Austin Kendrick ©
30.4.22 Birmingham 02 Academy. The Nightingales + Ted Chippington + Rats On Rafts.
A home town gig of sorts... they're associated with Brum but at least half of them don't reside here. This is the Nightingales biggest headline show in the city to date. For this tour, they are joined by Rats on Rafts and long term compadre Ted Chippington. The show takes place in Venue 2 of my least favourite gig setting in Brum. A square box with an expensive bar and saddled with a reputation for having a crappy sound.
Rats on Rafts unceremoniously take to the stage, stood in a line of four with the drummer at the rear. Originating from Rotterdam, there's hints of early Cure in the guitars and driving, insistent nagging bass lines. Vocalist David Fagan sounds at times to these ears like the late Charlie Keigher of Manc post-punkers King of the Slums. With female backing vocals reminiscent of the yelp of Brix-era Fall, it's fair to say the band's post-punk influences are worn on their sleeves. Jim and Andy of the headliners watch the band from the side of the stage. I like them but would like to see them in more cosy environs.
I've seen the Nightingales a fair few times now but somehow never caught Ted Chippington. Tonight's appearance is 15 minutes of dry observations about daytime telly quiz contestants and jokes not troubled by anything as distracting as a punchline. Example - this bloke walks over to me in the street and says 'you thought you were hard at school didn't ya? And I goes 'no, but you did.' It's the way he tells 'em, perhaps..?
Less than six months after their last UK tour and the Nightingales are back on the road. Subjects of the Michael Cummings film 'King Rocker' which has recently been released on dvd, the soundtrack has been pressed on vinyl. They've had cuts from their last studio album 'Four Against Fate' remixed for a 12" and the second ever album 'Hysterics', originally released in 1983, has been reissued in a brand new shiny expanded form for Record Store Day. The band are as prolific as they've ever been.
Arising from the ashes of Birmingham's premier punk band the Prefects in 1979, group leader Robert Lloyd is the only remaining original member. He's enjoying a lengthy period of line up stability with this current formation. And although it is he that is the focal point, a large bespectacled man in a sombre brown suit and plain blue shirt, credit must go to the players, who work hard for the next hour or so, displaying a tightness and collective intuition that's no mean feat, considering one of them lives in Germany so they can only really get together for tours.
Starting proceedings with 'Born Again In Birmingham', there's barely time for taking a breath until the set is finished. Driven by the polyrhythmically inclined bassist Andreas Schmid and a kicking Fliss Kitson behind the kit and cowbell, guitarist Jim Smith sews sinewy motifs, the band changing course at the drop of a hat whilst Lloyd recites his words, ambling amidst the group from time to time, and bellowing unheard into the air. Lloyd's customary mid-set unaccompanied solo 'Only My Opinion', which he manages to fluff, is the only respite the band get before launching into song critique 'Gales Doc', raising a cheer from the crowd as he describes what constitutes as a crowd pleaser. It's ironic post-irony and that is very Nightingales.
Ancient track 'Crafty Fag' also features and retains it's frenetic guitar staccato that sounds like a demented chicken pecking at bits of corn.
A pal suggests at the conclusion of tonight's set that it's not been a classic Gales performance but my issue is with the venue. The sound is murky and unsympathetic to the intricacies of the music. Lloyd's vocals can't be heard clearly enough and thus the lyrics are lost. Kitson’s backing vocals are buried way down in the mix, although her driving force with the sticks is prominent. The barrier that divides the audience from the stage is, well, kind of alien at a Nightingales show. They continue to provide a finely crafted art and Lloyd remains an effortlessly charismatic presence but this is not the venue best suited to them.