AS CULT favourites The Nightingales prepare to kick off a short Irish tour at The Black Box in Belfast next Friday night, Noise Annoys got on the blower to the big bird himself, Mr Robert Lloyd, to talk about the imminent trio of shows which will be opened by his old pal and fellow cult hero, Ted Chippington, alternative comedian extraordinaire.
"He's pretty much my best mate," enthuses Rob, who used to be flatmates with Ted back in the 1980s.
"We speak on the phone, but I haven't actually seen him for a couple of years. He doesn't really do that many gigs anymore, and he tends to only do them with The Nightingales.
"He's always a pleasure to have around and he's not just a mate: he genuinely loves The Nightingales too. He did actually come to Ireland with us before many years ago, so I'm very much looking forward to sitting down and having a pint of Guinness with him again – and I'm also very much looking forward to you seeing him."
While Ted's brand of unrepentantly deadpan, gag-based comedy might be an acquired taste, the current incarnation of Birmingham-bred post-punks The Nightingales – also featuring Fliss on drums/vocals, Jim on guitar and Andi on bass – make the sort of muscular yet arty garage rock racket that should appeal to anyone with good taste: see last year's cracking LP The Last Laugh for ample evidence of their prowess.
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"I used to be really jealous of Ted when we shared the flat together and he'd go away and do gigs," says Rob when I ask if he's ever been tempted to try stand-up himself.
"He was just sort of self-contained. You know, like literally, he'd put his jacket in the suitcase and get on the train. And I used to think 'I wish I could do that', rather than having to think about amplifiers and drum sets and things.
"I've daydreamed about it, you know: 'oh yeah, you're quite a funny bloke – and you wouldn't have to split the money'.
"But the truth of the matter is that, no, I haven't been tempted. I think I'd get too nervous if I didn't have the racket behind me and other people to sort of back me up. Although I know [comedy] can't be that hard because I see all kinds of real rubbish comedians on the television."
Ted and Rob share a common champion in the form of top comedian Stewart Lee, who has made documentaries on both: 2021's King Rocker is a hugely entertaining film which finds Lee attempting to draw parallels between Cannock-born Rob's turbulent musical career, which thrived in the 1980s before floundering in the 1990s, with the strange tale of the giant statue of King Kong which briefly visited Birmingham city centre in 1972 before being rejected by the Brummie public and removed, relegated to the fading memories of kids who began to wonder if maybe they'd just dreamt the whole thing.
The year after the documentary was released, a new, even bigger version of the Nicholas Munro-made ape made its triumphant return to Birmingham city centre to coincide with the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Meanwhile, The Nightingales – who split in 1986 after three albums, with Rob then pursuing an abortive solo career prior to re-assembling them in 2004 – released their aforementioned record The Last Laugh to rave reviews and renewed public interest in their activities.
"Without a doubt, it helped us," says Rob of King Rocker, which features archive footage of the original Nightingales alongside sequences filmed at more recent gigs, inter-cut with scenes of Stewart Lee gamely attempting to interview the publicity-shy band leader.
"It was originally supposed to get a cinema release, but because it ended up being shown on Sky during a period when people couldn't go out, it kind of accidentally came across as a bit of a 'feel good' movie.
"Obviously, Stewart's generosity helped massively, not only in wanting to make the film but also allowing me and the band to be the stars. It all added up, and so we sold more of the record that came out around the same time as the film [2020's Four Against Fate] than we normally would have done, as well as more concert tickets when we were able to go back out on tour."
However, none of this would have happened if The Nightingales weren't bloody good in the first place: while the current incarnation of the group sounds almost completely different from the original dual guitar-led 1980s version, it's arguably even better: the recordings are better produced and Rob's vocals have become much more powerful to match the considerably stronger sonic punch delivered by the present day line-up.
"In my heart, I always felt that if people had the chance to see and hear The Nightingales, they would like it," offers the singer, who indulged his love of country music on last year's excellent side project LP, Black Cat, Dark Horse by Lloyd/Bean, a collaboration with Eleventh Dream Day's Janet Beveridge Bean on which they are backed by Mark Bedford (Madness) on bass and Pete Byrchmore (Membranes) on drums.
"It was just, how do you get it across? Because we've never had a manager, we've never had a booking agent or a publicist or anything like that. And I'm not in the slightest bit interested in the social media kind of thing.
"I've always had the approach that we just do what we want to. If we want to make a reggae album, or make a heavy metal album, we will. So, there's definitely always been a 'not giving a f***' element to us.
"Earlier this year we did a tour supporting The Damned and we had no idea what their audience would make of us. We never talked about it, but from my point of view we just went ahead and did what we always do – and people liked us.
