Friday, 13 July 2012

The Nightingales: sharper, stroppier, older, wiser. Tips and tricks from a survivor

36 years of philosophy, wit, sarcasm and survival: Rob Lloyd shares thoughts on longevity, learning, and sticking to your guns. 
Rob Lloyd nearly smiles. He's a pussycat really
I met Rob Lloyd again, after thirty years or so, at a meeting of the Birmingham Music Network a few years back. We circled each other with pleased fascination, as insect collectors stumbling on rare specimens: a 50 year old working punk muso, and a 20th century rock jock, both now largely seen as endangered, if not extinct, species. I don’t know about Rob, but I get that insect collector thing a lot these days. 

Rob Lloyd has been kicking up an almighty racket since the late 70s. Time has not knocked any of the rough edges off, but there is an increasing depth and wit to his writing, belying the splendid bared-teeth rattle, pulse and crash of his music, which has been a constant. 

He's played in just two bands, as well as solo: the Prefects back in the day, and the Nightingales now. That’s close on four decades of uncompromising music; lots of roadwork, and regular ecstatic reviews along the way.  He’s still hungry. Since that re-acquaintance, we’ve chatted on and off, and this conversation largely took place around the release of the latest Nightingales album, No Love Lost, on Cooking Vinyl.

If you could meet up with the young Rob Lloyd in the Prefects, your first seriously promising band incarnation, what would you say to him? And would he give you the time of day?  
In truth, the Prefects were never seriously promising. This is a hard question - although I have changed in lots of ways over the years, there are some things I still have in common with that young Robert Lloyd, for better or worse. But it is, obviously, hypothetical: that young chap was pretty unconsidered and inconsiderate, and, I think, arrogant without cause. I reckon he almost certainly wouldn't have taken any notice of - and certainly would have shown disrespect towards - a fifty year old "I've been around the block" type. But also the bloke I am today would probably not have the time off day for such a snotty nosed, big headed no-talent.
Nightingales now. Rob on the right...
Forced to say something to the young prick... I'd say: “Your group is shit, don't think you're any cop just because John Peel and Paul Morley say so. Stop posing about and work harder. Be more adventurous and don't copy other artists, and certainly don't align yourself with any 'movement'. Be serious or don't bother - but also have fun. Ignore both born again rockers (Pete Townsend et al) and modern puritans and do try out of few drugs and have lots of sex - don't be shy. 
You’ve notably done South By Southwest. Was it worth it? How can you make things like this work for you?  
SXSW is a heap of fun and with good planning, especially for new bands, can maybe open a few doors, though I do think that the hyped bands are pretty much hyped before they get there. Austin is a top town, and the SXSW organisers seem enthused and very competent - UK take note - and I would certainly say that any invitees should give it a whirl if they can.
But, and it's a big but, it is an exceedingly expensive thing to do. These days, you definitely need a visa, and to do things legally. That will set you back a couple of grand before flights, accommodation and such. Remuneration is minimal; indeed it'd non-existent if you choose to have SXSW wristbands in lieu. So unless you are super flush or have rich parents and/or a very helpful manager or label, you will need to find funding, or it will be near impossible to make it happen.
The Nightingales were invited again this year but - despite what I thought was a top notch application and proposal - we were turned down by PRS Music Abroad and a couple of other funding sources which made it impossible to carry off, much to our disappointment, and in spite of offers of other U.S shows.  Thankfully it sounds like we will be re-invited next year & we can plan for this well in advance. That means booking a whole tour, coinciding a new album, sorting some funding - but for a lot of artists I guess it would involve getting in to a mass of debt. Is it worth it? That's up to the individual act, and what they think or hope they can achieve. I have no definitive advice.  
The Nightingales - Mutton To Lamb from 'No Love Lost', issued 2012

