You can tell immediately, just by looking at Rob Spragg’s innocent face, that he’s led a sheltered life. Growing up in South Wales and later moving to Brixton, Rob has experienced little in life except the gospel and country music of his youth. As we discuss the gig, he breaks into a beatific smile when I mention how beautiful his arrangements are and how spiritual they made me feel.
Thank you Brother, he beams. I shall pray for you. Praise the Lord.
No. Sorry. Wait. That was a parallel universe leaking through due to the dangerous overdose of lunacy I experienced last night when I inadvertently stumbled into the hospitality room upstairs in Dolans. I wasn’t wearing a lunacy suit and that was my own fault, so when the road manager said, Bock, this is Rob, and when Rob said, Hello, Bock, I failed to notice the colourless, odourless Spragg’s Bosons that irradiated me with insanity.
In reality, Rob is a demented, drunken, spaced-out, ultra-talented fucking maniac who writes great lyrics, great tunes and sings them like one of Satan’s dark angels. I don’t normally do the backstage thing because I hate the idea of ligging with the band, but when invited upstairs last night I grabbed the opportunity with both claws. Why? Because I was utterly astounded by the virtuoso display of soul-filled, gospel-driven, country-inspired raw, alcohol fuelled close harmony, surfing on backing from the single acoustic guitar of Rock Freebase. I was blathering shit at him but please forgive me. It was late and I was tired. Who needs a backing band when you have this guy picking, slapping, thumping his guitar through a bouncing dare-you-not-to-dance set of fine songs from the band’s back catalogue? He even does percussion: I was looking for the drummer, until I realised that punch was the heel of his hand on the guitar body. Low-down twangy bass, and sublime high-end picking. The last time I heard playing of this quality, it was Richard Thompson at the Midland Music Festival.
You think that’s it? Think again. This is one motherfucker of a band. There are six of them singing impeccable close harmony as they work their way through the favourites, starting bang on the beat and killing it rock-solid, but let me pause a moment. Here I have a confession to make. I bought their first album, Exile on Coldharbour Lane, and I loved it, but then, to my shame, I drifted away from them, and this was the first time I ever heard them live, though not so for my beloved daughter who was with me and saw their shows dozens of times. We even had a little argument when they played U Dont Dans 2 Tekno. Yes, it was on the first album, and I was able to say, I had it before you, but that was possibly one of the saddest Dad things anyone ever said. Nobody’s a winner in these situations, especially not between father and girl-child.
As Loudon Wainwright sang,
That’s my daughter in the water, everything she owns I bought her
That’s my daughter in the water, I lost every time I fought her.
We loved it. Two generations of the Bock clan dancing around like idiots but I’m a sucker for this kind of thing and always was. Give me more. What I witnessed in Dolans last night was like having a dream of hearing a gospel choir, but where the choir is singing to Satan and waving a bottle of Jägermeister. It’s raw but it’s tight. It’s in your face. It’s harmonic and melodic. It’s ironic. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. The crowd love it. They know they’re in the presence of something special and they’re going fucking demented.
I’d like to chat with Rob some more and drill into the musical influences that inform a lad from South Wales. I’m guessing they wouldn’t be a whole lot different from the influences on a lad from this town, and therefore I’m prepared to forgive him some of the piss-taking he did about Limerick. After all, when you come from Bridgend or Swansea, you need to deflect all the attention you can manage. We know. We’ve been there many a time in rugby campaigns over the years, though having said that, we never found them anything less than welcoming and friendly. Maybe it’s a Limerick-Wales thing.
Look, all I can say is this. Alabama 3 are putting on one bastard of a show and if you have the slightest chance of attending, I beg you to go. You will not be disappointed. Here’s their travel plan in case you happen to live anywhere near Somerset, Devon or Belfast.