My best teacher

12th November 2004 at 00:00
Portrait by Christian de Sousa

I dived into education and worked hard because the alternative was two years knocking on doors with the Mormons

Janice Bridges was unmarried and quite eccentric. She had a Sixties beehive and wore a mini-skirt. She recognised there was a bit more to me than the kid who (unbeknown to her) had been taking magic mushrooms on the playing fields. She was my English teacher when I moved down the valley at 14 to Af"n Taf comprehensive, Merthyr Tydfil. The school was in the shadow of Aberfan and, although it had 1,600 pupils, there were a lot of empty places in the class two years above me. (In 1966, 144 people, 116 of them children, died when a coal tip collapsed on Aberfan.) Ms Bridges, along with my art teacher, Alun Evans, opened my mind to the power of literature and art and liberated me from my religious cul-de-sac.

I was brought up a Mormon. My dad was a preacher and it was 247 religion: Bible class at 7am, then more when I got home. The Mormons colonised South Wales during the industrial revolution; they had a well-developed welfare system that looked after the poorest. The hymn book taught me a lot about American gospel music, which is the foundation of the Alabama 3's country and western techno sound.

I dived into education and worked hard because the alternative was two years with a Mormon mission knocking on doors. My O-level results weren't good and the school didn't see me as A-level material. Ms Bridges encouraged me and taught me another kind of existence through Milton, Shakespeare and Keats. I got three As and a B in my A-levels.

Mr Evans was equally eccentric and inspiring; a chain-smoking Welshman who was caustic, but encouraging. A sort of tough love. He really opened up my spatial awareness. The first time I went to London was with him when I was 14. He took us to the old Tate Gallery and it blew my mind; I was amazed by the Blake room, and to realise that Blake anticipated multimedia and was a socialist. Mr Evans taught me that, to be a musician, I needed a backlog of emotional experiences and an infusion of different characters.

My parents realised they were losing me after I started sneaking records into the house. My first single was The Stranglers' "No More Heroes". They tried to censor my records, but they couldn't hear me reading. By 15 I'd discovered William Burroughs's Naked Lunch and Joyce's Ulysses.

The lasting image I have of Ms Bridges is how upset she was after someone scrawled graffiti about her on the wall outside her house. I think I became her golden pupil when I cleaned it off. I was reminded of that sense of injustice when I wrote "Woke Up This Morning". It's based on the case of Sara Thornton, who murdered her abusive husband, so it's perhaps ironic that it became the theme music for The Sopranos. But then the programme is also taking a swipe at machismo when you consider that the main character, Tony, is an unreconstructed male getting counselling.

Ms Bridges and Mr Evans helped me focus, and I went on to Aberystwyth University to read law. I was always conscious of class polarity given the miners' struggle and am the first and only person in my family to go to university. I remember turning up for one interview and realising that all they saw was this scummy Welsh kid from a two-bedroomed council flat in a pair of horrible brown nylon trousers. When they asked why I wanted to read law I said, "Well, when I was off school sick, I used to enjoy watching Crown Court."

I believe that Ms Bridges and Mr Evans helped to shape the Alabama 3's cult edge. They gave me the history of art from the Romantics to Warhol and from the Bible to Naked Lunch. I have a lot to thank them for, and it is to my eternal chagrin that I never caught up with them after I left school.

Alabama 3 singer Rob Spragg (aka Larry Love) was talking to Karen Hooper

The story so far

1964 Born in South Wales

1978 Attends Afon Taf comprehensive, Merthyr Tydfil

1982 Studies law at Aberystwyth University

1986 Moves to London and works in hostels for the homeless

1992 Attends Castlemorton rave, which prompts Criminal Justice Act

1997 Alabama 3 release first album, Exile on Coldharbour Lane. Followed by La Peste (2000), Power in the Blood (2002) and Last Train to Mashville Vol.

2 (2004)

1999 Woke Up This Morning used as theme tune for TV series The Sopranos December 14, 2004 Play London's Astoria. Latest album, Outlaw, featuring former Great Train robber Bruce Reynolds, due for release March 2005

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