The Wirral penninsula is a piece of land that’s wedged between two rivers that separate North Wales and Liverpool. On the left the River Dee on the right the River Mersey – this is where I grew up as a teenager in an inconsequential, oddly named village called Thingwall – a stone’s throw from Liverpool.
I wasn’t the only one from The Wirral that dedicated a life to music, David Balfe lived behind me. He was a member of The Teardrop Explodes, Dalek, I Love You, Lori And The Chameleons and the man that started Food records and signed Blur. I would see him regularly on his way to school in the mornings. He also signed highly underrated Leicester band Diesel Park West, Voice Of The Beehive, Zodiac Mindwarp, Crazyhead and Jesus Jones. He managed Strawberry Switchblade and Brilliant, a post Killing Joke band that featured future hip, hot-shot producer Youth. It’s quite a CV. After leaving the music biz he returned as an A&R man for Sony and signed Kula Shaker.
Alan Gill was also a member of The Teardrop Explodes and Dalek, I Love You. It was strange to see Balfe and Gill on the cover of the first Teardrop’s album, Kilimanjaro after knowing them as kids. Alan Gill and I went to the same school although he was in the year above me. I would see him every day on the school bus. He and Balfe formed a band called Radio Blank with someone else I knew from the village called Keith Hartley. Their name was graffitied across a bridge near the Woodchurch Estate where I went to school and when I rode by motorbike to Liverpool every morning to go to work, I would see their name. I don’t know what happened to Hartley or Gill.
Ian Astbury from The Cult was born in Heswall (a mile away). I found this out whilst touring with them in Italy. One day we were playing football at a soundcheck and we sat down and had a conversation and he told me where he was from. He moved to Canada in 1973 when he was 11, but we probably crossed paths somewhere in the early seventies without knowing it, in a supermarket or the post office with our parents. He married Aimee Nash the singer from The Black Ryder who I know from Sydney. It’s bizarre how things connect up.
Andy McCluskey lead singer and bassist from Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark was also born in Heswall, his partner Paul Humphreys grew up on the Wirral. McCluskey was also the brains behind Atomic Kitten’s massive success and was briefly the singer in Dalek, I Love You till he left to form OMD.
Although the Wirral is leafy and posh in parts it also had its share of ‘lads’ looking for a fight and Dare Mason (my partner in the Noctorum project) and I spent a lot of our youth running away from rogue gangs of lads from the estates that surrounded us – ha ha sweet memories. Although our band Opal Butterfly, didn’t make it we both went on to greater musical things. Dare became a producer / engineer and worked with a lot of famous people in London as in-house engineer at The Townhouse studios.
At this point it might be time to talk about the subject of this post – The Coral. As you might have guessed The Coral are from The Wirral too, albeit a different era to my time there. Hoylake, their birth place is on the tip of the Wirral looking out onto the Irish sea and is just a couple of miles from Thingwall. It has lots of big posh houses and an open air swimming pool that we would go to sometimes. I think the last time we went there we were chased by a gang of lads!
The difference between bands from the Wirral and bands from Liverpool like Echo or Wah is inconsequential to anyone from outside the area. They were all Livepool bands to anyone south of Birmingham or north of Manchester. Other notable bands from the area: The Boo Radleys are from Wallasey, as was Apple signed singer Jackie Lomax. Nigel Olsson, Elton John’s drummer also comes from Wallasey. Half Man Half Biscuit are from Birkenhead (Miles Kane was born there, Elvis Costello moved there in 1971). Paul Heaton from The Housemartins and The Beautiful South also comes from Birkenhead. Last but not least, Heswall gave birth to John Peel.
It wasn’t surprising to me for the area to spawn another interesting band and at this point The Coral have released six albums. This latest album released on their own Skeleton Key label has an odd history as it was recorded in 2006 and has become known romantically as “The lost Coral album”. It seems like it was a time of upheaval for the band, guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones had quit and they had started this album without him. He came back but decided to scrap it and began working on a new album with him. Ultimately he quit again and The Curse Of Love album remained buried in the past till now. (Ryder-Jones has made some interesting music himself and I have written about him on the In Deep Music Archive site) :
The Curse Of Love is in fact a wonderful lost romantic storyteller’s album. Atmospheric, bespoke instrumentation and evocative timeless songs. The opener The Curse Of Love (Part 1) may have come from a play from another time. James Skelley’s vocals fit somewhere between Ian McCulloch and Jim Morrison without ever trying to be either of them. This first song fades out strangely, quickly like we are jumping to another act in the play – in fact we are in someone’s dream.
It’s a mystery as to why this album wasn’t released, the songs are strong and come wrapped in warm cloth. Wrapped In Blue, the second song mixes bubbly synths with folky drums and well planned guitar parts to intriguing effect and as we come to You Closed The Door, you feel that you wish you’d seen the play, wish you’d been there – the play unfortunately doesn’t exist, but I can see it anyway.
Suddenly you are there, an observer unable to extricate yourself, you feel the chill of the next scene – The Second Self takes the characters on a journey through a European forest in the snow. Colourful, double-breasted, uniformed, fearless soldiers, all buttons of brass, riding giant muscled horses, protecting a golden carriage transporting a high-born woman lost in madness, haunted by the dead eyes of her lover beside her.
The sound of water and acoustic guitar opens View From The Mirror. It’s subtle electric guitars and moody distant tinkling keys evoke a mysterious house with never ending rooms and unknown inhabitants that may be benign or evil. Probably the troop’s destination.
The Watcher In The Distance, busy bass and eerie electric guitars, chordal and fuzzy, lead you to a corridor where a sprite whisks you away to an unknown fate. Once captured you find yourself in a dreamy other world and Gently is the fairytale beyond the curtains.
Willow Song suddenly has harmonies as if an animated fantasy four headed creature has appeared to explain to you where you are being led, dancing around you in a strange twist of angles.
The Golden Bough continues the dance in a great square surrounded by the Queen’s entourage examining you with pince-nez over exaggerated noses.
With The Game, you awake in a white room in a large bed with glowing white sheets, bowls of fruit on the sideboard and twittering birds outside your balcony window. You can see the edge of the blue sky and the sun is shining. You pull back the covers and go to the balcony doors, turn the brass handles in both hands and down below you see a great garden party, a feast.
Nine Times The Colour Red finds you suddenly on the back of a soldier’s horse galloping silently through the clouds looking down at the snow covered villages below. Pine trees, candle light, the occasional fox – you are returning from a journey that you hadn’t even realised you had taken.
The Curse Of Love (Part 2) has you back where you started in the theatre watching the play, looking down at the actors from the balcony. Beside you a pair of white gloves lie on the empty seat, you think you see them move. Every other seat in the theatre is turned away from the stage, the audience’s backs to the players. Everyone is staring at you, suddenly they all begin to laugh, louder and louder then a standing ovation and clapping, the gloves too begin to clap. You put your hands to your ears, close your eyes, your head begins to spin and you find yourself back in your carriage and heading home to Bohemia for trial.