Let’s start by establishing some parameters, just so you know where I’m coming from. The Coral are a good band. Fibbers is a good venue.
Now let’s expand on that: The Coral have a backlog of great songs and have just released a pretty robust album in the shape of Distance Inbetween, which makes up the majority of the current touring set. Fibbers, as small as it is, is the kind of venue that makes for memorable gigs, because it isn’t a soulless enormodome. It’s the kind of place where a band can really connect with their audience in a way that sends those people out into the night with a burning desire to tell people about the great gig they’ve seen. On such gigs reputations are forged.
Unfortunately, when The Coral played Fibbers on 21 May 2016, it wasn’t such a gig, but explaining why is tricky.
They open with five songs from Distance Inbetween: “Miss Fortune”, “Million Eyes”, “Chasing the Tail of a Dream”, “It’s You” and “Connector”, all of which lean towards the new slightly rockier direction that The Coral are travelling in. They’ve always been a band that wear their record collections on their sleeve, and on the new album the bands they are wearing veer more towards the kinds of bands you’d find on a Nuggets compilation (I’m thinking The Mindbenders, The Remains, The Sonics) with a side order of T Rex thrown in on the likes of “Connector”. The slightly dancified version of “Chasing the Tail of a Dream” also suggests The Coral could be helped if they let a DJ do for them what Andy Weatherall did for Primal Scream back in the 90s.
This isn’t one of those bloody-minded gigs, though, where a relatively established band only plays their new album. They hopscotch about from “Simon Diamond”, “Jacqueline”, “Put the Sun Back” and “1,000 Years” (all of which are treasures) to “Pass It On” and “In the Morning”, the latter of which draws by far the biggest reception of the night and it should, it’s a classic. So, on paper, the gig does everything you’d expect.
But there’s a problem, or a lot of problems masquerading as a larger problem. Firstly front man James Skelly, Skelly has a great voice, but he’s a bit moody. He dials the in-song banter down to zero. He also has a tendency to scowl and move his eyes like a 70s Action Man, as if he regards the audience with suspicion.
Other members of the band, Paul Duffy for instance, try to fill the gap by asking if we are having a good time but the strained absence of James Skelly at the front of the stage makes such interjections feel nervy. Keyboardist Nick Power also looked a bit narky too. You have to wonder if they’d had a fall out before the show.
And it’s a shame because they’d have to do so little to tip the scales from ambivalence to riotously good fun, they have the songs. You just get the sense they are worrying about their identity, wanting people to know they are a proper band.