• John Earls

The Runout Grooves with John Earls: The Coral interview and previewing Rag 'N Bone Man

Each fortnight, leading music journalist John Earls goes deep on new releases, examines the latest vinyl issues and talks to the makers of the best new albums.

STAR PLAYERS: Talking to the makers of the best new albums

This week: The Coral

Distilling their magic (and medicine) of the 20 years since their debut single, The Coral's magnificent new double album Coral Island sees the band offer up adventurous jams, classic melodies and vivid character descriptions in the ultimate album from the gang. It's narrated by Ian Murray, grandad of singer James Skelly and drummer Ian Skelly.

James tells The Runout Grooves of the album's inspiration and how his production work for artists such as Blossoms and The Lathums helps keep the band fresh.

When did the idea of Coral Island come to you?

We were driving back from a gig in Blackpool when we saw "Coral Island". That triggered something, and we'd wanted to do our own version of The White Album or Ogden's Nut Gone Flake for a while.

At first, the title was just a banner for all our ideas to come together, but it became a virtual place, a mythical island. I wrote songs about the characters who'd still be there out of season, while Nick writes books, Ian does artwork, Paul does soundtracks. To bring all that together, you couldn't do it in just a single album.

Did you write any songs that didn't fit the idea of the Island and had to be left off?

We made most songs fit, but some did feel too personal. We wanted to keep the characters on the Island ambiguous, as we always want the listener to project their version of who the characters are, to personalise them in their own head.

How did your grandad come to narrate the album?

There are two different and distinct sides to the album. To make that clear, Nick wrote some brilliant liner notes explaining the story. We thought about getting John Simm or Cillian Murphy to narrate it, but Ian wanted to get our grandad in, to make it more like Ogden's Nut Gone Flake.

Grandad read these two long pieces and, once we put some otherworldly effects on his voice, it sounded so great that I lost my head and said it should be the first single - five minutes of my grandad talking. Ian, the voice of reason, said no to that one. We've spread grandad's story throughout the album instead.

How much are you missing playing live?

It's probably done us good to have a break. We'd toured solidly for five years and we were on a roll, so that we didn't need to rehearse. We needed time off from it to refresh. We'd obviously rather all of this hadn't happened, but you've got to take the positives where you can.

You enjoy working with new artists such as Brooke Combe and Rianne Downey as much as names like Blossoms and The Lathums. What do you get from helping young musicians?

The ideal situation for any producer is to find someone early, to help them refine their songs before there's a million opinions in the mix. You have to be confident you can find someone good enough to make it work, but it's rewarding with singers like Rianne and Brooke, who are both great, they're something else.

Do bands you produce ask you for career advice, after all The Coral have experienced?

I've got experience in making mistakes. If I can rectify 1% of my mistakes to prevent someone else making them, or give them a heads-up, it's been a mistake worth making.

What would you do differently?

I don't regret anything, other than maybe not putting When All The Birds Have Flown on Roots And Echoes. It all happens for a reason. If anything got sabotaged along the way? Our actions say we wanted to bomb out for a bit. I look back on it with a dark sense of humour. How many other people get to tour the world with their mates and have a No 1 album? I'm not going to complain about that.

Have you had new ideas for songs during lockdown?

Me and Ian have done a load of backing tracks and vocals. We'll build it from there, but we've got another album's worth. It could be Return To Coral Island, we'll see.

Coral Island is out on May 7 Order Coral Island here

Release The Tracks - the best of the new albums released in the next fortnight

After a disappointing second album, Royal Blood are back on form with Typhoons. It lasts under 35 minutes and there's only slow song - it's a classic example of how to do the simple things well. Order Typhoons here

With a succession of singles showcasing her varied skills, Girl In Red fulfils that promise on If I Could Make It Go Quiet. Pleasingly impossible to categorise, the only thing in common on the Norwegian's songs is they're all total earworms. Order If I Could Make It Go Quiet here

Co-produced by St Vincent, featuring Matt Berninger on We All Have and co-written with Sufjan Stevens producer Thomas Bartlett, Julia Stone's third album without brother Angus has some stellar help. It's a sleeker, poppier sound than before, but at its core Sixty Summers is further evidence Julia is just one big tune away from showing the mainstream what it's been missing out on for so long. Order Sixty Summers here

Following Gerard Love's departure, only Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley remain of the founding Teenage Fanclub line-up. Not that you'd guess from Endless Arcade. Their first album in five years is reliably stuffed with wry romanticism and harmonies to die for. Order Endless Arcade here

It feels like Human has been everywhere for at least a decade, and Rag 'N Bone Man has been in no hurry to follow it up. His second album Life By Misadventure doesn't take the easy route, sounding more like Rags has devoured Bruce Springsteen's catalogue than going for more growling R&B. Order Life By Misadventure here

Making Rag 'N Bone Man look as old as Tom Jones, at 18 Alfie Templeman has already supported Sports Team and Sundara Karma, and has a series of singles as infectious as Declan McKenna. The Bedfordshire marvel's mini-album Forever Isn't Long Enough suggests Templeman might just end up Britain's answer to Tame Impala. Order Forever Isn't Long Enough here

Since reforming without Peter Hook in 2011, New Order have made one glorious album, Music: Complete. In the same time period, Education Entertainment Recreation becomes their fifth live album. Recorded in London in 2018, it's the concert recently shown on Sky Arts and is reliable, well, entertainment - even if the hits mostly don't arrive until the second half. Order Education Entertainment Recreation here

One of the most exciting talents to emerge from the proggier end of pop in years, Squid have taken their time with an album. Not only is Bright Green Field as adventurous and epic as you'd hope, none of their previous music is here either. Tantalisingly close to Super Furry Animals in parts, and featuring Black Country, New Road, it's an experimental delight. And yes, it is on green vinyl. Order Bright Green Field here

HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT: Unearthing hidden treasures on the shelves This week: Bert Jansch - Crimson Moon Order Crimson Moon here

With Noel Gallagher announcing his solo Best Of album recently, here's where it all started. Bert Jansch influenced generations of guitar players with his seminal book Play In A Day, and his folk music still holds sway over anyone with an acoustic. Made towards the end of his career, Crimson Moon features guest appearances from both Johnny Marr and Bernard Butler, like Noel no strangers to forging their own path after massive bands.