‘It’s maybe about Denise van Outen’ – the Coral on how they made Dreaming of You | Music

James Skelly, vocal, songwriter

We used to record in Hype Studios in Liverpool, which was owned by Andy Wilson. He called me one day because Shack were there, and they had loved a demo of ours. I went to the studio to meet them. Mick Head, their frontman, was like the poet laureate of Liverpool then, so him saying such great things was amazing.

I bounced out of there and got the train to my nan’s, still buzzing. I think I probably skipped there, and then this line came into my head: “What’s up with my heart when it skips a beat?” I thought: “That’s a good opening line.” So I got to my nan’s and started writing. Five minutes later, Dreaming of You was finished. All the hits we’ve had were done like that, written in about the same time it takes to listen to them. The trick is to leave them alone and not question it.

At first it was like skiffle. But Alan Wills, who founded our label Deltasonic, thought it could be more like the Specials. When we finished recording our debut album, Dreaming of You wasn’t on there. Ian Broudie, our producer, said we needed another song and, as soon as he heard Dreaming of You, he said record it. We worked on the arrangement. I remember doing the vocal in one take – I’ve always hated doing more than a couple. Ian and Alan thought we’d nailed it. I thought we had, too. Bill Ryder-Jones’s guitar solo is my favorite thing. It’s perfect.

I don’t know who the “you” in the title is. Denise van Outen, maybe. She was on the Big Breakfast back then. It’s just a song. I was only 17, I hadn’t done much in my life. I do love the track, though. It’s not deep, but its energy makes it special. Not many people have a song as well known as this, like Dion has with The Wanderer, or Del Shannon has with Runaway. But I’ve got one and it’s a public song now, one that nans know! It’s been used on so many TV shows and adverts I can’t remember them all, although I know that Adele once did a live version. I thought: “YES! I’m quids in here. ” But she never persevered with it. If Adele reads this, I think she should carry on, I would love to hear a recorded version. Strings, choirs, the lot.

Ian Broudie, producer

They really didn’t want to record Dreaming of You. But I said it was a must, so we went back to the studio. They were indulging me, probably, but the sessions were great. In two days, we did Dreaming of You, Goodbye and one other. They were a fantastic band playing together, but they were like an ecosystem – when you took one of them away, the whole thing fell apart. So the key was to record them live, playing as a band. My job was to disturb them as little as possible.

In Broudie in 1998. Photograph: Ben Curtis / PA Archive

There were sea shanties on the debut album, psych freakouts, spaghetti western soundtrack, all sorts. So I think they were a bit nervous of Dreaming of You, which was much more conventional. It’s the only song on that first album that doesn’t have some sort of twist.

It’s easy to be scared of a song like this. I had the same with Pure, the Lightning Seeds’ debut single in 1989. I had fought hard for that not to be released. But it saved my life, in many ways. That’s probably why I was so sure they should include Dreaming of You on the album. If we’d done our debut album without Pure, it would’ve been a very different life for me. I think Dreaming of You is as important to the Coral, the pivot on which their career turned.

The bassline at the start always reminded me of You’re the One That I Want from Grease, but the whole song sounds like people who just love playing. I hear them all in that song. When that solo starts, I hear Bill at his best di lui, James too, and so on. It all slots together. The spirit of the band, distilled into one track. It’s magical.

The Coral tour until 26 March. The 20th anniversary reissue of The Coral is out now.

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