Alabama 3
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Alabama 3

London, England, United Kingdom | Established. Jan 01, 2014 | INDIE

London, England, United Kingdom | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2014
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"Review: Alabama 3 at HMV Forum"

With new album Shoplifting 4 Jesus set for a February release, Alabama 3 reaffirmed their long-standing status as underground royalty with a rapturously received, tour-concluding show at north London’s HMV Forum on Friday night, with support from fantastically barmy punk veterans Ruts DC (formerly The Ruts).

As much of a dereliction of journalistic duty as it seems to be not to mention the Sopranos-soundtracking “Woke Up This Morning” when discussing Larry Love, The Very Reverend Dr. D. Wayne Love and co., the new material showcased here showed the hermetic mini-universe inhabited by Alabama 3 and their devoted followers to be a still fruitful and darkly compelling one. “We Stole the Moon” drags the usual smoky funkiness into euphoric, hands-in-the-air territory, “Saved” is a delightfully wonky anthem-in-the-making featuring a guest rap from a pantyhose-clad nun, while “I Blame Kurt Cobain” is as sleazy as anything you’re likely to hear in 2012. - Jonny Abrams Editor of Rocksucker


"Irvine Welsh talks to Alabama 3"

More than 10 years ago, a friend from Brixton came to stay in my Amsterdam apartment and brought me a tape of the sessions that would become the bulk of the Alabama 3's incendiary debut album, Exile on Coldharbour Lane. Its fusion of techno with country and western was astonishingly bold, combining the most radical and reactionary genres of popular music. I started to check out the band's gigs and found that Jake Black (aka D Wayne Love), one of the band's founding members, and I had many mutual friends from our raving days in Glasgow, stretching back to the punk era. So I became one of the band's aficionados, known collectively as the "bammies": we're the punters who help make A3 gigs the best party in town.

I can't understand why the Alabama 3 aren't one of the biggest bands on the planet. Woke Up This Morning, which plays over the opening credits of The Sopranos, remains their best-known song, but you would expect at least one of their albums to have gone platinum on the leg-up from that alone. Over the course of seven albums - from Exile, through Power in the Blood (2002) and last year's MOR, to their latest retrospective, Hits and Exit Wounds - the A3 have turned a crazed mirror on the UK's mainstream cultural influences, parodying derivative and genre-based music through the lens of what the band call their "sweet muthafuckin' acid house country music", with a leavening of dirty rock'n'roll.

I'm wondering how they'd cope if it all suddenly went mega. I settle down with D Wayne and Rob Spragg (aka Larry Love), the other founding member, in a dark corner of Dublin's Clarence Hotel, the smart, corporate, U2-owned enterprise, in front of a tray of our favourite blended margaritas. Does it concern them that lesser lights are fawned over, while they remain on the margins, albeit the exciting, interesting ones? "As long as we do good work," Larry says, "we know there will be a payback time."

Larry is as cadaverous as ever, a man who still looks as if a ray of sunlight will combust him. D Wayne, though, is a more substantial figure than the skeletal, spectral one I've seen grace stages, couches and floors over the years. But these boys are proper rock'n'roll stars. If they wear shades indoors, it's because they're covering up strung-out eyes and brawlers' bruises. Glancing at the tape recorder I've slipped on to the table, Larry asks me: "Do you feel guilty that you haven't had a rock'n'roll death yet, and are still bounding down the highways and byways of self-destruction?"

Death is such a cheerful presence in the A3 canon, it's easy to think of the Grim Reaper as a band member. "We've got a lottery in the band about who's going to die first," Larry says. "We're amazed we're all still alive."

D Wayne comes from the Possil area of Glasgow and I'm from Muirhouse, in Edinburgh, so when we get together we talk about art and politics, with all the pomposity, pretentiousness and guilt of true Scottish schemies. Playing back the tape of us rapping is like listening to two 80s Marxist polytechnic sociology lecturers vying to seduce an impressionable fresher. He tells me, touchingly, about my debut novel's influence on the band. "Trainspotting was iconoclastic for us. It introduced a whole disenfranchised generation to literature - a generation that had been informed literature was the possession of an elite. It delineated the complex inner lives of the housing estates and communities people lived in. We've been trying to do the same with our music, trying to show young people that they can make music based on their own lives, using genres like country and blues that they probably considered the territory of their dads and grannies."

But writing novels is a lonely business, and release is often difficult. That's what I envy about these boys: they can hit that stage and perform together; the communication and catharsis is instant, and there's an immediate connection with their audience. "That's the end of the process - the performance," Larry says. "But we're constantly looking for new experiences, new people to bounce off, new shades of reality to reflect our twisted US accent-based view of life. We're always collecting experiences to use as songwriters. But you can write everywhere," he suddenly accuses me. "You used to sit on the Circle line in London with your laptop and knock them out."

