Nightingales over Bristol Road: An interview with Robert Lloyd

we chat with ‘Britain’s ultimate post-punk survivor’ ahead of Stewart Lee’s documentary.

“When we toured with The Clash I was a pretty clueless 17 year old and we (The Prefects) had some kind of misguided idea that punk rock was a movement. Thankfully seeing this punk rock thing up close I was quickly dispelled of any daft notions that this scene was different from any other bunch of rock n roll opportunists. It was good to learn this early and become more individual than the rank copyists we were.”

The next couple of years promise to be a productive time for Robert Lloyd and his band the Nightingales. Their new album Four against Fate was released in May and is one of the best albums of the year. The long-awaited film King Rocker: A Film about Robert Lloyd and the Nightingales (made by Stewart Lee, James Nicholls and Brass Eye and Toast of London director Michael Cumming) is also on the way. As frontman with the Prefects and the Nightingales Rob has produced consistently interesting work over the last four decades.

‘Four against Fate’ (Tiny Global Productions).

Hi Rob. I’ve been playing the new album and it’s great. I’m also looking forward to ‘King Rocker’ coming out. Can you tell me how the idea for the film came about?

What seems like an age ago Phill Jupitus suggested to me the idea of doing a Nightingales documentary for TV.  Obviously, I liked the idea and thinking about it I thought it could be a comedy – a ‘world’s least successful band’ type thing. I mentioned it to Stewart at some point and he said he thought it was a shit idea to do ourselves down because the group is too good, but anyway Phill’s TV contact never got any interest so any thought of that was shelved. Then a year or two ago Stew got in touch saying he’d like to make a film and that he had also met a director (Michael Cumming) and a producer (James Nicholls) who were also keen, so what did I think?

I’ve seen the trailer and can’t wait to see the film. When is it officially out? Did you have a lot of say in how the film went or was it Stewart and Michael’s project – an appreciation of the Nightingales/Prefects? What was your input?

After various enforced delays, the film’s theatrical premiere is on October 31 in Sheffield as part of Sheff Doc Fest 2020. The World broadcast premiere will be on free to air TV at a date yet to be confirmed, though probably this year. Then cinema screenings will begin in March 2021, starting at the MAC in Brum. I’m told the DVD/VOD will happen next November and at some point, in 2021 the Soundtrack will be released.

As regards the film’s content, that was Stewart and Michael’s doing. I am just the subject of the movie. Stew had the King Kong theme but the film was pretty much made up as they went along. Obviously on occasion I was wondering where it was going and had some doubts but ultimately, I knew they were thoughtful, talented blokes who had always been diligent about their previous work, so I just trusted them.

I told Stew various stories and he linked them all into a vaguely coherent piece. There was very little earlier footage to be used and I was asked for certain addresses (Abdul’s, The Eagle, etc) that were relevant but it was Stewart and the production team that rustled up the ‘guest stars’, animator, et al.

The new Nightingales album (‘Four against Fate’) is great. Is this your strongest ever line up? (Fliss Kitson, James Smith and Andreas Schmid).  The interaction with you and Fliss (Nightingales drummer and vocalist) singing works fantastically and the lyrics are strong as always (Could Neverender be a Chrimbo single by the way?)  Obviously in the current situation I’m assuming you can’t tour so are you preparing new stuff for the next album. Is it a difficult situation or is lockdown ok for the band?

Yes the album is a good one and I do think this is the best Nightingales line up there has been. Obviously I have had some good people &/or fine musicians in the group over the years but this lot is the tightest unit and everyone seems to like the others also. Plus they all seem dedicated to the Gales cause, whatever that may be – Apart from me, Andi is the band’s longest serving member and Fliss is not far behind.

I was pleased to have Fliss doing more singing on the record. She writes a lot of our melodies, is a talented singer, sounds good with me and adds another texture when she takes the lead. Jim is also a decent vocalist and seems to be singing more. In truth I wouldn’t mind being the group’s lyricist with those two handling the singing but, for better or worse, it seems like there is a demand for me to be present in the band.

