On tour with Alabama 3

When Alabama 3 hit the road, things get predictably messy - rows, hangovers, vanishing musicians and debates on the meaning of time. Still, the Cambridge gig rocked. Drummer Orlando Harrison, aka The Spirit, treats us to his diary
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

I'm relieved to be escaping from reality for a fortnight. I am also afraid; I'm entering the twilight world of an ever-accumulating hangover, which at some point will drive me insane. It always does.

Rehearsals start at noon. At 5am we are, naturally, in the pub. Eddie, our percussionist, points out that "lager" spelt backwards is " regal". It appears the band has collapsed, and we're not even on the bus yet. Il Luce, our lighting man, has succumbed to kidney failure as the result of a tropical disease. Larry Love and D Wayne, our "singers" , have gone awol. Piers, our programmer, and drummer Johnny are exchanging tips on medication for high blood pressure, and Rock Freebase, guitarist, has "fallen down stairs and hurt his nose". Speculation abounds as to what this obvious euphemism could possibly mean.

DAY TWO

A ghastly spectre enters the rehearsal room. It's the notoriously upright Rock Freebase. He's visibly trembling, and there's a huge, ugly scab on the left side of his nose. In his dirty baseball cap he looks like trailer trash - looks, in fact, like a member of the Alabama 3.

We run through a couple of songs. Rock is all over the place. He fumbles with his guitar like a disembowelled man trying to re-insert his own intestines. Incredulous glances are exchanged. Rock looks up at Davey, our roadie. "That was all right, wasn't it?" "Er, yeah."

NEWCASTLE

On the road. The reviews for the album Outlaw in May included four stars from The Guardian and five from The Sun, so we're down with the chavs, although the response was a little cooler to the last single "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash"; ("No you're not, you're a twat" - NME). The first night gig's ropey, but we get away with it.

GLASGOW

I wake up in the mobile coffin that is my bunk at 4pm, covered in sweat, smelling like a pregnant badger. In the dressing room, Rock laughs hysterically to himself, about what, nobody knows. Half an hour to showtime, and the Right Reverend D Wayne is nervous; his home town, and a big audience full of his friends, relations and possibly enemies.

We take to the stage. We strike up the opening chords of the first song. The crowd roars. We suck. We're seriously out of practice. D Wayne shuffles on to the stage. With his beard and locks, he looks like Charles I before the Assizes - if Charles I was a darts professional given to wandering around the stage mumbling. The set ends, and everybody mercifully leaves the stage. Except for D Wayne. He sits on one of the monitors and mutters incoherently to himself in front of 2,000 Glaswegians. He hasn't realised the band left the stage 10 minutes ago.

SHEFFIELD

Up at 5pm, feral and zombified. Time for my first nervous breakdown. In the dressing room, Larry tells me Rock has left the band.

CAMBRIDGE

I have slept, I've had a shower, I've had breakfast. I am a normal person. Yes I am.

It's an easy gig. D Wayne has recovered from his psychotic episode, Rock has remembered how to play and it's a fluffy crowd; they jump up and down and shout and scream just like they're supposed to.

Later, on the bus, me, Ed and Davey pontificate with great articulation on the state of the music industry, then they draw faces on an apple and a tangerine and make them talk to me in funny voices. I love this business...

BIRMINGHAM

Tossing in my bunk, I dream I see the gates of hell creaking open. I wake to the sound of Larry Love retching. The foetid air on this bus breeds viruses faster than a Ukrainian website. Rock and I spend half an hour trying to find the venue. When we get there Zoe, our petite, demure female vocalist, is staggering around, farting and swearing. It's her first tour with us. "I'm turning into a man!" she cries.

The stage is very small, and I'm wedged into a space the size of a shoebox. After the gig, D Wayne explodes. A small difficulty with a piece of technology is blown up into an international incident. When D Wayne loses it, nobody is safe. He launches into a vicious and sustained personal attack on Piers, our laconic programmer. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that D Wayne has upset Nick Reynolds, our harmonica player, barging past him on his way off stage. I'm hoping the situation will deteriorate into actual violence, which will be great material for this article. Unfortunately, Nick calms down, and soon everybody's friends again.

NORWICH

After the gig we troop down to a squat party round the corner, thrown by the hippie contingent that constitutes our Norwich demographic. It's a groovy scene. There, we are witness to the worst reggae band in the history of the world; five white boys with woolly hats and beards and crumpled trumpets. They're the dub equivalent of the Peruvian pan-pipe band in The Fast Show. I chat to Segs, our bassist and a punk icon in his own right. He's excited about his new project, producing Madness's new album. Madness remind me of getting beaten up by skinheads at school. I suddenly become bitter and twisted. Somebody tries to cheer me up by shoving a balloon in my face. I burst it with my cigarette.