I ask them what music kicked off their warped but exhilarating vision of the world. "House affected us deeply," says D Wayne. "But punk rock liberated people like me and those I knocked around with in Glasgow. For the first time, we were able to come out of the scheme, dress up and hit the city centre, talk about Rimbaud and Baudelaire, mix with Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill [of Simple Minds] and get shagged. It opened up a brand new lifestyle for us."

In practical terms, the band grew organically out of its members' acid house DJing activities. Larry explains: "We were doing a gig in Italy, me and D Wayne in the early days, with two turntables and a load of acid house records and some obscure blues LPs. It was run by the Italian Communist Party. There were lots of punk bands. We played our house, the room was full, it was kickin'. Then this guy from the CP came in and said we had to prepare and read out our manifesto. Someone tore a page from an Italian comic book and we read it out. It started, 'The techno warriors will save the Martians.' It made me think about the veracity of political manifestos. The crowd loved it. I often wonder if there are still a few addled Italian CP members trying to live by the code we outlined that night."

Things seem a lot blander now, in the age of Simon Cowell. "Alabama 3 live in this world," Larry says. "We reflect and comment on it. But we're trying to cut through the distortions of people who peddle popular culture as a series of Pop Idol-type creations."

So are they speaking to the old punks and house heads, those of us who should know better but just can't quite stay indoors and behave?

"Yes," Larry says, "But not exclusively. The last album was called MOR. Some say it stands for Middle of the Road, but it's based on those gorgeous California west coast sounds like the Eagles, and it maybe widened our audience. With the new collection, we just thought we'd offer up a reminder of how we got there."

One of the Eagles' most famous tracks is Take It to the Limits. Rest assured, the A3 will continue to do just that. It would be nice if the mainstream caught on and this retrospective brought them their just rewards. Yet for selfish reasons, I enjoy being part of a cult who can access the best party around. - Irvine Welsh


"Original gangsters"

Alabama 3 did the theme tune for The Sopranos, and their blend of rock, dance and country is an offer you can’t refuse

Alabama 3 are discussing dead gangsters, both real and fictional. This year the Brixton band lost James Gandolfini, the American actor who played the mafia boss Tony Soprano, and Bruce Reynolds, the British brains behind the Great Train Robbery. The Gandolfini connection comes via Alabama 3 providing the theme tune to The Sopranos, while the Reynolds connection is that Bruce’s only son, Nick, is a member of the band. “It is a strange coincidence,” Nick Reynolds admits, “and not one I’m given to dwelling on. I think my father chose crime because he grew up on Second World War stories of action and heroism, and was looking for excitement. There was nothing thuggish about him. He was an intelligent man, well read, debonair. But he made some insane decisions that would have huge repercussions across our lives.”

Nick Reynolds’s life has seen him work as a diver for the Royal Navy during the Falklands war, then develop into an acclaimed sculptor — his work will be included in a V&A exhibition devoted to protest art next July — and succeed as a musician. As a member of Alabama 3, he plays in the best British rock’n’roll band since the Pogues, or quite possibly the Clash. Yet most people know them only for the Sopranos theme.

“It’s a blessing and a curse,” says Rob Spragg, Alabama 3’s lead vocalist and main songwriter. “Being on the show has obviously benefited us, and meant that wherever we go in the world, we have an audience. It’s like having a hit single that keeps on giving. But we are much more than the song Woke Up This Morning.”

Did the band get to know Gandolfini? “When the series first came out, we went to New York,” Spragg recalls. “He was a good guy. Loved to party.” He chuckles at the memory; Alabama 3’s reputation for extreme hedonism suggests that common ground was easily found.

So what did Bruce Reynolds make of The Sopranos? “I’m not sure he ever watched it,” Nick replies. “Having moved in that world, he may have been immune to how TV and the movies portrayed gangsters. That said, my dad modelled himself on Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief — the gentleman thief. He was something of a fantasist, in the sense that he wanted to steal money without taking from anyone who would miss it or involving any violence.” He then quietly adds: “We were very close. I miss him immensely.”

So close that Bruce even appeared on Alabama 3’s 2005 album Outlaw: they recorded the 1960s folk song Have You Seen Bruce Richard Reynolds? and got the veteran villain to add a few words. “That was fun,” Spragg says. “Bruce was a fascinating character to be around.” Alabama 3 performed Too Sick to Pray, a beautifully mournful blues song, at Reynolds’s funeral in March. “It was a nerve-racking gig,” Spragg says. “See, the way the church was set out, we were facing the front pew, which was packed with some heavy characters. I could see them all staring at me and thinking, ‘Who is this idiot?’”

He laughs, then admits that being associated with The Sopranos means the band inevitably meet real-life gangsters. “They all want to buy us champagne, and are completely unaware I wrote Woke Up This Morning as a result of reading about Sara Thornton, who, after years of suffering domestic violence, killed her abusive husband.”

