This will be a short one. Not because there isn’t anything interesting to say about Mabel Love‘s short time in this world. No, the reason is because out of respect to Ricey‘s untimely death, I’m omitting a lot of speculation and hearsay. Because I find it hard to get a clear answer in a lot of things, most of what I write about Mabel Love comes from the viewpoint of a complete outsider. Never had the opportunity to talk to any of them at length.
I saw them live only three times. Only spoke with Ricey through Twitter and once at the Grapes, in March of 2010. It was the first time I saw the band live. I was dead tired from walking in Castleton, but it was a promising gig. The Loud (from Liverpool), Lenders in the Temple and Mabel Love. Dark, loud and entrancing.
It was a brilliant night for a grand day out. Ricey mentioned that night that music would be coming out slow. Mabel Love wanted to get their sound “right”. It was a good strategy, in this day and age, you are as good as your last single, and with people’s attention span shortening thanks to streaming and social media, you have the extra pressure of really making an impression.
I remember being very fond of the demo version of ‘Silence’. It had that Arctic Monkeys energy a lot of the bands were working towards, but contrary to tales of drunken nights and loose humans, Mabel Love were tackling something else. Something near the crossroad of Introspection and Nostalgia. At least, that’s what it felt like: there was substance in this indie band. Nevermind my bias against people with the haircuts and the plain clothes, for Mabel Love, that look worked perfectly because it was ingrained in every note, riff, and beat.
My friend Javier covered their gig at Queens Social Club in May 2011. I was in Mexico when they supported Arctic Monkeys at the Don Valley Studium. I managed to see them live for one last time during Tramlines 2011. I had a press pass so I spent a good time in the photo pit, trying to capture their essence. Their shows at Y Not and Shakespeares I missed. One due to a loss of supervisor that meant I had to scramble to get new one or I’d be kicked out of the PhD. The second one because the parents came around and I had no time for the show.
Some of their influences ranged from Echo and the Bunnymen to Tom Petty, via Marvin Gaye‘s political outlook, with a detour through U2‘s Boy, October and War. I think War is one of the direct influences of Mabel Love, you could feel they were trying to go for the darker side through one of the most overlooked albums by and overrated band. And I say this as a fan of U2 and War. Mabel Love played dark music. They seemed to relish having a morose look on stage. Contrary to other bands that shall remain unnamed*, this aesthetic choice worked perfectly with the music. It was doom and gloom, but never goth. It was solemn, but not slow. It had a certain aroma, akin to the musty smells of an old Cathedral, years of incense, wax and human catharsis, impregnated in the solid stone.
Mabel Love called it a day in 2011, having only the 7″ single for ‘Hardened Face’ as evidence of their existence. Also, there were a few demos kicking around. That was it. 3 years later, Richard Rice, lead vocals and guitar, passed away. I didn’t want to be nosey bastard and ask what happened because it’s not the important part. The important part is that he is gone, but not forgotten. A very brief career in a band that relished on the miserable aspects of life. Social inequality, the decay of class, loneliness. So many themes in the music in their music, still echoing as the echoed notes of ‘Socks’ still resonate in a church no one goes to anymore.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López
*No beef. Not today. sorry.