IN CONVERSATION: The Coral – “There’s two sides to our band – the one you hear on the radio. And then there’s a minor chord”

IN CONVERSATION: The Coral – “There’s two sides to our band – the one you hear on the radio. And then there’s a minor chord”

This week The Coral release their tenth studio album, Coral Island. The album is highly compelling in its focus on a seaside town, exploring faded majesty and glamour. This is also a double album – Side One’s Welcome To Coral Island bursts with bright light and the energy of a summer season, whereas Side Two, The Ghost Of Coral Island, digs underneath this to explore its haunted, faded underbelly, as the season draws to a close. As a whole, the album is a triumph, spilling with distinct imagery that transports the listener deeply into another world.

I spoke to Nick Power from the band, and we delved into the ideas behind the record. We also chatted about his memories of appearing on Top of the Pops, his poetry work, his favourite ever concert as an audience member, and his memorable experiences of doing Tim’s Twitter listening parties.

Where are you today and what have you been up to so far?

I’m here near Penny Lane in Liverpool. I’ve been helping someone clear a house out, which is not what I’m usually doing. I thought my interviews were tomorrow, I got it wrong. But I’m alright, I’m on a bed, so it gives me a chance to skive!

I really enjoyed the new album Coral Island. I think it’s a fantastic album. I found the concept behind it compelling in how it creates a specific world focused on a small town. It really immerses the listener. And there are just so many good songs on it! Could you tell me what sparked this idea and how the album took shape?

We’ve touched upon this kind of thing, really, in albums before. And because we grew up where we are from, The Wirral, all of our holidays were in Blackpool or Bognor or Rhyl, those great windswept caravan parks in North Wales, and piers, and Blackpool. And so, it’s kind of in your blood. It’s definitely in our blood, that concept of faded glamour of seaside towns. So, we were kind of thinking, maybe we should just consolidate that into one album and call it Coral Island.  And that was the first idea we had. And then we started getting more songs for it.

There’s two sides to our band – there’s the one you hear on the radio. And then there’s a minor chord one that’s in touch with pre-rock & roll. Death ditties they were called, it was a genre of music… it was almost like a follow on from the type of thing James Dean did, like teenage fatalism. And it was a genre. And someone always ends up getting stabbed in it or died in a drag race crash. There’s like a light side to us and a dark side to us. We were thinking, why don’t we split that side up and make Coral Island, about a seaside town that was in its heyday, say in the 30s 40s 50s, where everything’s new and the crowds are all there, and make the other side with those type of songs. The type of seaside towns that we grew up in where the money is gone, the crowds had dried up and there was a kind of haunted magic in them. And then the idea kind of just snowballed from there.

This focus of the album on memory, the passing of time, and place – it made me think about a place called Barry Island in South Wales, where Gavin and Stacey set. There are different photos I’ve seen of forgotten and faded rides. It’s quite moving actually. And you know, as you say, there’s a duality, there’s so much brightness and vibrancy, but then there’s always this underside. And I have memories of going there when I was young. Are there any particular memories this new album evokes for you? 

Yes, we’d go to Blackpool and North Wales for holidays. There was a time in the band where we were just kind of getting nowhere in the studio and we were quite young. And one day we thought, ‘shall we just go to Blackpool for the day?’. Since it was only like an hour, twenty-minute ride away. It was in the winter and it rained all the way there and we listened to The Smiths Hatful of Hollow. So, in my memory when I think back to that day, I think of that Smiths album and then getting there in the rain. It was eleven in the morning when we arrived and we’d all been drinking cider on the way and we just walked around all day in the rain, the fair and the pleasure beach were shut, all the rides were shut. We went into the ghost house drunk! It’s one of my favourite memories, especially in the band. Every time we go to play in Brighton or anywhere like that…even when we were in Hamburg, we ended up in a fair. So even when we’re on tour, when we get to places like that, it’s like a little feel of home places, because I don’t know what it is. It’s like, as you say, it’s like a façade, it’s bright but then there’s that underbelly. But I feel comfortable in those places, I don’t know why.

I wanted to ask you what it was like recording the new album. Did you record it the year previously, or was it last year, during lockdown?

