Alabama 3: Testament Department

Yea, verily, it is written. Theatrical preacher types ALABAMA 3 will meet STEVEN WELLS in a Brixton restaurant. They will shout at him about about drugs, fundamentalism, ‘wanking diaries’ and Marxist theory. And the startled brethren of the kingdom of pop will say, ‘Good Lord, what the f— is all this about then?’

IF BORN-AGAIN Christians monitor MTV for signs of satanic subversion, they must have cacked their collective hair-shirt keks when Brixton-based communist/acid house/country & western combo Alabama 3 appeared recently.

Flanked by a semi-naked and totally tattooed Hell’s Angel dude (aka Tattoo Love), the band (and here we use the term loosely) blew away the giggling ninny presenters and stunned the studio audience with a ramblingly blasphemous yet razor-sharp two-song assault on all currently fashionable modern pop sensibilities. It is often said of Alabama 3 that they look and perform like the cast from Trainspotting. This is true. They are the soundtrack to the scene where the baby dies. They are the first ‘chemical generation’ band who actually look as sick, unslick, scruffy, bitter and confused as the generation they claim to represent.

The press hype that surrounds Alabama 3 is a garbled mess, the band’s self-mythologising having largely been accepted at face value. They didn’t, contrary to the myth, all meet in drug rehab. Alabama 3 are drug rehab.

“A lot of the band have reached the bottom in one way or another,” claims Larry Love, “whether through drugs or f—ing whatever, but we have not been rehabilitated in the way that the drug councillors want, in that you go on to lead a nice, aspirant lifestyle where you get a job and you forsake drink and drugs. We’ve reappropriated the term. It’s not about that clean f—ing Christian living.

“You can rehabililate yourself intellectually and physically. We’re on about the ability of a group of people to rehabilitate themselves on the basis of their own community, not because of some f—ing middle-class f—ing doctor telling you that this is what you’ve got to do to lead a f—ing decent life.”

“They see rehabilitation,” says The Very Reverend Doctor D Wayne Love, “as the reintegration back into a value system that you already reject anyway. So, OK, you’ve become f—ed up on drugs, so you have to go into hospital to detox. Part of the cure would be not just getting off the drugs, but reintegrating yourself back into society and making yourself a useful component thereof. But you’re not a useful member of society, because society doesn’t allow you the parameters of freedom that you yourself expect.

“What they don’t accept is that there is a permanently altered drug consciousness in this country that does not contradict ordinary society as it goes along every day. The fact is that these people who are on drugs, even on so-called habit-forming drugs, are not an aberration! They’re just people that take something that enables them to carry on with their lives day to day. Everybody takes something. It’s just a matter of weeding out those things that are acceptable in society and those things that aren’t…”

ALABAMA 3 can appear onstage as Maoist Red Guards or as Yank TV evangelists, they can number as many as 20 or as few as three. But, at the core of the band, says Doctor D Wayne Love, “are people who have all tasted extremity, who’ve all had fundamentalist upbringings in one way or another.”

He and Larry Love then start to sing the Louvin Brother’s classic redneck country hit ‘Broadminded’.

“The word broadminded/Is loaded with sin…”

Sat around a trendy Brixton restaurant table are Glaswegian Doctor D Wayne Love (who raps on record in a truly appalling yet utterly convincing mock southern USA preacher voice and talks in a bellicose roar which has everybody else in the restaurant squirming in bourgeois discomfort), Larry Love (who will later casually fire up a marijuana reefer and thus nearly have us all violently ejected) and Organ Love.

Doctor D Wayne Love, as usual, is on a manic roll. He starts by telling us about a short story he’s writing about a mad ex-SAS serial killer and moves on to tell us about Larry Love’s experience of a Welsh Mormon upbringing.

“I had to keep what was basically a wanking diary,” interjects Larry Love. “It had space for two entries for every day. One for just thinking about it and another for if I’d actually had a wank.”

Then it’s to his own childhood as the son of a militant Trotskyist trade unionist who used to take the piss out of his Black Sabbath records.

Over the space of the evening we pretty much get Brother Wayne’s entire life history, all delivered at breakneck speed and at incredible volume. Tales of a psychotic speed habit, years of heroin addiction and a conviction for abusing Mrs Thatcher’s one-time guru Sir Keith Joseph in the King’s Road all come tumbling out, mixed up with an acute Marxist analysis of country music, folk, homosexuality, the history of rock’n’roll and the situation in Northern Ireland, just being in the same room with Brother Wayne is like being off your face on drugs.