You’ve had oodles of support from 6music over the years. Granted, in the early days when they had smaller audiences, that might not have meant all that much. Are you noticing anything now they’ve got a million plus listeners?  
I find radio play and press reviews very difficult to quantify. Obviously it means more people get to hear the music or read the group's name, and consequently learn that we are out there and doing stuff. But does it influence sales, etc? I really don't know. I think our live shows maybe do more for that - Mark Sampson's Iron Man mail order store apparently always sells Nightingales gear when we play live: we play Edinburgh one night, and he sees sales in that area the very next day. I'd guess that to some degree this happens from radio play also but there is no way of being certain of the extent. You need Jools Holland's 'Later' for absolute guaranteed sales improvement I reckon. I'm sure Seasick Steve, Joanna Newsom and others would agree. 
But obviously it's great to get radio support, because it gets the music heard by new ears and maybe gets folk interested in the records and gigs. Plus the PRS royalty payments helps keep me afloat.  It's been difficult since Peel, with ever decreasing payments until recently. And of course part of the reason to make records is for them to get played on the radio and heard around the World. 
Some people get success by moving from the dangerous edges to the blander centre. I see you as resolutely still at the dangerous edges. How do you see it?  
I just do what I want to do, whatever others think of it. The band does not have any blueprint or agenda. We certainly do not try to be left field; we would definitely like a bigger audience, and wider appreciation, and to actually earn from our music… but we obviously do not do it for the money. Unless that is your prime motivation, I cannot see the point in making art that is anything other than stuff that allows you to express yourself, and that you like yourself. So the Nightingales plough our own furrow, for better or worse, for richer or poorer. Not dangerous but definitely, er, free. 
'No Love Lost' album cover artwork
I do not seek celebrity. If I were to be acknowledged I would like it to be because of the work. The work is everything and lives on beyond a person's lifetime. So I think it should be something that you think is worthwhile, and hopefully it will bring the creator some permutation of appreciation, money & fun; if not, so be it. I do hope, though, that when I die the group has everyone pretending they always dug it and that the band members can make a few quid. It would be totally depressing to think that even in death the group remained a super minority cult thing.
Nightingales - Born Again In Birmingham, from 'Out Of True', issued 2006

You tell stories. What’s more important – the story or the song? The live music or the creating of it?  
For me the lyrics are important… but I'm in a group, and so the songs and live shows are what is most important. The creating gives vent to my ideas and will hopefully be a fun process - but ultimately this is a rock group, so rock rules apply. Maybe the volumes of poetry and such can come later. 
You don’t hesitate to recommend people – you tipped Poppy and The Jezebels – who are way more  ‘commercial’ than the Nightingales. And you’ve seen other bands do well by adjusting their marketing and style. Ever been tempted to do the same thing?  
I had a solo deal with Virgin Records for a while and had a stab at doing some pop music but generally it is not an area that interests me. I’ve already explained where I am at regarding 'changing style' or whatever you want to call it. But I'm not a snob about it - I like Little Richard as much as Beefheart, the Troggs as much as Faust, etc, and if I see or hear something 'commercial' that I think is great I will plug it, no problem. And there is no jealousy, nor any gloating, if and when my 'recommendations' are a hit. As Roy Walker would advise, "Say what you see".
 How do you feel about Spotify, who pay very little for the the music they stream, and pirate downloads and torrent sites, who offer your music to anyone for free? Is there a promotional value?  
I am a bit ignorant about Spotify, indeed the whole web, social networking area. Fliss our drummer does all the 'Gales web 'business'. I guess there is some promotional value with any outlet for your work whether you get paid or not, but obviously getting paid for your work is the accepted ideal whatever the trade.  I know some musicians go ape shit about being ripped off. I have more friends in stand up than in bands, and they are zealous about copyright and payment for jokes. I understand their point of view totally, but I have also never been majorly hung up about bootlegging and piracy myself - Maybe that is one reason why I am always borassic? 
Survival as a working band. You know a lot more now, but times are a lot tougher, is it easier or harder?  
Harder now I think, at least for 'unpopular' bands.
Nightingales website 
Nightingales myspace music page
Rob Lloyd's own record label
Big Print Records 
If you want back catalogue, Rob would love it it you bought it here

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