Photo by Bunky's pickle via Flickr (Under License Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))
As Don Gould pounces each finger onto the keys of his piano, I am sent into a lucid dream-state. This may seem overly elaborate, I admit it sort of is, but those words fit the feeling. It is almost as if each key reverberates into the past, wriggling through the constricting crackles of sixties recording equipment. The opening notes of The Applejacks’ ‘Tell Me When’ almost ring like church bells, reverberating outwards. When I listen to the opening of the band’s hit tune, I imagine everything around me vibrating, dousing the world in a haze.
The Applejacks were with me most days, the past two years. In London, I think I am constantly looking for fragments of the city it was, rather than the one it is now. I actually think a lot of people do this. I found one of these fragments in The Applejacks, putting a sixties flavour on my daily commute down the Strand. This is part of the haze I was talking about earlier.
Spotify suggested The Applejacks to me, I had never heard of them before. Usually, I’m hesitant to listen to new music but the cover to The Applejacks self-title album is irresistible; The young band are pictured in their Sunday school best outside a candy floss stall. Each teen gobs a toffee apple, the photo captured mid-crunch. The picture is charming, brimming with youthful energy. Thinking back to those opening plinkety-plonkety notes of ‘Tell Me When’, one can see parallels between the band’s image and their candy corn tunes.
Coming out of the Brum Beat music scene, The Applejacks shot to number 7 in the UK charts with ‘Tell Me When’. They were the first Brum Beat group to break into the top charts, shooting the Solihull scouts into stardom. ‘Tell Me When’ was a certified hit, landing them cultural capital in the admittedly oversaturated Britpop world. The sixties film Just For You, more variety show than narrative cinema, places them right at the forefront of the film, as usual dressed in suits and stood uniformly. What strikes me about their appearance in this film is the obvious joy on their faces. Opposed to the other appearances in the film, every band member looks ecstatic to be on the big screen. Singer Al Jackson carols proudly to the camera whilst bassist Megan Davies, one of the few female bass players of the time, bobs up and down jubilantly. They come across as young, innocent, and boundlessly happy performing.
Signed by Decca Records, the group appeared on light entertainment shows such as Ready, Steady, Go! and Thank Your Lucky Stars. It is here where they had an almighty chance encounter. That being with Paul McCartney and John Lennon.
At this point, Beatlemania was sweeping across the U.S. So, for these up and comers, encountering such behemoths of the Britpop scene was likely a surreal experience. What followed was perhaps even stranger. After a brief exchange behind the scenes, Paul and John gifted The Applejacks what was to be their next big hit: ‘Like Dreamers Do’.
This is actually the first song I heard by the band. Like ‘Tell Me When’, this song starts with piano, only this time it is lighter in step, with each key cascading in an incredibly satisfying manner. This piano riff continues through the whole song, almost making the tune fizz with youthful energy. Meanwhile, Martin Baggot on guitar adds a fifties poppy heartbeat, underlining Gerald Freeman’s bouncing drums.
It is truly an irresistible track, one that I can’t help but tap my feet to. Of course, it has a Beatles flavour, perhaps most of all in Jackson’s vocals, and yet it is quintessentially Applejacks. Bouncy, poppy, and dreamy, all at once, ‘Like Dreamers Do’ is an essential song.
It wasn’t a hit. It only reached twenty in the charts, a disappointing outcome from what seemed like a guaranteed homerun. After this, the band’s success quicky slumped, resulting in Decca dropping them and, ultimately, the end of the band. However, before the end, the band covered ‘I Go To Sleep’, a track composed by The Kinks own Ray Davies. This wasn’t their last track, that was ironically titled ‘I’m Through’, and yet I feel that this song is a perfect ending.
Like the previous two songs I’ve mentioned, ‘I Go To Sleep’ starts with piano, this time after some prophetic drum rolls. These rolls reverberate, each ending with a single triangle note, with this fading into quiet. Shortly, the piano comes in, this time melancholic. The usually peppy key playing from Gould is here but in a distinct minor key. Combined with the steady drum rolls, there is an air of a funeral procession to the piece, with each drum roll bringing the group one step closer to the end. Jackson laments a lost lover, his voice echoed by a ghostly singer. The bridge lets Jackson’s voice soar, perhaps a moment for a reflection on happier times. But, the keys’ death knolls interrupt as soon as the piano resumes the repeated melody, leading the song, and in some ways the band, to fade away.
There is a British Pathe film of the wedding of band members Megan Davies and Gerald Freeman. Titled Applejacks Romance, a narrator, in that classic clipped vernacular, describes the wedding of the bassist and drummer. Teenagers, barricaded behind metal fences and a line of coppers, surge against the railings, screaming the band members names. The video is really charming, both for the dated production and the band’s joy. Megan and Gerald kiss, almost knocking off Gerald’s think-rimmed glasses in the process, whilst the other band members stand around in top hats and wedding suits, grinning like schoolboys in a candy shop.
I brought this up because it best colours how I think about the band. Although their success was short lived, the time they had in the limelight looked brilliant. In the wedding video, and every other one I can find, they are constantly grinning, as if they are too busy enjoying the moment to think about the future. I suppose that is what I enjoy about the music. It is unashamedly optimistic, the sort of music which commands any troubles to be washed away. To find something that can do that in such a distilled fashion is a rare treat.
Edited by Lucy Blackmur, Music Editor