Graded on a Curve:
The Nightingales,
Pigs on Purpose

Birmingham, UK’s The Nightingales are an important and somewhat underrated entity in post-punk’s early 1980s scheme. Indeed, for connoisseurs of the form, procuring a vinyl copy of their debut Pigs on Purpose hasn’t been easy, and the same goes for their first few 45s. In a delightful turn of events, Call of the Void is reissuing the album and those singles as a 2LP set on blue wax (also 2CD and digital) with demos and live tracks completing the package. It’s an essential addition to any full-bodied post-punk library, out April 16 and coinciding with the release of King Rocker, Michael Cumming’s documentary on the life of Nightingales’ lead singer and sole constant member Robert Lloyd.

To absorb the full story of The Nightingales, one must reckon with first-wave UK punkers The Prefects. An act as amateurish (in the best sense) as they were inspired, The Prefects are entrenched in punk history for their role in the White Riot tour of The Clash (you may have heard of them), and for additionally sharing stages with The Slits, The Damned, The Buzzcocks, and The Fall.

The Prefects’ entire discography postdates the band’s existence, with their first release a 1980 45 for Rough Trade. Comprised of two songs, “Going Through the Motions” b/w “Things in General,” was sourced from sessions recorded for John Peel. The scoop is that the single’s existence is directly related to a stipulation that Rough Trade arrange a recording of Lloyd’s then new outfit, these very Nightingales.

This gifted the world with “Idiot Strength” b/w “Seconds,” The Nightingales’ 1981 debut (technically, it’s a split label release shared by Rough Trade and Lloyd’s own Vindaloo imprint), as the band featured Lloyd on vocals with Joe Crow on guitar and former Prefects Eamon Duffy on bass and Paul Apperley on drums.

Contrasting with the raw and ragged looseness of The Prefects (heard easiest through Call of the Void’s 2019 Going Through the Motions collection), “Idiot Strength” is sharper in its lack of polish, sounding a bit like Joy Division in the throes of a caffeine binge, though Lloyd’s singing helps to set things apart. “Seconds” increases the jagged angularity and throws in a cheap keyboard for good measure.

There are still similarities to Lloyd’s prior band, as the demo “Bristol Leeds to Dachau,” a three-minute distillation-adaptation of The Prefects’ ten-minute “Bristol Road Leads to Dachau” makes abundantly clear. But The Nightingales’ next two singles, featuring the a-sides “Use Your Loaf” and “Paraffin Brain,” essay growth that presages the wilder, punkier end of the UK’s indie pop spectrum from later in the decade.

This stylistic association comes through most strongly during the Pigs on Purpose track “The Crunch,” which is loaded with hyperactive jangle and stands as one of the gems from an LP that should frankly be held in much higher esteem, not only for its foreshadowing of indie pop and for its deepening of the post-punk milieu, but for the band’s staunch refusal to dabble in refinements of style, as so many others were doing at the time.

In this regard, The Nightingales strike me as having a few things in common with the UK DIY scene of the era. To elaborate, DIY was a subterranean impulse (it’s arguable if its practitioners cohered into a movement; I would say yes) that embraced fringier, more experimental sensibilities as the commercial possibilities of punk and post-punk withered away.

Since The Prefects continue to resonate as being more simpatico with the Desperate Bicycles (OG DIY) than the Sex Pistols, The Nightingales connection to the DIY phenomenon isn’t a surprise, though it needs to be clarified that there are a few marked differences between the unit who made their second and third singles for the Cherry Red label, and those DIY artists, who proudly self-released, often on cassette, and to varying degrees of the shambolic.

The four live cuts that culminate this expanded set include versions of “Use Your Loaf” and “Paraffin Brain,” with both driving home that The Nightingales’ heightened skills were effectively replicated in performance (rather than being the byproduct of time spent in studio). By extension, this bold cohesiveness of attack makes the occasional comparisons to The Fall understandable, if never blatantly obvious.

In fact, across Pigs on Purpose’s 13 tracks, there are no blatantly obvious similarities to any of their post-punk contemporaries. Instead, the resemblances are fleeting and subtle, such as to Pere Ubu in opener “Blood for Dirt” (before the drums kick in, and again later in the slightly “Navvy”-like backing vocals), and to the Scrotum Poles recording for Fast Product during “Start From Scratch” and “One Mistake.”

The a cappella “Well Done Underdog” emphasizes a desire be irritating as a prelude to the comparatively accessible “The Crunch,” which was released as a single not long after. The punk roots remain evident in the wiry, sturdy and aggressively strummed “The Hedonists Sigh,” while the jaunty rhythm, crisp guitar, and spirited vocals of “It lives Again” cohere into exemplary post-punk to round out side one.

The flip offers no radical changes, though “Don’t Blink,” with its tinny clang, snaky guitar and dubby bass could’ve fit right into the flow of Rough Trade’s 1980 comp Wanna Buy a Bridge? “Joking Apart” ups the jangle as Lloyd’s singing lingers in the neighborhood of a loungy piss take, and after a gradual rise in volume, “Yeah, It’s O.K.” unravels a stampeding incessance that underlines a likeness in approach (if again, not sound) to Mark E. Smith and company. Appropriate for its title, the high velocity of “Blisters” is infused with jangle-sizzle and bass reverb thickness for the original album’s finale.

The demo and live selections included with this release all appear to have been part of the 1991 archival CD What a Scream (1980-1986). Their inclusion here adds value to a tighter timeframe (roughly two years) and illuminates the portraiture of the band, which is exactly what a well-considered expanded release should do. But this edition of Pigs on Purpose also serves as a digestible intro to The Nightingales, as Call of the Void’s retrospective attention to Robert Lloyd’s ’80s work will hopefully continue.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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