CARDIFF

I sleep for 14 hours, rising at 7pm, and I feel GOOD. It's Larry's turn to be nervous. He's from Merthyr Tydfil, an island off the east coast of Wales inhabited entirely by Mormons. Also, his girlfriend Samantha is here, a glam demoness descended from a long line of witches, with their adorable child, Nansi.

Word is that The Outlaws, a legendary biker firm, have sent representatives down to see if we're taking the piss. Yikes. Thank God for our ambassador, Bernie, a tattooed hulk who plays a mean bodhran. He sports a "Support your local Outlaws" T-shirt. Respect.

We rock. Freebase plays like a god and Larry and D Wayne banter like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

LIVERPOOL

I get a phone call from Samantha: "Where's Larry? Who's he with?" She rings up the entire band. Larry's being stalked by his own girlfriend. Convinced that we are besieged by ravenous groupies, partners of boys in bands sometimes become unhinged with suspicion. Unfortunately, our groupies tend to be balding 38-year-old alcoholics who can't even get it up when you get them in the bunk.

Larry delivers his standard opening line: "Hello Liverpool! This one's for all the housebreakers in the room!" The entire crowd roars.

OXFORD

"This one's for all the housebreakers in the room!" No reaction; just the sound of 600 people collectively wondering if they've remembered to turn on their home security systems.

During the gig, Segs does some Madness-style dance moves, snarling at me in a threatening way, which I find strangely arousing.

LONDON

I wake in total darkness. There's no electricity on the bus and I am alone. I don't know where I am, or what day it is. Eventually I realise I'm in an underground car-park two miles away from the venue. I stagger all the way to the venue, hallucinating. I have no memory of last night. What have I done with my life?

When I get to the venue I discover I've lost my pass, my sunglasses, my £200 sub, and everybody hates me because last night I went mental and destroyed Ed's hairclippers, then forced the entire bus to listen to Miasma, my gothic prog-rock side project, at ear-splitting volume. Before we go on, Samantha takes to the stage in a Pocahontas outfit and does a fabulous burlesque routine. If the original American Indians had all been like Sam, the face of modern America would be very different.

MANCHESTER

Before the gig, Rock and me discuss concepts of time. The difference between Judeo-Christian, teleological time, as borne out in the Enlightenment Weltanschaung and the works of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and monumental time, as espoused by Julia Kristeva and AC/DC. Rock is something of an autodidact, with a solid grasp of the Kantian categorical imperative. He's been through a rough time recently: his dad died a while back and he's recently split up from his girlfriend. He talks about his young son Jack, and tears come to his eyes. I try to console him. He smiles and says: " I'm crying cause I'm happy!"

NOTTINGHAM

Davey tells us about the time Mark E Smith got into an amphetamine-fuelled argument with a promoter. Promoter bloke pins Mark E to the wall by the throat. Mark E cries: "You can't hit me! Look!" and pulls out his false teeth. Promoter bloke pulls out his glass eye and holds it aloft. It'd make a great children's TV show.

I'm gripped by desire to smack Larry Love in the face. It's an automatic reaction, like tears in the face of a strong onion. Everything he says, everything he does, makes me want to hit him. It's not his wild exaggerations, it's not his narcissism. It's not even his stupid cowboy hat. Actually, it might be the hat. But this whole festival of degeneracy is his idea, the product of his delusion. Trouble is, I quite like him. I settle for drinking him under the table.

SOUTHAMPTON

I'm dying. I try to eat a piece of tinned tuna but it revolts me. I try to focus on the TV but Doctor Who is making my head melt. I turn to Ed.

"Ed, mate, I feel terrible. I'm a nervous wreck." "I know, O. I feel exactly the same." We burst out laughing. Then we hug, like two survivors of a natural disaster, clinging on to each other for dear life. It's a proper, strong hug, like an infusion of plasma. At once I feel better than I've felt for two weeks. Thanks Ed.

I look out at the audience. They're all so happy and excited by our bizarre, contrived pop band. It's moving, and it's hilarious and it's fun. Larry's milking the crowd, in kinky leather gloves and a biker jacket with " DEATH" on it. He looks fantastic.

NOWHERE

3am. The bus hurtles through the night. I have an audience with D Wayne. I'm having trouble with my tour diary for The Independent. All the interesting stuff is either going to get me into trouble or piss someone off. And I can't decide whether to make it a joyous, epiphanic rock'n'roll rollercoaster, or a dark, disaffected tract of spleen.

He talks to me about the absurd, and the myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was condemned by the gods to roll a boulder up to the top of a hill, then watch it roll all the way down again. For eternity. Camus uses it as a figure for the purgatory of modern man's existence. "Put it another way; if you ever get good at something, if you finally manage to do something right, they'll make you do it over and over again till you puke. We're all one-hit wonders trying to pay our alimony - existentially speaking."

Alabama 3 play Birkenhead Pacific tonight; tour continues to 22 October (www.alabama3.co.uk). 'Outlaw' is out now on One Little Indian

Comments