Alabama 3 chief Larry Love spreads his gospel to Getintothis‘ Gareth Dorrian.
If you canÃ¢ÂÂt 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 LondonÃ¢ÂÂs 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 bandÃ¢ÂÂs 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: Ã¢ÂÂWeÃ¢ÂÂve 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.
Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs 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 weÃ¢ÂÂre 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 bandÃ¢ÂÂs make-up.
Although pointedly political, donÃ¢ÂÂt the band member personas, wild energy and irreverent playfulness dull the message, or at detract from A3Ã¢ÂÂs cause?
Ã¢ÂÂWeÃ¢ÂÂre fucking deadly seriousÃ¢Â?, Rob tells me. Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs 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.
Ã¢ÂÂWhat we do is a bit of a smokescreen, it lets us get in under the radar or the wire so to speak. WeÃ¢ÂÂre (founding members Rob and Jake Black) a Welshman and a Scotsman doing American accents. WeÃ¢ÂÂre very clever at being stupid.Ã¢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 Ã¢ÂÂWoke Up This MorningÃ¢Â?, a typically Gospel-soaked track which is also the theme tune to cult gangster saga The Sopranos.
The song was flogged to the showÃ¢ÂÂs publishers for a few shekels, but Rob says heÃ¢ÂÂs not bitter.
He says: Ã¢ÂÂI met David Chase (SopranosÃ¢ÂÂ creator) and James Gandolfini in New York. They were expecting to meet three lads from Alabama. They got a bit of a surprise.Ã¢Â?
Being a misread quantity has haunted A3Ã¢ÂÂs 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 showÃ¢ÂÂs producers thought they were a funky bunch of believers, especially given the title of their then single, LetÃ¢ÂÂs Go Back To Church.
Rob says: Ã¢ÂÂWe 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 didnÃ¢ÂÂt go down well.Ã¢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 CooganÃ¢ÂÂs ex-wife likes them.
Rob explains: Ã¢ÂÂSomeoneÃ¢ÂÂs making a film about CooganÃ¢ÂÂs life and we were approached about it. ThereÃ¢ÂÂs 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?Ã¢Â?
Little has changed since the band first played together. Rob says the band is nine members with distinct characters, people whoÃ¢ÂÂve 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 CooganÃ¢ÂÂs latest telly incarnation as an ageing rocker?
Ã¢ÂÂ10 years? More like six months ago, IÃ¢ÂÂm the wrong side of 30 nowÃ¢Â?, Rob says. The 42-year-old dad-of-one doesnÃ¢ÂÂt look past it, anyone whoÃ¢ÂÂs 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 doesnÃ¢ÂÂt break his neck, again. He says: Ã¢ÂÂWe 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.Ã¢Â?
Dozens of death threats from right-wing maniacs, support for unfashionable causes and outspoken rhetoric have been as much a part of A3Ã¢ÂÂs career as dressing up as Elvis-loving bible folk.
RobÃ¢ÂÂs proudest moment? Ã¢ÂÂIt was when Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six got a grant from the Scottish Government for his charityÃ¢Â?, he says this without the slightest hint of irony. “Just to be associated with Miscarriages of Justice Organisation was special.Ã¢Â?
He adds: Ã¢ÂÂOne thing no one can accuse us of lacking is humanity. And weÃ¢ÂÂre very proud and happy with the new album. We donÃ¢ÂÂt patronise our fans, we respect the audience and that might be the reason for our longevity.”
But why make South London their base? Ã¢ÂÂSouth London is vibrant, itÃ¢ÂÂs coolÃ¢Â?, he says. Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs
suitably dangerous and a bit suitably dancehall. ItÃ¢ÂÂs 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? IÃ¢ÂÂm a working class kid from south Wales whoÃ¢ÂÂs lucky not to be on a building site or painting and decorating.
Ã¢ÂÂI 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.Ã¢Â?
Rob is equally animated about gigging as he is about celebrity culture and our current obsession with other peopleÃ¢ÂÂs problems.
He jokes: Ã¢ÂÂThat Jeremy Kyle, heÃ¢ÂÂs Blair on telly. Looks like him, dresses like him.
Ã¢ÂÂHeÃ¢ÂÂs one of the most important cultural avatars of our generation. HeÃ¢ÂÂs disgustingly patronising, but thereÃ¢ÂÂs something he does with working class people thatÃ¢ÂÂs pretty direct. That Graham on the show. He should be drugs czar.Ã¢Â?
And why do Alabama 3 keep doing it? “For two reasons reallyÃ¢Â?, Rob explains. Ã¢ÂÂNumber one,
weÃ¢ÂÂre not capable of doing other jobs and two, we love what we do.
Ã¢ÂÂIÃ¢ÂÂve got a lot of confidence about the new album. For the first time IÃ¢ÂÂd like to extend our fanbase, get housewives and hoodies singing our tunes.Ã¢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: Ã¢ÂÂAirports are the cutting edge of the StateÃ¢ÂÂs security measures. ItÃ¢ÂÂs a disturbing element to start the album.Ã¢Â?
2. Fly: Ã¢ÂÂThe band hasnÃ¢ÂÂt done too many interior monologues between man and woman. This is a go at it.Ã¢Â?
3. Lockdown: Ã¢ÂÂExperts 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 DonÃ¢ÂÂt Mean Anything: Ã¢ÂÂNearly the 20th anniversary of the summer of love – a clarion call for acid house.Ã¢Â?
5. Amos Moses: Swampy tune written by Jerry Ford in 1946, us doing a garage band impression.
6. Are You A Souljah: Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs street slang for men of business. The message is you donÃ¢ÂÂt need a gun to have power as an army.Ã¢Â?
7. The Klan: Ã¢ÂÂThis is a Gil Scott Heron song. WeÃ¢ÂÂre 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: Ã¢ÂÂAbout the inpenetrable and unfathomable nature of lurve.Ã¢Â?
10. The Middle Of The Road: Ã¢ÂÂIf you ainÃ¢ÂÂt living on the edge youÃ¢ÂÂre in the middle of the road.Ã¢Â?
11. Work It All Night Long: Ã¢ÂÂAnother one for ravers basically.
12. Way Beyond The Blues: A song of extreme self-pity coupled with redemption.
13. Holy Blood: Ã¢ÂÂA critique of the modern artistÃ¢Â?
14. Sweet Joy: Ã¢ÂÂAn eco anthem.Ã¢Â?
M.O.R is out now.