Bluesbreakers: The Viper Kings

“Play them fast and heavy, then pin ’em to the wall,” says Ian Skelly, the drummer and spokesperson for The Viper Kings when asked about his group’s approach to playing the blues.

It’s an attitude put into practice on their debut album, a 10-track thumper to be released later this year. Recorded in just one day at Parr Street Studios in Liverpool, it finds the band tearing it up on choice covers from their explosive live set, including Muddy Waters’ Got My Mojo Working, Shake For Me by Howlin’ Wolf, Hard Times by John Lee Hooker, Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love? and Hound Dog by Big Mama Thornton.

“We set up live in the middle of the room to try and capture what we do live in the clubs we play,” explains Ian. “I produced the session alongside Richard Turvey, the engineer. It was great fun and pretty high octane.”

Ian founded the Hoylake, Merseyside group late last year with his cousin Neville Skelly; the lineup is completed by bassist James Redmond and guitarist Paul Molloy. The Skelly family are a talented bunch. Ian started out as drummer and sleeve artwork designer for The Coral, the psych beat combo he still plays in alongside his brother and the group’s singer James Skelly. How has that experience influenced his new outfit?

“Well, 15 years in The Coral prepares you for most band dynamics,” he smirks, “and almost all music has a link to the blues, either in terms of riffs or lyrics. It’s where it all began.”

Ian also helms his own solo project, releasing the kaleidoscopic and brilliant Cut From A Star in 2012; he provides sticks for the aforesaid James Skelly soulful side project, James Skelly And The Intenders, and with James and Neville runs the Skeleton Key record label. Neville Skelly, The Viper Kings’ frontman, is also a singer in his own right, mining the Greenwich Village folk jazz thing on 2011’s The Poet And The Dreamer and this year’s Carousel.

The Viper Kings’ genesis, meanwhile, arose from a meeting of like minds. Ian was working on his second psych album with guitarist Paul Molloy and playing as a rhythm section with bassist James Redmond in James Skelly And The Intenders. “So it just grew organically, because we were spending so much time together. We were in the pub after one of Nev’s gigs, and we had the jukebox on, and we were singing along with the tunes and it seemed like a good idea to put a band together.”

As for how he finds the time: “It’s like a disease, it’s not about making a decision, there’s always this need to be creating, whether it is music or art, I have to do it,” he says. “And I just love it. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. Doing this, we play a load of our favourite tunes and put our own spin on them. It’s perfect.”


“My earliest memory of loving music was knowing all the words to Blue Suede Shoes, but it was seeing The Beatles on Magical Mystery Tour performing I Am The Walrus that made me want to be in a band. Then there’s Little Richard, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry, Wilson Pickett…”

The Viper Kings is out soon on Skeleton Key.