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Putting on The Agony, Putting on The Nightingales – Confessions of an Amateur Wanker

The Lost Plot

 As The Nightingales limber up for their biggest tour in the band’s forty-year existence, it’s nice to see them becoming hottish property. This has arguably come partly on the back of the success of King Rocker, Michael Cumming and Stewart Lee’s film based around the life and work of Nightingales frontman, Robert Lloyd. It’s especially heartening to see The Nightingales 2022 UK trek being overseen by a proper professional promoter, rather than some of the ad hoc DIY fly-by-nights that have put them on over the last decade. 


As one of those happy amateurs over seven Nightingales shows, I’m obviously delighted that Lloyd and co are receiving the attention they deserve. While for now at least, the band are no longer dependent on the kindness of strangers, I’m going to miss the annual round of adrenalin-charged stresses putting on a Nightingales show brought with it. Anyone who has ever put on a gig anywhere despite not having a clue how to do it will be fully aware of the headaches involved. 


I never had any desire to be a promoter, and still don’t. Hopefully, now The Nightingales are part of what probably isn’t called rock’s rich tapestry, I’ll never put on another gig again. But things happen, just as they did with The Nightingales, so who knows?


Either way, 

given the band’s increased profile, it’s hard to credit that less than a decade ago, both Lloyd and his peripatetic band of Black Country post-punk misfits found it difficult getting arrested. 


I realised this when I went to see them in Edinburgh in 2011, when less than ten people turned up. Whoever it was who was supposed to be promoting the show at the impeccably run 100-capacity Sneaky Pete’s venue had apparently disappeared, with no publicity and very few ticket sales left in their wake. It clearly wasn’t an in-house show, as such a calamity would never have happened. 


To add insult to injury, one of those who did turn up, and who stood at the front, right beside the band, talked all the way through their set. Or he did until Lloyd briefly halted proceedings to tell him to “Shut the fuck up, by the way.” The culprit – a long-term Nightingales fan – was apparently mortified, and didn’t utter a peep for the rest of the performance. Others who were part of this small but imperfectly formed audience will go on to play a heroic role in this story, but more of that anon.


The show itself was a heroic masterclass in professionalism in the face of adversity, opened as is often the case by comic contemporary Ted Chippington, a one-time regular fixture of both the so-called alternative comedy circuit and Nightingales shows throughout the 1980s. The Nightingales themselves barnstormed their way through a relentless hour of grouchy garage guitar chug over which Lloyd declaimed like a back-street soothsayer getting assorted frustrations and anxieties off his chest with chippy abandon. 


With guitarist Alan Apperley from Lloyd’s pre Nightingales band The Prefects in the fold alongside recent recruits, German bass player Andreas Schmid and dervish-like drummer Fliss Kitson, plus second guitarist Matt Wood, they even did a cover of Gary Glitter’s glamtastic 1972 smash hit, I Didn’t Know I Loved You Till I Saw You Rock and Roll. The event was a wonder to behold, and was as far from punk nostalgia as one could wish for. If only the rest of the world had been arsed enough to turn up.



I vowed after that night that if The Nightingales ever came back to Edinburgh, I would personally make sure they got an audience. I wrote about the gig for The List magazine, and told Lloyd exactly that when I emailed him my review. I can’t remember if I got a response or not, but I’d tracked down his email address a few years earlier after me and my mate Bob heard that The Nightingales had reformed, and talked about trying to put them on. Bob DJed and had run clubs for years, so it seemed a perfectly reasonable idea, even though I hadn’t much of a clue about what it might entail.


We sent an enthusiastic but polite email to the address we found, and waited. After several weeks of silence, we finally received a reply. It contained two short sentences, that were a million miles from the florid tumble of words that pulsed the Nightingales back catalogue with a sense of urgency rooted in the everyday and bordering on the verbose. The two sentences were typed out in lower case, which seemed to heighten the sense of melancholy that came through.


‘it’s not worth it. nobody’s interested,’ the email read, signed off with a formal ‘rl’.


And that was that.



Start From Scratch 


I first heard The Nightingales from their numerous John Peel Sessions in the early 1980s, and loved the growly wordiness of songs such as Which Hi-Fi? and The Crunch. I bought their first album, Pigs on Purpose (1982), and their singles, Idiot Strength and Use Your Loaf. I heard Going Through The Motions by The Prefects, which Lloyd and most of the original Nightingales had been in beforehand, and whose recorded output during their short-lived existence would eventually be collected on a compilation called Amateur Wankers (2004). 


My first live Nightingales experience came at Liverpool Warehouse in 1981, when they opened for The Fall, with whom they seemed to have a scruffy affinity, albeit more direct and less wilfully opaque. I remember Lloyd coming on wearing what looked like a demob suit and glasses, stomping in the opening number with his big black tackety boots on the stage’s wooden floor. Much later, I bought the Pissed and Potless (2001) compilation on CD, and heard all the stuff that came after on the Hysterics (1983) and In the Good Old Country Way (1986) albums, played by the assorted line-up changes I’d missed.


