe the status of The Coral as a band rests upon a notion of seminal cultism, it is one that generates itself through the years as they have stuck about for the long haul. They have proven their worth as now, eight albums in and 15 years since their first release, they are still functioning as a band albeit losing one member. Partly, this is down to their birthplace, Liverpool.

Liverpool I argue, is unlike many cities in the way that it uniquely packs its own identity into a basket that is so self-supportive and self-celebrating — rather than the universal push to London for many creatives – generally speaking Liverpool-based musicians often find solace in remaining put. What this in turn generates is a family of musicians, all exceptionally talented and all exceptionally supportive of one another. After living there for three years personally, you get the sense that there is always an older brother or sister to look at who has been there and done that in order to guide you. It doesn’t take a genius to regurgitate the history of music from the area, you can look into the 80s and soon find the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen and A Flock of Seagulls, the 90s comes and goes with The La’s, The Farm and The Boo Radleys, oh, and there was that band kicking around in the 60s and early 70s but we won’t go into them here. The 00s erupted and who was to be the starlets? Well, The Zutons came and went, regardless of their unique take on blues, jazz and soul and The Coral came, and well, stayed, and that is just the start of it.

Deltasonic Records was the brainchild of Alan Wills, a man who had a dream for a label and ultimately, this was something that matched The Coral’s dream to be on a label. So the story goes that they fell hand in hand. I believe this falls in line with the romantic story that surrounds the Liverpool music scene, two dreams coming together as if some collision of planets ultimately sparked one another. Deltasonic has since gone on to sign many local musicians in the area, The Coral being the first but since, The Zutons, Miles Kane’s former group. The Little Flames and the current ones to watch, The Vryll Society. There’s beauty in this story that leads back to the growing cult status of The Coral; this is a band that have ultimately helped influence an exceptionally influential label from the off. They have generated a following of musicians that support that label in their own way, vibrating off of one another and pushing one another in equal measure. In the years between 2010’s Butterfly House and 2016’s Distance Inbetween (discounting the release of 2014’s The Curse of Love as it was an album that was shelved from a previous time) James Skelly has gone on to coin his own record label, ‘Skeleton Key Records’. Skeleton Key Records has gone on and furthered Deltasonic’s work in the sense it revels in and unites the glory of Liverpool’s latest musical starlets, Serpent Power, Sundowners and his own group, James Skelly and The Intenders.

This family image with the Liverpool music scene is something that resonates so closely within the actual group of musicians themselves. A fraternal image is depicted by James Skelly, brother Ian, Paul Duffy, Nick Power and the newly acquired, Paul Molloy. It is an image much like The Velvet Underground, The Black Lips or The Clash; they have a gang mentality that is spurred on from their press photography, depicting five chaps wearing similar attire, the most recent of which has a hazy Clint Eastwood feel to it and furthermore, the unique charm of the Scouse accent. This particularly gives the Huck Finn/Tom Sawyer feel to their charm and endearment. A gang of likely lads that carry with them a bit of cheek and wit, an image like this comes across in a similar way to Peter Doherty and Carl Barat’s ‘set of chancers’ feel. This fraternal element to a band is often what can generate such a cult like feel; there is certainly room for strength in numbers and the unity of a group develops a fan-base that aspires to be at one with the band. When you see a gang onstage, down the pub or out and about, you want to feel part of it, you want to feel relevant. It plays on egos and validation in the sense that if you become recognised as one of ‘them’, you become one of them, one of the band, at least in your own mind’s eye. Furthermore, images strike once and images strike fast, particularly those that depict a group who have unison in the way they dress. Unlike other bands of the era that often smelled their demise from the off due to the artificial feel to their unification and lack of group image, The Coral have always been fashion-savvy and this is something that resonated in their image as a group. It is a style that exaggerated their roots and their down-to-earth nature as a group, which it took largely from 60s influences of moccasin shoes and merged this with a Northern sensibility of parka jackets and duffel coats. It is a very easily identifiable image and has routes in The La’s, The Charlatans and the likes; a Northern image but one that allows an individual to recognise them as a group. The retro look that The Coral gave the casual look, with bowl cuts and hints of corduroy or suede, was unique from the other bands and gave them their own little fashion clique that was seldom touched upon previously.

The sound of The Coral has developed vastly over the albums. Initially taking everything from 60s psych-pop, they have gone on to weave through blues, soul-rock, country music and more recently the darker tinge of psychedelia. It is interesting how in their absence from the music scene, the return of psychedelia has flourished and grown vastly within popular music and you can now see the likes of Temples, Blossoms and Toy being three prominent UK psych-pop outfits that all give nods of appreciation directed specifically towards The Coral. Jangling guitars and big choruses feature throughout Temples’ debut, Sun Structures, that specifically points towards The Coral’s Butterfly House. Similarly, their Northern counterparts Blossoms are beginning to pen their name into the current music hype-house, just see how their efforts point towards The Coral’s self-titled debut effort; ‘Stormy’ and ‘Cut Me and I’ll Bleed’ demonstrate wistfully and perfectly executed guitar patterns that lead for the perfect 60s psych-pop combinations.

Ultimately, 2016 will see the return of The Coral. After their long absence, they are set to release their eighth studio album on 4th March, an album that ties together their history and past influences as well as pushing themselves into the next gear, taking new influences into account and exploring the dark, twisted world of Alice’s rabbit hole. They are set to play Concorde 2 down here on 5th April but after that, they return to headline Liverpool Sound City. A headline slot that is set to sell the festival out alone, a set that is bound to be in comparison to Pulp’s return to Sheffield or The Stone Roses’ return to Manchester. For a band that unite themselves so closely with a society and identify themselves so sincerely with a culture, it will be euphoric and sets itself to be a milestone type set. There has been an invisible invasion of The Coral throughout the years, you may not have noticed it too much but when you peel back and see inside, it’s there, swimming around somewhere.
Tom Churchill


Read the review of The Coral’s Distance Inbetween album here: