‘King Rocker’ (Film & Soundtrack) reviewed

❉ Stewart Lee’s hit documentary about Robert Lloyd and the Nightingales arrives on DVD at last…

By far one of the cultural highlights of the difficult last two years came from an unexpected source. King Rocker, a documentary about Robert Lloyd and his band the Nightingales made by comedian Stewart Lee and filmmaker Michael Cumming (Brass Eye, Toast), had an almost decade-long gestation period and, following a successful crowdfunding campaign, it was picked up by Sky Arts after lockdown scuppered any chances of a theatrical release and aired last year to universal acclaim from both critics and viewers. We Are Cult has previously interviewed both Stewart Lee and Michael Cumming about the King Rocker film and it is at long last out on DVD accompanied by a great Nightingales compilation CD and a lovely booklet detailing the film’s genesis and production.

Cannock-born Robert Lloyd was originally the singer with cult punk band the Prefects before starting his own band the Nightingales in 1979/1980. John Peel favourites (doing possibly more Peel sessions than anyone else except the Fall) and described by John Robb as “the misfits’ misfits”, the Nightingales are still touring, releasing new stuff and better than ever.

This funny and moving film, originally conceived when Stewart Lee met Robert Lloyd in the Wheatsheaf pub in London (once Dylan Thomas’s local), tells Robert’s life story in parallel with a narrative of the gigantic King Kong statue that once stood in Birmingham in the ‘70s. Over the course of the years Robert also worked as a label boss of the excellent Vindaloo records (Fuzzbox, Terry and Gerry, Ted Chippington) and as an East End postman (reportedly delivering mail to Julie Christie!). The film tracks his ups and downs, and Lloyd’s resilience and has now led to the Nightingales touring to packed houses.

As Robert told We Are Cult back in 2020 of the film’s conception and realisation: “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.”

Talking to We Are Cult last year, Stewart Lee said of the film: “It’s a film of people ‘outside’… It’s a feelgood story. It’s a story about a bloke who wanted to do something and is still doing it. It’s about what people need to understand if they ever want to see live things again. It’s about pubs and venues….and the outdoors and England. There are no bad guys in it – it’s a happy thing.”

The DVD comes with about 90 minutes of extras and an excellent compilation CD. The compilation gives a sampler of the variety and quality of the Nightingales music over the course of forty years. Use Your Loaf and What A Carry On are early Nightingales favourites. Thick and Thin is a glam rock stomper, Let’s Think About Living is a brilliant piece of rockabilly and Black Country and the cover Ghost sound like maudlin West Midlands country. On Chaff, the brilliant drummer and Nightingales driving force Fliss Kitson does a brilliant prog rock-influenced solo section. Also included are the recent Kurt Weil-influenced The Desperate Quartet, the second stage Nightingale declaration Born again in Birmingham and of course Gales Doc (a song actually recorded long before the film was created).

The 90 minutes of extra material features interviews with Frank Skinner, Paul Morley, James Brown and Fuzzbox and full clips of the Nightingales giving brilliant performances of It is, Chaff and Born And Bred In Birmingham on Marc Riley’s BBC 6 Music show.  Great stuff.

A particular highlight of the extra is a great section about late music writer and poet Steven Wells (aka Swells) including a hilarious anecdote about the time Swells went on a tour of Pakistan with Bradford group Fun-Da-Mental. There’s also more footage of the hilarious Mitchell Fold stone circle episode featuring an even more unimpressed Robert!

Nightingales frontman Robert Lloyd, Stewart Lee and the King Kong statue in Penrith.

Also noteworthy are a brilliant interview with the sartorially elegant John Robb talking about his book Death to Trad Rock (whilst the camera scans his shoes and his belt!), and a lovely chat between Robert and the Raincoats’ Gina Birch. Elsewhere Robert also talks to his own son about “the postman years” in London.  Throughout the film itself and its bonus material, Robert comes across as a genuinely nice and funny bloke.

❉ ‘King Rocker’ is now available to buy:  The Nightingales – King Rocker – FIRE RECORDS

❉ See the Nightingales website for tour dates and upcoming news: Nightingales (thenightingales.org.uk

 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.  His Twitter is @JamesCollingwo1

Image sources: https://www.stewartlee.co.uk, kingrockerfilm.com. Images subject to copyright.




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