What I hadn’t missed was the Vindaloo Summer Special, an alliance of The Nightingales, Ted Chippington and We’ve Got A Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It, the gobby all-girl band who went on to fleeting major label pop stardom. All were signed to Lloyd’s Vindaloo label, which put out a great mid 1980s compilation called A Baker’s Dozen (1986), through WEA Records. The Vindaloo Summer Special’s 1986 single, Rockin’ with Rita (Head to Toe) (1986), sounded like the product of a gang of holiday camp entertainers gone rogue. It even made it on to Saturday morning kids telly.



I’d also picked up on Lloyd’s post Nightingales solo work in the late 1980s and early 1990s. There was a great single, Something Nice (1988), which was just as wordy as the Nightingales stuff, but smoothed out with a shiny production and a floppy haircut. This was also in evidence on Lloyd’s 1990 album, Me and My Mouth. A solo Peel session in 1991 found Lloyd covering some of his more left-field musical influences, and included songs by Captain Beefheart, John Cale and Kevin Coyne, as well as Country music evergreen, The Race is On, a 1964 hit for George Jones. 


This all seemed to fit with Lloyd’s absurdist tendencies which, like The Fall and John Cooper Clarke before him, was an unholy alliance of post punk Dadaism and chicken-in-a-basket variety nights at working men’s clubs. Either way, Lloyd and The Nightingales were top light entertainment for all. 


The Nightingales had reformed in 2004, initially with Lloyd, Apperley and other ex members. By the time they got to Edinburgh in 2011, there had been various line-up changes, as well as three albums worth of new material, Out of True (2006), What’s Not to Love? (2007), and Insult to Injury (2008).  As Lloyd liked to point out with a twisted form of maudlin glee, these had all been released on different labels, because they hadn’t sold well enough for any of them to do a second record. He seemed to wear this commercial failure as a badge of wilfully belligerent honour. 



Just the Job


It must have been late 2013 when another email arrived out of the blue from the Nightingales email address. I’d reviewed a Glasgow gig at Nice n Sleazy in 2012, which was part of the tour for the just released No Love Lost (2012) album. They played as magnificent as they had in Edinburgh the year before, only with an audience. Watching how good they were, what had happened the year before was still nagging at me.


The solitary sentence the new email contained was a bit longer this time, though again it was typed in lower case. Although there was still something melancholy about it, mercifully it sounded a smidgen more hopeful than the last missive had done two years earlier.


‘do you know any promoters who might be up for putting the nightingales on in Edinburgh? rl’


Robert Lloyd had clearly taken my promise of getting The Nightingales an Edinburgh audience as gospel. But what to do? I knew some proper promoters, who were very good at putting on shows great and small, and did so pretty much every day. I also knew assorted DIY promoters, who didn’t do it full time, but put bands on that they loved that were probably too niche for proper promoters, and if they didn’t put them on, chances are, no-one else would. It wasn’t a business for them, but a labour of love, just as it was for the proper promoters as well, but with a bit more machinery around them to keep things, well, proper. 


For both types of promoter, if no-one turned up, it hurt. Of course, it hurt financially, having to deal with all those overheads – venue hire, PA hire, paying the sound person, paying the band, paying for the band’s rider – all that stuff. As with every labour of love, however, it also hurt in the heart. I think it was late Factory Records co-founder Tony Wilson who wrote about putting gigs on at the original Factory club in Manchester, before he and Alan Erasmus set up the label. He wrote how soul destroying it was to put on a couple of what you considered to be brilliant bands, with only eight paying customers in the room.


I approached a couple of proper promoters, but at that time, a Nightingales show was probably too much of a risk, and no-one went for it. This was fair enough, and one very kindly offered to flag up any gig that happened on their regular listings mailout. I wasn’t sure what to do after that. The DIY promoters I knew were pretty niche, and The Nightingales didn’t really fit. Ever the misfits, it seemed they were too obscure for proper promoters, and not obscure enough for the DIY set. Awkward buggers.


Nevertheless, I remained determined to make sure The Nightingales weren’t lost to Edinburgh, and played in front of a paying audience of more than eight. A mate suggested I speak to Murray. Murray plays with an Edinburgh punk band called Shock and Awe, and had inroads into a venue called Citrus. 


Citrus was a late night student indie club type affair most of the time, but also played host to first and second generation punk acts who were still on the circuit. I went to see Eddie and the Hot Rods there, specifically so I could hear Do Anything You Wanna’ Do played live. I also saw Steve Strange play solo there, and all female Ramones tribute band, The Ramonas. Loads of others played there, including what had been a recent double bill of Vic Godard & Subway Sect, with The Sexual Objects opening. 


Citrus was cold, dark and damp, but it sold cans of Red Stripe in the narrow bar area that led to the main room, where even a big crowd seemed to be swallowed up by the space. With such a track record and a rough and ready interior, it seemed perfect for The Nightingales.


I spoke to Murray, and we met with Bryan,who owned the place. I worked out dates with The Nightingales to fit in with their plans, and it was a done deal. The Nightingales were coming to Edinburgh. Now all we had to do was get them that audience I’d promised them.


