As the man behind indie rockers Mansun, Paul Draper scored early success when the band’s seminal 1997 debut ‘Attack OF The Grey Lantern’ went to No.1 in the U.K. After progressive follow-up and cult favourite ‘Six’ however, the band began to splinter, and by 2003 it was all over. Concentrating on writing and production in the years since, today Paul admits; “I didn’t think I’d become a performer again”. Fifteen years later however, he’s back, with his first solo album ‘Spooky Action’, and a tour celebrating twenty-one years since the ‘Grey Lantern’ first reared his head. We sat down with Paul for a chat about his return, plans for expanded Mansun reissues, and the road ahead. Wearing the trousers; Michael J.
Hi Paul, welcome back to Belfast; It's been awhile since you last played here, hasn't it?
Yeah, God, I’m trying to think the last time we played. Was it 2000? It might have been 2000 the last time we were at the Limelight. I remember it being a good gig.
On one of Mansun’s early dates here, you were opening for Page & Plant; what was it like touring with half of Led Zeppelin?
It was pretty cool I have to say. I mean, we didn't get to have any crazy parties with Jimmy Page. He was still getting up to a bit of, um, ‘action’ on the tour in the places where we were playing. [*Laughing*].
You’re currently on the road promoting ‘Spooky Action’; how has the tour been going so far?
Brilliant, yeah, really good. I would have never imagined we would have got up to this level so quickly. The London show – 1,500 - sold out, the same with Manchester, and the two Scottish gigs. Dublin was rammed, and we are hoping for a good crowd in Belfast tonight. It's phenomenal really; I didn't think we would be able to do it this level, ever again.
Click HERE to read the review from Paul Draper's Belfast gig.
You’re playing the whole of Mansun’s ‘Attack Of The Grey Lantern’ on this run; what was it like revisiting the album ahead of the tour?
It’s been remembered over the years that album, but coming back to it myself and listening to everything and dissecting it all, I can hear what the good bits are now, and the flawed bits. I think one of the good things about that album is there are no duds on it. There are some great moments on there like ‘The Chad Who Loved Me’. ‘Taxloss’ is good, ‘Disgusting’ is good, ‘Dark Mavis’ at the end is good; there’s loads of peaks, but not too many deep troughs. There is a couple of tracks of the day, you know? Like ‘Stripper Vicar is a bit of a funny and lightweight pop song. ‘She Makes My Nose Bleed’, and ‘Egg Shaped Fred’ are in that Britpop mold; a little bit odd and a little bit left field, but we got away with it.
A lot of your fans would say that Mansun wasn't really a Britpop act.
We just happened to be there in that Britpop period. I don't know if we were ahead of our time, or just really behind the times [*laughing*]. I think we are just finding out now. Mansun's audience were young, and we were a pop group back in the day. Kids of 14 were into us and are only in their mid-30s now, which is good; it means I’ve got a few more years in me.
‘Attack Of The Grey Lantern’ was chosen in a fan vote to be performed in full on this tour; were you happy with that choice, rather than ‘Six’, which was the runner up?
Well, we are going to do both. We actually made that decision beforehand; it was just a matter of what we done first. But ‘Grey Lantern’ is a bit easier to play, and it ties in with the reissues; the ‘Grey Lantern’ reissue is coming out soon.
Is the album going to get the full remastered treatment?
There is going to be a heavy weight vinyl, which is important because we only printed five hundred copies of the vinyl back then. They go for £160 on ebay, which is mad money. So it’s a number one important thing for the fans. There’s also going to be a box set with a sixty-page book with loads of photographs that nobody has seen before, and the story of the making of the album with interviews with all the people involved; record company people, managers, and the A&R guys. We’ve got all the multi-tracks, so it’s going to be a 5.1 stereo surround sound version of the album. We also have a CD of outtakes, so there’s going to be a four-disc CD, with all the John Peel sessions on it.
Will there input from any of the other members of Mansun?
No, it’s just me talking about it. I think Andie [Rathbone, Mansun drummer] might have wanted to talk about it, but I don't think the other guys wanted to be in Mansun; they wanted their own bands, so that’s why it split up. But good luck to them.
Back to the present, and your debut solo album ‘Spooky Action’ was a long time coming; why was now the right time to release it?
