❉ The Nightingales frontman proves an engaging character in this funny and moving film.
If you listened to John Peel in the 1980s or were aware of the West Midlands punk or indie music scene you have more than likely heard of Robert Lloyd and his two bands the Prefects and the Nightingales. If not Robert Lloyd may be a new discovery. For the past four decades this enigmatic frontman has been making music through thick and thin as well as running a record label in the 80’s (Vindaloo, whose roster included Fuzzbox, Ted Chippington and Toxic Shock) and producing videos for Saint Etienne and Skunk Anansie.
King Rocker, a film which will premiere on Sky Arts at 9pm this Saturday is a funny and moving documentary made by comedian Stewart Lee and director Michael Cumming (Brass Eye, Toast of London) about Robert and his life. The backbone of the film is a parallel tale of the massive statue of King Kong that was designed by Nicholas Munro and was temporarily erected in Birmingham city centre in the ‘70s only to be rejected by the city, moved, abandoned and eventually restored in Penrith.
In King Rocker Stewart Lee talks to Rob at various locations including Abdul’s Indian restaurant, Mitchells Fold stone circle in Shropshire and the Eagle pub in Balsall Heath which was Robert’s “office” when he ran Vindaloo Records in the ‘80s. The type of venues that we can feel nostalgic about in 2021.
The film captures the magic of two people just having conversations with each other in these environments. Rob is an engaging and funny character who often also undermines the premise of the film. During an appearance on the Marc Riley radio show, for example, Rob says “The thing is I’m a liar and Stewart’s a liar. You never know who’s leading the other along”. On another occasion, Rob remarks “Is that the kind of thing you’re trying to pull in?” Whilst talking in a restaurant, Rob relates a risqué Marie Lloyd joke and remarks to a neighbouring table of diners “Sorry, is this spoiling your meal?”
Punctuated by great live clips, animated depictions of Rob’s (hilarious and sometimes dubious) tales and interviews with past colleagues the film also has monologues from celebrities such as Frank Skinner, Robin Askwith, a rather bewildered Nigel Slater, Paul Morley and Duran Duran’s John Taylor (along with a brief appearance by John Robb’s hair!). The celebrities comment on the truth or otherwise of Robert’s stories.
I lived in Birmingham in the mid ‘80s so was a fan of the Nightingales and Ted Chippington but the film did tell me things I didn’t know and you get the feeling there is a lot more to discover. During the ‘90s for example Rob worked as a London postman (delivering to Julie Christie?) and also co-wrote a sitcom with Steven Wells and Nick Small that was accepted for TV. The whole thing then fell apart. The film shows a table reading of the sitcom by a cast including Kevin Eldon, Paul Putner and Bridget Christie. It leaves you wanting to know more about what happened in this period.
The film also has very moving sequences such as Rob talking to his son Louis about his time in London, “the postman years” and speaking to Stewart about the end of his solo career. The victorious final scene where Stewart and Robert visit the restored King Kong in Penrith is also incredibly moving.
The Nightingales are very much a going concern driven on by drummer Fliss Kitson and the other members. They regularly tour (before the current pandemic curtailed that) and put out top quality records their latest being the excellent Four against Fate. A third of the film includes great recent Nightingales performances including a brilliant end credit sequence of Samira Ahmed lip synching to the spoken word vocals of the track Gales Doc.
The film will stream on Saturday and I believe the intention is to eventually show it in some cinemas when there is an opportunity to do this. It’s a must-watch and will definitely brighten up your Saturday night.
❉ ‘King Rocker: A Film About Robert Lloyd & The Nightingales’ premieres on Sky Arts (freeview) on 6th Feb 2021 at 9.00pm and will be repeated throughout the year. Running Time: 90 Minutes. 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