The tour was to promote the new Nightingales album, the magnificently titled For Fuck’s Sake (2014). The band weren’t taking any prisoners, and had decided to take matters into their own hands and release it themselves. As the press release stroppily declared, ‘Having been dumped by their fourth consecutive label, following the release of one album each, the group are self releasing the new LP on their own terms. No interference or outside opinions, no label, no distributor, no catalogue number, no bar code or logo shit, blah blah.’ 


With For Fuck’s Sake only available to buy at the live shows in an attempt to get people through the door, this was more manifesto than press release. If the album title wasn’t commercial suicide enough, calling the opening track Bullet for Gove was similarly shooting themselves in both feet. At this stage in the game, The Nightingales had nothing to lose, so why not?



What’s Not to Love?


That first Nightingales night at Citrus was opened by Paul Vickers and The Leg. In my head, at least, there seemed to be some kind of musical affinity there. Paul and The Leg had been playing Edinburgh for a few years after they got together when Paul’s old band, Dawn of the Replicants finished up, and were part of an Edinburgh scene that didn’t get nearly enough attention. 


Between Paul and the Replicants and Dan Mutch of The Leg with his old band, Khaya, they too had notched up a fair few John Peel sessions. Not as many as The Nightingales, maybe, but they were part of the same pantheon. In sound as well, there was an unhinged crunchiness to Paul and The Leg that seemed to fit. With them going on first, and Tedon before The Nightingales, it looked like a proper show.


In terms of practical stuff, I didn’t have a clue about the tech spec, but Nora, who did sound for Citrus, dealt with all that with unflappable professionalism. The Nightingales rider included a bottle of ‘good’ whisky, stipulating ‘Not Bell’s’, just in case we got the wrong idea.


For food, at one point I thought about getting someone to make a massive pot of curry for the band’s dinner, but in the end packed them off round the corner to the Traverse Theatre bar, who gave us a very generous discount.  I can’t remember if it was Ted or Big Dave the driver who said it was “the best grub” they’d had the whole tour. In a recent edition of Light and Sound International magazine, Nightingales road  manager and merch genius Mark Jones even mentioned ‘the grub in Edinburgh’ as one of the three best things about his job. Praise indeed.


Beyond refreshments, I also paid close attention to the request for towels, coat hangers for the band’s black suits, and a full-length mirror. There were no dressing rooms in Citrus, with the bands usually making do with a messy corridor next to the toilets. I can’t remember who I borrowed the mirror off, but it did the trick. 


As did asking my mate Douglas Jones, to take pictures of the night. Doug is a proper photographer, and captured the night wonderfully. He’d come with me to the poorly attended Sneaky Pete’s show, so was a fan as well. He got some great live shots, and got Robert and Ted to pose for portraits in the doorway of Citrus. None of Doug’s pictures have seen the light of day at any public level, although Doug did give me a framed picture of Robert looking suitably dour. I hung it in my hall opposite the front door. Anyone who visits for the first time and sees the picture usually asks me if it’s my dad. 


All this was well and good in terms of looking after the band, but how to get people in? To say I went slightly overboard in attempting to publicise the Nightingales Citrus show, is an understatement. I took ages writing up a press release, and sent it to everyone I thought might be interested. They weren’t. With Ted doing the tour, I thought some comedy types might like to cover it, but no-one could do anything. 


It was interesting being on the other side of the fence, and I couldn’t really blame anyone. I knew how few press releases I responded to. I also knew it was getting harder and harder to get stuff that wasn’t purely commercial into the so-called grown up papers, while trendy free sheets were more interested in looking cool than writing about a band that had started out before they were born. The eternal Nightingales misfits conundrum had struck again. 


But no matter. I blitzed social media to what was probably an annoyingly obsessive degree. I posted stuff on Facebook and Twitter pretty much every day after the gig had been confirmed. I followed assorted live music in Edinburgh type pages, and anything vaguely punky. Did any of it make any difference? I haven’t a clue, especially in Edinburgh, which, as I explained to Fliss in a long-winded email a few months prior to the last time I had a hand in putting on The Nightingales, has a peculiar psychology in its gig going that is unlike anywhere else. Fliss had gradually become Nightingales organiser in chief as well as drummer, and it was her we dealt with latterly, although occasional one-liners from Robert still turned up now and again to cheer us up.


Whatever, I found myself clicking on to the Tickets Scotland site with obsessive fervour to check advance sales. If even one ticket had been sold it felt like a small victory. How did proper promoters cope, I wondered? They had to go through this stuff every single day for every single gig. Perish the thought.


As it turned out, that first Nightingales Citrus gig couldn’t have gone better. Paul Vickers and The Leg were the perfect support, Ted Chippington’s turn was a masterclass in deadpan surrealism, and The Nightingales delivered a relentless cacophony similar to the one they’d made two years earlier when they played to an audience of eight. The difference at Citrus was that enough people came out to make up a proper crowd, even if the club’s voluminous room did swallow them up. We broke even on ticket sales, everybody got paid, and Robert Lloyd got a decent bottle of malt whisky. Not Bell’s. 



