Mansun’s debut album ‘Attack Of The Grey Lantern’ came out 21 years ago, yet it only seems like yesterday that a mate shoved a hand-scrawled C90 in my hands and said: “You’ll love this new album, it sounds like Duran Duran meets The Manics”.
It did sound like that and I did love it! Haunting and melodic, deep and cinematic, how the hell did an Indie band from Chester have the balls to release an ambitious concept album as their debut slap bang in the throws of Britpop? They were the outcasts of the Indie music scene, the music press hated them, they didn’t fit in, but I loved them. The album debuted at number 1, they lasted 3 albums and split never to be seen again. Yet 21 years later, ‘Attack Of The Grey Lantern’ remains one of my favourite albums of all time.
Now, seemingly a lifetime later, singer/songwriter Paul Draper returns. Following a rather cool debut solo album named ‘Spooky Action’ and a successful full band tour last year playing ‘AOTGL’ in its entirety; he goes out on the road with guitarist Ben Sink playing acoustic shows. Mansun songs acoustic! Well, with a show announced at The Crescent in York, just a stone’s throw from my house, it would be rude not to turn out and see if the guy who wrote one of my all-time favourite albums has still got it after all these years, wouldn’t it?
Following a set of sweet and chilled folk songs, mixing fiddle, ukulele and keyboards courtesy of Flo Perlin, Paul Draper and Ben Sink take to the stage with their guitars, a few bottles of beer and a few hundred fans for company. Draper, dressed in a black t-shirt and denim jacket, a full beard and his hair now grown out, is a stark contrast to the skin up pin-up of 1997, but hey aren’t we all? That was 20 years ago, but the voice, that voice is still intact.
What follows is a choice set of solo songs, Mansun hits and obscure b sides. Enough to whet the appetite of even the most casual of Paul Draper fans. Of course, there is always one, one pissed-up heckler who tries, albeit unintentionally, to ruin the whole night. But Paul just takes the piss out of him in good spirits. He’s pissed, yet obviously, an Uber fan who sings along (badly and out of tune to every single word to every song, fair play). Paul jokes and asks him to shut up many times, as he’s singing so loud, he can’t hear himself to key in.
Tonight’s opener ‘Friends Make The Worst Enemies’ is a highlight from last year’s ‘Spooky Action’ and it sounds great. With years in the wilderness, Paul’s voice has been kept in great condition and he hits all the notes no problem.
I was interested to witness how Mansun songs transferred in this intimate acoustic environment, stripped of the layers of production, vocal harmonies and guitars, the songs stand up surprisingly well. ‘Disgusting’ sounds as beautiful as the album version, the following ‘Negative’ from ‘Six’ is an unexpected highlight, it sounds amazing acoustic, Paul’s voice hitting those high notes to perfection, it loses none of its upbeat intensity and grandiose charm.
‘The Chad Who Loved Me (probably the greatest opening song of any album) is as good as I hoped it would be and ‘Legacy’ is epic as I remember it.
Paul is on fine form, telling stories and jokes between songs, as he swigs on beer and sucks throat pastels. Either taking the piss out of the heckler (“he’s probably wearing a Shed 7 t-shirt”), Ben (“he’s doing Movember, you know”) or himself. He even tells, us prior to performing a rarity from the unreleased fourth album sessions (‘Keep Telling Myself’), how Mansun came to an end after an unnamed member of the band head butted him.
The new material fits perfectly with the older Mansun classics, the likes of ‘Things People Want’ getting just as much audience participation as the classic ‘Wide Open Space’ does.
In this intimate setting, stripped of all the production, these songs are laid bare and Paul’s lyrical genius is pushed to the fore. The combination of Paul singing and strumming chords as Ben watches his leader intently for the changes, recreating Dominic Chad’s intricate lead work is sublime to witness in the flesh. After a short break, the duo return for an encore of the seminal epic ‘AOFTG’ closer ‘Dark Mavis’, which remains a set highlight long after the lights have dimmed and the crowds have wondered from the bar.
Paul Draper remains an underrated songwriter who has never got the credit he deserves, but then I’ve always loved an underdog. While it looks like a Mansun reunion will never happen, Paul Draper is here performing songs that stand the test of time and prove Mansun were always more than just another Britpop indie band. A beautiful experience.
Author: Ben Hughes