Robert Lloyd

Robert Lloyd... Heavy petal

Interview: Robert Lloyd (The Nightingales, ex-The Prefects)

Published on November 17th, 2011 | Jonny Abrams

There’s a fine line between ‘hidden treasure’ and ‘national treasure’, it seems.

For the best part of thirty years now as the main man of first The Prefects and then The Nightingales, Robert Lloyd’s mind has been a fruitful production line of infectiously wonky, scuzzily eccentric songs laced with intelligently grounded, occasionally hilarious lyrics.

No surprise then that he is held in such high esteem by such music-savvy comedians as Stewart Lee and Phill Jupitus, both of whom are slated in to appear on a forthcoming Nightingales tribute album. Lauded within discerning circles – heck, only The Fall did more John Peel sessions – yet destined to go overlooked by the world at large: there are surely worse fates for songwriters of any era.

2008 album Insult To Injury spruced up the old legacy something splendid and Lloyd has of late been touring with the latest incarnation of The Nightingales in anticipation of a fresh wave of recording activity. Rocksucker was honoured to get to fire Lloyd over some questions on the cusp of this latest chapter of his distinguished yet unassuming career…

How did your recent UK tour go? Where did you find the best crowds?

The tour was good: decent turn-outs, group played well, my voice held up ok and we had Ted Chippington with us which is always good. All the, er, crowds were alright except in the east Midlands. We didn’t do well in Derby on the last tour either so maybe that’s a region to give a wide berth in future? Cardiff with The Fall was the biggest turn-out but Norwich, London, Manchester, Preston and a couple of others sold well also.

How far along is the Nightingales tribute album? How were the featured artists chosen? Stewart Lee and Phill Jupitus were particularly eye-catching inclusions.

The covers thing is not actually my project. The idea originally came from Stewart Lee and is being co-ordinated by my son Louis. As far asI am aware there have been about fifteen tracks delivered with another half-dozen or so still to come so I dunno quite when it will be released or by which label.With regards the artists, I think some were suggested by Stew, Louis asked a few people, I mentioned a couple of artists I like that I know dig the ‘gales and some people just put themselves forward when they heard it was happening. Plus three or four groups had already recorded cover versions anyway.Re Stew and Phill, they’re both fans who fancied doing something, though I don’t think Phill has delivered yet.

Which is your favourite Nightingales album? And which one involved the biggest workload?

My favourite so far would be Insult to Injury but I’m looking forward to the next one, always. I dunno about the workload. In real terms, they’ve all been relatively easy to make as I only really work with people I like and who have some understanding of the group. I suppose I panic a bit about the lyrics but that’s the case with all the albums. There’s an unreleased album that was recorded in 2010 which was a bit tricky logistically as we had three American women in the group at the time and were recording in Germany but I can’t pretend it was actually hard work

Will there be another in the near future? If not, do you have any other projects lined up for after the tour?

We are recording a new album in early December, again at the Faust Studio in south-west Germany. This album will be released by Cooking Vinyl in April next year. Prior to that we are doing SXSW in March and will probably play a few more US shows while we’re over there, and there will be another UK/European tour in May/June next year to back up the new album.

Are there any other bands that you feel a particular kinship with? The Fall and Half Man Half Biscuit are the names that spring to mind for me but they’re probably obvious examples…

Well I’m not a fan of either The Fall or Half Man Half Biscuit as it happens, though I get on ok with Mark and admire his work rate and durability. Over the last decade or so, the group’s I’ve really liked and ended up being friends with are Hotpants Romance, The Lovely Eggs and Violet Violet from England, and four American groups/artists: Christy & Emily, Freakwater, The Zincs and Katherine Young.

Obviously there’s a big love in with Ted Chippington but he’s pretty much a Nightingale anyway. There’s no kinship as such but I do like the pop groups Ash and The Go! Team; but apart from those mentioned above at home I mostly listen to the same old gear I always have done, mainly Nico.

Has there, to your knowledge, ever been a band with a larger turnaround of personnel than your good selves? How settled do you feel the current line-up is?

I don’t follow other groups though I guess The Fall must have had more members than the ‘gales. I am very happy with my current line-up, in fact it is genuinely my favourite line-up yet and I feel that it is pretty much settled but I’m too old and ugly to think what I want to happen is gonna happen, so who knows? I do hope that we will be together for some time to come as I really am pleased with it but I suspect one, maybe two of them would jump ship if something more glamorous was to come their way .