This ragged collective brilliantly blend music with witty polemics. “Our debut album came out in 1997,” Spragg says, “right at the height of Britpop. We were mixing gospel and blues and country and acid house, and talking about Tony Blair being subservient to America, the opposite of flag-waving bands like Oasis, so we got shafted.” To this day, Alabama 3 remain outsiders, loved by a loyal fan base — including the authors Stephen King and Irvine Welsh — but rarely given the critical kudos they deserve.

“They say Americans don’t get irony,” Spragg continues, “but what do you make of idiots at the NME who don’t understand that Alabama 3 stand as a critique of how Americanised Britain is? I grew up in Wales, with a Mormon minister father, and heard gospel at the temple on Sundays. Every UK high street has a McDonald’s and a Subway. From the Beatles to Dizzee Rascal, British musicians have always been in thrall to American music. It goes on and on.”

“My father’s an example of how seriously the British embrace America,” Reynolds adds. “Hollywood movies and jazz shaped his identity. Ronnie Scott’s is where he’d do his deals — not in some East End pub.”

Still, the band’s penchant for addressing audiences in accents normally found in the Deep South, while meshing steel guitar and harmonica over pumping dance beats, has led to a certain amount of bafflement. “We’re not easy to categorise,” Spragg admits. “We were signed to Sony at one point, and the guy from the label said to me, ‘Rob, tell me how I market you. Are you rock? Or country? Or dance?’ In the Welsh valleys, the miners loved to party to country music from Nashville, just like their kids now party to Chicago house.”

Indeed, his best songs are equally effective whether played with storming beats or by an acoustic Alabama 3. “We’ve always been ambitious musically and conceptually, and, all right, we confused some people. But I’m hoping now that dance music is huge in America, and DJs are starting to add banjos to their mixes, and kids are so eclectic in what they listen to, that there might be more understanding of what we’re doing.”

Alabama 3 are widely regarded as one of the world’s best live bands, and touring is what keeps them afloat. As they prepare for December dates, their headquarters above the Jamm Club, in Brixton, bustle with activity. The band now run their own label and hope to operate as a mini Motown in south London: already they have used their studios to nurture and record talent from the surrounding council estates. “The kids come in here and they know how to rap, but beyond that they’ve no idea about making music.”

Spragg and Reynolds are also involved in several film projects — acting, producing, soundtracking — while Alabama 3 appear in a forthcoming Irish feature, Songs for Amy. “We have a real work ethic,” Spragg says. “No matter how hard we party, we’re always ready to take it to the stage.”

With a bemused grin, he then admits: “We recently received a certificate of commendation from the Mayor of Lambeth for our community activities. Whoever would have thought that a bunch of old reprobates like us would receive official acknowledgement?” - Garth Cartwright


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

Photos

Bio

Alabama 3 is a pop band, a punk rock, blues and country techno situationist crypto-Marxist-Leninist electro band. We never went on X Factor or Pop Idol or Stooge Quest. We did it the old fashioned way; Back in 1996, we threw a big old party, invited all our friends. We took a fistfull of blotters and half a dozen disco biscuits and then made it up as we went along. Geffen records bought it..! for a million dollars! We never needed a self-appointed quango of jaded vampires to tell us how to sing the blues…we got MOJO. We have the power to raise the dead.

We’re the Alabama 3. We make Sweet Pretty Muthafuckin Country Acid House Music. All night long. We’re not from Alabama, and there’s not three of us. We’re from Brixton, London. We’re the fellas that did that Soprano’s theme tune. That tune bought someone a swimming pool, but it sure wasn’t any of us…We spent half of our advance from Geffen on various contraband items and with the rest we made an over-produced, brilliant situationist masterpiece called ‘Exile on Coldharbour Lane’. Ever since then we’ve been preaching our Gospel all over the world. We’ve got into a whole bunch of trouble and met a whole bunch of nice people. We make friends where ever we go.

They’ve tried to stop us. Many, many times. They say we were degenerates, corrupters of morals, they say we we were too political, too contrived, too ugly. We’ve been in and we’ve been out. In and out of the charts, in and out of fashion, in and out of rehab. We’ve been skint and we’ve been minted…  and you know what? It makes no difference to us. Because we’re never gonna stop. We’re gonna just keep on putting out records and putting on shows. As ministers in the First Presleyterian Church of Elvis the Divine, we know the party ain’t never over. Not till you’re sitting on the toilet in a big nappy with a rancid quarter pounder in your, fat, cold, dead, dead, emerald-encrusted hand.

And we want to make you feel good. We know you’ve had trouble in your life, real bad trouble. We know you’ve got debts. We know you’ve had your heart broken so many times you’re still finding pieces of it in your pillow. Maybe you’ve done some good things in your life, maybe you’ve done some bad things. We forgive you. Forgive yourself. Then dress up real sexy and come and party with us sometime. We’ll look after you.

That’s a promise.