“That’s because we’ve spiked your drink with acid! HA HA HA!” he laughs.

WHAT!?

“No we haven’t,” says Larry Love, reassuringly. “Only a complete c— would do a thing like that.”

ALABAMA 3 come from all four corners of the disintegrating UK but are solidly based in a Brixton where, every Sunday, nicely hatted and floral-frocked ladies of Afro-Caribbean descent weave their way to Baptist/Pentecostal/Methodist church, temple or tabernacle past sniggering Rastafarians, preaching Nation Of Islam-ites, hollering Socialist Worker sellers, snogging homosexuals and begging crustoid drug addicts. Brixton ain’t your average English suburb and Alabama 3 ain’t your average rock band.

We’ve just left the studio where industrial underground legends Test Department are wellying seven shades of scheisser out of sheets of rusted metal with massive iron bars as an added percussive element to a new Alabama 3 track. It sounds like a techno hoe-down listened to on headphones while you’re inside a metal dustbin being kicked down the stairs of an Edinburgh tower block by jellied-up casuals in cowboy hats.

“AH, I GET IT NOW!” I shout at Organ Love, the quiet one. “YOU’RE THE ALTERNATIVE REDNEX!”

“NO!” he shouts back. “WE’RE THE ALTERNATIVE TO THE REDNEX!” And at that moment the track crashes to a halt, leaving as the only sound the voice of Crimewatch UK‘s Nick Ross stating sensibly “…and the guard who fell 90 feet, head first, off THAT tower!” Boom Shanka! Total enlightenment!

You only need to dip a virtual toe in the Internet or flick quickly through the pages of the Fortean Times to realise that the coming of the millennium is being accompanied by the rapid and increasing growth of all manner of strange but rabidly held belief systems that make the droolings of new-age nutter Crispian Kula Shaker sound like boring common sense. Foremost amongst these nutters are the Christian Fundamentalist Right who preach intolerance, inequality and bigotry while eagerly awaiting the ‘rapture’ when, apparently, their strange god will go apeshit genocidal crazy and slaughter ALL the billions of unbelievers.

These folks have always formed the bedrock of the opposition to rock’n’roll, which is curious, because so much of rock’n’roll was originally firmly rooted in fundamentalist Christian theatrics (via gospel music and Jerry Lee Lewis).

And now, with the big Two Triple Zero coming up on the cosmic clock and the crazy Christers whipping themselves up into a frenzy of bloodthirsty anticipation, you don’t have to look too hard to see a sudden mushrooming of rock combos who are once again enshrouding themselves in the neophyte yammer and apocalyptic rhetoric of bug-eyed, sexually frustrated, life-denying, born-again evangelism.

From Manchester we have the glam roar of Gold Blade, from Washington DC emerges the dead-eyed hosannas of Make-Up and from Brixton, mixing acid house with holy prayer, communism and the language of 12-step drug rehabilitation programmes, we have the polyglot collective known as Alabama 3 — easily the uncoolest band in Britain.

The Alabama 3 are that weirdest of ideological beasts — folk who once thought they knew everything but who now admit they know nothing.

“The weirdest thing for me, coming from a fundamentalist background,” says Larry Love, “is realising that there ain’t no answers and all I can enjoy in my life is about asking questions and never getting any f—ing answers.

“The righteous truth,” preaches Doctor D Wayne Love, “is that there ain’t nuthin’ worse than some fool sitting on a third-world beach wrapped in a sarong smokin’ damned dope believin’ they’re gettin’ consciousness expansion, no sir.

“If I want consciousness expansion I go down the local tabernacle with Little Willy and sing with the brothers and sisters some righteous songs like ‘Jesus Wants Me For An Atom Bomb’…” he adds, mixing punk theatre with funk sweat with blues sentimentality with gospel insanity with a four-to-the-floor Hassidic handbag house in ‘(Ain’t) Going To Goa’. Their last single, it’s a pretty typical Alabama 3 track — which means it sounds unpigeonholably like nuthin’ anything this side of David Icke’s first acid trip.

Whether you like Alabama 3 or not is a question of taste. Whether you approve of them, and how much you recognise the necessity of their existence, is entirely down to how much of the Daily Mail reader lurks in your heart.

The Alabama 3 are coming soon to a town near you. Lock up your medicine cabinet.

© Steven WellsNew Musical Express, 7 June 1997

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