Writer & Photographer Emily Doyle
Nightingales have bubbled to the surface of the Birmingham consciousness in recent years. Since the pandemic-clouded release of King Rocker, a so-called “anti-rockumentary” about the band written by Stewart Lee and directed by Michael Cumming (who also directed comedy shows Brass Eye and Toast of London), we’ve had a string of live dates and a tasty new record with all the snarl of their earlier work.
A campaign to bring back Nicholas Monro’s iconic King Kong statue – heavily featured in the documentary – has led to some property developers resurrecting the ape, larger than ever and looming arse-first over Great Hampton Street.
Whether they first heard Nightingales last year on Sky Arts or back in the eighties doing a Peel Session, there’s an expectant buzz among the gig-goers at the Castle and Falcon. Support act Tymon Dogg’s shrill fiddle playing makes short work of the hubbub, cutting through even the chatter at the four-deep bar queue.
“Good evening Birmingham – it’s a joy to be here. I didn’t expect it to be, but it really is.”
Dogg, formerly of Joe Strummer’s The Mescaleros, retains a punk sensibility in his solo incarnation. He shakes away the fragile gloss of his recorded work and offers up strangled vocals and intricate Spanish guitar. The rawness of the whole performance, coupled with Dogg’s nervous laughter, toe a line between pleasant texture and outright dissonance.
But ultimately his conviction wins out, and the room nods along to a bashful rendition of ‘Mondo Bongo’.
Nightingales’ frontman Robert Lloyd holds a plush bird (presumably a nightingale) to the microphone and gives it a firm squeeze, causing it to play out a recording of the bird’s song. It’s time.
The pounding drums of ‘Sunlit Uplands’ kick in. Tonight marks the final date in The Last Laugh tour. For this short run of dates, the band’s ranks have swollen to include Terry Edwards on saxophone and local multi-instrumentalists Natalie Mason and Beth Hopkins as “The Nightin-gals”.
Lloyd cuts a simian silhouette above the heads of the eager front row, some of whom have been there since doors with records and marker pens in hand.
The performance which follows is expertly crafted chaos. Growling bass and tumultuous drums from Andreas Schmid and Fliss Kitson hold the reins, while the rest of the band move seamlessly between songs. The makeshift orchestra of Edwards, Mason, and Hopkins swap between instruments from song to song, filling out the sound with an accordion, saxophone, keys, and a healthy dose of maraca.
James Smith keeps things true to their post-punk sound with biting guitar. The embellishments add a fresh edge to everything; Mason’s violin in call-and-response with Lloyd’s slide whistle solo on ‘The Divorce That Never Was’ is particularly inspired.
Throughout the seventy-five minute set, Nightingales are unrelenting. Lloyd is magnetic, yelling: “it’s just the same old cabbage,” over the squalling riff of ‘I Needed Money At The Time’. He holds the vegetable in question aloft, looking for all the world like he’s about to stage an impromptu version of the “alas, poor Yorick” speech.
Eventually proceedings dissolve into a sludgy, venue-shaking performance of ‘Dick The Do-gooder’ that sparks some dancing; even from this, the most chin-strokey, 6 Music-listening of crowds
“As you know, we don’t do encores or anything…” notes Lloyd, before wandering off stage. As quickly as it began, it’s over – all in time for the 50 bus back to New Street.
For more from the Castle and Falcon, please go to www.castleandfalcon.com