The Coral frontman James Skelly is launching his own new Liverpool-based record label Skeleton Key, with a series of releases planned for this year including local lights The Sundowners and Birmingham three-piece Circles. In a guest column the singer laments the absence of more supportive, risk-taking labels today.
Good bands get together for the right reasons, because they live and breathe music and wake up every morning thinking about the next chance to play together. For new bands that fit that bill, how likely are they to be introduced to a record label that feels the same way?
I'm proud to say that my band, The Coral, is exactly that sort of band and always have been ever since we got our act together at school. As we've gone away to do our own thing for a while, we've all written and played music constantly, showing music to be a beautiful addiction that none of us can shake. The original formula worked for us and the record label that we were introduced to, Liverpool's own Deltasonic, shared our ambitions. We had belief and the label's owner, the late and much missed Alan Wills, shared that belief. He was a musician himself, playing in the legendary Shack, and came from the same city. He could feel the momentum, understood the creative freedom we needed and was confident enough in his decision to back us to just leave us to it.
Little over a decade has passed and it feels like the game has changed. The music industry has tried to adjust to new ways of doing things and, somewhere along that journey, the smaller labels drifted off the map. Whether we're talking Deltasonic or Badly Drawn Boy's Twisted Nerve, the light of risk-taking, influential record labels outside London appears to have gone out, following the likes of the legendary Factory and Zoo records into the margins or, at worst, into history. The familiar story with all of these labels is that they not only released records, they fostered a sense of community. Remember that we started from the same place as The Zutons, The Bandits and others that rose up together, making our label one of the coolest out there. Vitally, labels like these didn't back out when a band needed space to develop. The first album didn't do so well? Dust yourselves off and go again. That's what we want to do with Skeleton Key.
It would be unfair to say that all labels, major or not, are the kind to kick a band out after one album, but the clock is usually ticking, isn't it? But, even before you get to that stage, what options does a band like Circles, who we have been busy helping out for the past year, have when it comes to being supported to get their stuff heard? This is where Skeleton Key has come in, to help them find their feet properly, get some gigs in new places, get a feel for recording, but also let them make some stupid mistakes if that's how they choose to play it. They're a good, uncomplicated and lovable rock and roll band that lives for playing and writing together, giving off vibes of late Beatles and The Black Keys. We can definitely get behind that sort of thing and there are probably other bands and songwriters out there like them waiting to be found.
They've supported me at my shows over the last year and have been out with The Sundowners in May, learning more about how to get someone else's crowd onside, then selling copies of their EP out front. In the age of cheap recording options and the internet, everyone can sound great, or at least sound commercial, and get their stuff out there, but sometimes you have to go back to the old formulas to find something that really works. Independent record labels in cities that perhaps aren't in London, run by musicians and music lovers, are part of that traditional way of doing things and it's a shame that so many potentially great artists have more chance of getting lost than getting big without more of them in the picture. James Skelly @JamesSkellyBand
For more head to Skeletonkeyrecords.com.