Trebly guitar scrubs and busy drumming, both at a hyper pace, support Robert Lloyd’s snide, self-mocking, self- pitying, annoyed, despairing, sarcastically scathing and generally intelligent (if not always intelligible) tirades in the Nightingales. (Dry wit, too.) This boy from Birmingham has a lot of mind to give the world a piece of.
The melodies on the first Nightingales EP are memorably minimal; the playing seems just a touch out of control. Pigs on Purpose shows a bit more instrumental skill (despite bad mastering) and an increased variety of tempos and textures. The Fall would seem to be a major influence, not only in the abrasive, paradoxically unobtrusive guitar work but in Lloyd’s singing/ranting, which owes something to Mark E. Smith’s vocal and lyrical style.
Along with a label change, Hysterics brought much improved production; banjo, trombone and viola expand the record’s tone colors. The Nightingales also demonstrate a greater assortment of styles: bass parts borrowed from reggae, an inside-out Bo Diddley beat on “Ponces All” and a flirtation with country-western in “The Happy Medium.” The Crunch features the contrast of tightly controlled chaos and some of Lloyd’s more melodic vocals. Released during a period of numerous personnel shifts (they were briefly a sextet), the Nightingales manage to avoid sounding transitional; there’s plenty of drive and power on these tracks. Highly recommended.
In the Good Old Country Way wisely isn’t an attempt to make a straightforward country album. Many bands lacking a real identity might make such an error, but the ‘Gales are able to embellish their own sound with country and bluegrass elements. Lyrics are more smart-ass than ever (see “Part Time Moral England” and “I Spit in Your Gravy”); the playing gets downright hot on “The Headache Collector.” Highly recommended, even — or maybe especially — for those who hate country- western.
Just a Job is a compilation of The Crunch, non-LP singles and a track from Hysterics.
Busy running the Vindaloo label, Lloyd took four years after the Nightingales’ demise to release his solo debut on another label. Me and My Mouth puts to bed any lingering Mark E. Smith comparisons; producer Craig Leon (who worked on the Fall’s Extricate) gives the LP such a huge, glossy sound that it could pass for a Todd Rundgren job. If all of the songs were as strong as “Cheap as Sin” or “Something Nice,” the disc could survive, but this simply isn’t the right setting for Lloyd’s talents. While he glibly shifts gears between R&B and C&W in completely pedestrian fashion, the production shines it all up so much that it might as well be ska and be-bop. Guests include Attractions Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas along with ex-Aztec Camera/Smiths guitarist Craig Gannon, but to little avail. “The Part of the Anchor,” recorded in 1987 for a John Peel session, is easily the highlight — the only cut to approach the raw urgency of the ‘Gales or Lloyd’s lyrical potential.
Prior to the Nightingales, from 1977 to 1979, Lloyd led a Birmingham punk quartet called the Prefects. The belated album compiles previously unreleased studio sessions, withheld tracks from the Manchester-scene-setting Live at the Electric Circus album, a posthumously released 45 and a 10-second souvenir of a 2001 reunion show. As dated as Class of ’77 also-rans now sound, The Prefects Are Amateur Wankers has clear sound, a solid measure of melody and tightness, reasonably musical vocals and a defensive/aggressive posture that makes the lyrics more worth hearing than many. Liner note connections to the Subway Sect, another uncommon member of the early brigan brigade, make audible sense; the Prefects don’t sound like the great lost band that never made it, but the album does explain why Lloyd went on to a bigger things.