Words: Amanda Nicholls
James Skelly & The Intenders, Thekla, 14/06/13
Love Undercover, the debut ‘solo’ effort from James Skelly, sees The Coral’s cosmic pop switched for more grounded, soulful sentiment, rooted in songs that came to life at Thekla on Friday night.
The curtain raised by fellow Scouse outfit The Sundowners – some of which were later borrowed by Skelly – the main man and his Intenders took to the stage. This new incarnation is still based around a myriad of (mostly the same) Merseyside musicians enjoying what seems to be a very natural chemistry. Though Ian Skelly (drums), Paul Duffy (guitar) and Nick Power (piano) from The Coral, are now joined by new face James Redmond on bass (ex-Tramp Attack), and The Sundowners’ Niamh Rowe and Fiona Skelly alongside brother Alfie Skelly (guitar).
Picked to open was the well-crafted ‘You Got It All’, co-written with Paul Weller – always a good start. Joyously melodic, buoyant and uplifting, it offered nuances of early soul and a hint of Style Council to complement Skelly’s elastic vocal – which stretched, throughout the set, across a handful of genres. Bar-room rattler ‘Do It Again’ proved a beaut, rousing the crowd with raucous energy. Yet it’s something of a deceptive first release, with the rest of the record a much tamer affair. Strolling rocker ‘Sacrifice’ grew into an enjoyable number that spoke more of bands like the Eagles, while ‘Set You Free’ and sweet but robust ballad ‘You & I’ presented different facets again. Aside from the somewhat bland ‘Here for You’ and another safe album filler, ‘Searching for the Sun’, Skelly – in cord hat and jacket and looking ever so comfy up there – served up a respectable set of songs knitting together strands of country, rock, pop, reggae and blues.
Chipper but fairly static throughout, Skelly was far from showy – and fair enough, with songs strong enough to stand on their own two feet. Thanks to covers like ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor’, thrown in and given the Intenders treatment, the set felt nice and loose – more like a slick jam amongst mates. Here Skelly’s own Agnetha and Anni-Frid – backing bombshells Niamh and Fiona – shone in crop tops and flares while belting out the Ray Charles hit.
A few reverb-filled bars into ‘Shadows Fall’ and we thought we were in for a cover of ‘Master Blaster’; the band putting a grooving reggae spin on the old tune and providing a refreshing interlude. The use of three guitars, complementing rather than competing, allowed for a deliciously full sound, and as for tight-as-a-tick Redmond, he almost led the band, diving into Coral territory for ‘I’m a Man’, where it seemed Power couldn’t resist a little Coral-esque keys solo either.
Indeed, with a good few of Skelly’s former tunes making appearances in between new material (including ‘Talkin’ Gypsy Market Blues’ and an encore of ‘Jacqueline’ and ‘Dreaming of You’ reworked to great effect), the crowd was suitably pleased. Love Undercover is accomplished, accessible, feel-good stuff, but with so many of the old allies making up the core of the band, it probably wasn’t ever going to amount to anything radically earth-shattering. But then, it doesn’t seem like a clean break is what this band is about, or Coral covers would have been out of the question. What this does seem like, is a good vehicle for Skelly to stretch his wings a little, while maintaining the Coral connection – there’s still that seventh album to finish, after all…