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Larry Love of Brix­ton-based out­fit Alabama 3 on play­ing out­law fu­ner­als, record­ing the au­dio­book of Howard Marks’ fi­nal me­moir, Ro­nan Keat­ing’s polyps, and their three new stu­dio al­bums. IN­TER­VIEW Olaf Tyaransen

“We don’t play no wed­dings, we don’t play no bar mitz­vahs,” de­clares Larry Love of Alabama 3. “We just play fu­ner­als.” The grav­elly-voiced Welsh singer is only half-jok­ing. “Se­ri­ously, man, about two or three years ago, we played a string of fu­ner­als in a row. Just loads and loads. I think we did about sev­en­teen of ’em.”

One of th­ese was the 2013 send­ing off for Bruce Reynolds, no­to­ri­ous mas­ter­mind of the 1963 Great Train Rob­bery and also the fa­ther of Alabama 3 har­mon­ica player Nick Reynolds (who had a peri­patetic child­hood as his dad was con­stantly on the run from the law).

“Yeah, Nick’s dad’s fu­neral was an in­ter­est­ing one,” Love re­calls. “Every gang­ster in the coun­try was there. We played ‘Too Sick To Pray’. We also played at Ron­nie Biggs’ one a few months after that.”

The fol­low­ing year Alabama 3 per­formed at Guild­ford Four icon Gerry Con­lon’s fu­neral in west Belfast. “That was a very spe­cial mo­ment, yeah. I don’t think the priest was too happy about us singing be­cause he wanted a more tra­di­tional kind of Catholic mass, and then there was me and Nick at the end singing ‘Will The Cir­cle Be Un­bro­ken’. But it went down re­ally good.

“I re­mem­ber my gui­tar was dam­aged and, at the last mo­ment, this lit­tle seven-year-old kid brought me his, and so I wound up play­ing this bat­tered toy gui­tar, but it kind of worked. So that was a rare priv­i­lege.”

They didn’t play at Howard Marks’ fu­neral, but Larry did nar­rate the au­dio­book ver­sion of the leg­endary cannabis smug­gler’s fi­nal book, Mr. Smi­ley.

“It was a very strange ex­pe­ri­ence, but quite a beau­ti­ful op­por­tu­nity though,” he says. “Howard was too sick to do it him­self. I re­mem­ber I asked him, ‘How should I ap­proach this book?’ He goes, ‘Go out every night and get fuck­ing twat­ted. And go to the stu­dio re­ally hun­gover so it has that sort of res­ig­na­tion to it.’

“So I did that, but I couldn’t pro­nounce the Span­ish words or the names of the car­tel mem­bers and all that. So we had to re­dub a lot of the for­eign phrases in it. It was meant to take three days, but it ended up tak­ing ten. So a bit tor­tur­ous, but I was re­ally hon­oured he asked me to do it.”

De­spite all of th­ese ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties, Larry and co have some­how found the time to record not one but three quite di­verse new al­bums. Ti­tled Blues, Coun­try and

Acid, they separately show­case their eclec­tic mix of rock, electronic, blues, coun­try, gospel and spo­ken word.

“We first got signed twenty years ago and it’s been sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll ever since,” he laughs. “I can’t re­mem­ber much of it, so it must have been good. But we started with a generic mix of coun­try and blues and acid. It was 20 years full cir­cle and I thought it would be good to re­turn to the sort of sin­gu­lar roots of each com­po­nent to our ini­tial ma­chine. So we haven’t just done a blues al­bum, we’ve done a coun­try al­bum and an acid al­bum.”

Blues has just been re­leased. “There’s three sep­a­rate al­bums, but Blues is the leader of the pack. I just thought it was a good time to re­mind peo­ple of what we are ca­pa­ble of, be­cause some­times peo­ple reckon we’re a bit too clever. So we thought it would be nice to get down to a dum­b­ass bar­room blues kind of vibe.”

Coun­try and Acid are both al­ready in the can, and will be re­leased early in 2017.

“Yeah, we’ll be putting out a boxset pack­age even­tu­ally, but we’re gonna stag­ger them. Coun­try will come out in Jan­uary, and Acid in April or some­thing like that.”

The orig­i­nal plan was to re­lease them even earlier, but un­for­tu­nately Larry had some self-in­flicted med­i­cal prob­lems.

“Yeah, I found out I had throat cancer, and took about six months to get through all of it. So it was a bit de­layed.”

Sorry, did you say you had throat cancer?

“Well, I thought I did, yeah,” he laughs. “That’s what loads of whiskey and 40 Marl­boros a day will do. I went to the doc­tor’s and he put tubes down my nose and goes, ‘You have a mas­sive tu­mour on your throat.’ I went, ‘Oh, great.’ So then we had to wait for a biopsy. The biopsy came back and they re­alised I needed surgery.

“The woman there was an Alabama 3 fan, ac­tu­ally. She goes, ’You’ve got a lot of scar tis­sue. Hence, your grav­elly voice, Mr. Spragg’. She says, ‘I re­ally like your voice. If I take it out it’s go­ing to af­fect your voice.’” Thank­fully all was ul­ti­mately well. “I’m al­right now, yeah. The sur­geon said to me, ‘I ad­vise you not to smoke, but that will change your par­tic­u­lar vo­cal essence.’ I had the same sur­geon as Ro­nan Keat­ing, and he showed me Ro­nan Keat­ing’s scar tis­sue on his vo­cal chords. He’s got a polyp the size of a fly. Mine was like an Al­ba­nian fuckin’ tree slug!

But that’s what gives me my voice. The grav­elly voice is the fuckin’ scar tis­sue. So god bless Marl­boro Reds!”

Blues is out now on Hostage Mu­sic. Alabama 3 play the Lime­light, Belfast on Novem­ber 11 and the Academy, Dublin (12).

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