Coral Island has a concept too, about a jaded seaside resort that was once a playground of dreams.
Keyboard player Nick Power says: “It’s sort of a consolidation of all our memories of growing up in places; of bank holidays in Llandudno and Rhyl and Blackpool, and travelling around the country, going to Brighton, even of going to Coney Island in America. We’ve always been attracted to that kind of faded glamour.”
The band have described this album as a false nostalgia for an adult world that has been rewired through a child’s eyes. Power likes the duality at play.
“Probably every person you meet would be able to remember either their first night at the fair or night on a pier because they’re almost like microcosms of what might happen to you in your whole life, the lure of danger and all of those things. But of course when you go back to those places as an adult the magical veneer has been removed because you’re totally in reality – you know who’s put the fair up, you know why it’s looking shabby and why it looked magical. It’s been unmasked, in a way.”
As The Coral’s third album “in a four-year cycle” since they regrouped after a short hiatus, they allowed themselves greater latitude. “I think doing the last two albums has allowed it,” he says. “One of them was a comeback, and then we did quite a tight ‘radio’ album. We could let the reins go a little bit on this one.
“It is self-exploratory. I think it’s sides of us that we’ve done before that we’re revisiting. The other thing is everybody in the band either sings a song or writes one, which we’ve never done before.”
While the reputation of the concept album has come to be sullied by the excesses of prog rock, Coral Island has more in common with 60s pop landmarks by The Kinks and The Beatles. “If you sort of know the band you know that Ray Davies is a big influence, (especially) The Village Green Preservation Society, and Sgt Pepper,” says Power, who also cites “classic Brit books” like Graham Green’s Brighton Rock as well as comic books. “We didn’t want to make a retro album about how good it was back then, we wanted to say how the dream failed as well,” he explains.
The second half of the album dwells on the characters who inhabit the resort – “the heroes, the villains” – and how they exist when the summer season ends.
“Because we’re veterans of those kind of places, we live on the Wirral which is really close to North Wales and we’ve holidayed in all of those places, so it’s about the faded dream and what people who work in those towns get up to when the crowds disappear,” Power says.
Although album shares its name with a 19th century novel by R M Ballantyne about boys marooned on an island after their ship is wrecked, Power only belatedly became aware of the link. “It’s good because it kind of fits with what we were trying to do, because we were trying to be child-like as well,” he says. “It’s also the name of a huge arcade in Blackpool and there was a Butlins-type place in Torquay in the 80s.”
The album is accompanied by the book Over Coral Island, written by Power and illustrated by drummer Ian Skelly. “I decided to do that just after we started recording,” Power says. “I’d done the tour diaries before that and the fans really liked it...Sometimes it can be quite tough but this seemed to be writing itself, I was having a really good time doing it, so I decided to expand on all the characters in the songs. It allows you to go in different directions. In a song you’ve got to say everything in four to five minutes maximum; this adds a little bit more depth to them.”
As a writer whose short stories are interested in the margins of society, Power sees some of the characters in this book as similarly on the fringes. “There’s a story about a girl who’s in care of a child. She’s a gambling addict and she takes the little girl to the arcade in secret because the girl is on a winning streak on the mechanical horses machine. There’s a bit of that in it where I thought what it would be like to live on one of these towns today. Rather than just werewolves and ghost trains, I tried to go deeper.”
Between-song narration on the album was provided by Ian Murray, the 85-year-old grandfather of band members Ian and James Skelly.
“I wrote his lines and then we thought, ‘let’s get someone to narrate them’,” says Power. “We talked about getting someone like Tom O’Connor or Derek Acorah, but James and Ian’s grandad was someone who when we were staing the band we would ended up in his front room and he’d be reading from his diary in 1945. He’s like a storyteller from our youth.”
Coral Island is out today. The Coral are due to play at Leeds Beckett University on October 6 and The Leadmill, Sheffield on October 7. thecoral.co.uk