It’s just after 7:30 in the evening and I’m sitting in a pub in Northampton watching Bristol band Applecraft set up for their sound check. Richard Beale, the band’s singer,who is also known under the name of Don Mandarin, is standing in front of the stage ready for action. Mike Mooney and Sean Cook, who are also members of Lupine Howl and who were once in Spiritualized, are tuning their guitars. Johnny Mattock is setting up his drums at the back of the stage. You can’t miss Mike’s dog Fred either who is circling around the stage getting an occasional pat from the band’s members and who is patiently waiting possibly in a hope of some food.

While the band’s name ‘Applecraft’ is still becoming established, its musicians have already walked a long way in the shoes of music. Richard Beale’s name will be familiar with fans of the Pop Group from 70’s and 80’s. When the Pop Group split up Richard and Gareth Sager formed a new group called Pregnant who were described by one journalist as having a “very (un)pleasant Iggy/Stooge/young Jagger sound”. One of Richard’s other present projects is the forementioned Don Mandarin.

One of the first Mike’s appearances in music was with Echo and the Bunnymen with whome he briefly played guitar. He became also known for his work with Julian Cope and the Other Two (a side project of New Order's Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris ). In the mid 90’s Mike joined Spiritualized. After leaving Spiritualized, Mike, Sean Cook, Johnny Mattock and Damon Reece formed their new band Lupine Howl in their home town of Bristol.

“When I moved to Bristol someone introduced me to Rich.” reflects Mike who,after the sound check is sitting at a table in the upstairs of the venue and talking to Pennyblackmusic about Applecraft's formation. “We just met up to play some music. A lot of the music wouldn’t suit the bands that I was in at the time.”

“When Lupine Howl started we had already begun mucking about together.” continues Richard who is sitting opposite to Mike. “By that time we already had about 6 or 7 songs and then Ochre records, who are based in Gloucester, so who are quite near to Bristol, became interested in putting our music out." The band’s first album ‘The Shining City On The Hill’ came out on Ochre in 2002.

Applecraft originally started as a duo, but, when Ochre Records offered to put their album out , they decided they needed more musicians to collaborate on future recordings and to help out with live events. To the rescue came Sean Cook (bass, harmonica) and Damon Reece (drums), Mike’s band mates from Spiritualized. Sean still plays with Mike in Lupine Howl and Damon makes occasional appearances with the band. Johnny Mattock is now Applecraft’s regular drummer.

Applecraft recently released their second album ‘The Happiest Man Alive’. “The first album is quite different compared to the second one. It has a lot more instrumental passages than the second album.” says Mike “But then we wanted the second album to be different.”

Listening to the second album I noticed that a few of the songs’ vocals are very unclear and almost impossible to understand. I wondered if that was an intention. “No, that’s just the recordin.” explains Mike. “I recorded it myself.”

“I quite like that ” continues Richard. “I don’t know about you but when I listen to music I don’t really listen out for the actual lyric. Especially in a live situation. When you see a rock band you can’t really hear the lyrics.”

“Also lyrics are always about what they mean to you” concludes Mike.

‘The Happiest Man Alive’ is an 11 track album. It opens in relatively slow style with ‘You Are Always In Me House’. As the album progresses the music becomes more assertive and speeds up. It makes the whole album unpredictable and intriguing. “We worked at it for a long time” explains Richard. “It took our probably a good year in all to finish it.”

“It’s also because we have been making music for a long tim.” adds Mike “We now have a lot of experience which reflects on the music a lot as well.”

The album has earned many positive reviews. One of the reviews was by www.losingtoday.com who compared the band to bands such as Pink Floyd, Spacemen 3, Police, Syd Barrett and David Bowie. “Yeah, I read that review” admits Mike. “It’s really weird stuff. I actually listen to David Bowie a lot so that’s probably true.”

“When you are working on a record” adds Richard, “it reminds you of things and places that you have forgotten about, and music you were listening to when you were very young. As soon as you get a few musicians together they will talk about music. After you have been working together for some time you find that you were listening to the same music. You have the same records that you really like. You get that intuition that you can work together. Within seconds Mike and I knew we could record together and do something good. It has always been very natural.”

The band's music also changes depending upon what they are listening to at the moment of writing. “We have had 2 incarnations” Richard says. “About a year ago we were using a lot of acoustic stuff and we were actually listening to a lot of folk music, which I think showed but that's changed now.”

As regards the actual song writing there seems to be a system that the band tend to follow. “I write the lyrics” explains Richard. “Generally the music will start out independently from lyrics which I’m doing and then it’s like a ping pong game when we work on the rest.”

The last track on ‘The Happiest Man Alive’ is called ‘G-Kings Awakening’. The song starts with very slow and mysterious music and a monologue about mummies.

“The monologue is actually done by one of my friends” Richard reveals. “He lives in Northern Ireland. He also did the artwork for the album. He does those kinds of monologues. Most of it just comes straight out of his head, The bit when he talks about mummies is from one of those really weird 1920’s travel books about Egypt.”

At the moment Applecraft are concentrating on promoting their second album and hoping to play a few more gigs. “We are both working on various other things” explains Richard. “I still work on Don Mandarin as well, but we would also like to go and play in Italy and France which we have done already once and it was very enjoyable.”

“There is always a stock of ideas for material and that’s not the problem. Nowadays it’s more a question of where everyone is and if we can get together.” Richard says, rounding the interview with a challenge and then Fred’s excitement the band go off to a nearby curry house for a late tea before the gig.

Applecraft will be playing three gigs in London in the near future. These will be 15th April at the Spitz as a part of the Penny Black Music Night, 11th May at the Comedy ,and 9th June at the Arts Café as a part of Ochre Records night.
















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