Q&A - The Coral's Nick Power and author Austin Collings
WW3 (A SHORT STORY)
The first time I heard The Coral was the last time I saw my first true love in 2002. I lay on her bedroom floor in a shared student house. She lay in her bed. Last night we’d buried our love and I’d thrown cans of Holsten Pils on it’s fresh grave.
The muffled sound of Skeleton Key played from one of the bedrooms close-by, a frantic racket that bullied my hangover.
I left the room looking like a greasy ghost. It depressed me knowing that she was pretending to sleep, floating in a sad darkness.
The bedroom door made a noise like a sore throat. On the landing Skeleton Key was nearing it’s end. The last minute. Those jagged edges, that original and truthful energy that I would later recognise as a staple of the band affected me like a disaster, back then.
Outside the Saturday sun didn’t belong to me but to all my enemies and the one that I’d left in bed. But somewhere in that unbearable unhappiness, wincing in the light, amongst all the days voices and noises, I felt a lightness in my stomach that may well have been a UFO probe drawing the shapes of a desolate victory throughout my body or then again it may have just been plain survival kicking in whispering words of encouragement and hope.
Love, the ancient magic/curse.
Interview with Nick Power
I hope the questions and answers below don’t read like sycophantic meanderings. I say this because Nick Power is a friend - a true friend.
We have only known each other for a year after he tweeted my last book of stories – The Myth of Brilliant Summers – to his followers. But since then we have maintained an unhealthy text and email correspondence.
His writing lifts me from the deadness of modern Britain. His first two books of poetry – Small Town Chase and Holy Nowhere – are completely urban and modern but the language he uses seems to release beams of light that span decades.
And his music – or should I say The Coral’s new album – Distance Inbetween – reminds me of the school bell all over again; a school bell reboot, or redux – or whatever they call films that were once old but now brand-new. In short, a school bell for all our ears, not just kids. Pure satisfaction. That feeling of - once I get beyond these gates, I’m me again. That sort of school-bell.
Q: As a fellow Liverpool fan, I’m obviously fascinated by Jurgen Klopp and in particular the phrase: ‘HEAVY METAL FOOTBALL’. If The Coral were a football team how would you brand your style of play – also which Liverpool player would you liken yourself to – a slightly thinner Jan Molby maybe?
A: I'll go with Jan. You see him about around here quite a bit. James and Ian's dad used to run a pub in Moreton, and on a Saturday afternoon Molby would arrive straight from the game. He'd stand there with a Guinness playing darts, still in his moulded studs from the warm-down. One of the best passers of a ball there's ever been.
I'd call my style DRUNKEN MASTER and bring in all the old Piss-head geniuses: Best, Robin Friday, Jimmy Greaves, Tommy Smith, Le Tissier, Garrincha, Gazza. Clough on the sideline. Pretty unbalanced team, but isn't that the point?
Q: Here’s a quote from Tom Waits: "I used to think that all great recordings happened at about 3am. So my first studio experiences, I wanted to be recording after the bars closed. I just thought that's when it all happened. And it worked for me for a while, I guess. But I don't believe that so much anymore. I realise now there's more than one way to sneak up on a herd of cattle…" – is this a feeling you can now relate to as you enter your midlife music twilight?
A: In terms of catching ideas, I think the twilight hours are cock of the walk- late night or early morning. (Afternoons belong to the telly). With recording though, it's much different. For us anyway. If there's no clock on/clock off point, we'll end up staying up all night in expensive studios, working on bizarre concept albums. In fact, we did that once in a studio in Wales called Monnow Valley. Sabbath were in at the same time. The concept album we recorded was called ‘Otter’. It remains in the vaults.
Q: Do you think you are in control of your music now?
A: In some respects, yeah. You have a better gauge of what works and what doesn't. You don't want to crack the whip too hard though- the music still has to have the potential to possess you, or make you hallucinate. Hear or see things that aren't there. You find new avenues that way. When it controls you.
Q: From the first Coral album cover - which looks like The Stones’ Exile on Main Street via the Wirral in my eyes – through to the Magic and Medicine demented daubings which could well be the work of an alcoholic 4 year old who dreams of killing all of his teachers one Friday afternoon – and on to your latest pearl of a gatefold, The Coral don’t cheat their fans when it comes to covers. Facebook/pub question coming up here: pick your top five favourite album covers?
A: Lee Perry - Super Ape
The Louvin Brothers - Satan is Real
Beatles - Revolver
BEAT-LES- Exit Skeletor (unreleased)
Telly Savalas - Telly
Big Star - Radio City
Q: I believe any group worth their salt operates like a cult. At school, as a dictatorial teenager, I ruled my teenage band – OFFSHORE (powerful name, in no way influenced by OASIS) - with the might of a future Putin. We may have been shit but that’s not the point. Would you agree that the cult-angle is important? If so, who is the Jim Jones or David Koresh of The Coral?
A: You have to start off like a cult. I think that's when you get to the root of things and original ideas start to sprout. We used to rehearse five days a week in a windowless warehouse in Liverpool and then spend the weekend writing songs. So it was an intense period. It cools down as it inevitably does, but the bond is always there, the bloodline.
I think the band is comprised now of a mixture of some of the great cult leaders: Jim Jones. Shoko Asahara. Manson. Diedre Barlow. Father Yod. It's a supercult, like when Fifteen to One used to do the Champion of Champions edition.