Did you get to know John Peel as well as your many sessions for him implied you might have? He must have been quite a fan of yours…

Yes I did get to know John quite well – been for drinks, meals, to his house, etc – he was a lovely bloke and without getting slushy about it, without his support I don’t see how I would have got even the little recognition I’ve had with The Prefects or Nightingales

This article begins with the following sentence: “The Prefects broke up in 1979, after a short but tumultuous history that saw them stealing beer from Bo Diddley, annoying the Clash and setting the Jam’s tour-backing Union Jack on fire, as well as countless lower-profile bar fights and shenanigans.” Can you corroborate – and ideally elaborate on – these stories? (Not the one about The Prefects breaking up in 1979, to pre-empt such a riposte!)

My memory is known to be shit: someone once wrote “Lloyd’s memory, famous for its absence”, so I’m not being secretive or owt but I can’t recall much fighting or shenanigans. But yes, The Prefects annoyed The Clash very much on the White Riot tour, largely by keeping ourselves to ourselves and not fawning over them. And yes, Vic Godard and I did drop lighted matches from the lighting rig at The Rainbow in an attempt to set The Jam’s Union Jack on fire but it didn’t work.And I did try and nick some of Bo Diddley’s rider but that was when The Nightingales were supporting him and anyway I failed as he was doing a costume change when I went in to the dressing room and I had to excuse myself and trap. But I did get to see Bo in just his underpants and that’s gotta be better than a bottle of lager, right?

I’m an Everton supporter and my all-time favourite player is Andrei Kanchelskis. So thank you for bringing me much joy and mirth by name-checking him in “Former Florist to the Queen”.

Glad you dug it.

Was “Crap Lech” based on anyone you know? It’s definitely one of my favourite song titles and/or lyrical subjects ever.

Each verse is about – well, inspired by – a different Nightingales member, including me.I got the idea when one Nightingale remarked that another was “a crap lech” and I thought, look at us, we’re all hopeless in our different ways. It makes me chuckle so I’m pleased you get it and like it.

Your Wikipedia entry contains the following, fantastic couple of sentences: “On the road, the group are accompanied by Dave ‘David from Oxford’ Wasall and Mark ‘Professor Porn’ Jones. Dave Wasall is notable for his hilarious ‘cheeky pranks’. He is currently writing a book on the subject.” Can you furnish us with the details of some of these hilarious pranks? When can we expect the book?

Dr Dave Wassell is our driver and he was mystified when Marc Riley mentioned this very subject at the BBC the other week. Anyway, Big Dave is a good laugh for sure but he’s no prankster and is not writing a book. Prof Porn is our tour manager/merch bloke – I suggest you Google “Mark Jones Professor Porn” and/or “what the dickens are they teaching?” to find out how he got his name.

What’s your favourite Ted Chippington joke?

There are a few I particularly like including some new ones but I guess my all-time favourite is ‘blues fan’. My shabby little Big Print label will be releasing it as a single to coincide with our tour in May.

Are there any journalistic clichés or buzzwords that you’re sick of hearing/reading in reference to your music?

“Looks like a geography teacher”: have read it about Jarvis Cocker also, and Steve Coogan used the expression on the radio this morning. Some imagination wouldn’t go amiss. And I’m not mad about comparisons with The Fall as I don’t think the two groups sound much alike, but I won’t pretend any of it pains me.

Are there any obscure and/or up-and-coming acts that you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?

Well Big Print has put out albums by Hotpants Romance, Christy & Emily, Allroh and Maria and The Gay, all of which I like, obviously. On tour a couple of opening acts I enjoyed were Nathaniel Kidd and His Praying Guitar in London and BROTHERS in Norwich, though they were talking about changing their name.One to listen/look out for is No Womb from Manchester.Finally, if you had to name your top three albums of all time – right now, spur of the moment, just off the top of your head – which would you go for?Freakwater – End Time, Little Richard – 20 Classic Cuts and Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica.

Robert, thank you.

No worries, all the best.

For more information and a list of live dates, please visit thenightingales.org.uk

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About the Author

Editor of Rocksucker and the website's founder, Jonny is passionate about the music he listens to, both good and bad, as well as interviewing his favourite musicians.