We dodged the lockdown by about a month. So, it wasn’t recorded in lockdown, it was before. We were quite lucky really. The way we recorded it was kind of separately almost… well, not separately, but everyone would kind of sing at least a song, or write a song on the album. We’ve never done that before. We were in and out of the studio so quickly at the very end we thought, well we’re going to have to stitch it all together somehow now. That’s where the main work was, trying to make it work.

And you did the lockdown sessions album, I really liked that. What was it like recording it?

That was just James, in his house, recording onto his phone when his kids were in bed. Because he had nothing to do. It kept him occupied for two weeks!

And how have you been coping during the past year? Has it impacted you in many ways?

Yes, I think it’s changed everyone – I’m definitely a different person after it. My wife had a baby. I think I kind of learned to try and do one thing well. I remember before the lockdown I was trying to do this, then I was recording a bit there, and I was writing a piece. In lockdown, I just thought, I’m not going to do any of that, I’m just going to do one thing. And it’s going really well.

You’re also publishing a book to accompany the release, ‘Over Coral Island’ written by you and illustrated by Ian Skelly.  Could you tell us a bit about this – in what ways does it accompany the album?

I started it after we had the songs written but not recorded. And we always try and think of an interesting way to approach the album to promote it or just as a talking point, or anything of interest that takes it out of the norm of just being twelve songs. So, I was like, well these characters in the interludes that I’ve written, so a lot of the time it’s expanding on one of those characters. There’s old time characters like you find in old comic books. There’s a strong man, mermaid twins, and there’s a fire eater. She has to stop smoking because she hates it! She uses a vape. But then there’s more realistic ones, like a girl who’s a gambling addict who takes her daughter down to the arcades, the slots, because her daughter’s got this magical winning streak. So, she uses her to win for her. So, I didn’t want it to be too fantasy – I wanted it to be a mixture of where I live in New Brighton and then this fantastical world, but I didn’t want it to be too far either way.

You published the poetry book Small Town Chase and tour memoir Into the Void, and then also the year before last The Lowdeine Chronicles – I really like your writing. I was reading this morning some of the extracts from the tour memoir you did. You’re so good at painting a really vivid picture of a place or scene or feeling. What role or meaning does writing/or songwriting play for you in your life?

When I started I was about 14 or 15 and now I’m 38, so it’s just been the one constant thing that I’ve always tried to be good at. And that’s why we started the band and I think that’s why sometimes people think, well why didn’t you do this in your career, you could’ve been… but I think everything we did was around trying to sustain a career in writing, which is what we all like to do. So now, because I can still get up in the morning and do the same thing as I was doing when I was 16, 17, I’m really thankful for that. So I feel like what I started out to do, I’m still doing it. And I’m happy about it.

And do you think you’ll release more books after this one?

Yes, I always like artists whose work is a chronicle of their life, that chronicle their life changing and different things that happen to them. Not everything has to be barrier breaking or genre defining, it’s enough just to sort of look at what’s going on around you and write it down. The truth of that sometimes is more moving than something fantastic. It’s just the very basic truth of one thing sometimes is enough.

How do you usually feel before the release of a new album – is this one any different for you?

Every album we do now we kind of have to go, well, what side of us shall we put out? What’s going on? Because it’s about surviving, I think, where we are in our career. So we can pick a side of us, and go well, this is going on, this might tap into what’s happening. When we came back a few years ago psychedelia had had a big resurgence, so we thought oh wow, we can do all the side that we love like the 13th Floor Elevators, Roky Erickson. We thought, we can do that now because there’s an audience for it. And that was about three albums ago, so on this one, we thought, why don’t we just do exactly what we want, for our fans. Something really conceptual and indulgent and we really didn’t expect it to be received – people have reacted to it so well. I think everyone remembers their first fair or their first trip to a place like that. So, I think for everyone in England and even America it’s really relatable. It’s more relatable than we thought it would be. We thought it was just a fan album, you know, because this is the third album in a four-year cycle. So, it’s been quite surprising but I’ve really enjoyed the reaction it’s getting. It’s really nice.

You did an advert in a local newspaper to promote the new album. I loved this! Why did you choose to promote it this way?

Yes! Because it would be like something you’d read in the classified ads if you lived in a town like that. Something mysterious. It would say something mysterious and lead you on a four-day adventure to try and track it down what it was. In like an old comic or something. It just kind of fitted in with that world.

