Venue: Moles Club
Location: Bath England
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. Incredible!
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.