Alabama 3: Anarchy From The Fringe

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Alabama 3 chief Larry Love spreads his gospel to Getintothis‘ Gareth Dorrian.


If you can’t stay on the edge, you might as well camp in the middle of the road.
This slice of wisdom cake comes from the frontman of South London’s most vital band and underpins their all-embracing attitude to music and politics.
Ten years since the first Alabama 3 album and Larry Love, aka warm-voiced sage Rob Spragg, says the band’s agenda is as loaded and crackling as ever.
New record, M.O.R., is another multi-cultural sojourn along the backstreets and rat runs of the English capital, via the American deep south and all stops in between.
Blending the usual A3 ingredients of ironic anarchy, laser-guided melody and countrified beauty, the record is a ribald assault on a society crouching in fear.
Tracks tackle incarceration, love, racism, terrorism and saving the planet, all with a lopsided grin.
Rob says about the title: “We’ve always been into that sort of thing, a non-stop piss take or critique of where we are as musicians. It echoes what happened to some of the US blues
musicians in the 60s who got a bit of success and moved to LA, ultimately veering towards the middle of the road in what they did.
“It’s basically an imaginary concept that Alabama 3 are these really wasted, decadent bastards living in Hotel Brixton. I like the idea that in the last decade we got so wasted and blasted that now we’re just making easy listening music.”
Rob enjoys the fact that describing bands as MOR is a kind of insult, embracing the theatre that is an essential part of the band’s make-up.
Although pointedly political, don’t the band member personas, wild energy and irreverent playfulness dull the message, or at detract from A3’s cause?
“We’re fucking deadly seriousâ€?, Rob tells me. “It’s a long term agenda, we arrived at the same time as Britpop, when every fucker was wearing a union jack. It seemed like an exclusive club and we came from somewhere else.
“What we do is a bit of a smokescreen, it lets us get in under the radar or the wire so to speak. We’re (founding members Rob and Jake Black) a Welshman and a Scotsman doing American accents. We’re very clever at being stupid.â€?
The band formed in 1989 when Rob met Jake at an acid house party in Peckham. Debut album Exile on Coldharbour Lane set them apart as disenfranchised wags, a solid fanbase evolved and A3, in 2007, are still trucking.
Anyone unfamiliar with their stuff might have heard “Woke Up This Morningâ€?, a typically Gospel-soaked track which is also the theme tune to cult gangster saga The Sopranos.
The song was flogged to the show’s publishers for a few shekels, but Rob says he’s not bitter.
He says: “I met David Chase (Sopranos’ creator) and James Gandolfini in New York. They were expecting to meet three lads from Alabama. They got a bit of a surprise.â€?
Being a misread quantity has haunted A3’s career, perhaps due to their bloody-minded irreverence and stylish hedonism.
They were booked to appear on a late night Christian chat show on ITV1 a few years back. The show’s producers thought they were a funky bunch of believers, especially given the title of their then single, Let’s Go Back To Church.
Rob says: “We lasted 17 seconds. William Hague and all these other c*nts were on there talking about their spirituality and we came on, one of our number had a baby doll dress on and opined about not being a slut for the church. It didn’t go down well.â€?
The band has many notable fans. These include horror writing multimillionaire Stephen King, who asked them to appear at a London book launch, and Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh who is basically their biggest fan. More bizarrely, comedy superstar Steve Coogan’s ex-wife likes them.
Rob explains: “Someone’s making a film about Coogan’s life and we were approached about it. There’s gonna be a part where he suspects his then wife of having an affair and tracks her to an Alabama 3 gig in Brixton. He finds her in the arms of another man. Cool or what?â€?
Little has changed since the band first played together. Rob says the band is nine members with distinct characters, people who’ve held it together long enough to keep it going as long as they like.

Does Rob ever see himself becoming a bit of a Saxondale character 10 years from now, Steve Coogan’s latest telly incarnation as an ageing rocker?
“10 years? More like six months ago, I’m the wrong side of 30 nowâ€?, Rob says. The 42-year-old dad-of-one doesn’t look past it, anyone who’s been to a South London A3 gig will witness a man as full of energy as whipper snapper support bands half his age.
The band will probably outlive us all, as long as Rob doesn’t break his neck, again. He says: “We were doing this anti-fascism gig in Stratford and there was a skinhead at the front giving it the old Hitler salute. I, how can I put this, had a word with him and they stretchered him out. I broke my neck headbutting the c*nt.â€?
Dozens of death threats from right-wing maniacs, support for unfashionable causes and outspoken rhetoric have been as much a part of A3’s career as dressing up as Elvis-loving bible folk.
Rob’s proudest moment? “It was when Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six got a grant from the Scottish Government for his charityâ€?, he says this without the slightest hint of irony. “Just to be associated with Miscarriages of Justice Organisation was special.â€?
He adds: “One thing no one can accuse us of lacking is humanity. And we’re very proud and happy with the new album. We don’t patronise our fans, we respect the audience and that might be the reason for our longevity.”
But why make South London their base? “South London is vibrant, it’s coolâ€?, he says. “It’s
suitably dangerous and a bit suitably dancehall. It’s got an edge to it, and we like getting out of
the house, meeting new bands and getting mashed up. What else can a musician do? I’m a working class kid from south Wales who’s lucky not to be on a building site or painting and decorating.
“I used to have nightmares with old managers who asked us why we played in these places in Brixton and Streatham. But to me, it makes you a better musician, always learning the craft, adding on. We always put on a good show, have a bit of a party.â€?
Rob is equally animated about gigging as he is about celebrity culture and our current obsession with other people’s problems.
He jokes: “That Jeremy Kyle, he’s Blair on telly. Looks like him, dresses like him.
“He’s one of the most important cultural avatars of our generation. He’s disgustingly patronising, but there’s something he does with working class people that’s pretty direct. That Graham on the show. He should be drugs czar.â€?
And why do Alabama 3 keep doing it? “For two reasons reallyâ€?, Rob explains. “Number one,
we’re not capable of doing other jobs and two, we love what we do.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence about the new album. For the first time I’d like to extend our fanbase, get housewives and hoodies singing our tunes.â€?
The middle of the road will wait a long time for Larry Love and his band of bible-wielding atheists.

Larry Love on M.O.R., track by track:
1. Check-in: “Airports are the cutting edge of the State’s security measures. It’s a disturbing element to start the album.â€?
2. Fly: “The band hasn’t done too many interior monologues between man and woman. This is a go at it.â€?
3. Lockdown: “Experts reckon one-in-four of us will be in jail 10 years from now. The prison population is escalating unbelievably. This has that in mind.
4. Monday Don’t Mean Anything: “Nearly the 20th anniversary of the summer of love – a clarion call for acid house.â€?
5. Amos Moses: Swampy tune written by Jerry Ford in 1946, us doing a garage band impression.
6. Are You A Souljah: “It’s street slang for men of business. The message is you don’t need a gun to have power as an army.â€?
7. The Klan: “This is a Gil Scott Heron song. We’re proud that an artist of that calibre clocked what we do.
8. Hooked: A metaphor about the link between love and addiction.
9, The Doghouse Chronicles: “About the inpenetrable and unfathomable nature of lurve.â€?
10. The Middle Of The Road: “If you ain’t living on the edge you’re in the middle of the road.â€?
11. Work It All Night Long: “Another one for ravers basically.
12. Way Beyond The Blues: A song of extreme self-pity coupled with redemption.
13. Holy Blood: “A critique of the modern artistâ€?
14. Sweet Joy: “An eco anthem.â€?
M.O.R is out now.

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