A day at the races with Vic Godard and Robert Lloyd was always going to be a winner. A night at the Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh, where these two elder states-people of what we now call post punk appear tomorrow night with the latest incarnations of their respective bands, Subway Sect and The Nightingales, looks like a pretty safe bet as well.
“The CEO of the Jockey Club is a big Nightingales fan, and he invites us every year,” says Lloyd of the dynamic duo’s day out at Sandown Park last year, “and we always get to go in this private enclosure.”
“It turns out the bloke from the Jockey Club lives round the corner from me,” says Godard, “and I got picked up in this chauffeur-driven car.”
While this was Godard’s first experience of watching from a private box, he is no stranger to the track. Like Lloyd, he has long been fond of a flutter.
“Rob’s a bit of a tipster,” says Godard. “He e-mailed me this morning and gave me a dead cert at Kempton.”
The horse in question, You Little Ripper, ends up coming a game second at 3/1, so it’s unlikely there will have been any winners as big as Godard was during a recent trip to York.
“We had this massive win,” says Godard, “and stayed in this big posh hotel. We were in the drawing room having coffee, and I had my back to the door. Then my partner Mandy starts tugging my sleeve, and I turn round and standing behind me is Frankie Dettori, and I just involuntarily shouted out ‘Frankie!’, like a fan, because he made me all this money and he was just standing there. He was there at breakfast the next day, but he was probably avoiding me.”
This week’s rare Nightingales/Subway Sect double bill forms part of a handful of joint dates that come on the back of Godard and Lloyd’s vocal duet on Commercial Suicide Man, a song penned by Godard, gifted to Lloyd and released by The Nightingales as a single.
Godard and Lloyd’s renewed alliance dates back to 1977, when Lloyd’s first band The Prefects was drafted in alongside Subway Sect for several dates of The Clash’s White Riot tour on a bill that also included The Jam and Buzzcocks.
“We first met when we played at The Rainbow,” says Lloyd. “The Prefects ended up doing it because The Slits, who did the rest of the tour, refused to play a seated venue. You know what punk rockers were like back then,” he says dryly. “Me and Vic got on quite well, and I remember The Jam had a big Union Jack as their backdrop, and us dropping stuff down while they were playing.”
While the appearance of Subway Sect alongside a back-in-the-fold Slits at the Edinburgh Playhouse date of the White Riot tour has been credited with kick-starting the Sound of Young Scotland and the bands based around the Postcard and Fast Product labels, Godard and The Prefects went on to share bills many times during punk’s anything-goes first flush.
“We weren’t great mates or anything,” says Lloyd, “but we always got on. I remember playing mouth organ with Vic at one gig at the Music Machine.”
The pair didn’t see each other for many years until 2011, when Stewart Lee invited The Nightingales to play his Austerity Binge, a four-night mix of left-field music and comedy he was curating at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s South Bank.
“I wanted a guest, because I didn’t think we could fill the Purcell Room on our own, so we got Vic in. He watched our set, and I don’t know what it was, possibly because we were doing a Gary Glitter cover, but a few days later a cassette arrived in the post with Commercial Suicide Man on.”
It took several years for the pair to get round to recording the song, and Godard has also done his own version.
“Ours is radically different to how the Nightingales do it,” he says. “Ours is a latiny sort of thing, which is how it was when I sent it to Rob. When I went up to Leamington Spa to record with them, Rob just said I had to let it go.”
There’s nothing nostalgic about the increasingly prolific life of Subway Sect and The Nightingales. Rather than flog old favourites on the revival circuit, both Godard and Lloyd continue to generate new material, and appear to be at the peak of their creative powers. Godard’s new album, Mums’ Revenge has already been highly acclaimed, and he has a plethora of collaborations either already on the go or pending.
Since reforming in 2004, The Nightingales have released seven studio albums, many of them, including last year’s Perish The Thought, recorded in Germany with drummer Fliss Kitson, guitarist Jim Smith and bassist Andreas Schmid at the studio run by kosmiche legends, Faust. Then there is the documentary currently being made by comedian and long-term Nightingales fan Stewart Lee and Brass Eye director Michael Cumming.
“A lot of comedians seem to like us for some reason,” deadpans Lloyd, who also counts Phill Jupitus as a fan. “I don’t know why, but I suppose we must be funny.”
The film, King Rocker, charts Lloyd’s brilliant anti-career with the Nightingales, forever on the margins of pop.
“I don’t know what the overall plot is,” says Lloyd, “but they’ve filmed m at the place where The Prefects did their first ever gig in Birmingham, on the hills in Shropshire and in a curry house, but I genuinely don’t know how it’s going to end up.”
Both Subway Sect and The Nightingales are regulars in Scotland these days. Godard especially has forged alliances that date back to the White Riot days, with Orange Juice covering Godard’s song, Holiday Hymn, on a John Peel session and Edwyn Collins producing Godard’s 1993 album, The End of The Surrey People, released on the briefly reignited Postcard label. More recently, Godard has frequently played alongside The Sexual Objects, fronted by former Fire Engines vocalist Davy Henderson.
“I got Callum Easter’s album in the post this morning,” says Godard. “The session he did on Marc Riley’s programme on 6Music has got to be the best debut session ever.”
The current crop of Nightingales/Subway Sect dates fit in with both Lloyd and Godard’s leaning towards putting on a show. This dates back to the 1980s, when Godard donned bow tie and tux and went full Radio Two mode as headliners of the retro-jazz styled Club Left package tour. Although the current shows won’t revisit that era’s material, they do reunite him with the band from that time, who went on to become chart stars with Jo Boxers. Club Left solo star Johnny Britton is also in the band.
Lloyd similarly tapped into an alternative working men’s’ club vibe through his Vindaloo label, touring with the likes of We’ve Got A Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It and deadly anti-comedian Ted Chippington.
“I’ve always been keen on that,” says Lloyd. “It’s about putting some thought into the event, and putting something on that I’d want to go to myself. But these gigs with Vic, they’re a proper package.
The Nightingales and Vic Godard and Subway Sect appear at The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, tomorrow night. Mums’ Revenge by Vic Godard, and Perish The Thought by The Nightingales are available now.
Vic Godard and Subway Sect and The Nightingales play The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, tomorrow.
The Herald, April 17th 2019