The Nightingales - Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh, Mon 23 May 2011 (4 stars)

Skewed meat n' two veg avant-garage from alt-punk stalwarts

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The Nightingales - Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh, Mon 23 May 2011

The Nightingales are what happens to 1970s-sired latch-key kids if you leave them alone with a CD of Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica, a DVD of The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club and the Bumper Book of Existentialism For Boys. After more than thirty years in the saddle, with only occasional sojourns into solo careers and Svengali-ing long-lost girl band We've Got A Fuzzbox and We're Gonna Use It for distraction, the one-time John Peel stalwarts live experience is an intense and relentless chug of skewed meat n' two veg avant-garage-punk laced with vocalist and wordsmith Robert Lloyd's very English absurdist world-view of how (post) modern life is rubbish. Think Pere Ubu if they'd grown up in the shadows of Birmingham's Bull Ring rather than the Flats in Cleveland.

Since reforming in 2004, The Nightingales have pretty much picked up where they left off, with three albums and another pending to showcase Lloyd's dry anthropological observations set to a wonderfully trad, ferociously luddite backing. Just how they ended up recording 2009's Insult To Injury album and the forthcoming The Lost Plot opus with legendary Krautrock madman Hans Joachim-Irmler Faust of is anybody's guess, but the liaison certainly hasn't hippified their more caustic edges in any way. Which should keep comic Stewart Lee happy when he hosts a week of events on London’s South Bank shortly which features a top quality double bill of The 'Gales with Vic Godard and the Subway Sect.

The band's current line-up is led by Lloyd, still looking as much like Malcolm Hardee's stockier twin as he did in 1981, and guitarist Alan Apperley, whose scuzzed-up Bo Diddleyesque wig-outs would give Wilko Johnson a run for his money, and whose involvement with Lloyd dates back to a joint tenure in Birmingham's first punk band The Prefects (who Frank Skinner unsuccessfully auditioned for, fact fans). Charcoal-coloured de-mob suits remain de rigeur, both for the elder statesmen and for the newbies, bassist and Faust Studio ex-pat Andreas Schmid, Fliss Kitson stomping away on tom-tom and cow-bell friendly drum-kit, and Matt Wood, who appears to be Syd Barrett’s elfin twelve-year old love child, but who plays guitar like a demon.

Sloping quietly onstage mere minutes after an oddly nervous comedy set by support act and long-term fellow traveller and foil Ted Chippington, there's pretty much no let up from the opening launch into 'Ace of Hearts', with each song seguing into each other with barely a pause for breath. Not that Lloyd looks like he's likely to break into a sweat, even if he dies throw a few shapes on a blistering and taboo-busting cover of Gary Glitter's 1972 Glam Rock smasheroonie 'I Didn't Know I Loved You (Till I Saw You Rock n' Roll)'.

He may be one of Britain's greatest unsung lyricists, but at various points Lloyd folds his arms like a testy geography teacher or else stands in the corner like a naughty schoolboy. Pretty much the only words he utters outside of the songs is to tell one over-refreshed punter during 'Only My Opinion' – a re-worded take on lost a capella classic 'Well Done, Underdog', and the nearest thing here to a greatest hit - to “shut the fuck up, by the way!”

The band, meanwhile, roar away like billy-o, a well-oiled rock n' roll disguise for Lloyd's music-hall barkering on gloriously titled ditties 'Workshy Wunderkind' and 'Wot, No Blog?', which sees Apperley and Wood twanging away in wonderfully contrary directions. Kitson, meanwhile, pounds away with such ferocity that at one point her kit all but collapses into her until a plucky local hero leaps up to straighten things out. A closing 'Dick The Do-Gooder' brings proceedings to an earthly climax, then Lloyd and co skulk off towards the bar, no fuss, no questions asked. Even after all these years, it's the Nightingale way.

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