Last year, if you picked up The Prefects' ...Are Amateur Wankers
, you rediscovered lost punk classics like "Going Through the Motions", "Bristol Road Leads to Dachau" and "Things in General" -- wonderful cuts from a band that history had more or less forgotten after its 1979 break-up. What you might not know is that Robert Lloyd, the band's singer, started a new band almost immediately after The Prefects ended; in fact, he used money that was intended to record The Prefects' music to lay down the first Nightingales single. The band's output has continued intermittently from that first single in 1980 to the present, through a series of seven-inches, Peel Sessions, compilations and full-length studio albums. In a Good Old Country Way
is the third of the full-lengths, originally released on Vindaloo Records in 1986 and recently made available for the first time on CD.
Like many punk-descended bands, The Nightingales began playing with country influences in the mid-1980s, adding Maria Smith's hoedown fiddle to their ultra-rhythmic sound. Opener "Headache Collector", with its string-sawing intro, sounds like it could kick off a square dance, though its pace is more hectic than down-home. "Down in the Dumps", one of the album's best cuts, opens with rapid rockabilly guitar picking, then takes its pub rock melody a bit too quickly for swing dancing. The lyrics are surreal and socially conscious, sending up materialism and progress with sardonic free verses like "Several blocks away / the brats were grouping up for yuletide / no it isn't that they did not like tangerines / or feel ungrateful towards their families / but this year they were heard to say / 'let's have an airgun between the lot of us.'" Later, "I Spit In Your Gravy" takes a slower approach, anchored by the slap of 12/8 rhythms and vertiginous fiddle swipes.
Despite the title, not all the tracks lean country-ward. There's an odd Middle Eastern lilt to "Leave it Out", and "Coincidence" has the deep, minor third-heavy resonance of old English folk. "Let's Surf" is a joyful eccentricity, as Lloyd and crew try endearingly, but not quite successfully, to impersonate Jan & Dean. The album's second half more clearly recalls the post-punk style of Pigs on Purpose -- in fact, the satiric "How to Age" was originally included on that disc, and sounds like it, pitting Lloyd's droning, spoken-sung voice against a fairly stark post-punk rhythmic backing, like the Fall but less staccato. An excellent live version of "Crafty Fag" has nothing country about it -- Lloyd keeps uncertain pace with jittery guitar lines in a driving post-punk rave-up.
In a Good Old Country Way came out just as Lloyd's pop-punk girl group We've Got a Fuzzbox and We're Gonna Use It began to take off, and The Nightingales got lost in a shuffle of shifting priorities. It's great stuff, though, and well worth checking out in retrospect -- particularly if you like The Mekons, rockabilly-leaning Clash or The Fall.