The time is fast approaching 4:50pm and I’m traipsing through a rather glum and sparsely populated university campus with a bag full of unnecessary belongings that I will never use. December’s weather has finally settled in February, and in a true British manner, I am moaning in an incoherent fashion into a scarf that honestly couldn’t care less. I kick my way through the hail as it bounces off the car park asphalt with no remorse making my way through into the Old Gray Mare, looking for a familiar face.
Upon entrance the title track to Top Gun, the most homo-erotic film ever made (maybe), comes on the jukebox and the hail turns to snow; my thoughts of utter contempt for any higher being are imposed as I sit besides Sean (bass) and Tom (lead guitar and vocals) of The Applewhites. Nursing a pint, Tom sits next to the window gazing out on the weather that descends as the three of us exchange compulsory niceties, explanations of who we are and small talk with interludes of tolerable silence.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” is opened up to the table, as we all clearly want to go home. The Applewhites are to play at The Room (formerly the Fez Club), in Sheffield tonight, another out-of-town Transit van gig that they are slowly becoming accustomed to. We are now 30 minutes behind schedule as we vacate the pub and are herded into the van. Name, rank, press affiliation and I’m in.
It’s around 6pm and dark descended around us as we rush down the fast lane of the M62 at a rate of knots only pulling in to let those who truly break the speed limit past. Everyone is now acquainted as general chatter and smoke playing under the influence of the light fills the air surrounding us.
Having driven through half of Sheffield and asked a number of people for directions we eventually arrive at the venue at 9pm, late for sound check to a venue that we, in time, realised we had passed twice. Having snuck in for free and being disgusted with the prices at the bar, I left with a double Jack Daniels and Coke accompanied by being £6 lighter, and got down to brass tacks.
The Applewhites offer diversity to an industry that is full of fads and fashions. “I was watching the new bands section MTV2 and a lot of them are just shit,” Ryan spat out. With the likes of Poptones signing bands with the concept and impression that if you throw enough shit at the wall, some of it might stick he carried on: “I’m not impressed with all those bands that are there trying to fill The Libertines gap in the market. I don’t think they have any originality at all.”
Standing tall as proponents of their unique blues-injected rock and roll, the four-piece met and grew up for much of their later life studying together and jamming after college hours to eventually form in late 2002. Sean went on to reminisce, “It started off in college really didn’t it? At the end of the day there was an ensemble and everybody got together and played guitar and wrote really shitty songs. That’s when we met Tom. Black Bird was the song to play at the time and no-one could but him. From this we started pissing around at his house and recorded like 30 Beatles covers or something like that”. “It’s only looking back at it now how bad we really were,” James added with acceptance. “We like to think that we have progressed since then.”
And that they have; with a number of impressive support slots with the likes of The Ordinary Boys, Blueskins, Boxer Rebellion and the much sort after, Subways, they have safely secured their spot within the local scene. With another support slot in the bag with Black Wire (March 5th, Silhouette Club), they are now out on the road looking to make a name for themselves.
Having played in York the month previous, and with various gigs lined up in London throughout March, including a stop at the Rhythm Factory which has helped make it big for a lot of the new “London’s Burning” scene, they relish every opportunity that they have been faced with; “we are not interested in the financial gain. With travelling and that we are set at a loss to start with,” Sean adds with admirable blend of acceptance and contempt.
Their youthful zeal is second to none. Having all been fans of the Beatles as youngsters and finding a mutual appreciation in the likes of rhythm and blues renegades, The Who and the Rolling Stones, it’s these influences to which they base their musical foundation. They are very humbling and easy to talk to despite their indie coyness. They are enthused by how well they are doing, however, James also points out that, “we are under no illusion of making it big. We are small fish in a big pond.”
Having recently read an article in The Times, proposing the idea that Hull could be the next melting pot for musical talent. We discuss the possibilities of the city scene becoming the next big thing in a similar way to which Manchester propelled itself into the limelight at the start of the nineties, as Sean interjects with dismay, “nothing really gets past the end of the M62, which why you have to crack London.”
“You never really gain anything apart from having played in London,” James adds. “We are always at a loss financially. It’s the risk you take though if you want to get out there, be recognised and get the ball rolling.”
Tonight is like every other night for the manager-less lads; they have arranged the slot at the club after sending off demos harassing organisers, arranged and paid for all their own transport, and rallied the troops for an 8-hour roundtrip bender.
