How The Coral’s James Skelly is building a northern musical empire at Liverpool’s Parr Street Studios

The Coral man is kick starting an indie revival in Liverpool's Parr Street Studios

It’s 25 years since Parr Street Studios first opened its doors. In that time, everyone from Coldplay, The Stone Roses, Black Sabbath, Echo And The Bunnymen, New Order, Pulp and The Coral to The Spice Girls and Rihanna have cracked out LPs at the Liverpool sound lab.

With the help of his brother and fellow band member Ian Skelly and producer Rich Turvey, The Coral’s James Skelly is currently at the helm of a huge revival at Parr Street thanks to his independent label Skeleton Key which, in the last three years, has helped skyrocket NME VO5 tour headliners Blossoms to the top of the UK album chart and opened the door for thriving new acts including Manchester post punks Cabbage, last year’s Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition winners She Drew The Gun, Rory Wynne and The Sundowners.

Parr Street Studios in Liverpool/Press

“With Skeleton Key, the way we look at it is we’ve got your back,” Skelly explains. “We might not have everything like a load of money but we’ve got the backing and belief in the artist and we’ll develop them.”

“That’s the idea: to give them a platform without loads of pressure where they can develop. In the past there’s been too much pressure on bands from labels to fit in early on. By the time they’ve got them good enough to fit in, they’re out of fashion and no-one wants it anymore. You see that all the time. They’ve got them a deal, they’ve got them a load of wedge but then the band don’t even know who they are anymore.”

“I just back a band if I like them. I don’t care if they’re trendy or whatever. It’s not about that for me.”

Along with the DIY ethic of his label, Skelly and Turvey’s production skills have played a massive part in putting northern bands like Blossoms and Cabbage back on the map.

“I remember when James first got in touch with us, we’d only been going for about six months and he got in touch because he’d heard our first demo ‘Blow’ and he liked it,” enthuses Blossoms singer Tom Ogden.

“We were buzzing at the time, we were like ‘Fucking hell, James from The Coral wants to meet up’.

Blossoms/Getty

He continues: “Looking back that was like the first major thing that happened with the band and it’s stuck with us ever since. Luckily we found someone great early on because as you get bigger you might find that you’re surrounded by people who are full of shit but James is completely not like that. He gave us guidance and he had experience from things he’s done in the past.”

“He’s pretty militant,” admits Cabbage frontman Lee Broadbent, who are currently working on their debut album with The Coral man. “He knows straight away what he wants. We had this song where the first verse was not on the verge of a rap but it was poetry done fast and the second verse had a kind of medley over it. James didn’t like the medley and he said ‘I want you to write a second verse’. I was like ‘Alright when we doing that, next week?’ And he give me a pad of paper and pen and goes, ‘Right you’ve got 10 minutes’.

“So I went downstairs I was scribbling, shitting myself, getting up on the internet trying to find ways I could connect some lyrics immediately to the first verse. Luckily I managed to scrape something together even to this day, I’m still pretty proud of. The fact that James put me on the spot and made me deliver something, that’s really where the magic comes in.”

Cabbage/Press

“He’ll tell you straight away if you didn’t do a good take. He doesn’t mess around,” explains She Drew The Gun singer Louisa Roach, whose debut album ‘Memories Of Another Future’ is out on Friday (March 17). “You just feel like you’re working with someone you can trust which is the best way to work. I feel like I’ve got someone on my side.”

The rise in Skelly’s production workload has also seen The Coral chief launch a Skeleton Key live YouTube channel at Parr Street Studios, where his acts lay down live tracks for fans to view and get their hands on a vinyl only release.

“I kind of like unfashionable bands in a way rather than bands people think might be trendy,” says Skelly. “I like people who are actually outsiders. If you look at all the bands on Skeleton Key none of them fit into anything. That’s why they’re ideal for us. And I’ve always wanted that. I always liked Smokey Robinson and the way he could do it all and write songs and Motown. That’s what I wanted to do and help these bands come through.”

In a digital age where trolls lurk around every social media corner, Skelly also feels that it’s harder than ever for young bands to speak out without getting shot down.

She Drew The Gun/Press

“You can’t even be young and make a mistake now, it’s very difficult,” says Skelly. 

“A lot of people say ‘Why don’t kids these days speak up, why don’t they say what I think?’. It’s a younger generation now and you can’t understand that unless you’re from that generation. You might spout off and be a big mouth on the internet but once you get that thing when you get some backlash, it’s very difficult [to deal with] because your nerves just get shot to pieces.”

Going forward, Skelly’s roster continues to swell with new acts including Rory Wynne, who is about to embark on the VO5 NME Awards Tour and Birmingham duo Cut Glass Kings.

“We’re developing some really good young bands,” adds Skelly. “It’s great. I love it. That’s why you do it, for the buzz of it.”