Alabama 3 - Sweet Home Alabama
Blues, country, and acid house collide as Alabama 3 visit Sydney in a show that should not be missed. 3D’s Scott Henderson talks pop, partying and politics with Orlando Harrison.
So the story goes, one fateful night in 1996 Rob Spagg met Jake Black at an acid house party in Peckham, London. As the party progressed a “fistful of blotters” were filled and a “dozen disco biscuits” consumed and before they knew it Spragg, Black and friends had recorded a punk rock, blues and country, techno pop album. That may not have exactly all occurred overnight, but it’s a reasonable guess the time between the band’s birth and the release of Exile On Coldharbour Lane in 1997 was just as much as a blur as that house party.
The man 3D is supposed to be interviewing is Rob ‘Larry Love’ Spragg himself, but there’s a problem it seems. Spragg’s pregnant wife if about to pop and so the publicists are rustling up someone else. After only a short wait we’re told Alabama 3 keyboardist Orlando Harrison is up for a chat. Harrison gets the interview immediately off on a bizarre foot that is tricky to process at 8 o’clock in the morning.
“No, not in the slightest,” insists The Spirit, to give Harrison his band persona. “I try to live in the present as much as possible. I do miss the 1890s though, that was a good decade. I’m thinking Victorian London, opium dens and that kind of thing.” Hmm, okay then.
Perhaps such statements are not surprising from a band that quotes NME on their home page saying “A monumental waste of time,” whilst Irvine Welsh professes, “This is the first band I could ever dance to in the daytime hours without chemical assistance… and that says a lot.” Whether NME’s quote was meant in irony or not, Alabama 3 are a band rich in mystique. When Woke Up This Morning from the debut album was acquired as the title theme for The Sopranos back in 1999 they secured themselves a permanent spot in popular culture. After releasing seven studio albums though it is hard to imagine such platitudes meaning more to Spragg and co. than the music and the wild ride.
Harrison explains at last count there were nine people in the band, he can’t be sure, “occasionally we lose one, occasionally we gain one – it’s quite a gang. Honestly, it’s a good way of doing things, you can have a real crew. There’s a lot of little guitar bands with three or four members and they stay sealed in their little unit and they stay on their bus or in their cabin and they don’t really mix with the great, dirty unwashed. We like to be more inclusive. We like to get the fans involved in the music and in what goes on the new album, which we’re doing on the website. We like to be include people rather than be exclusive.”
But just how functional are they with so many members all of whom are known for their love of partying- “Well we’re still working… it’s not boring I can assure you that.”
Despite the obvious influence of North American country music (“let’s see, we all wear cowboy hats, and we’re all singing in American accents”) much of the band’s roots still lie in the acid house and techno of ’90s England and anything else they care about. In one review of a live performance online the writer expresses his shock at seeing the band segueing from some Johnny Cash Folsom Prison Blues into KRS1’s Sound of da Police and just how perfectly it worked. Go figure.
Harrison himself seems vaguely ambivalent that electronic music has been rolling back the years and exhibiting the traits of acid house that changed the music landscape of the UK 20 years ago now. “There’s been a bit of a renaissance, bands like the Klaxons and the new rave movement – people have been getting their glow sticks out again. Do I know how I feel about it- It’s all just music to me.”
As much as for their music, Alabama 3 have a reputation for political dissidence and of their multi-genre tags we didn’t mention the whole ‘crypto-Marxist Leninist electro pop band’ portion. Anyone who knows anything about British dance music will be familiar with the Criminal Justice Act that was amended in 1994 to specifically target raves (thanks to the famous ‘repetitive beats’ definition) and squatters, which led to such a punk element within the dance community. Harrison is no exception.
“Obviously we’re influenced by society and the things going on around us, but we’ve been cheered and encouraged by the collapse in the world economy, we’ve definitely got a good feeling about that. Because, you know, we’ve had to suffer a decade of really smug bastards making an awful lot of money and feeling very pleased and it’s been unbearable really. So it’s kinda nice to see all those people go down the tubes you know.
“The more that society breaks down, the more capitalism breaks down, the more opportunity that gives us for protest, the more angry people get, the more people start thinking for themselves, the more people having to start look after themselves and each other when they realise the state isn’t going to do it for them. The more empty properties there are the more opportunity there are for all kinds of fun. The recession and the so-called credit crunch is good news for us and good news for rock n roll. You can quote me on that.”
So it’s music with a healthy slice of anarchy (“more than a slice, hopefully quite a large helping”) for anyone new to Alabama 3 who, in addition to Welsh, count Keith Allen, Bobby Gillespie and Will Self among their fans as well as their friends. So what ties them all together- “A general spirit of dissidence,” continues Harrison, “and recognising that to party is a political act. We don’t separate our hedonism from our political activity, we see it as the same thing. Politics isn’t boring, politics can be a lot of fun.”
WHO: Alabama 3
WHAT: Plays Metro Theatre
When: Monday 13 April