King Rocker and the myths of the Nightingales

I absolutely loved King Rocker, the surreal and heartwarming documentary about seventies cult punk icon Robert Lloyd. His midlands band the Prefects morphed into the Nightingales, who still perform today after Lloyd’s journey from the verge of pop stardom to working as a postman while living over a Chinese takeaway.

Lloyd, now in his sixties, is hilariously self-deprecatory and pragmatic about his failure to move beyond cult status into mainstream success. He has the vibe of a much more talented but only slightly more successful John Shuttleworth. After Clash manager Bernie Rhodes called the Prefects a bunch of amateur wankers, he used that as an album title.

In his trademark style, Stewart Lee interviews Lloyd while explaining his own efforts to construct an emotional through line for the film. He settles on portraying Lloyd as a human version of a short-lived giant statue of King Kong that was erected in Birmingham in the seventies then removed for being too arty and pointless.

Lee produced the movie with Brass Eye director Michael Cumming, so the structure is as self-referential as you might expect. Whenever Robert Lloyd tells an anecdote, the person he is talking about is likely to appear next denying that the story ever happened, and Stewart patiently clarifies that Robert’s memories contradict even his own earlier memories of the same incidents.

The elusive truth of the stories make me doubt even the pieces that they have no reason to invent, such as Frank Skinner saying that he auditioned as lead singer for the Prefects but didn’t get the gig as his hair was too long and his rival Lloyd had met the Ramones. Does Frank regret it? He says yes, because everyone who has mainstream success wishes they were a cult hero and everyone who is a cult hero wishes they had mainstream success.

The movie ends appropriately with the Nightingales today playing Gales Doc, a song about the band being interviewed for a documentary about writing the song that they are playing. It is a perfect end to the movie, and a perfect start to me immersing myself in the back catalogue of Robert Lloyd, the Prefects, and the Nightingales, whose cult status never reached me in Dublin when I first loved punk in my teens.

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