(This review first appeared in issue #70 of Shindig! magazine.)
Duncan Fletcher talks with Neville Skelly whose label is spearheading the latest North-West musical renaissance.
Chess, Stax, Motown. All labels built on strong regional representation and deep family ties. Decades on since the inception of those powerhouse American labels, a small but dedicated team of music lovers on Merseyside are intent on building their own visionary dynasty. Skeleton Key Records is owned and run by velvet-voiced song-smith Neville Skelly and Coral main-man James Skelly. The Liverpool-based label's first release was a vinyl version of James' solo LP Love Undercover in 2013 made during Coral downtime.
“We both admired Labels like Elektra and A&M where the roster was eclectic and thought wouldn't it be great to do something like that where it's simply all about the music. We felt that at certain majors the accountants were running things so we thought we're the ones who eat, sleep and breathe music, we can either sit around moaning about how shit it is or do something about it, so we did!” says Neville when asked how the label came into being. “We run it between us and jointly decide what artists we want to sign. James produces the bands and I deal with everything connected to the releases along with bringing in the team to help promote the records.”
The family ties and talent are also evident in much of the accompanying artwork. Neville explains - “A lot of the artwork is done by Ian Skelly and his partner Anna Benson. They're so talented! Ian's done all the cover artwork for The Coral albums. So it was an easy call to make. We also encourage some of the bands to get involved with designing their own covers if they can.”
Skeleton Key's prolific string of releases include the street poetry/indie-pop mash-up of She Drew The Gun, the mixture of melody and metallic riffs made by Birmingham's Cut Glass Kings and the soulful fragile folk of Marvin Powell. Coral fans can't fail to have missed the mid-noughties “lost album” The Curse Of Love surfacing in 2014, it too bears the hallmark of quality that is the Skeleton Key logo.
Although Neville admits running a label has been a steep learning curve, 2017 has already borne two critically acclaimed LPs - Edgar Jones' The Song Of Day And Night and The Sundowners' Cut The Master. The label ethos of nurturing the artist and letting creativity find its course has certainly reaped rewards. Says Neville - “One of the reasons we set up the label is we felt bands weren't getting the opportunity to grow and develop so it's great to see Sundowners just getting better and better with each release. They are one of the best live bands in the country and it will be great to see them smashing it at Glastonbury and loads of other festivals this year.
With new music due soon from Serpent Power, Marvin Powell and all being well a new Neville Skelly LP for 2018, you get the feeling this is only the beginning. Oh and hopefully the ink will soon dry on a contract with hotly-tipped psych-folksters The Fernweh. That's one hell of a stable!