Mischievous scamps and accomplished virtuosos, hometown boys continue to prove they’ve come a long, way baby. Getintothis’ Orla Foster on the joys of the latest Coral incantation.
Some people find The Coral a little outmoded. They’ve been around a fair while now – eight years have edged by since the release of their self-titled debut, and in that time their sound has changed considerably: from frenetic beginnings their sound has evolved into something more earthy, gentle and restrained, with the barber-shop harmonies cut out and many of the trippier, mad-cap middle-eights sandpapered down into aimable skiffle-tinged intermissions.
It’s a far cry from the gimlet-eyed affable rogues described in the January 2002 issue of NME I have before me. In the most literally-transcribed interview you could dream of – it’s impossible to navigate for ‘gorra‘, ‘fockin‘ and ‘la‘ – you get a picture of a bunch of stoner kids shaped in a Gallagher womb and birthed in a car chase, cheekily mouthing off about the-then pop contendors and denouncing various pearls of received wisdom as ‘Boooooll-shiiiiiit‘. (I guess Bernard Shaw was editing the NME that day.)
Tonight at Mountford Hall it’s difficult to know what to expect, but something tells me the So Stoned Crew of yesteryear won’t be showing up. Most likely, the performance will lean towards their more mellow offerings. Something that could be appreciated just as easily alongside pipe and slippers before an open fire, with maw and paw nodding their heads appreciatively.
The support act seem to fit into this bracket too. In fact, it seems they’re a match made in heaven. Cherry Ghost, hailing from Bolton, play stately, folk-tinged pop rippled with yearning. Towards the end of their set The Night They Buried Sadie Clay is a particular highlight, rousing the crowd to a more feverish state than support acts are ever usually entititled.
Post Cherry Ghost there’s a hideous scramble for drinks. With seconds to spare, I return to my patch which is by now considerably further from the stage, regretting the rite of passage which makes trying to meet the (dead) eyes of collegiate bar staff more urgent than staking out a spot at the front. Still, The Coral have such an understated presence that it’s a safe bet I won’t be missing any theatrics.
The first half dozen songs are all from the most recent two albums. Opener More Than A Lover sets the tone beautifully, with its church-bell chimes and wistful streak. Roving Jewel goes down a treat, and 1000 Years brings out effusive cheers and sighs.
The crowd seems to be going wild from the off. The band respond with characteristic wariness, continuing to coolly tread out songs which are met with appreciative roars and pints thrust upward in a clumsy toast.
But it’s when the older songs get a look in that you begin to get glimpses of the old, forgotten Coral. Although albums Magic & Medicine and The Invisible Invasion are almost entirely omitted, the band’s wide-eyed debut is represented in all its glory, demanding a fiercer, more roughshod performance than the bluegrass they’ve given us a taste for.
Part of the appeal of songs such as Spanish Main and Simon Diamond is that James Skelly has to adjust his voice to suit – no more a softly-softly Simon & Garfunkel/Everley Brothers murmur but a rabid old sea-dog instead.
They also throw in a surprise by breaking into grins for a Beatles cover, Things We Said Today, which is stripped of its usual candour to become something paranoid and menacing, with the effect that it sounds more like Remember Me than the Fab Four.
Another surprise is how good Rebecca You sounds as a finale. Live, it seems to lose the indistinct note it carries on record, extended far beyond its usual running time and taking on a new heartiness.
It doesn’t end there, of course. For an encore, they pull out a stirring rendition of Goodbye. Then there’s a hush. Will they, won’t they, play the song that made their name? It’s a bit of a dilemma, having a song that’s bigger than you are, a song that will definitely strike a thrill in the hearts of the audience, but which could also forseeably soundtrack 30 seconds out of every MTV reality show for the next decade.
Well, of course they do. It sounds a bit hurried and out of context, like a Grease medley inserted into a concerto, but the audience are aglow. Then it’s back to their more mature repertoire as the band finish with North Parade. It’s a vigorous mix of new material and the Coral doing what they do best, getting lost in the solos with dizzying effect, making you forget where you are.
It’s not often you find yourself willing a band to be more self-indulgent, but it seems to bring out the best in the Coral. Mischievous scamps or accomplished virtuosos, they’re at their most appealing when they let themselves get carried away, wresting the crowd with along them.
Pictures courtesy of Daniel King.