For Fuck’s Sake


The second time I put The Nightingales on, alas, things didn’t go quite so swimmingly. The 2015 tour was on the back of the new Mind Over Matter LP, which was being put out on John Robb’s Louder Than War label. It would be the last Nightingales record to feature Alan Apperley, while the cover featured images from a brain scan of Robert after he’d had a stroke. 


I did the gig at Citrus with Murray again. Ted Chippington was coming up with the band to open for them as he’d done before, and we got local supergroup,  Et tu Brute??? to open. Et tu Brute??? were Dan and Alun from The Leg, Grant from St Jude’s Infirmary, and Andy from Sara and the Snakes. Together, they made a lovely racket.


A year on from the first Citrus show, it felt a bit like Groundhog Day in terms of the process – towels, mirror, ‘good’ bottle of Whiskey, ‘not Bell’s’, which was all part of the learning curve. It was clear from going on the Tickets Scotland site about a million times a day, however, that we were unlikely to break even this time out. In fact, it looked like I was going to lose money. It wasn’t a fortune, but, to an amateur wanker’s pocket, it still felt like a substantial hit. To rub salt in the expected wound, when the band arrived, a chipper Robert Lloyd climbed out of the van outside Citrus declaring he’d just won a substantial amount of money from a bet on the horses, and was off to collect his winnings. 


I’m not sure what went wrong, and the gig itself was as thrilling as the first one, but hardly anyone turned up, probably less than half than the there was the first time round. I’d been the same over eager obsessive on social media, and put the word out to the same places as before, but somehow it wasn’t enough. 


On the bright side, I’d packed the band off again to the Traverse, where the grub was apparently as good as last time, even if the bar was packed full of braying men in suits who were attending some kind of formal event that looked like some ghastly giant office party. Even that was a bigger draw than our Nightingales show.


Bryan at Citrus couldn’t have been more supportive. He’d probably seen this happen a million times, and gave us the best deal he could. He even gave us leftover cans of booze that had been lying around since forever, so we could use it for the rider and save a few bob.


Even so, by the end of the night, it was me who was pissed and potless. The gig had been so good that I didn’t really care, but I’d done my bit, I reckoned. Now it was some other amateur wanker’s turn. Once again, that seemed to be that. 



Mind Over Matter


Another year, another one-line lower-case email from Robert Lloyd, asking if I’m up for putting on another Edinburgh Nightingales show as part of their 2016 tour. I was about to move flat, and was skinter than skint, so politely explained that, with some regret, I wasn’t in a position to do so this time out, and we left it there. It made me sad looking at the Nightingales tour schedule, and no Edinburgh date being there, especially as there was a Glasgow one. This had been the case with the previous two tours, with them slotting in a Glasgow date either the night before or after the Edinburgh shows, with the band staying somewhere inbetween the two cities both nights. I felt bad, but what could I do?


Next thing I know, I get a message from Colin Duff, who puts on gigs as Under the Wires. Colin isn't a full-time promoter, but he puts on a lot, especially with bands that play a raw kind of trashy garage rock that Edinburgh audiences have always seemed to be so fond of. The likes of The Courettes are still staples of Under the Wires shows, and Colin has put on the likes of Jon Spencer, Lydia Lunch and Kid Congo Powers. 


I didn’t know Colin well, but Edinburgh is small, and the proportion of punters of a certain age still going out to see bands even smaller. I can’t remember the order of how things happened, but Colin had been approached by Liz Tainsh, who I didn’t know, but who I’d probably been in the same room as at some gig or other. As I later found out, she also put on a series of monthly benefit gigs for refugee charities.


Liz had apparently got in touch with The Nightingales to ask why they weren’t playing Edinburgh this time out, and was told they couldn’t find anyone to put them on. This prompted her to get in touch with Colin, and for Colin to get in touch with me, and so the circle was squared. Especially as I discovered that both Colin and Liz had been at the 2011 Sneaky Pete’s Nightingales show, when less than ten of us turned up. It all seemed to fit.


All three of us met to discuss what to do in Leith Depot, the Leith Walk pub with a tiny room upstairs which had quickly become one of Edinburgh’s best venues since it opened after being reinvented from what had previously been regarded as one of the city’s roughest bars. The upstairs room held about sixty, but looked busy with twenty, and got hot very quickly. I was worried in case it was too small, but, led by Colin and Liz, agreed to put The Nightingales on there. After the poor turnout at the second Citrus show, like The Nightingales circa For Fuck’s Sake, we had nothing to lose. Except money. Whatever happened, at least there were three of us involved to ease the pain. 


Putting on the Nightingales at Leith Depot proved to be a very different experience to the Citrus shows. Not least because Colin had far more experience at this sort of thing than I, and pretty much did everything required, from booking the venue and sorting out the social media ads, to just looking like he knew what he was doing. He even got Robert a really nice bottle of malt whisky that definitely wasn’t Bell’s. The Depot also had a bit of a buzz about it that people liked, and it seemed a bit more visible than Citrus.


Me, I got the snacks and the booze for the rest of the rider from the supermarket, and brought the towels and the coat-hangers. Liz supplied the full-length mirror, which we perched in a corridor upstairs at Leith Depot, between the kitchen, the toilets and the bar that would make do as a changing area. To call it a dressing room would be overstating the case somewhat. 


