The Coral talk new single ‘Wild Bird’ and recruiting Cillian Murphy and John Simm for two albums

Frontman James Skelly speaks to NME about recording the spaghetti western inspired 'Sea Of Mirrors', a 'Coral Island' B-sides spin-off, AI and working with two major stars

The Coral have shared their cinematic string-laden new single ‘Wild Bird’ – and spoken to NME about how Peaky Blinders star Cillian Murphy and Life On Mars lead actor John Simm hooked up with the band for not one, but two albums in 2023.

Inspired by the dusty desert landscapes of ’60s Italian spaghetti westerns, the band’s 11th studio album ‘Sea Of Mirrors’ finds the Liverpool five-piece crafting their own “surreal” gun-slinging soundtrack.

“I was watching this documentary about Italian westerns and I liked this idea that they were a vehicle for creativity,” frontman James Skelly told NME. “I thought I’d love to use that medium to make an almost surreal western, but as if [late Italian director Frederico] Fellini had directed it. I just liked that idea of sort of taking a genre and using it for whatever you want.”


He continued: “I was also thinking about all the AI stuff. In a way that’s what we do anyway we go, ‘I’d like to hear this, mixed with this and hear what that would sound like’ because the thing you want doesn’t exist. So you try and make it yourself.”

As for his thoughts on artificial intelligence in a wider context, following the recent emergence of an AI-generated “lost” Oasis album and a mash up of The Beatles performing songs by The Beach Boys, Skelly said: “That’s a conversation where I’d need to know more about it. It’s like anything I’m sure. There are loads of useful bits, like what they did with The Beatles stuff.

“My grandad also had cancer and an artificial intelligence robot basically did the operation a human couldn’t do and he lived. Now 10 years ago that wouldn’t have happened. So there’s gonna be amazing stuff, it’s like anything but humans are just mad territorial animals aren’t we? So we’ll see.”

A taster for the concept album has been shared in the form of new single ‘Wild Bird’, which you can listen to below.

“That was one of the first songs we sort of had,” said Skelly. “I got on to that Lee Hazelwood ‘Cowboy In Sweden’ [1970 soundtrack] and I loved just how wrong it was to have this European cowboy theme. I just really liked that, it’s so wrong it’s so Coral. I can’t think of anything more Coral than that.”


The single’s sweeping strings were arranged by co-producer and High Llamas man Sean O’Hagan, who previously worked on The Coral’s 2010 album ‘Butterfly House’.

“Sometimes I think a lot of people’s arrangements sound like padded strings in insurance adverts or something, like everyone did in the ’90s,” said Skelly. “But Sean is very original, what he does is not gonna sound like anyone else. He does this thing where he takes a genre of a sort of ’60s type thing but it’s so him. There’s no one else like it.”

O’Hagan was also responsible for making an unlikely team-up happen with Peaky Blinders and Oppenheimer star Cillian Murphy. After failing to recruit spaghetti western actors Frank Nero and Terence Hill for a spoken word piece on album closer ‘Oceans Apart’, he suggested Murphy for the role.

Cillian Murphy as Tommy Shelby in ‘Peaky Blinders’ CREDIT: BBC

“Sean was like, ‘Oh I know someone. I did his first film. He might be good – Cillian Murphy’ and I was like ‘What? One of the best actors in the world?’” Skelly recalled. “And then Cillian Murphy just emailed and was like, ‘Ah, yeah I love the band, I’m up for helping you out.’

“Then we just had a conversation about what it was going to be, because we needed help with it. We were speaking about books we liked and films and how you build a character. He went away and thought about the character and tried different things.

“He just sent what he did for the album and said it should be like an old sort of American actor like Bella Lugosi or Buster Keaton. The idea was these massive stars ended up in these B-movies. And they were like, ‘Where is my life?’ That’s the idea, this internal thing of, ‘How did I get here?’ He just nailed it and we put it in the track and put some reverb on it. We were like ‘Nice one Cillian, thanks a lot, you put the cherry on top.'”

For the album’s title track, Skelly said he took inspiration from a piece of music former bandmate Bill Ryder-Jones sent during lockdown.

“Bill sent me some chords and said you should write a song like this,” he explained. “I don’t know if he was pissed or whatever but he sent me that and I was like, ‘That’s great’ and just wrote a song in five minutes and sent it back to him and he said ‘That’s really good’. Then I took it away and we worked on it and it became the title track for the album.”

For their second upcoming LP, the band have lined up a spin-off project connected to their 2021 album ‘Coral Island’ entitled ‘Holy Joe’s Coral Island Medicine Show’. Described as the “ultimate Coral B-sides album” featuring a “DJ [voiced once again by Skelly’s grandad aka ‘The Great Muriarty’] playing country death ballads”, it was this record that the five-piece found themselves turning to Life On Mars lead actor John Simm for another spoken word piece on the track ‘Drifters Prayer’.

John Simm in ‘Life On Mars’ CREDIT: BBC/Alamy

“We sort of know John. He came to all our early gigs before we were even signed by Sony. He was an early champion of the band,” Skelly said. “It was one of them where [keyboardist] Nick [Power] had this idea and we said ‘Who could do it?’ And he said ‘I’ll message John Simm, he might do it.’ He said yeah and he came down, did it, just nailed it perfectly and I was like ‘Ah that’s what a professional looks like.’ We just hung out for a bit, lovely fella.”

He continued: “Cillian and John are both great actors. If I was cast in a film I’d be looking at them two. It’s that thing when you work with or you see a true top of the level professional work, you feel privileged and lucky to have even had a little hint of working with that.”

Shirking streaming platforms, the band have decided to release ‘Holy Joe’ on vinyl and CD formats only.

“It’s meant to be a country type radio station on ‘Coral Island’. It was sort an extension of that, very B movie. We liked the idea of carrying on that world and dipping in and out of it. We’ll always dip in and out of ‘Coral Island’ now. We always did we just didn’t know what it was called,” the frontman explained.

“I think our fans will love it. It’s a special thing. I think everything is so available now, it’s good for the fans to have their own special thing” he argued, before he jokingly added: “Plus my grandad was out of a job so we had to get him a bit of work, get him back in. He loves it.”

‘Sea Of Mirrors’ is released on September 8, 2023.

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