"Basically, I feel like we've been a pretty good live band for quite some time. Even if people don't like it, I don't think anyone's going to go away saying we were rubbish."
The Nightingales, with Ted Chippington, Friday December 8, The Black Box, Belfast. Tickets via blackboxbelfast.com
Junk Drawer play with Silverbacks, debut new songs
NEXT Friday night will also see an exciting double-bill of homegrown alternative rock taking place in Belfast in the form of our own Junk Drawer supported by Dublin's Silverbacks at The Ulster Sports Club.
Still salty from their recent tour with the mighty Superchunk in England, the Drawer have let it slip that they will be previewing some brand new material in their set, making this show a must-see for fans eager to get a handle on what the next chapter of the band's career is going to sound like.
A bit like before, only even betterer, one would hope.
The Fall-aping (pun intended) indie guitar swingers/skronkers Silverbacks bring added value to what’s being billed as “a conclave of guitar sorcery”, with a line-up that will be turned on its head for a Dublin fixture on December 22 at The Workmans Club.
Grab your tickets for the Belfast show via tickettailor.com.
Joel Harkin - Sham Supermarket EP (self-released)
A COUPLE OF months ago, you were reading words here about the first two tunes to escape from Co Donegal-bred, south Belfast-based artist Joel Harkin's new EP, Letters from Alan To George and Is Iomaí Lá Sa Chill Orainn - words that very much resembled the following paragraphs:
A co-write with Ciaran Lavery, Letters is a dreamy, wistful affair, but the way Joel performs the vocal in the manner of a fictionalised, prescription pills-addled Alan Dean Foster rambling in letter form to George Lucas about being left in the shade as Star Wars became a global phenomenon adds a compelling, Leonard Cohen-esque narrative propulsion to proceedings.
Is Iomaí Lá Sa Chill Orainn, featuring Belfast-via-Offaly artist Aoife Wolf, is a more wilfully 'floaty' composition, which wafts along atmospherically in a ghostly/gothic, strings-enhanced manner with Joel and Aoife trading vocal duties until roughly the half-way point, whereupon their vocals suddenly combine and intensify and the song begins to build towards a pleasingly noisy climax driven by clangy, shoegaze guitars, crashing drums and throbbing bass.
Well, the full whack was finally released back on November 16, meaning you can finally now enjoy the EP's last two tunes as well.
The deceptively pretty Iniskeel Parish Hall finds co-writers Brodie Milner and Daisy Allen going verse-about with Joel (as well as providing back-up vox) as the tune gradually blossoms into a twangy country guitar 'n' mournful strings-tinged shoegaze ballad with heartbroken bite.
Another co-write with Ciaran Lavery, the climactic Ho Chi Minh may be the EP's stand-out number: another powerful slowie, this one has lyrics in which the travails of political leaders brush up against memories of childhood hi-jinx to memorable and moving effect.
Hear, and indeed purchase, the Sham Supermarket EP now via joelharkin.com.
Howe Gelb, Jah Wobble for Bangor Court House, Hawkwind for Belfast
THIS weekend sees the first of several upcoming top-drawer shows on offer at Bangor's Court House in the form of Giant Sand man Howe Gelb, who will be staging an intimate all-seated show in the venue's Drawing Room on Sunday evening.
Doors are at 7pm, so you might even have a shot at getting the last train home afterwards - although, given Gelb's vast back-catalogue, he could well play for about three hours if the mood takes him.
Another gem soon to appear at the Bangor venue is ex-PIL man Jah Wobble, who brings his Invaders of The Heart to town (sorry, 'the city') on February 11 to 'rebuild' the classic album Metal Box in a live, dub-tastic fashion.
Having seen Mr Wobble and co doing their thing at the Ulster Sports Club not so long ago, I have no hesitation in telling you to buy tickets for this one immediately at courthousebangor.com.
There, you'll also find tickets (should there be any left at this late stage) for Howe's gig and indeed details of the venue's other upcoming events, like the return of David Holmes' God's Waiting Room club night and your actual flipping Hawkwind, who have just announced a Court House-promoted Belfast show for April 8.
Duke Special's final Adventure in Belfast for 2023
LAST but not least for this week, tonight sees Duke Special bringing his recent run of Adventures in Belfast shows to an end with one final gig at The Empire in Belfast.
This evening's performance will find the Duke, AKA Peter Wilson, showcasing songs from across his 21 year-long career with able assistance from his long-term collaborator and "brother in arms", Chip Bailey.
For ticket links and all things Duke Special, see dukespecial.com