Alan Apperley and Matt Wood had left the band by now, and Jim Smith had taken over on guitar. This made for what we shall henceforth refer to as the ‘classic’ Nightingales line-up, in that the Lloyd, Smith, Schmid, Kitson quartet has survived intact ever since, with little signs of anyone dropping out. 


I think I’d also suggested the support act, Zed Penguin, who, in my mind, at least, were sort of connected to the same loose-knit scene as Paul Vickers and The Leg and Et tu Brute??? It all seemed to fit. Colin and Liz indulged me, and I could relax. Leith Depot gave us an even more generous discount for the band’s food than the Traverse, and people came out. Probably a few more people came out than were supposed to be in the venue, which made for quite a tight squeeze, but nobody seemed to mind. Everybody got paid, and we broke even. Of course we’d do it again.



What A Carry On


By the time we booked The Nightingales at Leith Depot a second time in 2017, we seemed to have developed something of a routine. Colin did all the practical stuff, I sorted out the snacks and the coat hangers, and Liz brought the full-length mirror. For the gig itself, expectations had reached something of a plateau. There was a hardcore kind of Nightingales fan of a certain vintage, it seemed, who would come to see them every time they played, as long as they knew about it. Beyond that, in a room the size of the Depot, it didn’t really matter. 


This time out as well, we didn’t even have to sort out a support act, as The Nightingales were bringing their own. While on one level, it was a shame not to be able to give some of our mates’ bands a platform bordering on the prestigious, it was one less thing to have to worry about. The fact that The Nightingales had got Blue Orchids to do it was even better.


Blue Orchids were formed by The Fall’s original guitarist and co-founder, Martin Bramah, along with another ex Fall member, keyboardist, Una Baines. Their first single, The Flood, was a Manc scallydelic classic, as was their wryly named album, The Greatest Hit. These were released on Rough Trade records around the same time the first incarnation of The Nightingales were on the go. 


Like The Nightingales and other bands of that era, which, for one reason or another, never fully got the dues they deserved, Bramah has latterly put together a new incarnation of Blue Orchids. Again like The Nightingales, Bramah’s new Blue Orchids is no nostalgia act, and, rather than resting on their laurels, are churning out recordings of new material like billy-o. These days they even share a label with The Nightingales through the wonderful Tiny Global Productions


As the Edinburgh double bill demonstrated, a circuit of sorts was developing for similar bands who’d started up again and were growing old disgracefully, with the likes of The Pop Group and The Monochrome Set also climbing back in the saddle. At the time, Blue Orchids and The Monochrome Set even shared a keyboardist, in the shape of long-haired, dress-sporting John Paul Moran. 


All these bands were being championed by the likes of Marc Riley and Gideon Coe on BBC 6Music in the way John Peel had done originally. This seemed to have given them a new lease of life beyond the archive Peel sessions that had been dusted down and re broadcast alongside new material, and The Nightingales, Blue Orchids and all the rest were quite rightly reclaiming their just desserts.


I don’t know whether it was the presence of Blue Orchids making the 2017 Leith Depot Nightingales show something of a dream double bill that helped ticket sales, but there was a boost that definitely came from somewhere. The result of this in a room built for small functions saw it packed out to an uncomfortably sweaty degree. 


How many were in there, exactly, I couldn’t say. This is mainly because the clicker the bar manager pointedly gave me during soundcheck to make sure we didn’t go over capacity was accidentally forgotten about. Oops. If anyone minded, they didn’t let on, and the downstairs bar was going like a fair, so none of the staff had a minute to have a look upstairs to make sure everything was in order. Which, of course, it was.


More importantly, both bands played a blinder, with the close proximity of the audience who threatened to spill onto what passes for a tiny stage at the far end of the room giving things an extra edge they fed off. With Colin, Liz and myself sort of taking turns taking tickets at a table just inside the door at the top of the stairs, I could barely get into the room. With one foot in, one out, at points I was probably a living fire hazard. 


During Blue Orchids’ set I managed to make it to the tiny bar area on one side of the stage, as I lapped up the energy and noise of their closing number, a mash-up of their Greatest Hit era song, Work, with even older Fall song, Before the Moon Falls. This had appeared on the second Fall album, Dragnet, recorded after Bramah had left the band. Although he co-wrote it, his contribution went uncredited. Work Before the Moon Falls, as it was now known, was another piece of reclaiming. 


The Nightingales thundered through their hour of power with their usual non-stop sense of urgency. It looked like thirsty work for everyone, including us. Spotting the sweat poring down the band’s backs as they thundered on, Colin somehow fought his way from the back of the room to the tiny stage area, with ice cold bottles of water in tow. He set them down at the band’s feet, expecting them to pause for breath to refresh themselves. They didn’t, carrying on regardless as they powered through until the end. 


Everyone got paid, and we not only broke even, but made a fair few bob besides. A quick conflab with Colin decreed that the surplus was passed on to the bands, so they both got more than they’d asked for on top of their agreed fees. 


