Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Nightingales - Urban Ospreys

The Nightingales
Urban Ospreys

Released 1983 on Cherry Red
Reviewed by keith a, 17/02/2010ce

You’ve got to feel for Robert Lloyd and The Nightingales. I know it’s just a short hand reference, and I've been guilty of it myself, but it’s hard to find a review of them that doesn’t at some point refer to them as being Birmingham’s answer to The Fall. Sure there’s some logic behind it seeing as both bands came out of the punk scene but went off in their own directions, making some totally uncompromising music along the way. And, of course, they’ve both got lead singers who carry on with the band moniker regardless of who else is in the line up. But no-one ever refers to The Fall as Manchester’s equivalent of The Nightingales, do they?

Neither should they – after all, The Fall have had more minor hits than The Nightingales will ever have. The point is, however, that The Nightingales deserve their own space in rock’s annals, not be thought of as hanging off someone else’s shirt-tails when they have created so many great moments themselves. Paraffin Brain is probably the best known, and How to Age and The Crunch take some beating, but hearing Urban Ospreys again recently has reinforced my view that this is a truly great 45.

There’s more urgency here than is usually found on a Nightingales record, with the rhythm section galloping along as two guitars work beautifully against each other. There’s a real Beefheartian feel with the band sounding like some post-punk take on the good Captain as the fraught sounding Lloyd tells us “the big dilemma's always there” before adding...

“Too wired up, too scared of sweat
the open pores that smell of death
too paranoid of being taken for a ride”

The lyrics then veer off in a more obscure fashion as Lloyd sings...

"between you and me and I'm serious
there's an osprey's nest in our back garden
I'm worried about it, worried stupid bout the eggs”

...before one guitarist plays some beautifully spidery lines as the other thrashes away. And the instrumental section as the track approaches the two minute mark is genius. The guitars then get more and more manic as the track approaches the end of its four and half minutes of top notch rock’n’roll.

A quick word about the b-side, too. Cakehole has a similar Beefheartian feel in the way those guitars clash in an overly elasticised way, but it has an altogether more rowdy feel as Lloyd shouts what sounds like “Cakehole, Cakehole, boo hoo” before getting more philosophical...

“I've reached the final stop
The bus of life ran out of fuel”

And unlike a lot of acts covered in on these pages, The Nightingales are still going having reformed a number of years ago resulting in, you guessed it, a number of different line-up’s along the way. They’ve been adopted by the legendary Faust, who like some kindly uncle, have put an arm round their errant nephew and signed them to Klangbad as well as having them appear at their festival in Germany. It’s no more than they deserve – it’s been a rewarding reformation. Indeed, you’ll find lots of great moments on their recent albums Out Of True, Insult to Injury and - to a lesser extent admittedly - on their mini album, What’s Not To Love. Still, it’s this classic single from way back that stills shines brightest for me.

Available on Pigs On Purpose cd.

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