A LOVE SUPREME
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).