Blue Orchids had barely asked for anything, and I remember Colin stuffing a wad of tenners into my hand, which I then proceeded to stuff into Martin Bramah’s hand, repeating the exercise a few minutes later. The amateur wankers putting on the show, it seemed, had done good. If there was to be a next time, however, it was probably time to upgrade.





Opium was a rock pub on the Cowgate that was at the centre of a row of three bar/venues. Back in the 1980s when I lived on George IV Bridge above, they were the sort of places you would only go to if you were already too hammered to care where you went, under the delusion that you needed another drink. In those murky Calvinist days, this unholy trinity of late night dives were the last gasp. 


While there were various attempts to respectabilise them and put gigs on there, in the 1980s, at least, it never really happened properly. Andy Moor from Dutch punk band The Ex, who also played with Edinburgh band Dog Faced Hermans, told me that the first time The Ex played in Edinburgh was in one of those pubs. He couldn’t remember which one, but he said that after four songs, their sound man was bottled by a random punter who didn’t take kindly to the music, and that was that. I seem to remember one or other of them changing their names every couple of years after someone was murdered in one of them. I could be wrong, but it seemed to happen quite a lot.


Whichever pub The Ex played in, the one that would become Opium was called Legends when I first knew it. Then, as now, it had a great upstairs room ideal for small gigs, which held about a hundred, or a hundred and fifty if you could get away with it. For a while in the mid 1990s, this became a separate entity as The Attic, and the likes of Mogwai and Arab Strap played early shows there. I also remember a Two Lone Swordsman show that I couldn’t get in to because it was so busy, but hey.


As Opium, the venue bit of the pub seemed to mainly be used by Metal bands, and having The Nightingales there created a good counterpoint. It also had a proper dressing room / green room area with couches and a small fridge, as well as a shower room. This was quality stuff. 


Opium was next door to Sneaky Pete’s, which, over the last decade and a half, has become one of the best small venues in Edinburgh. Given that it was also where The Nightingales had played to eight people back in 2011, there was something poetic about them coming back to the ‘hood now they were getting audiences.


Colin had recently put on Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds on art Opium, and it worked a treat. Kid Congo happened to be in town doing a reconnaissance expedition for a multi-media project he was working on called Shamanic, and Colin invited him along to the show. 


Shamanic was created by artist Maria Rud and Fay Fife of The Rezillos, and would see projections of Rud’s live paintings beamed across the back wall of the University of Edinburgh’s New College building, while a supergroup of Kid Congo, Rezillos bassist Chris Agnew, Martin Metcalfe of Goodbye Mr Mackenzie, Skids drummer Mike Baillie and Edinburgh electronicist DJ Dolphin Boy played. Former Rock Follies actress Rula Lenska read Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, The Raven, as a prelude.


Tonight, however, Kid Congo was here to see The Nightingales. Everyone except Robert was a tad starstruck by this original member of The Gun Club, who went on to join The Cramps and then Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds before branching out on his own. This was proper underground rock and roll royalty, after all. Kid, however, understood the Nightingales’ place in the scheme of things, and told everyone how aged sixteen he had persuaded his mother to pay for what was supposed to be an educational trip to London for her teenage son. Kid Congo, however, was only interested in seeking out this punk rock thing he had heard about. 


Kid told Robert he had seen The Prefects during the trip, to which Robert immediately responded, ‘Oh, yes, with The Slits.” This was probably the bill that played London punk club, The Vortex, in Wardour Street, during August 1977, with The Slits headlining, and The Prefects and Tanya Hyde supporting. As finishing schools go, this was clearly the sort of education Kid Congo was looking for. At Opium, it was he and Robert, elder statesmen both, who were handing down their wisdom. There was talk of Kid being filmed telling this story for King Rocker, but it never happened. 


This time out, The Nightingales had The Near Jazz Experience opening for them. This was an instrumental trio led by sax player Terry Edwards, who had played with The Higsons and Serious Drinking back in the day, and then with Gallon Drunk. Latterly he played with the likes of P.J. Harvey, Lydia Lunch and a ton of others. Also in The Near Jazz Experience was Mark ‘Bedders’ Bedford, the bass player from Madness, and drummer Simon Charterton, who’d also been in The Higsons and Serious Drinking.  I also got Paul Vickers in to do a comedy set inbetween bands as his alter ego, Mr Twonkey. Once again, it looked to me at least like a good night out, featuring some top variety turns, resembling what used to be called alternative cabaret.


As we were led to the dressing room to set up – me with snacks and booze, no full length mirror required, Colin en route with the good whisky for Robert - the venue manager warned us not to use one of the light switches next to the toilet / shower room,  or it would trip the rest of the lights in the room. I made a mental note of this, and pointed it out to the bands as they arrived. 


King Rocker was being filmed at the time, and an American man with a movie camera was following the band on tour. I told him what light switch not to use, just before he went to the toilet and promptly did exactly what I’d just told him not to, and tripped the lights, just as the venue manager said. Such is life in the movies. As far as I could work out when I watched King Rocker, no Edinburgh footage was used.


