A Life In Indie. With a new album and tour happening this autumn, it seems like a good moment to speak with Nightingales frontman Rob Lloyd about writing, recording in Europe, Pulp, the Fall, and their ongoing association with comedian Stewart Lee.
JG:The first thing I want to ask is, The Nightingales took a twenty year gap between 1986 and 2006 and obviously you weren’t idle during that. I understand you ran a record label during that time?
RL: I had a couple of labels over the years, Vindaloo and Big Print. It wasn’t quite as long as you say, I put out a couple of Nightingales singles around 2004. Prior to being in The Nightingales I used to be in a band called The Prefects, and an American label called Acute Records got in touch asking if they could re-release a CD of that band, and I got the Nightingales back together and said okay, so long as you can pay for me to make a Nightingales single then I’ll allow you to put out the Prefects record. So they agreed to do that and like an utter idiot I decided I that wanted to be like Slade and put out a single every six weeks, so for a year or two that’s what I did, which nearly bankrupted me. It was just a ludicrous idea, particularly at that time as no-one was doing vinyl at all, so it was quite an expensive thing to do.
JG:What other bands were you releasing when this all got off the ground?
R L: It started off with me just doing a handful of Nightingales singles, then we released a four CD box set of Ted Chippington, then I did a CD of a band called Hot Pants Romance, and then something by Christy and Emily, who were our support band when we went to New York and I just really thought they were great, and something by a German woman called Auro. I’m not sure how it came about but Steve Albini produced a record by her. They were all limited edition pressings of about 500 copies or a thousand, I’ve got boxloads of them in a room upstairs. I was a complete amateur really, I put the records out but there were no funds to do any promotion or anything like that so it was all a bit daft.
JG: You had quite a number of problems with labels over the years.
Basically, we put out a record and it doesn’t sell and we get dropped, and then we get picked up by another label and put out a record and don’t sell and get dropped again. Nowadays we’ve got an American chap in Budapest and he’s putting out our records, when we met him while touring a few years ago he sort of said to me ‘I want to be the first label to put out more than one Nightingales record’ and he’s stayed true to his word, so I think for the foreseeable future we’ll be releasing records through him and they actually seem to be selling better now as well. We did okay but we never had any sort of label that got behind us really, and it’s too easy to blame the music industry or whatever. I don’t want to sound like a whinger about it, it’s just a fact that no one put any money behind us or put any effort behind us. We’ve never had a manager, or a booking agent, or a publisher or any of the things that groups tend to have. Everything we do has always been us doing it for ourselves and that’s not been particularly easy. It was pretty much always me but now it’s our drummer Fliss, she’s been a godsend and she does an awful lot of this, she’ll get in touch with venues and whatever. Say we’re doing a 20 date tour, she’ll get fifteen gigs and I’ll get five of them.
JG: You do all your recording in Germany now. How did this come about?
RL: This is going back many years ago, we were playing a gig in London, and a bloke came backstage and he’d written a book about the German band Faust, his name was Andy Wilson. He said ‘I hear you’re a huge fan and I’ve brought you a copy of my book’ and I said thanks very much and we got talking. He asked if we had any interest in playing the Klangbad festival and it turned out that Faust organised this festival every year and he suggested that he get in touch with them, that they’d be interested in having us play the festival, and I said yes, certainly and lo and behold I was out one night and my wife got a phone call and it was Jo (Hans Joachim Irmler) from Faust sort of
going ‘I’ve been listening to The Nightingales and I really like them, will they come and play?’ We went over and played and they’ve got a label as well and they said ‘we’d like to do a record with you’ and one thing led to another so we do all our recording there, and Andreas Schmid who’s the engineer at the Faust studio is the bass player in The Nightingales now. We made one record for the Klangbad label and went back to do a second one and not that it’s a big story, me and Jo had a bit of a falling out about things and so we got dropped by that label. It was a couple of years later another label wanted to put out a record for us and I said I wanted to record it at the Faust studio and I think the fact that I was sort of willing to go back, we made it up. Now we record all our albums there and we’ve got a sort of deal which is good for a band like The Nightingales that aren’t going to sell a lot of records, it has to be a realistic arrangement for us to record there. I wouldn’t say we’re particularly popular in Germany or anywhere else in Europe or anything but we do get paid. Jo has played on our records in recent times, we just get on really well together. It’ll be ten years now since Andreas joined the band, I think he’s the longest serving member apart from me. It’s a bit of a logistical nightmare having a German based in Germany in the band, but he’s very much worth it.
JG: How did the connection with Stewart Lee happen ?
We played at the South Bank centre a few years ago and that was because Stewart Lee was responsible for curating a few concerts and he wanted us on. It was him who directly got in touch with me when I was putting out Nightingales records in the early 000s, asking if we were interested in releasing anything by Ted Chippington because he was obviously a big fan of Ted’s. I said ‘I doubt it very much’ as it would have cost us too much to produce so he went and organised an concert at the Bloomsbury theatre, called it Tedstock and had him and Phil Jupitus, Simon Amstel, Josie Long on and they gave us all the money from that to do a four CD boxset, which was very nice of them. Over the years he’s been a huge supporter of us, he curated an All Tomorrows Parties at Prestatyn in 2015 and he had us on at that. There’s a few other things that are upcoming but I’m a bit dubious about talking about them in case they don’t happen. He’s helped us out considerably and in September we’re doing a twenty date tour and he’s doing eight or nine of those with us, to help us sell tickets. He used to do a club set in the 80s and he’s doing that material. It’s important to him that people know that, that people don’t turn up thinking they’re getting all new Stewart Lee material. He’s opened up for us a couple of times before and I think the older jokes kind of bear up. People seem to enjoy it anyway, he is hugely popular. He opened for us in Oxford and said, ‘I don’t want to sound like a berk but to put it in perspective the last time I played in Oxford I did four nights of 2000 people a night,’ which is why he wants us to be clear that he’s just doing this 15 minute club kind of thing, and also that we don’t want him to detract from the Nightingales. They are our gigs with him actually supporting us, it isn’t the Stewart Lee show with us as special guests. The gigs should be good. I know you said you haven’t seen us live for many years, but if I say so myself we are damn good just now. What we do is, it’s all one piece, we play for an hour without any gaps whatsoever and I think even if people don’t like the music, no-one could say it’s no good, the band are as tight as it’s ever been. I’m glad you like the album, it’s a bit different from the previous one but that was a bit different to the previous one to that.We just do what we want to really.
