The Sundowners, Skeleton Key Records, and the building of a new Liverpool dynasty


Skeleton Key Records co-founder James Skelly

With the label in a rich vein of form, Getintothis’ Craig MacDonald talks exclusively to the Skeleton Key family ahead of their UK tour.

Across the banks of the River Mersey in the Wirral Peninsula, something has been stirring for quite sometime.

Since its humble beginnings four years ago, Skeleton Key Records has become a beacon of hope for a plethora of promising young talent from the Northwest and beyond, with the label now firmly establishing itself as one of the most lauded labels in the land for up and comings acts.

As it has grown from strength to strength, it has also become clear that a new musical dynasty is firmly taking shape on our shores.

Under the watchful eye of co-founders James, Ian and Neville Skelly, Skeleton Key‘s ever growing family has seen She Drew The Gun conquer Glastonbury, and Cabbage become the new voice of a generation within the last year alone. Not a bad year you would think? Or as James Skelly puts, “To me if it’s a great year to Chris Martin it’s a horrendous year so it depends on how you look at it haha!”.

That good form looks set to continue over the coming months as The Sundowners, Edgar Jones and Cut Glass Kings form the label’s latest releases before hitting the road on a joint UK tour together, something that excites all three groups, The Sundowners’ Niamh Rowe explains. “Yeah. I think it’s been two years since we’ve done a full UK tour so we’re really looking forward to get back on the road. We’re really glad we’re with Edgar and the Cut Glass Kings. We all get along really well so it’s a proper laugh.”

Likewise, Cut Glass Kings may well be new to the Skeleton family, but already feel very much at home, “It definitely feels like we are part of something pretty exciting. We spend a lot of time in Liverpool, so I guess it kinda feels like a spiritual home”.

With the groups spending so much time together, touring and recording, you would think that there maybe a sense of rivalry at times, but as Niamh explains, ” I think the biggest rivalry is who took the biggest piece of Fiona and Alfie’s mum’s banana and chocolate cake! It really is good enough to fight over ha!”

Ahead of that tour, The Sundowners will release their highly anticipated sophomore album Cut The Master on April 21 with Niamh giving a brief glimpse of what we can expect from the GIT Award nominees’ follow up. ” I think our sound is naturally progressing. We were listening to a lot of Radiohead, Shocking Blue and Scott Walker. Then having met Andy Votel & Jane Weaver they were a huge influence on this record.”

Break on through – 50 years of The Doors

Similarly, the tour will also be a chance for Edgar Jones to showcase cuts from his album The Song of Day and Night, recorded with his group, The New Joneses, “Aye we’re kind of like a Chitlin soul circuit group without the brass, cos we’ll be knocking out that kinda gear mostly. We road tested our togetherness as a rhythm section in the summer backing the great Johnny Echols for the Liverpool Love tribute. So aye, papa’s got a brand new gola bag!! “

As with the Cut Glass Kings and Edgar Jones, The Sundowners’ new record was recorded in Parr Street Studios with James Skelly at the controls, The Coral frontman calling the iconic studio his second home, although his bustling schedule does not seem to phase him.

“I wish I could do more. I get too much time off for my liking. In a way I am proud of Skeleton but I usually think about what I’m doing next or what I could’ve done better. It’s not the same when I’m producing a band, I can step away from it. When I’m doing The Coral, I end up doing song after song arrangement’s in my sleep.”

That feeling of striving to do more is perhaps what drives on those within the Skeleton family. As Cut Glass Kings are quick to explain, the work ethic instilled into Skeleton Key is something that they reap the rewards of. “It’s really cool. James can be quite straight to the point when it comes to talking about songs. He doesn’t sugar coat anything and he isn’t bothered about telling you when he thinks something is shit.”

What becomes clear throughout our chat is the mutual respect that seems to flow throughout the Skeleton Key artists, with James keen to back this up, “I’m working with Cabbage at the moment, which sounds good. But going into record with Cut Glass Kings, I think its clicked for them now, they are a two piece and I feel they’re ready, their songs have stepped up a level.”

Edgar Jones

Edgar Jones

Even when we touch on The Stairs resurrection at The Kazimier with Edgar Jones, and his status as a cult hero, there is a mutual respect between the songwriter and the other artists. “Do they now? That’s nice to be honest. The show went much easier than expected and was a hell of a lot of fun, as I’m sure these ones will be too.” 

When we go back to discussing each act’s new material and the forthcoming tour, Edgar even hints at the possibility of some new tracks with The Stairs surfacing in the future. “We just gotta get some time out to do all that Chocolate Watchband type listening again”.

With the joint tour seeing them play across the country, we approach Niamh to talk about the upcoming FestEVOL Gardens show, “We cant wait to play, Revo always gets a boss lineup.” The all-dayer will reside in The Kazimier’s new headquarters at Invisible Wind Factory, following the continued gentrification of Liverpool’s cultural areas, a subject she is more then happy to share her opinion on.

“It’s a scam. It always has been since the dawning of ‘civilisation’, the rich get fatter and more greedy, while the poor get shafted. It’s not surprising the way the world is and the way powers that be try and make you feel powerless. That’s why we wrote the song Cut The Master.”

Clearly passionate about the subject she continues, “My dad has always told me that you have to create your own oasis and live the way you see fit. I spent a lot of time when I was younger trying to change people’s minds, but trying to draw everybody to the same change is a very hard feat. I am totally against the destruction of creative spaces in Liverpool for yet more flats. How do you stop multi million pound developments destroying our culture? I don’t know, I wish i did, and wish I could help.”

Thankfully, Skeleton Key Records are helping to create, sustain and develop our region’s culture as their dynasty continues to grow, shown by the impact of their acts and their releases. Long may it continue.

  • The Sundowners, Edgar Jones & The New Joneses and Cut Glass Kings tour starts on April 25 at Leeds Brudenell. Tickets on sale now.
  • The Sundowners release Cut The Master on April 21 and  play FestEVOL Gardens at Invisible Wind Factory on April 3
  • Edgar Jones & The New Joneses release The Song of Day and Night on April 17
  • Cut Glass Kings release Here Comes The Light on April 17