At one point when no-one else was around the green room, Robert took me aside and apologised if he’d been at all grumpy, but he had some kind of groin strain thing going on, and it was really sore. The actual words he used were a lot more colourful, and captured exactly how much he wasn’t happy about it. His deadpan delivery made his discomfort even clearer. 


Whatever pain Robert was in didn’t seem to affect his performance, though. In fact, watching him howl and declaim over the band’s usual non-stop hour, I wondered if it might have given things an edge, and he was maybe channelling the agony through song, but I’m no doctor, so this was pure speculation on my part. It was good of Robert to share his medical travails with me, even though he had nothing to apologise for. Then again, this was a man who’d used the cover of his brain scan following a stroke on an album cover. 


Since The Nightingales / Near Jazz Experience / Paul Vickers show, Opium has changed its name back to Legends, and more people seem to be putting on bands in the upstairs room. I don’t think the venue’s latest rebrand was caused by any alleged homicide on the premises. Things have changed.



And Another Thing


The 2019 Edinburgh Nightingales visit ahead of the release of their forthcoming Four Against Fate album was going to be a double header with Vic Godard and Subway Sect. Vic had become an Edinburgh institution of sorts with various incarnations of Subway Sect over the last few years. This stemmed right back to their influence on bands lumped together as The Sound of Young Scotland following the original Subway Sect’s appearance alongside Buzzcocks and The Slits supporting The Clash on the Edinburgh Playhouse leg of the headliners’ White Riot tour in May 1977. The Prefects had also originally been on that tour as well, but either left or got thrown off for allegedly doing something unspeakable to The Jam’s backdrop.


Vic and Subway Sect had played Citrus with The Sexual Objects, as well as the venue where The Nightingales latest Edinburgh show was originally meant to take place. Now Vic was back with the swing era version of Subway Sect, from back when Vic did a whole lounge bar crooner routine dressed in a dicky bow and tux. I’d seen them on a bill where they were somewhat oddly sandwiched between Bauhaus and The Birthday Party. That version of Subway Sect went on to become JoBoxers, with an American singer called Dig Wayne. With major label backing, JoBoxers briefly bothered the charts in 1983 with a couple of northern soul styled stompers before fizzling out.


But what goes around comes around, and Vic was not only reunited with swing era Subway Sect, but had guested on Nightingales single, Commercial Suicide Man, released in 2018. He also did lead vocal on the single’s B-side, No Love Lost era Nightingales song, Ace of Hearts. And now here they all were, sharing a stage in Edinburgh. I mean, really, I don’t want to labour the sentiment, but seriously, what’s not to love?


The show was set to take place at the Voodoo Rooms, a glam looking upstairs venue tucked away at the back of Princes Street, and which probably has the best sound system in Edinburgh. It was previously the cheap and cheerful function room of a pub downstairs called the Café Royal, and is actually a network of bars, with a big room at its centre. Over the previous decade it had been taken over and transformed into a swanky mix of high-class eaterie and a top-end venue in what was now called the Ballroom, with a smaller room called the Speakeasy off the stairs halfway up. 


The first big gig that the Voodoo Rooms had hosted was jazz legend Pharaoh Sanders, and later shows featured Mark Stewart and The Maffia, A Certain Ratio, former Josef K vocalist Paul Haig, The Monochrome Set, and of course Vic. It was here as well that Colin would put on Tav Falco’s Panther Burns, Lydia Lunch’s collaboration with members of Gallon Drunk as Big Sexy Noise, and a whole lot more. The Nightingales and Vic and Subway Sect were part of a very healthy tapestry.As it turned out, the gig ended up happening in The Speakeasy bit of the Voodoo Rooms, because the Ballroom was booked. It was a bit of a tight squeeze, but it worked.


In the run up to the show, I got sick of no-one writing about The Nightingales in Scotland. I’d long since given up sending out press releases, and most of the time was resigned to the fact that, even though they seemed to be on the up, as with that Sneaky Pete’s show in 2011, press-wise, they couldn’t get arrested. This time out, though, I decided to do it myself. So what if it was a conflict of interest? There was no-one at the paper I was on contract with who gave a toss anymore, so why not?


I spoke to Vic and Robert separately, and they both talked very entertainingly about going to the races together. One of them knew the head of the Jockey Club or something, who was a big music fan. Vic sent me a picture taken at the track, with Robert, Vic and Fliss posing nattily with fellow traveller and people’s poet, John Cooper Clarke. A day at the races, it seemed, was the new rock and roll.



Four Against Fate


The plan for the 2020 tour was to finally get The Nightingales on in the main room at the Voodoo Rooms. Dates were booked, and once again Robert and co – probably Fliss, actually – had sorted out their own tour supports. For the Edinburgh date it was set to be a return visit from Blue Orchids, with Pete Astor from The Loft and The Weather Prophets also doing a set. It looked set to be quite a show.


After cramming them into the Speakeasy for their last visit, it would have been a crowning glory of sorts, both for the band and us. King Rocker was finished, and I think was being shown on Sky Arts a couple of nights before the gigwas supposed to happen.That should get them in, I thought.


