Ian Skelly And The Serpent Power: Zanzibar Club, Liverpool – live review

404857_435852059826447_357191962_nIan Skelly And The Serpent Power
Zanzibar Club, Liverpool
7th Feb 2013

Member of The Coral, Ian Skelly, launched his first album as a debut artist with a sweltering & well received show in his home town the other day. Louder Than War were in the audience of course.

Liverpool’s Zanzibar Club is literally dripping with sweat, anticipation and expectancy tonight. A torrent of media hype normally associated with events such as the end of the world or the second coming of Christ has ensured that this intimate, 300 capacity venue is packed out, sold out, tripped out and ready to boogie. Gigs associated with The Coral are always occasions in the city, so it’s no surprise to see such a gargantuan turn out for a bill which includes the drummer (and artworker) of said band promoting his debut solo album, plus support from a hotly tipped Wirral group featuring two members of the Skelly family. Boring intro over, on with the show, as a little known sixties rock band once opined…..

The Circles are on first. A three piece from Birmingham, they turn out a set of enjoyable 60s inspired beat pop/rock which goes down well with the crowd. Their tight-as-a-weasel’s-bumhole instrumentation and ebullient vocal harmonies exclude them from the identikit, meat ‘n’ potatoes “Authentic” badge wearing brigade, instead giving an exciting glimpse of a potential which will undoubtedly be realised the moment they manage to combine their impressive musicianship with the fine art of experimentation; once they have mastered this, the world will almost certainly be their oyster. Give ’em time, of course, they’re doing just fine at the moment; the best, however, is surely just around the corner. Certainly ones to watch out for, The Circles are definite contenders for the 21st century digital rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame. Promising stuff.

Time for LTW favourites The Sundowners. There has been more buzz over this band than a swarm of bees to a hive, both locally and nationally, which meant I was particularly eager to see what all the fuss was about. The room really starts to feel crowded the moment they step onto the stage; so much so that I can barely see a bloody thing throughout their set, but I can certainly hear it. They are strong contenders for the most apt name for a band of all time award, at times you could be forgiven for thinking that you are sat down on a Californian beach sipping an ice cold bottle of Rolling Rock rather than stood in a dimly lit back street bar in central Liverpool on a wet and windy evening, the music they play is just so damn……sunny! A slice of Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac here, a pinch of Mamas and The Papas there, I think it’s fair to say that fans of Skinny Puppy should probably look elsewhere. That said, there’s much to recommend about this; Niamh Rowe and Fiona Skelly’s breezy, soaring vocals splash against your ear drums like a wave against a surfer’s board, with songs such as single ‘Hummingbird’ entering your conciousness with all the glee of a baby dolphin. Although cheery, the edginess and versatility of the vocals set to Alfie Skelly’s chiming guitar lines ensure that this never once enters the realm of the cheesy or naff, belonging firmly in the retro kitsch cool lounge lizard camp, whilst also remaining effortlessly “now”. As refreshing as an ice cube infested glass of lemonade on a hot summers day, The Sundowners are here to put a little light into your life. In the current climate, how can this possibly be a bad thing?

‘Cut From A Star’, the debut solo release of Coral sticksman Ian Skelly, has been receiving a fair amount of praise from the press recently. Released at the tail end of 2012, its low key charm and striking artwork has attracted a sizeable cult following, so to hear it played for the first time (I think) in Mr Skelly’s hometown is a highly exciting prospect, especially for a long term Coral fan such as myself. Again, I’m straining my neck to catch a glimpse of the events unfolding upon the stage but I’ll do my best! Backed by a group of musicians going under the moniker of The Serpent Power, Skelly proceeds to play the album in full, with the accompaniment of Sundowner girls Niamh and Fiona on background vocals for many of the tracks.

The album has a mysterious, slightly foreboding atmosphere about it; the title track is Man Who Sold The World era Bowie jamming with early Floyd in a basement, many of the other tracks have this kinda feel about them. The ghosts of Syd Barrett and Nick Drake haunt the likes of ‘Firebird’ and ‘Paper Sky’, casting shadowy reflections over pretty pop melodies; ‘Caterpillar’, meanwhile, recalls both the psychedelic meltdown crescendos of Brainticket and the sweet/sinister pagan folk ditties of The Wicker Man soundtrack and is probably the highlight of the set, a towering achievement which sounds genuinely alien and otherworldly, NOT terms to be used (or taken) lightly I might add! Although brilliant, it must be said that ‘Cut From A Star’ isn’t really a sing-along, earworm kinda album; although attentive and clearly enjoying themselves, the crowd aren’t exactly chanting back every line of each song, prompting Skelly at one point to jokingly enquire whether anyone present actually owns the album! Closing the set with a cover of The Byrds’ ‘Mr Spaceman’, Skelly and the band leave the stage without returning for an encore, claiming they have “run out of material.” It’s early days, but on this evidence Ian Skelly could easily carve out a solo career equal to that of his one as a member of The Coral, who are apparently working on new material as we speak. Ever the maverick, here’s hoping that Ian Skelly will continue to plough his idiosyncratic musical field for many more years to come. It IS possible to merge the retro with the futuristic ya know, tonight’s gig was proof of this. By the way,has anyone seen the keys to my TARDIS?

 

Words by Sean Diamond. More writing by Sean on Louder Than War can be found here.

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