As I mentioned, I’m from South Wales and I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how land and location and our surroundings can impact us. You are from Wirral – what impact do you think this specific location has on you and your music?

Quite strong, yes. I’m a massive believer in that and some sort of psychography and how a place affects your mindset, especially artistically. I mean, if you think about where we are, we’re right in the middle of two strong musical magnets – the port of Liverpool – Echo and the Bunnymen, The La’s, The Beatles, Merseybeat. And then Wales, which we can see from our house on our left, and then the docks on our right. So, you have Super Furry Animals, Gorkys, all of that which we devoured when we were kids. And there’s the Irish Sea right in front you, which is about escape and gives us a lot of influence. We are known as a band that has a load of influences, we just put them all in a melting pot. I think we’re a good mixture of Wales and Liverpool musically.

Connected to this, I love your solo album Caravan, that you recorded in 2017, in a caravan park in Rhyl. I think it’s so valuable that you did this. What was it like recording it there?

I’ve done it a couple of times before. It’s exactly what you want it to be – you get the sound of the rain on the flimsy roofs. I had a TV that wouldn’t quite buzz in and there’s recordings of that – I couldn’t tune it.  It’s the atmosphere. I used to be into stuff like the deep south, trailer parks, and the desert and all that, and I thought, why am I looking at that so far away, when basically it’s all on my doorstep, really, but just our version of it, which is the Welsh coast and the port in Liverpool. It’s all on your doorstep. I mean, it ties in with the album a little bit, but it’s where it all started with that solo album.

A programme that was really important to me growing up was Top Of The Pops. I’m loving the repeats on BBC Four. You’ve appeared on it a few times – could you tell us what it was like to be on there? Are there any specific memories you have?      

It was great! I think even then, when we were on, it was on its last days. But it was still like, my mum would be ringing saying Nick, he’s on Top of the Pops. And you’d feel quite prestigious. I remember seeing Natalie Imbruglia and I couldn’t believe it was her and I nearly fell over the monitor as I’d just walked backwards. That’s my biggest memory of Top of the Pops!

There’s been two of Tim’s twitter listening parties on your albums, and you have one coming up for the new album – what was it like participating in these? Did you participate in them yourself?

I did them, yeah. And it was harder than any gig I’ve ever done! And on the second one, I was doing it off Spotify and I didn’t realise, you press play on Spotify and it shuffles it. So the first one was like the best gig of my life, people were calling me up congratulating me. And it was in lockdown, so everyone was like, their heads had gone. People were phoning me up going I love all this, it was brilliant! And then the second one I pressed shuffle! So the first one was like the best gig of my life and the second one the worst. So I’m going to try and get somewhere in between with the next one.

And what was it like revisiting the early albums?

It was good. I think that’s what people did in lockdown, they looked back. There seemed to be a lot of people who were looking back at their lives or whatever.  It seemed to be a massive reflection. It felt really good. It was quite emotional. But it kind of got it out of everyone’s system. I feel good about moving ahead.

You’ve toured quite a lot over the years – and you’ve written the tour memoir Into the Void – is there anything you miss about being on the road, on tour?

Oh yeah, yeah. What I miss is being five or six days into a tour and you kind of just forget who you are a little bit and you almost just become a character then. You can become whoever you want and you’re just moving into a town. It was probably what it was like being in a circus back in the day. And so you’re almost kind of running away from yourself but it feels really good! That’s what I liked about it, and travelling, as I like travelling. And the gigs are great as well. But I like the travelling aspect.

What is the best concert that you have ever been to as an audience member?

Oh man! I saw The White Stripes once and it was amazing. I think when we were kids we went to see Australian Pink Floyd. But we were really really young and we all got stoned beforehand. And I don’t really remember but the gig was crap because they played The Division Bell from start to finish. But I just had such a good time going there beforehand that that was my favourite gig.

Finally, what are your tentative plans for 2021? You have some shows lined up?

Yeah, there’s some pencilled in, but pencilled in is the word, because we don’t quite know. Although because they’ve announced quite a few festivals, that must mean the insurance were in agreement. So it looks like it might happen. We’ve got festivals booked in, but we haven’t got a tour yet. We’d like to do a tour of pier towns.

You can do Barry Island!

That’s a good idea! I’m going to put it forward.

 

Coral Island is out now, on Modern Sky..

 

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