Except, along came Covid, and the world changed, as live music venues went into lockdown along with everywhere else. The result of this was that the Voodoo Rooms show was postponed, rebooked, and postponed again several times over. It was cancelled so many times that when it finally looked like it was going to happen, it had all got so confusing that there was a double booking, and we had to find somewhere else.


Colin booked The Caves, a couple of blocks along from Sneaky Pete’s and Opium on the Cowgate. In terms of size, The Caves was a few steps up from everywhere else we’d been to. This included the hire fee. It was a bit of a risk in terms of numbers required to break even, but after eighteen months and several postponements, we’d done well in terms of advance sales, so I reckoned we’d just about be okay. 


The Caves is somewhere that manages to look both palatial and subterranean at the same time, and is sometimes used as a wedding venue. Given that its cavernous but clean high-ceilinged interior resembles a dungeon-like feast room in some mediaeval castle, you can see the appeal. 


The likes of me, however, know it best from seeing veteran Dutch prog yodellers, Focus, there, supported by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. The Nightingales sounded momentarily impressed when I told them that as they took in the Horrible Histories-ness of the place. 


Beyond the main room was a downstairs and upstairs bar, along with various other nooks and crannies. This included a whole bar area that could be closed off from the rest of the place. After the various grubby corridors where the band had somehow kept their dignity as they’d squeezed into them, this was proper VIP type stuff. There was a bar, a big table for the snacks, which more resembled a chimps tea party once I was done with it, a quiet room, and a toilet complete with full-length mirror. Result. I brought the towels and the coat-hangers, anyway, but I don’t think anyone used them. 


Blue Orchids were still on board for the Edinburgh leg of the tour, but sadly Pete Astor couldn’t make it. Stepping in for a solo set was Kamura Obscura, aka Atsuko Kamura, who had been in Japanese electro-pop-cabaret duo, Frank Chickens. I’d seen Kamura sing at Café Oto in London, when she stood in for Dagmar Krause at an International Women’s Day Lindsay Cooper Songbook show, in honour of late Henry Cow bassoonist and composer, Cooper. No pressure there, then. 


I’d also seen Kamura do something similar with Yumi Hara, with whom she performed as The Itako Sisters. As Kamura Obscura, she wore a space-age wig and played a keyboard in a set of what she called ‘surreal Japanese chanson’.


Blue Orchids were even better than last time, and, with a new electric ukulele player having joined the ranks, ended their set with a blistering cover of 25 or 6 to 4, originally done in 1970 by Chicago, who at the time were a horn-led psych-rock hybrid. Hands up, it was a new one to me, but it sounded wondrous, whoever did it. Once again, The Nightingales had understood how to put together some top turns for a night of old time variety.  


For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to take along an old wooden clipboard I’d acquired from somewhere, onto which I duly clipped a printout of the tech spec, stage plan and rider. I’m not sure why, as everyone who needed to know all that stuff – the bands and John the soundman, basically – already had them, but it made me feel like I knew what I was doing, anyway, even though I wasn’t doing all that much at all. 


To be fair, I did help Kamura Obscura get her keyboard off stage, and I did lead the bands from the green room to the stage, through the dungeon like downstairs bar area and into what looked like a medieval prison cell beside the stage to make sure they started on time. That felt pretty proper.


As did the green room area, where the band had the space to relax, and where people could hang out. Fliss did an interview for my friend Jodie’s radio show. A friend of Kamura’s turned up and shared her Chinese takeaway we got for her after she’d been on. I think Robert got a massage at some point, but I might be wrong.


At some point, and I’m not sure why, but I think it was something to do with the snacks, I found myself serenading The Nightingales with the song from the 1970s TV ad for Toblerone. No-one else seemed to know it, but I knew all the words about triangular chocolate being made by triangular honey from triangular bees, though I maybe overdid it a bit. 

By the end of the night it seemed we’d not only broken even, but made a few bob, despite the extra expense, and once again I found myself stuffing a fistful of tenners into Martin Bramah’s hand. This was becoming a habit. If only I hadn’t left my clipboard behind, I might have been as good as a proper promoter.



The New Nonsense – Well Done Underdogs


And now here we are, more than a decade after that ill fated Nightingales show at Sneaky Pete’s, and eight years since that first show at Citrus. Despite Citrus having being sold, and reinvented as some kind of glossy after work gaff for office types, despite Leith Depot having almost fallen prey to developers, things are on the up. 


The mists of Covid may still linger, but King Rocker is out on DVD, a new Nightingales album is pending, and the band are being remixed by Surgeon and The Go! Team. They are also about to embark on their biggest tour in years, all of which is overseen by a proper promoter. They’ve even got Ted Chippington back on board. Which is sort of where we came in. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but what’s not to love?


Guess what, though. The buggers aren’t playing Edinburgh. They are, however, playing Glasgow, and our names are on the list. That’s proper promoters for you.



The Nightingales with Ted Chippington and Rats on Rafts play Cathouse, Glasgow on Tuesday April 19th. Full tour details can be found on Nightingales records and merch can also be purchased there, and at

Originally published by The Creeping Bent Organisation in four parts at bent, April 16th-April 19th 2022.




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