As if Liverpool’s very own Count of St. Germain, NEVILLE SKELLY has adjusted his style dramatically over his years in the industry, is not an easy man to track down and possesses a head with a minefield of ideas.
Yet, unlike our transforming troubadour, he has a voice that flows like nectar to the ears and proudly wears a beanie hat as a woolly two fingers up to the rest of the bewildered world. Perhaps not quite an international man of mystery but certainly elusive, we managed to pin him down one drizzly Sunday dawn to discuss his mesmerising new record, Poet & The Dreamer.
A musical chameleon, (with his days suited and slick in front of his swing orchestra long behind him) Neville was once marooned at a musical crossroad and chose to take a sinuous passage of self-discovery. “By doing the album I wanted to find something that was more personal to me. I still like that music and I wouldn’t change where I’ve come from. Songwriters like George Gershwin and Cole Porter, well I think everyone from The Beatles to The Beach Boys were inspired by them but I wanted to find something that represented me.”
His current influences are certainly not clandestinely concealed either – the album incorporates his own versions of two Beatles covers along with numbers from Neil Young, Phil Ochs, Marc Bolan, Woody Guthrie and Jackson C. Frank, the latter whom he “connected to more so than any other artist,” inspiring him “in a way to make music that was honest and soulful.” His own lingering rendition of Frank’s signature song Blues Run The Game captures the torments of a young man haunted by despair, though Neville’s honey-drizzled sombre baritone croon could soothe even the most abstinent of listeners.
Eleanor Rigby comes as a brave choice but the kaleidoscopic arrangement inspired by a
Bobbie Gentry cover version makes his rendition a unique move rather than another copycat Beatles cover to be piled with the rest of them. But did he find it daunting to cover such a recognised song? “Well the thing is no-one ever thought about it in that way. It was just like that’s a great song. Which is what happened with all of them. All the songs we did covers of – that’s the way we found them. It wasn’t like ‘oh here’s twenty songs lets pick a few.’ It happened very quickly.”
Whisking away a handful of musicians from across the city, and the distant shores of the Wirral Peninsula, to A.P.E. Studios set on the lapping banks of the River Dee, the record from its conception to its May release on Setanta Records took a process of four years to formulate. Surrounded by friends and partisans the album was recorded on “rare analogue equipment from the sixties,” Neville labouring with Ian Skelly of The Coral behind the controls, noting as he laughs endearingly that “it was quite an experience as he can be very opinionated as a producer.”
Working with both Ian and James Skelly, he found the song writing process “can happen very instantaneously. You get the bare bones of a song in a flash and I think they’re the best songs when that happens. With these songs on the album, they were already partly formed with James and Ian so it was me bringing something to the table; lyrics or a melody line. I think James is one of the best songwriters to ever come out of Liverpool. When someone’s that good it’s effortless in a way because you’re not trying too hard, it’s not contrived. When you’re just playing acoustic, without even thinking about the arrangements, you’ve just got the skeleton of it and you can tell that it’s gonna be a good song.”
The richly illustrated and wonderfully orchestrated Colours Collide exemplifies this efficacious ability whilst the succinct title track ups the tempo, the quietly persistent drum track keeping pace behind the double bass and the caramel consistency of Neville’s voice. Playing our very own Bido Lito! Social Club on the 21st of July, he notes “I don’t really do many gigs in Liverpool so this is one I’m quite looking forward to. There’s a song I really want to cover called Silver Raven by Gene Clark. It’s one of them songs that as a writer I wish I had written so we’re gonna do a cover of it definitely.” Surely it’s worth gliding down to the Shipping Forecast to catch a rare glimpse of the intriguing Neville Skelly live with his alchemical gold-plated voice.