With Mr. E. Wilson officially retired from active service and Agent
Cooper inescapably embroiled in a nationwide roll-out of new, improved
agricultural software, the remaining Wilson Four resolve to travel in
style for this trip to the West Country. Since we are all set to borrow
back line amps from Applecraft, we really have very little luggage, so
we ask to rent a car, rather than our usual van. What we end up with is
a magnificent new Chrysler MPV with automatically retracting wing
mirrors. For MC Bot this is love at first sight.
We set off mid-afternoon in bright sunshine and reach Oxford
effortlessly. Somewhere on the road to Swindon Bot and I discover the
under-seat heating and laugh like delighted infants as our bums grow
ever toastier. Then, just as we hit the M4 south of Swindon, it begins
to snow. "Are people driving like c****s yet?" inquires Stevie G from
the back seat.
From the centre of NN1 to the edge of Bath takes us two hours. >From
the edge of Bath to Moles Club takes us another hour. People are indeed
driving like c***s: when, that is, they bother to drive at all. We
eventually arrive at the club to find a bemused member of staff milling
about on her own. She tells us that there is no promoter, no soundman,
no Applecraft. They are all Out There somewhere, lost in the snow. A
phone call to Jon Mattock reveals that the Applecraft bus is trapped in
a tragi-comic ballet of incompetent school-run drivers, sliding around
on the many and fearsome hills of Bristol. There is nothing for it. We
head for the pub.
We grab a beer and a bite to eat. Meanwhile, down in the club, the
sound man has arrived. To my delight I spend ten whole minutes alone
with him, making alliances for the future. We check out our backing
tracks on the PA, just in case there isn't time for a sound check. Good
thinking, as it will turn out.
I am milling about in the street outside the club, talking to Dave
Francolini on the phone. There is a very young guy with some kind of
orthopaedic stick, hanging around by the club door. As I head back into
the club, he stops me at the steps. "Could you catch me if I fall?" he
asks. No problem; I wait as he negotiates the steep little stone steps
into the club. "Thanks," he says, "I'm Greg, the promoter." Just as
well that I was in a helpful mood, then.
A local support band appears. They are called Eftus Septun (I think)
and they are total rustic mental headcases. They tell us that, if
Applecraft fail to make it, we can use their backline. One of their
guitar amps is so old that it looks like they found it in a barn. It is
but a small comfort.
We repair to the Chrysler to smoke and play Black Sabbath 4. What an
extraordinary mix of great musicianship and utter ineptitude it truly
is! There's one little break where the guitarist doesn't even attempt
to get his part right - in fact, it sounds to me as if he doesn't even
know what notes he is trying to play; he just wants this bit over with.
So he piles on through, hopelessly splashing a few notes around and
hoping for the best. But - hey! - it's all right. The rest of the band
are so monged out on red wine and shit that they don't even notice.
Somewhere the wrong side of 8:00 o'clock, Applecraft finally appear.
Jon and Mike Mooney have spent more than six hours trying to drive the
15 miles from Bristol to Bath. We are awful pleased to see them and
hang around while they set up and soundcheck. There's no time for us to
check too, but at least I get to spend five minutes checking out the
guitar amp that I shall be using for the next two days.
Things are set and ready to go. We pile back into the Chrysler and
listen to Evil Heat as we watch the punters filing down to the club. To
reach the door they have to pass down a flight of stone steps. Of
course, these steps are covered in snow and well slippy. One by one we
watch the punters trying to negotiate these stairs, and it is
entertainment of the highest class. Within minutes we are all trying to
predict the next one to take a tumble...and when the next one duly
does, hilarity erupts. It must be a bit of a shock for John Punter to
hear a sudden burst of savage and triumphant laughter from what only
moments ago appeared to be a parked and empty vehicle across the
street. This, of course, just makes us laugh even harder. Later, as we
take the stage, Bot will tell them: "You're already the most
entertaining audience we've ever had."