When can I hear OFFSHORE?
Q: Often when we’re three sheets to the wind we send each other You Tube clips that best reflect our head-states in the small hours. In the end we generally settle on the finale to Blade Runner – Roy Batty’s monologue Tears In Rain – what is it about this clip that we keep going back to?
A: It's no surprise that Batty keeps popping up. It's that near-dawn-near-death feeling when you haven't fallen to sleep yet. I get it after most SKELETON KEY nights, and you mostly after you've worked a nightshift in the below sea-level bar you call THE PIT. Lying in bed staring at stucco ceiling swirls trying to imagine what a C-Beam looks like. Or the Tanhauser Gate, even. The other one is Kubrick's 2001 ending- The Star Gate sequence. They're the only things that resonate. After you've had the snooker on for an hour or two anyway, and it's getting on for nine a.m. Although I think I sent you a SONJA video once.
Q: The film director Martin Scorsese describes Goodfellas and Casino as modern musicals. Along similar lines, one night, years ago, I was burning through the streets of Manchester in a drug-dealers car being chased by the police. The dealer was a proud fan of Simon & Garfunkel. Throughout the chase, S&G’s The Sound of Silence played out loudly. In hindsight I like the idea of that scene, of music working like a soundtrack to your own film. Have you ever had a similar experience along these lines?
A: I love those moments. It's almost as if you've slipped into a movie montage. There was one recently I remember- our mate Scott Judge took us from the recording studio back to where we lived. It was near midnight and the roads were clear. Anyway, Scott burned down this A-road that's flanked on both sides by these vast cornfields. There was some agricultural device in the middle of the field - I'm not sure what- and it had these blinking lights set about its huge circular frame. Just at the point I saw it, Tom Petty's American Girl burst out of the stereo. I just sat there in the back seat, watching the music and scenery sync with each other perfectly. The off-illumination of the swaying maize and the runaway drums. I'm constantly on the lookout for these moments. Being in the back seat of a moving car is prime viewing position, by the way.
Q: The great American writer Raymond Carver used to worry that he wouldn’t be able to write if he started to make money. His hero – the Russian writer Anton Chekov - suffered from this feeling for a period of time. And Samuel Beckett believed in the idea of ‘dispossession’. In contrast, I get the feeling that a great many modern artists and writers etc. focus on accumulating items or clothes in order to appear like artists: the hipster, for instance, who dresses like Fred West but has the bank balance of Fred Perry. Do you understand what I’m getting at here?
A: Yeah. I don't get those people to be honest. I think it was Shepard (or his friend Johnny Dark) who said something like Make a plan. Get money. Spend money. Make a plan. Which is an infallible plan in itself....I know people who've got a bit spare, and they seem guilty about it, which I think is insane. I'd enjoy it. White leather slip-on brogues. Sunglasses indoors. Eight-balls for breakfast. The proper way.
Q: I read somewhere that your writer hero – Sam Shepherd – started writing because he wanted to be a musician: is the opposite true for you?
A: It's hard to say. I don't think so. I wrote before I could play an instrument, but as a teenager, music blew my scalp clean off. I was in love with it. I still am, but music does something in that young manhood phase that you can never feel again. It's everything. I often tried to get words or themes into songs that were too awkward or complex to work. Not that those ideas were too good for music- writing a great simple song is one of the dark arts I think. But there was a point where I thought maybe I've come full circle.
Q: What sort of writing situation do you have at home: do you have an office?
A: I used to have a bit of space before my girlfriend moved in. It's a two-bedroom terrace so it was always going to be a struggle. Now I've got a small desk under the stairs and a tall black leather swivel-chair. That area is called 'The Lair'.
Q: A good mate of mine runs a label in Manchester called SWAYS Records and he also owns a club called The White Hotel. He’s always got his finger on the musical-pulse and he makes sure to not rip people off at the club. However, a London record label keep stealing bands off him. I know the music industry excels at unscrupulous behaviour but the fella who runs the label will then post an anti-David Cameron message up on Facebook. I see this neoliberal schizophrenic behaviour everywhere: in expensive pubs and bars etc. Would you agree?
A: I think it's spot-on. The worst thing about that lot is the creeping censorship of the arts- and the lack of humour in some of those places is tragic. Everywhere has become a kind of inoffensive purgatory. Those bars - there's a word for them in our band- pseudo. You know when you're in a pseudo hipster gaff because you're sitting on odd chairs with uneven legs, it's freezing, but you'll get no change from a tenner for a couple of beers. It's all wrong....
Q: My favourite music moments will always be rooted in my youth. No record will ever hit me like that first La’s album again. Is this true for you and if so what album still packs that unforgettable powerhouse punch?
A: There are a few. The one I remember most is The Wailers ‘Catch a Fire’. That's been with me since I was about ten years old. Only the greats can stay with you throughout your life and still retain their power. Another one would be The Stone Roses debut, which K.O'd me when I was about fifteen. The lyrics in Waterfall particularly. Like an ancient poem. Brigantine sails and all that. Also Peter Green, Oasis, The Yardbirds, 13th Floor Elevators, Lee Perry. I can never think when I'm on the spot....
Austin Collings’s latest book is “The Myth of Brilliant Summers” (Pariah Press)
The Coral headline Liverpool Sound City on 29 May.