Rather humiliated by their past, they begin to divulge information about their first gigs. “Wasn’t our first gig at the Hayworth?” Sean opened up as the rest of the band, all lowering their heads, trying to avoid the subject somewhat. “We entered a battle of the bands and it were awful. We stopped one song half way through to start again. It was so embarrassing. He [Tom] stood there with his shades and Chelsea boots thinking he were ‘it’,” revealed Ryan. “I soon realised I wasn’t ‘it’ and took them off though.”
Tom added in his defence before Sean bursts into hysterics and exclaims, “I wore a bloody wife-beater vest!”
Thankfully things have changed, yet their past and youthful exuberance still had more follies to expose.
“The first recording we done in a little shitty place down Hedon Road [Hull]. We paid £100 for a live demo and we knocked it out in two day,” Sean recalled. Moving onto a £180 4-track that was brought on eBay and recorded everything with two vocal mics, having one produced with “a load of digital effects and echoes” they finally got it sorted, and with their latest offering has come interest from the likes of EMI. “A guy from the company rang us up the other day after getting hold of The Sesh CD [from the Linnet and Lark (Hull) sessions] showing some interest. We have sent off a copy of our demo and I guess the ball is in their court now,” informed a humble James.
As the recordings have progressed along with the interest surrounding the band, so have the songs. “On the second demo that we done we kept none of the original songs,” Ryan pointed out. “When we started out we had no real feelings, you know? But as we grew as musicians we started to have more influences on our writing and what we wanted to convey in a song.”
“It just progressed from jamming,” Sean went on to comment. “At first we were just trying to knock them out with no real influences, but now they have more meaning. A lot of it has come from gigging.”
“We are pushing ourselves further as musicians,” Ryan continued. “We don’t want to do the simple stuff all the time and with the likes of Futureheads, Bloc Party and Black Wire coming through with the art punk it’s getting more complicated and it’s making us look at different aspects of a song and song writing from it. We are always improving. The more music we listen to the more perspectives you absorb and we are getting more of an idea of the style we want and how we want to play and perform. We go to a lot of gigs and you get to watch the bands and how they use their instruments and perform. It’s like when we started out, we all played with our head down looking at our guitar or whatever but now we are not only into it but look as if we are. I think we are all really happy with how far we have come.”
Since they first landed on the scene their popularity has snowballed. Tonight they play on a
stage that looks like the scene to a Wendy House; chairs and tables are set up behind them as if they have walked in and just set up shop from nowhere, taking gorilla gigging to a whole new dimension. The set was tight, energetic and brimming with youthful gusto. Their take on foot tapping rhythm and blues has a well-formed and mature sound despite their obvious generation gap, making them more admirable as the songs progress. Their songs are a well-calculated mix of youth, love, losing and loathing: Sally Greenteeth carries well with its pop playfulness as I Hate You echoes with its indignant lyrical discontent. Old Routine has a contemporary ska approach with the bitter/sweet vocal exchange from the placid Tom and gritty Ryan making it all the more enjoyable.
I couldn’t help but feel disheartened for the boys upon the final note as I turn to see the crowd reduced to the inebriated rabble that I arrived with swaying in a haze of a blitzed evening. The atmosphere in the bus is of a sombre nature as we leave a snow-covered Sheffield in search for homely comforts. James went on to explain as we tucked into a stash of Kettle chips and orange juice, “it’s the price you pay I guess. Of course it’s disappointing playing a gig like that. We could have done it at home but you need to take these risks”.
Along with Ryan, they chat openly about the state of the music industry (“even trendies are trying to in on it now. Everyone wants to be in a band now, even Topshop are selling bomber jackets,” Ryan ranted with open disgust). It was hard not to question them about the possible impending fame of The Paddingtons and if it could help them onto something bigger. “I don’t think they are they type of people that I would like to get a hand out from. I think we are doing all right as we are. We would like to make it on our own,” Ryan returned with his well-rehearsed answer.
Days before the gig, Hunter S. Thompson passed away leaving a trail of famous comments of his healthy disrespect and disdain for the music industry, famously calling it “a cruel and shallow trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men lie like dogs”.
Such relevance when I have just witnessed a band full of potential come face to face with adversity, having played a set of true zeal, grit and soul. Trips south are always a struggle, but with an air of open-mindedness this maybe the opening chapter to a bright future.