JG: About your lyrics, they seem to be an important part of what defines The Nightingales as a band. What is it that inspires you when you’re writing and going on stage?
RL: When I’m writing the lyrics I just write about – you see and hear things that you just think, that is ludicrous in some respect, things that are plain offensive or plain stupid or other things that are just ridiculous on other kinds of levels and I just think, I want to write about that, it’s a worthy subject of being written about out and I can’t be more specific than that. It could be literally hearing a snippet of conversation in a pub, or on television and it’s just whatever tickles my fancy really. I always carry pen and paper around with me. I’m a bit lazy really I suppose, I carry this stuff around and sometimes I hear stuff and don’t write it down but then other things turn up. I’ve got pages and pages of little notes of things. Even on the current album there are probably lyrics that I wrote many years ago and I’ve thought I want to include that in a song and eventually I’ve got round to it. It’s what I actually do, I can’t play any music and the band write all that. I might la la a tune every now and again but you know, my role in the band is as the lyric writer and the singer and obviously that’s very important to me. When people listen to the stuff they seem to pick up on the lyrics, I’m not sure why exactly. I don’t think they’re necessarily very commercial and in terms of influences I’m more influenced by stuff I don’t want it to be like than stuff I want it to be like. I don’t want to write ‘and all the roads that lead me there are winding’ or whatever.
JG: There is one track on Perish The Thought – second track ‘Lucky Dip’ – that seems to have something of a nod towards Pulp attached to it somewhere and I was thinking that the difference between what you do and what, in this instance, Jarvis Cocker does is that he likes to address the audience more directly, whereas your approach is to just recite what you’ve written down.
RL: Yeah, maybe I do. You’re mentioning Jarvis and I’m not a massive Pulp fan, I haven’t got any of their records but I do think he’s good, which I can’t say about a lot of people, and if he talks to the audience directly and I don’t it may well be true but it’s not really a purposeful thing. I like to be contradictory really, I like to take several viewpoints within the space of a single song, I don’t think it should all necessarily be kind of ABCD all the time, if you go what about this, what about this way of looking at it. There are ideas there are viewpoints, there are stances that I take but I do like to sort of contradict myself, to paint a colourful picture rather than a black and white picture. Suffice to say I’m pleased to be acknowledged as quotable, as a writer.
JG: Obviously we lost Mark E Smith a few months ago and while I didn’t ever see The Fall, I always thought that Mark E Smith could have gone onstage without a band as a performing writer and been just as successful on some level.
RL: I did know Mark and we got on okay, but The Nightingales often get thrown in with The Fall, we get put into the same kind of bracket as The Fall, and I really don’t see it’, I don’t think musically or lyrically there’s much similarity, and I’m not a big enough fan to be able to agree or disagree with what you’ve just said really. I do know that when he died, the amount of people that came out sort of raving about him, he must be one of the most popular singers of all time, he seemed to get more fuss made out of him than Prince or David Bowie when they died so I know that he’s very much loved, but I don’t see any relationship between The Nightingales and The Fall, except that they don’t fit in with any other groups.
JG: I think the connection between the The Nightingales and The Fall hasn’t been specifically musical or lyrical but more about approach, in terms of how you’ve presented as performing musicians.
RL: I sort of know what you mean. I don’t find it annoying, I just find it a bit weird that we often get these comparisons made because I don’t think that me and Mark kind of write very similar stuff and I don’t think that musically there was much comparison either but you are right, that there’s a certain sort of stance, for want of a better way of
putting it, a certain attitude about it all that’s different from the majority of groups, even if it’s something as simple as not being concerned a lot about the competition.
JG; You’ve always been referred to as a Birmingham band.
RL: We’re based in Wolverhampton. The drummer, who’s from Norwich, she lives in Wolverhampton, the guitar player’s from Birmingham, the bass player is from Germany, I live nearer to Shrewsbury than any other place. We used to say we were from Birmingham just because it was somewhere people had heard of. In the old days we did used to rehearse there and I lived there for a short while but there was never a Birmingham scene as such, in the way that there were Bristol scenes, Liverpool scenes, Manchester scenes, Edinburgh scenes or whatever. Stewart Lee was talking to me quite recently and he’s got an definite theory that us saying we’re from Birmingham has held us back in some way, sort of for that reason. Whether he’s right or not that it’s worked against us, I don’t know.
Interview Jon Gordon
Images courtesy of The Nightingales
The Nightingales new album ‘Perish The Thought’ is released on Tiny Global records on the 5th October. Dates for their tour and more can be found on their website https://thenightingales.org.uk/