King Rocker is about two larger than life characters: Robert Lloyd, lead singer of The Nightingales, and a massive statue of King Kong. Both their stories are weaved into an anarchic film that launches the rockumentary genre into the stratosphere.
Stewart Lee greets us on arrival at Birmingham’s Grand Central Station, formerly New Street, with a personal story linking a statue of King Kong, now missing, to The Nightingales. Formerly The Prefects, it hones in on their frontman, Robert Lloyd. We see footage of the band in 1981, spliced with a recent gig in a similar setting. Lee goes on chastise modern culture “Where mediocrity is rewarded, and originality and integrity are punished”. He says this, whilst standing in front of an advert for Comedy Central’s Roast Battle. Take what you will from that. As an opener, it’s dripping with metaphor and sets out Lee’s vision for the film. It also establishes an uphill battle, where Lee struggles to maintain this vision against Lloyd, our protagonist, who thinks it is rubbish.
Despite having suggested the idea of a film being made about The Nightingales, Lloyd is charmingly uncooperative. He often manoeuvres out of the narratives that Lee attempts to orchestrate. We are watching a game of whack-a-mole with the truth. This is exacerbated by the fact that no one can quite remember what they are talking about. King Rocker is masterfully resourceful, a necessary strategy when Lloyd reveals new bombshells and self-contradictions at every turn in the road. Cameos are used to try and verify or invalidate these declarations. They add great pace and are in themselves hilarious. A memorable example is Robin Askwith comprehensively listing the celebrities he has shared a shower with, one of which Lloyd claims to be.
There are moments of intimacy, even pathos, that tether us emotionally to Lloyd’s story. He has skimmed success on several occasions, albeit confined to cult stardom. King Rocker uses these lows to electrify the highs. It’s the hero’s journey, spanning over 40 years. However, Lloyd is keen to pull us aside with bizarre tangential stories that would not go amiss on Would I Lie To You. They are rendered on-screen with crude animation, Lloyd represented by Kong himself.
Much of King Rocker’s distinct style comes from its rough editing. The camera keeps rolling after an ‘interview’ has finished, and we get to peek behind the curtain. This distances King Rocker from most documentaries by removing the polish. It feels more real. Good friends in pubs, cracking jokes and telling stories. This not only evokes the foundations of The Nightingales, and the relationships behind the film itself, but harks back to happier times for the viewer. King Rocker is the perfect antidote to our current situation.
Tracks from The Nightingales, The Prefects, and Lloyd’s solo career punctuate the film to great effect. They are fiery, poignant, and genuinely unique, perfectly suited to King Rocker. The specially made ‘Gales Doc’ music video, starring Samira Ahmed, is a tremendous backdrop for the end credits. After each viewing, I listened to Lloyd albums into the night. I heartily recommend it. Robert Lloyd has a majestic body of work to his name. King Rocker is but another jewel for his crown.
King Rocker is a rollercoaster of tall tales and trivial truths that never fails to be funny. It subverts nostalgia, revitalising the rockumentary into something entertaining and passionate. I hope that it introduces The Nightingales to a whole new audience, which I will count myself amongst. It is reassuring to know that the mythic tales of Robert Lloyd and The Nightingales continue today, long after similar groups have faded into legend.
King Rocker is currently available to stream here.
Words by Jacob Burley
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