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The Coral hit the perfect balance between new and nostalgia on opening night of UK tour

The Merseyside band's 80-minute set rarely fails to thrill Glasgow's Barrowlands.

There’s just something magic about a Friday night gig in Glasgow. Leaving the station there's always a noticeable buzz around town for the weekend which, of course, results in a more boisterous gig atmosphere. Simply unbeatable.

Tonight I’m off to see The Coral at the Barrowlands. You know, the scallies from Merseyside who gate-crashed British mainstream radio with perky guitar bop ‘Dreaming Of You’ and their Mercury Prize nominated self-titled debut back in 2002. Well, they're back in Glasgow for the first night of their Sea Of Mirrors tour and having only seen them once (at T in the Park in 2007 where I had had a few beers and wasn't fully able to appreciate them...) it's a gig I've been looking forward to for some time.

As expected, the Barrowlands is packed to the rafters this evening. Late-30 and early 40-something men - many of whom are dressed in Fred Perry shirts and rocking mod haircuts - appear in the majority: such folks you can imagine have gathered to relive their youth and the days when The Coral were regulars on the likes of Radio 1, NME and MTV. That's not to say that The Coral are now merely a nostalgic act. After over two decades together as a band, they now find themselves as experienced players within the UK guitar scene. And it’s a position which suits them well. They’ve aged, quite simply, like a fine wine. 

Their most recent music is more interesting and attention-grabbing than most other bands this far into their career. But The Coral know not to neglect the early years which warmed them to so many in the first place. Perhaps aware that the majority of the crowd will be there for the older material, they begin their set on ominous Magic & Medicine (2003) single ‘Billy McCai’, followed by ‘Pass It On’ for an early singalong. 

In April 2021, a whirlwind of acclaim followed the release of Coral Island. Their psychedelic-folk tenth album was their most ambitious and experimental record to date. A record exploring a fictional British seaside town over two contrasting sides: the first half brightly reminiscing on happy summer days, the second on the challenge of winter on the resort. Just shy of 55 minutes and 24 tracks in length, the record’s mystique is added to by narrations from the Skelly brothers 85-year-old grandad. 

A heavy dose of tracks from their tenth album are proudly played this evening. Upbeat songs from the album’s first section - ‘Lover Undiscovered’ and ‘Vacancy’ - sound delightfully relevant to the cheerful Friday night atmosphere we find ourselves in. They also belt out the toe-tapping, skiffle-inspired ‘Faceless Angel’, while the above mentioned monologues from Grampa Skelly provide an eerie backdrop to maintain a fascinating sense of unease.

Having made a terrible joke about The Doors being tonight's opening act in the bar queue to my mate before the gig (I'd read on The Coral’s Twitter/X page: ‘Doors: 7pm’, ‘Gruff Rhys: 8pm’…), imagine my surprise when they'd then deliver an intriguing cover of ‘People Are Strange’ from the Californian bands 1967 album Strange Days. A peculiar, if welcomed move.

In September, The Coral would release their 11th album Sea Of Mirrors, another beautifully crafted indie-folk record which takes a journey through nature and seasons. As this is the first night of their Sea Of Mirrors tour, there’s a certain nervousness to playing these songs, many of which haven’t been performed in a live setting. Frontman James Skelly even asks the crowd to go easy on them. The Coral bring to life a selection of songs from their latest - ‘That’s Where She Belongs’, ‘Faraway Worlds’, ‘Wild Bird’, ‘North Wind’. Unfortunately, the more subdued nature of these tracks ensures a similar reaction.

To increase the energy levels once more, the band have some forgotten classics up their sleeves to finish on. Jangly 2007 hit ‘Jacqueline’ is followed by 2005’s ‘In The Morning’, both tracks rediscovering the audience’s singing voices and body swaying capabilities. Arguably the night’s high point would then be the hard rock-inspired ‘Holy Revelation’ from 2016’s Distance In-between which has them venture into hard-rock Black Sabbath territory: a fascinating departure from their usual sound. The Coral soon depart the stage for a moment’s breather before delivering faultless versions of early hit ‘Goodbye’ and crowd-pleaser ‘Dreaming of You’ within the encore.

The Coral provide a flavour of their two decade career into an 80-minute set, finding the perfect balance between nostalgia and their excellent most recent work. As a sea of (mostly) men depart down the Barrowlands stairs, there’s a feeling of contentment to what has been witnessed. A feeling further bolstered upon departing the stuffy venue and receiving that fresh hit of winter air. A fantastic performance from one of the most consistent bands around. 


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