Larrikin Love: Lost boys with some dark secrets

Alexia Loundras discovers a difficult past behind Twickenham's ramshackle, fairy-tale troubadours Larrikin Love
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Edward Larrikin is the last to arrive. Legs astride his rather-too-small bicycle, the front man pedals himself up the little ramp under Barnes Bridge where the other three members of Larrikin Love are waiting for him. Despite their superior time-keeping, Larrikin's bandmates wear the telltale pallid hue of a severe hangover. But the 20-year-old singer is strikingly fresh-faced and, like biscuits at tea time, his arrival lifts the group. For some reason, drummer Coz Kerrigan has brought his Irish passport with him. Clocking it, Larrikin snatches it for a closer look. "How did you get that?" he asks jealously, as though the Irishman has bought it from Camberwell market. Tickled by Larrikin's boyish naivety, guitarist Micko Larkin and bass-player Alfie Ambrose - by far last night's worst casualties - momentarily forget their throbbing temples.

Wide-eyed and full of beans, Larrikin announces that he wants to eat. "I'm starving," he says. "I ordered a Chinese this morning but didn't eat any of it." He screws up his face like a child at the mention of medicine. "It was disgusting," seemingly surprised that a chow mein didn't make for the ideal breakfast.

Not that he's going to dwell on it. Overcome with the thought of a late lunch, he jumps back onto his bicycle and cycles excitedly towards Annie's - his favourite Barnes eatery. "They sell cracking food here," he says, settling at one of the outdoor tables and ordering not one but two meals. The record company are paying and he wants to make the most of it. "The best bit about being in a band is eating out," he grins. "Before we were signed I didn't have enough money to eat and I used to live in a scum hole with no heating. Micko's mum used to make me food and bring it over to the house, bless her. But now we can just eat here!"

There's a hugely appealing urchin-like quality to Larrikin. He's refreshingly unselfconscious and playfully mischievous - giggling, he admits to lying to wind people up, "because I get so bored!". In fact, he announces to his bandmates, there are a few of things he's told them that aren't true. "You think I've been taking beat-boxing lessons, but I haven't," he laughs. "Why would you lie about that?" asks Larkin. "You even once said in a band meeting you had to go because you had a lesson. I can't believe a word you say." "There's something of the boy who cried wolf about you," adds Kerrigan, shaking his head.

But Larrikin is easy to forgive and his band mates seem fond of him. He exudes a naive innocence that's thoroughly magnetic. You're instantly drawn to him and compelled to look after him, like one of Peter Pan's Lost Boys.

"I just fell in love with him," says the Transgressive label boss Toby L, who released the band's first single before they were snapped up by Warners. "When I first met him I was completely entranced. He'll speak his mind and be completely honest without worrying about the ramifications. That childlike purity is something that is missing generally in music. So many bands have been round the block these days, so it's nice to meet people who are fresh and wide-eyed and ready to do something different."

Larrikin Love are certainly different. Aside from their front man, they inhabit a musical realm that refuses to be pigeonholed. They have been nominally lumped-in with fellow riverside dwellers Mystery Jets and Jamie T under the loose banner of Thamesbeat, Larrikin Love have a bastardised sound of their own. Strains of gypsy, punk, Celtic violins, bluegrass and reggae bubble and spit through the post-Libertines indie stomps of their eclectic debut, The Freedom Spark. It makes for a glorious sonic mongrel of an album.

This anything-goes confidence was chiefly inspired Eighties folk-rockers The Waterboys and their Big Music sound. "I'm obsessed with Mike Scott, really," says Larrikin. "When he started with The Waterboys he drew influences from everything. There were no boundaries - they could do any type of music they wanted. They could make it their own and that's something we've definitely taken on." But there's an ethereal timelessness to Larrikin Love's sound and, for that matter, their ramshackle appearance.

"We definitely have our own little world thing going on," agrees Larrikin, getting a head start with his grilled halloumi salad before his eggs royale arrive. As Transgressive's Toby L says, "there's a great fairy-tale quality to them." But their enchanting, aesthetic is no accident. "Everything about the band is measured," admits Larrikin. "I think it's a crime when you have a chance to make music and present yourself a certain way and all you do is have a bass drum with your name written on it. Everything about the band is quite romantic, sometimes pre-Raphaelite, very intricate and beautiful. It's just how I wanted it to be, and it's a nice thing."

Larrikin is the band's linchpin. He sourced its disparate members and formed the group so that he could put poems he'd written to music. And just as he christened his new band after taking the name Larrikin for himself ("There's a naughtiness about the name that I liked," he explains. "It's mischievous and rowdy and sometimes I get like that."), the resulting record, is a vibrant manifestation of him.

