The Nightingales are a punk/alternative band from Birmingham who were formed in 1979 out of the remnants of the Prefects, another local group and punk band which played dates in support to the Clash.
The Nightingales are centred around its vocalist Robert Lloyd and, despite a twenty year absence between 1986 and 2006, have recorded seven albums together, ‘Pigs on Purpose’ (1982), ‘Hysterics’ (1983), ‘In the Good Old Country Way’ (1986), ‘Out of True’ (2006), ‘What’s Not to Love?’ (2007), ‘Insult to Injury’ (2008) and ‘No Love Lost’ (2012).
The group currently consists of ex-Prefect Alan Apperley (guitar) and Matt Wood (guitar), both of whom joined the group when it reformed, and new recruits Andreas Schmid (bass) and Fliss Kilsson (drums). ‘No Love Lost’ was recorded, like ‘Insult to Injury’, at the German band Faust’s studio in Scheer in Germany. It maintains Lloyd’s trademark, but witty vocals and with an anarchic bullishness and fearlessness pits and melds musical style after musical style together.
Pennyblackmusic spoke to Robert Lloyd about ‘No Love Lost’.
PB: The Prefects’ first official gig in 1976 ended in a riot after it premiered its song, ‘Birmingham’s a Shithole’. Over 35 years on, many of your lyrics continue to have sociological concerns. You have never come across as a musician that has traded in nostalgia. Do you think, however, that the socio-political situation has got better or worse since then and especially in Birmingham, or have times simply always been tough?
RL: Well wars, starvation and bad health, greed and wealth protection, abominable individuals and regimes etc, continue. Bigotry remains in fashion, and 'the man' and the religious zealots seem resolute and unremorseful about the pain they inflict and the selfishness they endlessly spawn. It's just the degrees of apathy and acceptance that fluctuate, and, of course, Birmingham is just a tiny dot on the globe.
PB: In light of the previous question, it is interesting that the Nightingales had their twenty year lay off between 1986 and 2006, when the country was getting over the worst years of Thatcherism and before Blair had really begun to outstay his welcome. Why did you come back when you did? Was there simply less need during your years away for a group like the Nightingales?
RL: The supposed years of mutual respite was just a coincidence.
PB: The Nightingales have recently dropped “the” from their moniker and become simply “Nightingales”. Why did you decide to do that?
RL: From 'Idiot Strength' to 'No Love Lost' it comes and goes. It's no big deal.
PB: The album’s lyrics from the very beginning of the album are pretty abrasive and some would say confrontational, yet ‘World of Nothing Really’ seems to take issue with the permissive society. What did you mean by that conclusive line of “doomed to the world of nothing really”? Is it simply that if everything is permitted nothing ultimately has any value?
PB: You have really mixed things up with ‘No Love Lost’. ‘Best of British Luck’, for example, combines an “end of pier sound” with the melody line of the US bubblegum pop hit, ‘Down in Tennessee’. The last track, ‘Dick the Do-Gooder’ merges together the blues, space rock and a bassoon. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Did you set out with the aim on this album of deliberately seeing how far, not just lyrically, but also musically how far you could push things?
RL: While I know that the 'gales are not the most adventurous group of all time, we have never imposed any limits of what we get up to musically, although we never try to be wilfully weird either.
There are five members of the group with varying and eclectic musical tastes and this I think is a good thing. We just do whatever we want to basically and have no concept of 'The Nightingales Sound' - I can't see the point of three minute chunks of the same thing. Alan often says that it's the Nightingales if it has lyrics by Robert Lloyd and I guess that's a fair summary. If we decide to play reggae or heavy metal, then that is what we will do. There are enough crowd pleasing stiffs out there already.
PB: Why did you decide to return to Germany and Faust’s studios to record this album?
RL: Five reasons. It is great studio. The people who run it are in tune with the 'gales. Our recording budget was small and we cut a mutually pleasing deal. Andi, our bassist, is also the house engineer there and so obviously knows the place inside out. and it got us out of England for a while.
PB: The album’s artwork is by the Scarborough artist, Jehan. Who is he and why did you decide to involve him?
RL: Jehan is a bloke called David Yates. He made himself known to me as a Nightingales fan - he joined the 'Singles Club' when we did a bunch of 45s a few years back - and actually offered himself as an artist if ever we needed one and, to cut a long story short, I saw some of his work, liked it and decided to give him a go at a record cover. Suffice to say he delivered something I was happy with, and from there on in we got to know each other quite well. He is a really nice chap and a very talented artist I think, and has now become very much a part of the 'gales 'family'. He's chuffed and so are we.
I wanted the covers to be individual works of art, and I also like having our own little community that's united in the 'mission' but where each member has a job to do and an outlet for their expression.
PB: The current line-up of the group features yourself and Alan Apperley who are both in your fifties, and not so “teenage guitarist” Matt Wood and drummer Fliss Kilsson who are both in their twenties. How has the affected the chemistry of the group in comparison to previous line-ups where everyone was about the same age?
RL: The age thing is no plan. It's simply a 'use the best available' policy but that said I suppose the 'chemistry' in terms of the music, the visual and the personality, on and off stage, is obviously affected by life experience, desires, et al. but it works for us. There is bound to be things that we probably look at differently and we have wildly different expectations, etc, but... good - I hate gangs.
PB: The Nightingales were infamously described by John Robb as “the misfits’ misfits”, yet over the last year or so you seem to have been more widely accepted. There was a show at the Southbank Centre last year. You have signed to your largest label to date, Cooking Vinyl, and there is even a tribute album in the works. Have you been surprised at how much over the last couple of years how much things have changed for it?
RL: I'm unaware of any major changes. There has certainly been no discernable increase in income or adoration, and I see no light at the end of the tunnel as yet.
PB: On the subject of the tribute album, who is putting it together? How involved if at all have you been in it?
RL: Er, this is a funny one. The original idea was from Stewart Lee, and I know that around twenty five artists said they wanted to contribute but there is no particular person or label putting it together so whether it ever appears I do not know.
I am certainly not involved in getting it together. I know my son was at one stage coordinating it with maybe some help or advice from Stew, but he seems to have ditched it and there is nobody picking up that role as far as I am aware. I know that a lot of artists delivered because I have heard around fifteen recordings or so, but what happens next...
PB: You ran your own label, Big Print Records, which has released labels occasionally by other West Midland artists. Is that still an active concern? Do you have any other releases planned for it?
RL: Actually Big Print is not for Midlands artists, just anything that takes my fancy, but it was always very skint and shambolic so even though it still exists and will release more stuff at some point it can hardly be called 'an active concern'.
The more recent releases were albums by Allroh from Berlin, Christy & Emily from Brooklyn, and a 10" by the Nightingales but these were all over a year or so back, and in the last twelve months the only release was by a duo from Beirut and Manchester called Maria & The Gay.
The new Ted Chippington 10" was due to be on Big Print, but we had no money so it comes out on Respect Vinyl. The next planned release is/was a cassette by Stewart Home, but that has been ongoing for so long now that it is maybe doubtful to ever come out.
PB: The group has just finished touring Britain. What are its plans after that?
RL: Germany/Switzerland/Austria in October with maybe more UK shows to follow that. We were hoping to be doing some festivals during the summer but none approached were interested in booking us so there's nowt doing before Germany.
There is also a single in October with a new album hopefully early next year before a small US tour.
PB: Thank you.