Sky Arts UK
Saturday, February 6th
Let’s get it out of the way first! In my life there are songs I will repeatedly try to do cover versions of, often with very limited success, Leaving on a Jet Plane, Simple Simon Says, Children of the Revolution, an implausibly slow Jingle Bells, or with no success at all, King Rocker, the Generation X song that I Iove so much falls into the latter category. But from what I haven’t seen so far, that King Rocker possibly has very little to do with Stewart Lee’s King Rocker.
Stewart Lee’s King Rocker is the crowd-funded documentary he has made together with Michael Cumming about Robert Lloyd, the frontman of the legendary 80s Birmingham post-punk band, The Nightingales. It has it’s broadcast tv debut on Sky Arts, the UK’s only free arts channel, on Saturday, February 6th.
Forty years later the Nightingales are still going strong, some say, more productively than ever, and the film addresses how and why they do it.
The Nightingales were favorites of late night Radio One DJ, John Peel. I used to have a compilation tape of music recorded from his shows, I was a little kid, and buying records with my school dinner money didn’t go far each week, but on the tape, there’s a moment where Peel back announces (as they say) a track from the Nightingales “... featuring the vocal stylings of Robert Lloyd...” Or something quite like that.
Because of bands like the Nightingales, the DIY subculture endured. Lee attributes some of his early career moves to another West Midlands icon, Ted Chippington. And I guess part of that is in the back of my mind too. That we can do whatever we want. We just don't know how to get the Arts Council to fund it.
Anyways. In conversation with John Robb and Adrian Sherwood on Youtube, Stewart Lee talked about Robert Lloyd and the new film, which he said, might be as much about making a film about a man and a band keeping a cult concern going for four decades, as it is about a man and a band keeping a cult concern going for four decades. And, he says, this film is partly about how things have changed for artists who never got into their line of business as a career move but here they are decades later… Although I’d guess with unemployment support being, (what did I see recently?), at around 14% of the living wage or something, there aren’t going to be a lot of outsider artists surviving, let alone thriving in the UK.
Beneath the Youtube video, because everyone thinks they are funnier than comedians are funny, someone commented that Lee was looking like David Bellamy... Well, I don’t know, I like his hair, crazier, unkempt, I hope he keeps it. And the Fred Perry cargo shirt made me go and look to see whether something in that line was affordable for me since the hair couldn’t happen. Not a bad look for a middle-aged man.
King Rocker, Lee says, also looks at the West Midlands and the broader cultural landscape. In America, we’d very possibly be flyover country. But is that even a bad thing? Anyway, you’ll get to see rare footage of not only the Nightingales then and now, but also pop artist, Nicholas Monro’s 1972 King Kong statue that was located for a time in the Birmingham city centre. King Kong now resides in Monro’s garden in Cumbria.
Meanwhile, the Fred Perry polo shirts looked pricey and none of the models looked like Stewart Lee. I could afford them when I worked in a factory 40 years ago, and now, now I am an Ancient Champion, I can't. Oh well.
Kirk Lake is a writer, musician and filmmaker. His published books include Mickey The Mimic (2015) and The Last Night of the Leamington Licker (2018). His films include the feature films Piercing Brightness (2014) and The World We Knew (2020) and a number of award winning shorts.
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