After putting in more years than he’d care to mention, Robert Lloyd’s Nightingales are finally getting the recognition they have long deserved. Their following is faithful and devoted and when the band are flying the rewards are bountiful.
When the first words out of Lloyd’s mouth are “I was as dry as a dead nun’s cunt in the desert”, from set-opener ‘Ace Of Hearts’, you know he’s not here to piss around. There are no song introductions, in fact no breaks at all, just a solid set of songs performed back-to-back by a well-oiled engine of a band with a fearless frontman and commanding presence who simply owns the stage.
The drums are placed, quite rightly, front and centre as Fliss Kitson’s powerful playing is the driving force of the band and she’s also sharing vocal duties on a number of songs. Lloyd also works closely with guitarist James Smith, notably on ‘Crafty Fag’, mirroring his playing note for note on a riff reminiscent of The Fire Engines’ ‘Candyskin’.
Halfway through the set, Lloyd produces a cabbage and proceeds to sing to it, mimicking Hamlet’s Yorick monologue before switching to kazoo while Smith’s soloing veers from Chuck Berry to music hall riffs via the Batman theme. The sight of Lloyd, arms outstretched and testifying like a fire and brimstone preacher is a sight and sound to behold.
This is a band at the peak of its powers, a perfectly tuned machine that knows exactly how to write great songs and deliver them with aplomb. As Fliss says at the end, “we are The Nightingales and this is what we do”.
After the interval, Jet Harris’s version of ‘The Man With The Golden Arm’ theme booms out of the PA. Captain Sensible, wearing his trademark Dennis The Menace t-shirt and red beret enters stage right, closely followed by his bandmates, including a smartly dressed Dave Vanian who takes the mic and with a customary spin launches into ‘Street Of Dreams’. The spooky harmonies, Sensible’s wah-wah guitar and Vanian laughing and cackling provided a suitably gothy start to the show.
The hall lights dip before ‘Wait For The Blackout’, which starts fast and builds to a thrilling climax. ‘Lively Arts’, also from ‘The Black Album’, gives local lad Monty Oxymoron the chance to showcase his impressive keyboard wizardry while the Captain lets rip on guitar. Sadly, Monty has lost his voice but croaks out an apology saying he can’t sing, to which a heckler responds, “you never could”.
The new ‘Darkadelic’ album is played almost in full, but with only a couple of songs available ahead of the tour this is the first listen for most of us. Fortunately, they all sound like classic, if not vintage, Damned songs. Among the highlights are ‘Western Promise’, a tender ballad which was really rather, dare we say, nice; ‘Motorcycle Man’s raw rock’n’roll energy would make a perfect song for a werewolf biker gang teen B-movie, and ‘Leader Of The Gang’ (cheekily dedicated to Alvin Stardust) is a glam-meets-punk bopper with the band in perfect unison.
1977’s ‘Born To Kill” is dedicated to original member Brian James and is delivered with a ferocious rawness, followed by Vanian and Sensible moving centre stage for ‘Love Song’ which segued into ‘Second Time Around’, both delivered with energy and soaring vocals from Vanian.
Some of the old punks in the crowd are managing a bounce or two but it’s great to see a lot of younger faces here to see this legendary band. ‘Neat Neat Neat’ is a classic song, used to great effect in the Baby Driver film, and tonight the spacious middle section pause morphs into Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ for a few bars. The band leave the stage but soon return for their hit cover of ‘Eloise’, again highlighting Monty’s delicate keyboard flourishes, and the moshpit wakes up once the second part of ‘Smash It Up’ kicks in.
The final encore begins with Sensible giving us a deconstruction of their contemporaries, Sex Pistols, and bemoaning that he was still working at the age of 68. Vanian proves his crooner credentials with his best Frank Sinatra as he sings “my kind of town, Brighton is”.
The show ends at the beginning with the band’s first single and the first British punk release, ‘New Rose’. Vanian teases the crowd, repeating “is she, is she…” before the thunderous drum intro explodes – a sound as thrilling today as it must have been in 1976. Monty bounded from behind his keyboards to join in with the pogoing crowd, bouncing and spinning around a roaming Captain Sensible, again showing some serious soloing skills. This is one of the greatest songs of any genre and a perfect ending to a great night.
This was a perfectly matched double bill of two bands showing they have no intention of resting on their laurels, still enjoying performing and producing new music that still excites. Hopefully, they’ll both be back in 2026 for The Damned’s 50th anniversary.
Brighton Dome Concert Hall, Monday 17th April 2023
Photos by Jeff Pitcher