I think it was just a combination of circumstances, really. I was originally going to do a solo album after I left Mansun in 2003. Then I got bogged down with doing some other projects and some Mansun stuff, and I worked with Skin from Skunk Anansie on her solo album. That took a couple of years of my time up, and by 2006 / 2007, I just felt the moment had completely passed. It was bands like the White Stripes and The Strokes who were big, and Britpop was just dead. But the record label kept calling me in to do a solo album, and I just didn’t see myself doing it. I basically moved myself into a warehouse in Acton, and started recording and producing. I really enjoyed that. It was a brilliant musical time for me, and out of that came The Anchoress album which I produced and co-wrote with Catherine AD.
So your work with The Anchoress kick-started your desire to relaunch your own recording career?
A few things happened with that; the press picked up on it, and they put her on the front of Mojo magazine with Kate Bush. Then we won the best newcomer at the Progressive Music Awards. By the time all that had gone off, I had so many record companies ringing me saying; “Are you going to do a solo album?” I was looking for my next project, so it just became obvious that it going to be a solo album. But even at that point I never thought I’d do any gigs. I thought I’d sell maybe a few thousand copies and just do it on a shoestring budget, but it actually took off and went into the top ten.
Having not played live in so long, do you still get nervous before a show?
Yeah I do. The first night I didn’t have a drink. I was very focused, and took my time over the show. I just been easing myself into it, shall we say.
Listening to recent live release ‘Live in Scala’, you seem to be enjoying it playing live again.
The band that I work with are the same one that I worked with when I got my studio together in 2007. I had it for eight years, and these are the musicians I picked up in my team. If I wanted a drummer, I’d call John. Ben is the lead guitarist, and he was the assistant in my studio, but he always wanted to be a guitarist. These are the pool of musicians I work with, and they have come with me on the journey. We are all friends which is great, because in Mansun we fucking hated each other you know?
Was Mansun therefore a band of necessity?
It wasn’t that; I started the band in Chester, and I thought the other guys were my mates, but one of them just wanted their own record deal; that’s all it was. Obviously it turned out there was no other band after Mansun, so they should have stuck with Mansun, the fucking idiots! [*laughing a lot*] I don’t think there is any going back now. I’m well happy with the band that I’ve got.
You don't see a Mansun reunion in the future them?
We could probably play bigger venues and all of that if we did Mansun, but life’s too short. I just want to enjoy myself. All these people in my band I work with now, they are my friends in real life; we hang out, and I don’t think I’d betray them and go back to Mansun. I don't need it. I’m not exactly in it for the money or anything like that; I’m just doing it for, I don’t know, I mean Richard Ashcroft said; ''I’m a travelling troubadour'' - if you’re a jobbing musician like me now, it's like back to the medieval times; you get in your van and go town to town. Going back twenty years ago, it was all about CD sales.
The late 90's were probably the last time CD's were selling a lot?
Now it's so fractured the industry, I’ve just got my own bubble that I’m in. There is a group of Mansun fans, and and members of periphery of people who are into that sort of music, and I’m picking up new fans now who will come to a show with their eighteen-year-old lad, and he gets bang into it as well. When I was a kid, my favorite band was The Beatles, but they had split up about fifteen years before. So you don't have to be current and around for kids to get into you; what you have to do is leave some good music behind.
So by playing live is something you enjoy more these days?
I’ve been on a musical journey. Mansun was just a thing. I didn’t think I’d become a performer again, but it's like riding a bike, and when I get up there, I’m bang into it. It depends on the people there as well. A lot of the old clichés of music are sort of ringing true; it is a communication between people, and if you get that at the gig, it just goes beyond the music. It’s an amazing vehicle for positivity; the younger me would have never said that hippy bullshit, but I buy it all now. [*Laughing*] I was the archetypal angry young man, but if I could go back, I'd just enjoy it a lot more; it's just part of my life’s journey, you know? I just feel I’m on an upward curve on a long journey; I don't know where it's going to take me.
Are you happier now than where you were in Mansun?
Much happier than I was in Mansun. Okay, yeah; we could probably do Brixton Academy in London, and headline some of those festivals, but this suits me.
So what does the future hold for Paul Draper?
We have got to get my second album out by next April, or we will miss the festival season. We’re four tracks into the recording process, but will probably limit it to a ten-track album. I don't have the time and space to leave two or three years between albums. When I get back from the U.K tour I’m going to the States to do eight support slots with Steven Wilson, and then it’s straight back into the studio to try and get this done as soon as possible, because we have got more dates coming up at the end of the year.
And plans for playing ‘Mansun’s Six’ live?
Well, we don’t know the full level of the logistics just yet, but if we do something like that we will announce it. Obviously we’ve got the reissue of the ‘Six’ album that we also want to put on vinyl and boxset at some point, so that’s all to come.
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Paul Draper's 'Spooky Action' is available now. Get it HERE.