Director: Michael Cumming
Writer: Stewart Lee
Stewart Lee’s somewhat cryptic and anti-historical memoir of Robert Lloyd and his bands The Prefects and later The Nightingales has a definite charm and allure irrespective of your interest in the post-punk scene. The film kicks off in 1972 when Birmingham City Council placed a giant plastic sculpture of King Kong by Nicholas Monroe in the city centre. The public dubbed it a waste of money, and so, like Lloyd’s musical career, it was taken from the spotlight to a garage and then a garbage dump. The film therefore suggests that an artist’s lack of commercial and critical success is not an indicator of their worth.
Both The Prefects and The Nightingales had the firm support of (then) Radio 1 DJ John Peel who gave them sessions and ample airplay. Lloyd has been hailed by some as one of rock’s great poets with self-deprecating humour and some wonderful wit going into his lyrics. But the film also shows where he came from; his early days working in a bakery, replete with black and white archive footage. Around this time, he was of no fixed abode and had little or no money.
But The Prefects did get a flash of punk rock stardom supporting The Clash, though their manager Bernie Rhodes labelled them ‘amateur wankers’, a phrase they turned into a controversial album title. Peel and his producer John Walters found The Prefects a blast of fresh air after some stiflingly dull and drawn-out prog rock. Songs like I Got VD lasted a mere eight seconds – like it or not it was to the point!
But Lloyd was soon disillusioned by the punk sell-outs even though the early Prefects’ gigs were at Barberella’s, a place of punk legends. The fact that Lloyd had seen and met The Ramones in London made him a big fish in the small pool of Birmingham’s alternative music scene. Guest interviews from The Raincoats’ Gina Birch and NME’s Paul Morley reveal just how crucial they were at this time. And in their next incarnation of The Nightingales, despite a brief hiatus, they have never been away.
We witness Lloyd singing Not Man ‘Enough on German TV, sporting NHS glasses a la Elvis Costello, and Lee takes Lloyd backs to his old haunts as well as a stone circle(!) where he tells of writing lyrics based on pub banter. There are plenty of comic and vivid recollections of these days – seeing Bo Riddley in his underpants, auditioning Frank Skinner on the street for The Prefects and signing Fuzzbox to their own Vindaloo Records which gained them a summer slot on ITV.
So, Cumming and Lee have not only done Lloyd a favour with their celebratory slice of cinematic appraisal, they have also allowed us to (re)consider Lloyd’s bands as a flagship for alternativism and difference. So, yes, vive la difference!
Reviewed on 11th June 2021 at Sheffield DocFest.