We catch the end of Eftus Septun, or whatever they're called. It is
utterly mental. Mad, discordant, scuttling crab-dancing music,
delivered in unbelievably short bursts. All three of the rustic
headcases can really play, but they are freely squandering their
talents on playing this itchy-scratchy Frank Zappa garbage. Bot later
raises the possibility that maybe they were "trying to do a US Maple
sort of thing." Well, perhaps they were. I always found US Maple
unlistenable too. Still, they are all very nice, friendly, helpful
blokes, who trim their guitar strings in a neat and tidy fashion.
Weird. Must be a village thing.
The next band, Milf, are much more of a mainstream operation;
standard-issue sub-Radiohead indie angst, with really, really horrid
singing. I hide in the dungeon-like dressing room (ambient temperature
Ten Below) and smoke frenziedly.
The next thing you know, the opening drones of Police Chief are ringing
across the dancefloor. As the beats kick in, dancing breaks out. Fists
punch the air. Bot and I start shouting. The Wilson Four are in effect.
Half way through the set my guitar loses all power. Figuring that it
must be something along the line of effects that has gone down, I pull
my lead out and plug directly into the amp. For the rest of the set I
am obliged constantly to zip over to the amp to change the settings.
It's busy work, and I make the occasional rather loud mistake with the
amp, but quite quickly this leads to a somewhat carefree attitude with
the feedback and I am soon having a bit of a night. Steve responds to
this and we become a sort of scary goth funk band for twenty minutes.
The moment that we finish Buffalo Sniper, we are packing up and making
room for Applecraft. As soon as all my kit is safely back in the
oubliette - sorry, "dressing room" - I am in motion again. I seek out
the promoter, who is beaming and saying things like "Groovy!" I'm
pleased about this, but what I need to know is where I can find a cash
machine. He sets me on the path and out of the club I go; out onto the
street, round the corner, down the hill, turn right, hit the machine,
back up the hill and into the club. I find my way to the quiet upstairs
bar, order a drink and ask where I can find a cigarette machine. I get
the right change from the bartender. I find and negotiate the cigarette
machine. Then, as Applecraft start up, I sit down next to Misery and -
fifteen minutes after coming off stage - finally light my fag. It is
one of The Great Cigarettes of the Modern Age.
So - Applecraft. Here is a band that epitomises the strange but
enduring relationship between the musicians of Northampton and Bristol.
Jon Mattock, the drummer, and bassist Adrian Utley are both Northampton
born and raised. The others are Bristol-based: Mike Mooney (guitarist,
singer), Mike Crawford (guitarist), Sean Cook (harmonica) and Don
Miranda (the singer). The musicians have a ridiculous pedigree
involving Julian Cope, Echo & The Bunnymen, Spacemen 3, The Perfect
Disaster, Spiritualised, Portishead and Goldfrapp. Not to mention the
fact that Adrian used to play in celebrated NN1 soul band The Army
(alongside a youthful Alex Green, as it goes). Applecraft have 2 albums
out on Ochre Records: "The Shining City On The Hill" and "The Happiest
Man Alive", which is newly released and the hook on which they are
hanging these shows.
Their confident, professional musicianship is immediately apparent,
even though this is their first show together. Jon, of course, is such
an inspirational drummer that he lifts any group with which he plays.
Mooney is certainly responding, and although Adrian doesn't always seem
to know quite where the song is going next, his rich and powerful bass
still does just what it's supposed to do. The sound is rich and
melodic, but it has a sort of seventies quality that makes me think of
Badfinger or Free. Not what I was expecting, but fine anyway.
I have a very pleasant conversation with a nice man from Ochre Records
and two disctinctly odd conversations with two different young men, one
of whom thinks I look like Brian Ferry, the other of whom appears to
belive that I am Brian Ferry. As the club closes up we grab a bunch of
beer and jump into the Chrysler for the drive to Bristol, which, I am
happy to report, took nothing like six hours. We head back to Mike
Mooney's place and pass a very agreeable few hours drinking and smoking
there before rolling up in our bedding and going to sleep.