20 years ago, a group of lads from Hoylake with a shared love of soft drugs and 60s counter-culture formed a band unlike anything that’d come out of the Wirral before. Exploding on to the scene by gaining fans worldwide, huge album sales and a Mercury Prize nomination, they put the peninsula on the musical map like never before – and it has never been the same since. This band are, of course, The Coral and their mass popularity acted as a domino effect for Merseyside music. Their music kick-started the cosmic Scouser revivalism of the noughties that centred around the legendary Alan Wills’ Deltasonic Records, which in itself inspired the band to start their own label, Skeleton Key Records. Alongside this, a whole generation of kids have grown up with The Coral melodically ringing in their ears, inspiring many to pick up a guitar, a bass or a keyboard to create music.
This brings us a little closer to how the festival SKELETON COAST, taking place at Hoylake Community Centre on 6th August, started. Arguably, Hoylake could be considered the epicentre of the Wirral music scene – and has been since The Coral’s infamous debut album saw them cavorting around their home town – so it seems only fitting to hold a festival which showcases so much local talent in a town where it found so much inspiration. From the outside it may appear strange, as it strays from the norms of festivals as drug-fuelled muddy fields or trendy inner-city bars, but its setting is perfect when you understand its background.
“I think, previously, there was only OMD from this side but The Coral changed that when they broke through, which definitely inspired a lot of young musicians and artists from around the area,” says Alfie Skelly, guitarist in The Sundowners and one of the brains behind Skeleton Coast. “I remember their festival in New Brighton in 2005, the incredible line-up. Things like that change your outlook and make you think, ‘I can do that, join a band, put on an event’ – or just think outside the box to express yourself.”
A collaborative effort between Skeleton Key, Coda Presents and Hoylake Beacon, the festival is set to be a real treat with a line-up of local talent – welcoming SHE DREW THE GUN back from their triumphant set at Glastonbury as winners of the Emerging Talent Competition – as well as being set to host local favourites BY THE SEA and EDGAR ‘SUMMERTYME’ JONES. “Myself and Martin, who is the promoter of Coda, used to have mad chats about having a festival on the beach in Hoylake,” Skelly remembers. “I’m sure Bruce Springsteen was gonna headline at one point, ha ha! Martin ran his own bar in Hoylake called Coda Maine where a lot of musicians and artists seemed to gravitate to: Niamh Rowe [singer with The Sundowners] had a boss open mic night there, usually ending up with everyone off their heads til the early hours. I saw Marvin Powell, Jo Mary and The Mysterines, and Dave McCabe played one night as well. Unfortunately, it closed down due to noise complaints and is now a Domino’s, which is shit; but hopefully with everyone getting behind the festival it can bring a bit of creativity and madness back to the area.”
“It’s funny, social media is so powerful but nothing can beat when a mate asks, ‘Have you seen this band?’” Skelly continues. “It’s still the most powerful form of promotion for me. That’s how I first heard The Mysterines, who are 15, and Rory Wynne, 16, and they both played a Coda night in May at Buyers Club, and they’re two of the best acts I’ve seen for ages. They blew me away when I saw them live.”
The only import from outside of the North West comes in the form of Brighton’s grungy psych trio THE WYTCHES. Fluctuating between discordant growls and tortured ballads, The Wytches are looking for a welcome return having gathered quite a fanbase in the area, having played numerous times here since they burst through in 2011 (with The Kazimier show supporting Fat White Family and The Growlers a particularly memorable one) and recording their debut LP, Annabel Dream Reader, with Bill Ryder-Jones. With the band on the brink of releasing their second album, their performance could prove an interesting sneak preview of what’s to come from a band who manage to successfully blend a solid mix of horror, garage and grunge. If their other shows are anything to go by, this one is sure to be dark, violent and extremely humid.
With that in mind, we decided to take a look at some of the Wirral artists who’ll be showcasing themselves at Skeleton Coast this year, and proving that the area is still a hotbed for forward-thinking musical talent.
Raised on a diet of musical indulgences from the likes of Captain Beefheart and The Velvet Underground while trapped on the Wirral peninsula between the Mersey and the Dee, JO MARY are currently cultivating a sound that’s like something from Warhol’s Factory; it’s a flurried sonic debauchery soaked in a generous helping of fuzz which makes the eyes dilate and the body slump. The whirring, riff-driven tour de force of Jo Mary is an unstoppable power. In the age-old Wirral tradition, the boys look back for inspiration but leave the harmonies and acoustic guitar behind, preferring the mad, the bad and the ugly.
Much like The Wickerman composer, Paul Giovanni, before him, MARVIN POWELL seems to have been able to encapsulate the very essence of folk and its roots in tradition and magic while never failing to bring something refreshing to the genre. The Skeleton Key artist’s melodies find you falling inside the very notes being played as the chord progressions swirl around hypnotic and mesmerising lines, while his voice melts over you, resonating like a less-troubled Jeff Buckley. Powell is the sort of singer-songwriter who doesn’t come along too often, providing a portal to another time.
Having already featured on work by dream poppers By The Sea, it seemed only natural for Emma Leatherbarrow to break out and create something of her own, and this is exactly what she has done with MINNETONKA. Having found her moniker from the Native American name for a lake in Minnesota heralded for its purity, it is easy to draw comparisons: Minnetonka’s luscious dream pop lets you lose yourself in its cool, deep blue depths. Sinking through the swell of ambient synths, Leatherbarrow’s innocent vocals act like a siren pulling you deeper and deeper.
True to their name there really is a sense of enigma about this young band. Unlike most bands in this day and age they don’t have any social media presence, or, for that matter, any recorded presence online. Our only evidence for their burgeoning talent is the handful of live shows they’ve left their impression on. The three-piece, who are all still teens, play with a talent well beyond their years. Their psych-infused blues rock is punctuated with powerful vocals and tight instrumentation. As such a young band, it will be exciting to see what trajectory The Mysterines’ career takes from here.
Skeleton Coast takes place at Hoylake Community Centre on 5th August, headlined by The Wytches. Tickets are on sale now. Head to bidolito.co.uk to see some exclusive live sessions with some of the artists playing this year’s festival.