Cooking Vinyl

James Skelly & The Intenders

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As you may by now be aware, not long ago The Coral reconvened with John Leckie to begin work on their sixth studio album, got halfway through, and decided it was time for a break.

“The stuff we’d recorded was great, but it was just natural,” James Skelly says of the decision. “We’d been together since we were 16, younger even, and you just get to the point where you’re almost trapped in this version of what you think you should be. The Coral will definitely do something again but people have got to want it, you know? We’ve been a successful band, ‘Butterfly House’ was a strong record to leave it on, and you kind of want to leave it like that. The thing is, hopefully this break will just make The Coral better.”

The downside of this is we must wave an indefinite goodbye to the most consistently brilliant and inventive British guitar band of the 21st Century. The good news is that right now the stage is set for the first set of songs by James Skelly & The Intenders.

“The name is just about letting people know that it’s not just me and an acoustic guitar – which I’d imagine they might think it would be,” Skelly says. “I had the songs, but it became a proper group thing, with everyone involved having a big input into it. I wanted a Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers thing, so that people get the idea that that’s what it is live. And I just thought it sounded good. It sounds like the sort of thing you’d want to go and see.”

Convening a revolving cast of players that, as well as all the members of The Coral, included James Redmond of Tramp Attack on bass and members of The Sundowners on harmonies, James put down the tunes he had assembled live, in the studio. The quickly recorded result – “two or three takes a day” ¬– is ‘Love Undercover’ (the title referring to “all the different disguises of love”), which eschews the elongated instrumental forays at which his group so often excelled at in favour of 11 short, sharp, direct pop songs. Only the closing ‘Darkest Days’ stretches out beyond the six-minute mark, and even then, most of that is a coda; most of the others are over in three-and-a-bit minutes. “The Coral stuff was all a bit more… abstract, I guess,” James says. “These songs are just really direct, straight to the point. And when you’re being direct, there’s not much room for jamming, you just serve the song.”

From the word go, this is evident, with opener ‘You’ve Got It All’ setting a defiant, upbeat tone. Deriving from a demo that Paul Weller sent over, of just of some chords and a melody that he had, James took it wrote his own words, and added the second part of the chorus. James: “So when we were putting the album together, Ian was like, ‘You’ve gotta ask him if you can do that tune, it’s amazing’. So I went down to his studio and did some more work on it, and it’s great way to kick off the album.”

There is uncharted territory soon after, in the shape of the glam-stomp of ‘Do It Again’, full of hammered one-note piano solos and swinging brass. It is here, also, that you first start to notice another one of the defining aspects of ‘Love Undercover’, which is that the words are much simpler than they have been in the past, As James says, “On this album, I went with the first lines I wrote. There are loads of lines on it – like for example, ‘You do it again now, baby’ – where in the past I would have gone back and changed it, but I wanted to keep these songs really un-thought out, and really instant.”

In pursuit of this, the basic tracks were cut in the studio live, and you can tell. But there are also intricacies and little touches that suggest a record that’s had a lot of care and attention lavished on it. James and Ian, it turns out, produced it themselves.

“We’ve watched people like Leckie, and Ian Broudie and Geoff Barrow do it, so they’re good people to learn off,” says James, “and we knew what we wanted with this. We showed up with a load of amps, but they all broke, so I think we ended up doing all the guitars through this one Orange amp, That’s what Leckie taught us: that you just get the best out of whatever kit you’ve got at the time.”

And so atop the direct, insistent, to-the-point chord structures, you get simple-but-heartfelt words, more often than not about love, about human emotions. Songs like the piano-led ‘Here For You’ and ‘Turn Away’, or the harmonica-assisted ‘Sacrifice’ take this approach and conjure something close to the magic of great soul music, of Motown or Stax, in the same, joyous way that the best Springsteen songs do. And on ‘Searching For The Sun’ and ‘Set You Free’ and plenty of the others too, you have gorgeous, multi-layered harmonies that make this feel like a band record, like a powerful ensemble piece, rather than a solo album. Of course, given that it is all sung by James Skelly, it bears similarities to the band he has led for over a decade but, with the possible exception of ‘I’m A Man’ (which feels a little like an older, wiser ‘Bill McCai’), there is not much here that feels like The Coral. It has it’s own character.

The plan now is to put out ‘Do It Again’ as a taster, then ‘You’ve Got It All’ as a single, then the album. James is positive about ‘Love Undercover’’s potential to spread via word of mouth, and is right to be: these are not complicated songs. They are the sort of songs that a lot of people could fall in love with. And it’s the sort of album that is for everyone.

you can do that tune, it’s amazing’. So I went down to his studio and did some more work on it, and it’s great way to kick off the album.”

There is uncharted territory soon after, in the shape of the glam-stomp of ‘Do It Again’, full of hammered one-note piano solos and swinging brass. It is here, also, that you first start to notice another one of the defining aspects of ‘Love Undercover’, which is that the words are much simpler than they have been in the past, As James says, “On this album, I went with the first lines I wrote. There are loads of lines on it – like for example, ‘You do it again now, baby’ – where in the past I would have gone back and changed it, but I wanted to keep these songs really un-thought out, and really instant.”

In pursuit of this, the basic tracks were cut in the studio live, and you can tell. But there are also intricacies and little touches that suggest a record that’s had a lot of care and attention lavished on it. James and Ian, it turns out, produced it themselves.

“We’ve watched people like Leckie, and Ian Broudie and Geoff Barrow do it, so they’re good people to learn off,” says James, “and we knew what we wanted with this. We showed up with a load of amps, but they all broke, so I think we ended up doing all the guitars through this one Orange amp, That’s what Leckie taught us: that you just get the best out of whatever kit you’ve got at the time.”

And so atop the direct, insistent, to-the-point chord structures, you get simple-but-heartfelt words, more often than not about love, about human emotions. Songs like the piano-led ‘Here For You’ and ‘Turn Away’, or the harmonica-assisted ‘Sacrifice’ take this approach and conjure something close to the magic of great soul music, of Motown or Stax, in the same, joyous way that the best Springsteen songs do. And on ‘Searching For The Sun’ and ‘Set You Free’ and plenty of the others too, you have gorgeous, multi-layered harmonies that make this feel like a band record, like a powerful ensemble piece, rather than a solo album. Of course, given that it is all sung by James Skelly, it bears similarities to the band he has led for over a decade but, with the possible exception of ‘I’m A Man’ (which feels a little like an older, wiser ‘Bill McCai’), there is not much here that feels like The Coral. It has it’s own character.

The plan now is to put out ‘Do It Again’ as a taster, then ‘You’ve Got It All’ as a single, then the album. James is positive about ‘Love Undercover’’s potential to spread via word of mouth, and is right to be: these are not complicated songs. They are the sort of songs that a lot of people could fall in love with. And it’s the sort of album that is for everyone.