The Freedom Spark is a personal album, bursting with songs of innocence and experience. The tales it tells aren't always biographical but they do, says Larrikin, all express things he's felt: "I guess these songs are all quite bold statements about times in my childhood," he admits. "They're about getting rid of shackles and getting things out."

He might be only 20, but Larrikin has a lot to get off his chest. It's hardly surprising to discover his childhood was unconventional. "There were loads of weird times when I was younger," he says gleefully watching the golden yolks spill from the two poached eggs now in front of him. Larrikin's parents split before he was four, and when he was five, he and his mother went to live with his Gran - a vivacious woman with a pilot's licence and a penchant for younger men. "That time was all really nice," he says fondly. But three years later, his life changed again, for the worse.

"When I was eight, something really bad happened - certain things and they weren't very nice - and it had a huge effect on all of us," says Larrikin. "This was when my little sister was born, and my mother wasn't at all well mentally. There was a string of about 10 men living with us and they were all very strange. It was a very weird time and I was like the man of the house for a long time, trying to hold everything down and that was just crazy." Although this was undoubtedly a very difficult time for Larrikin and his family, he recounts his experience with a measured detachment - as though talking about a film he once saw.

For Larrikin, the turning point came when he was awarded a bursary to St James' Senior Boys' school in Twickenham. "My mother was a single parent and not working but when the headmaster particularly liked a child, he would pay for them to come to the school," says Larrikin. "He was a lovely man. When he first met me he said I was a really angry child but if I came to his school I would be much happier."

Reading was high on the school's curriculum and Larrikin was influenced by the works of Hardy, Hartley, Wilde and Orwell. Tellingly, he was particularly taken by Rimbaud: "He was really carefree and refused to be held down by anyone," he says, sparkling with passion. "He was a little wanker but a lovable one I guess," he sniggers, "oh, and he didn't wash!"

Larrikin's attracted to the French poet's recklessness. "Wild abandon is really appealing," says Larrikin with an impish grin. It makes sense that he feels this way. In fact, it explains a lot about the way he is: Larrikin is now living the carefree childhood he missed out on as a boy. "I had a lot on my shoulders," he says. "I felt a lot older and stronger. So now I'm ready to chill out!"

Larrikin Love's music is doused with the boundless exuberance and playfulness of youth. But the record also marks a closure of sorts for Larrikin. The Freedom Spark is divided into three parts each drawing from the stages of his life. The first, called "Hate", says Larrikin, is characterised by songs that are "aggressive, dark, uncomfortable, claustrophobic and compromising." The middle section, "Fairy Tale", harks back to a youthful innocence, "when nothing mattered; the good old days." While the third part, "Freedom", "is today; in the moment but remembering those good days so that wherever you are you can find a nice place where you're at peace with yourself."

With The Freedom Spark, it's clear Larrikin has put his past behind him. "I'm really quite a happy guy at the moment," he says, wolfing down his last morsel. And he has good reason to be. Not only is his stomach much fuller these days but, as the band giddily tell me, their current single, "Happy As Annie" was used to soundtrack a recent episode of Wife Swap - "which really is great," giggles the front man. But these are just distractions. Larrikin Love are currently touring the UK and slowly but surely building a passionate fanbase of their own thanks to their vibrant live sets. "It's a bit nerve-wracking, but at the same time it's exciting," says Larrikin.

Larrikin Love are working hard and - on the evidence of those hooded eyes and sheepish grins -playing hard too. But their front man isn't much interested in the usual trappings of rock'n'roll success. Instead he yearns for the security of a quiet life. "I'd really love to have a little retreat somewhere," he says wistfully. "There's this beautiful, quiet, little town called Melina on the Greek mainland opposite Skiathos - I've been about five times. They're selling old farm houses off for like £50,000. Hopefully I would have made that by next year." He giggles cheekily, aware he may have to wait a bit longer.

But Larrikin is hardly perturbed. Tomorrow he moves into what he calls his "riverside bijou" - a little Thames-side flat in Barnes. It's not exactly his seaside fantasy, but for now it'll do very nicely indeed. "I really like it here," he says brimming with excitement. "This particular stretch of river does not feel like it's five miles away from the dirty, grubby city centre." He smiles contentedly. "And to me it's just five minutes from the outdoor dining, the dolmades and the retsina. I'm even thinking about buying the shell of a boat for a winter hobby. Plus I've got Annie's right opposite me. And as you know, they sell cracking food."

'The Freedom Spark' is out now on Warners. Larrikin Love are currently touring the UK (