Anyway… for the third time now, Fliss has rebooked our ‘Four Against Fate’ UK Tour for late April and with a bit of luck it will actually go ahead this time, though I’m not holding my breath. We have never played the album live so would like to be able to do that. Obviously being apart has not been too helpful for writing new material but we have been putting some song ideas down which we will get “stuck in to” when we can get together and have ‘done’ Four Against Fate.

In the mid ‘80s you ran Vindaloo (a label that included Birmingham acts Ted Chippington. Terry and Gerry, Fuzzbox and Toxic Shock) I remember seeing these acts separately and a Vindaloo concert at Aston Triangle featuring yourselves, Toxic Shock and Ted that was MC’d by Swells (Steven Wells) and was brilliant. Fuzzbox had hits as well. What was the story with the label? Could a label like that work today?

I am not fully sure why I did Vindaloo. I think Rough Trade were doing assorted ‘co-releases’ at the time and wanted to release the first Nightingales 45 (Idiot Strength) that way. Any road up, when the label was a thing and I had a Manufacture & Distribution deal with Rough Trade I decided to put out a few records by other artists I knew, with Ted and Toxic Shock particular favourites. When Fuzzbox took off it changed the label somewhat – eg, I mistakenly forsook Rough Trade for WEA – and I also got a bit disillusioned about working for other bands rather than my own.

I’m very out of touch with ‘the business’ so I have no idea if a small label of that sort could operate well these days. I’d imagine the answer is either a definite no due to financial restraints or a definite yes because of technology and the internet. I don’t really care.

 In John Robb’s book ‘Death to Trad Rock!’ you mention that the Prefects were on the White Riot tour, but you got quickly disillusioned with punk. Did you see through it quickly and have a new idea of what punk should be?  Would you regard what you do now as continuing the punk tradition?

When we toured with The Clash I was a pretty clueless seventeen year old and me and the other Prefects had some kind of misguided idea that punk rock was a movement. Thankfully seeing this punk rock thing up close I was quickly dispelled of any daft notions that this scene was different from any other bunch of rock n roll opportunists. It was good to learn this early and become more individual than the rank copyists we were.

Since that time I have not worried my head about ‘what punk should be’. I guess David Beckham with a mohawk, the Brew Dog corporation and Primark selling pre-distressed jeans continue ‘the punk tradition’?

But the beard came back with a bang anyway.

Is it true actor Robin Askwith is in ‘King Rocker’ and they were also trying to get Julie Christie to appear in it because you were her postman in the 90’s?

Robin is in the film, along with some other stars – Samira Ahmed, Danny Fields, Bridget Christie – and a bunch of unlikely celebrities, comedians, comrades and acquaintances. A real cast of characters but alas no Julie Christie.

What were your big influences growing up in terms of music? I understand you were a big Bolan fan? Do you like any current bands or are there any you are impressed by?

My first favourite group was T-Rex, I moved on to Lou Reed and then the Velvets, Stooges, etc. Found Beefheart, krautrock and other weirder shit and from then on I have got in to a very eclectic bunch of stuff. I loved the Ramones but I also love Nico, Little Richard, Cecila Bartoli, Faust, Freakwater, Stravinsky, Cajun, pibroch, reggae, etc. I suppose it all – plus the stuff I think is dire – influenced me in one way or another, that’s how it works.

I must admit I am not really up to speed with music of the last few years. I liked The Bitter Springs but think they might have split up. I did buy a Girl Ray 45 a few years back but didn’t like their album. I really liked Lady Leshurr in her Trap Queen days (2015/16-ish) and would probably still like her but I’ve not heard anything for a while. Near Jazz Experience who supported us on our last tour were fab. Also, Grace Petrie is good and well worth seeing if she plays near you.


❉ ‘King Rocker: A Film About Robert Lloyd & The Nightingales’ (2019, produced by James Nicholls) will premiere later this year. Visit www.kingrockerfilm.com for updates and information. ‘Four against Fate’ is out now on Tiny Global Productions

❉ James Collingwood is based in West Yorkshire and has been writing for a number of years. He currently also writes for the Bradford Review magazine for which he has conducted more than 30 interviews and has covered music, film and theatre

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