Ian Skelly on The Coral: Distance Inbetween

Feature by Chris Ogden | 06 Dec 2016

As the curtain comes down on a triumphant year for The Coral, following the success of their eighth album Distance Inbetween, we chat with drummer Ian Skelly about a new exhibition of his artwork

After a few years laying low, the Wirral’s finest psych band The Coral enjoyed a renaissance earlier this year with their critically acclaimed eighth LP Distance Inbetween. While many artists would see their first collection of new material since 2010 as sufficient, it seems The Coral wish to make up for lost time – they will now be the subject of an art exhibition based on the album.

For The Coral: Distance Inbetween, RedHouse Originals Gallery in Harrogate have compiled new and unseen artwork relating to the album along with special edition prints by the band’s drummer Ian Skelly, who has been responsible for all of their album artwork since their debut self-titled record in 2002.

The exhibition shows off Skelly’s versatility, placing psychedelic and Victorian-inspired cut-and-paste collages alongside surreal comic-style illustrations, not forgetting the monochromatic yin/yang birds of the album’s cover.

The Coral – Distance Inbetween (2016), artwork by Ian Skelly

To celebrate the exhibition, The Skinny had a chat with Ian to learn more about what we should expect and what’s coming next for the band.

Ian, first of all, how do you feel about your works filling up an exhibition? Did you ever imagine that your work would turn up in a gallery?

No, because I’ve never been trained as an artist, it was just something I fell into. In the early days, it used to be like, 'We’re putting this record out and we need a cover, Ian,' and it turned out that I had two days to do it! From then on, I just started doing them and figured it out as I went along. That was before the days of even using computers for our artwork. It’s not something I ever strove for but I think the work is really strong.

Originally, the exhibition was meant to be a full retrospective – all the artwork, photos and all that. It was going to be a really big exhibition but it felt like it was better to wait because I’m still compiling everything, trying to find old bits of artwork that I gave to people years ago and trying to track it all down. I’m waiting to do that for maybe the 20th anniversary of the first album [2002’s The Coral].

It felt like a good time just to do this Distance Inbetween album. The lyrics were originally typed out on a typewriter which [James Skelly] and Nick [Power] did. I’d kept all of them and used them in the album. They’re in the exhibition as well, with the typewriter. There’s some really cool stuff in it.

The exhibition comes with artefacts that inspired the album. We’ve seen a reference to the Miss Fortune video with the diving helmets and night vision goggles! So is it a collection of everything surrounding the album?

Yeah, we did it around the album and [everything] leading up to it. The lyrics were a big part of the artwork. When I started doing the artwork I had four tracks that we’d recorded and I had them on a loop with all the lyrics laid out. I didn’t really think too much about it and just let it happen.

We’re interested in the variety of your work. Across the album covers that you’ve done, you’ve got cut-and-paste collages [2010’s Butterfly House], comic-style illustrations [2003’s Magic and Medicine] and more. How do you choose a different style for each piece?

[For Distance Inbetween] I was like, ‘OK, how do I attack this differently this time?’ A lot of the other albums have been really colourful, so I said to James that I’m going to limit this to two colours, just black or white. I sort of started from there.

Compared to the first record and Butterfly House, they’re very collage-y and colourful.

Yeah, I had to put the limitations on myself for this one to try and do something different.

The Distance Inbetween cover’s a nice, clean image, if you don’t mind us saying!

Well, it felt like the songs had taken a similar approach: they’d become stripped back, heavier, more contrasting.

How does everyone else in the band feel about this venture? Although you created it, do you think it’s a shared experience?

Yeah, everyone’s excited. It’s something we talked about doing a couple of years ago so it’s good that it’s happening now.

So putting the artwork together was something you’d already discussed a few years ago?

Someone from Sony brought up doing an exhibition but at the time it didn’t really feel right.

Was that just because of the timing?

Yeah, timing and no one had really approached us, but as soon as I met Richard [McTague, co-director of Redhouse Originals] we started talking about it. I started showing him all the stuff and saw how enthusiastic he was, and he started coming up with ideas, then it was like ‘OK, we’ll get the ball rolling on this.’

Art by Ian Skelly

Were there any other locations in mind? Is it going to tour the country?

I think we’re going to try Liverpool, Manchester and London and we’ll see how they’ll go. With Harrogate, if people can’t get up there, they can go on the Redhouse Originals website and [the exhibition]’s all on there.

You’ll be launching the exhibition on Wed 7 Dec with an acoustic set – are you going to be playing songs from the record that are featured in the exhibition?

I won’t be playing. I’ll be there speaking to everyone, but James and Paul will play for about half an hour and I think they’ll just play whatever they feel like playing.

You’ll just sit around, take the free wine and have a schmooze at the gallery?

That’s the plan, yeah! [laughs]

Is the exhibition a closure for The Coral that came before?

I think it’s the start of something! If this goes well, when we get onto the next year, [we can have] the artwork for the next album and then do a full retrospective: there’ll be the original artwork and lyrics for the first album …  

In the rehearsal room my granddad kept all these scrapbooks; he dropped them off to me about three years ago and I didn’t even bother to look through them. The other week I got them out and I didn’t know he’d collected so much stuff. When our James was younger he lived with my Nan and Grandad when we were working on the first album, so my granddad kept all of his lyrics – like Dreaming of You, Simon Diamond, all the ones off the first album – on these pieces of paper and he’d put them in there with all the interviews and everything. It’ll be a big job to compile everything but I think that’ll be the next step.


The Coral: Distance Inbetween opens to the public for two weeks only from 8-22 Dec at RedHouse Originals Gallery, Harrogate.

The Coral tour the UK from 8-17 Dec, including dates at O2 Academy, Leeds (8 Dec); O2 Academy, Glasgow (9 Dec); Olympia, Liverpool (10 Dec) and Manchester Academy (17 Dec)