With the break-up of his former outfit Mansun in 2003, many had wondered whether Paul Draper would ever make a return to the stage, with his decision to focus on the backroom activities of production and writing in the intervening years seemingly a permanent one.
For his army of devoted fans then, it was a huge relief when the Chester native returned to action as a performer, with the release of his debut solo album ‘Spooky Action’ in late 2017. Announcing a tour in support of the disc, and his intention to play one (at the time undecided) Mansun album in full for the first time ever, the stage was set for a very special resurrection indeed, for the one-time ‘Dark Mavis’.
Returning to Belfast, after a long absence of well over a decade for a performance at The Limelight, Saturday night (24th February 2018)’s show then was a celebration of both past and present. With two sets making up for the years of silence, act one focused on Draper’s recent solo career, while act two presented the fan-voted performance of Mansun’s seminal ‘Attack Of The Grey Lantern’ in full.
Striding onto the stage looking calm and relaxed, Paul Draper, aided by band emerged casually from the darkness at the back of the venue, to open with the almost hypnotic, bass-driven ‘Don't Poke The Bear’. Powerful and focused, it was clear that Paul Draper was once again open for business.
Making his way through his most recent material, including single ‘Grey House’, it was a stripped back acoustic version of ‘Jealousy Is A Powerful Emotion’ that proved an early highlight. Referring to the intimate section of the show as; “The stool set", Draper took a moment to reflect on his return, candidly admitting; "I never thought I'd come back".
Choosing not to leave the stage as the first set drew to a close, the familiar opening strings of ‘The Chad Who Loved Me’ signaled the beginning of act two, and with it, sent a shiver down the spines of the electrified audience members.
Playing all of the celebrated 1997 set in sequence, ‘Taxloss’ saw the crowd sing along in unison, prompting a visibly moved Draper to comment; “That was a beautiful moment, Belfast ". Continuing with fan-favorites ‘Wide Open Space’, and an indecently fantastic ‘Stripper Vicar’, the latter prompted the biggest response of the night, with the singer moved to declare; “It’s a f**king mega night to be here."
Signing off with the twisted noir of ‘Dark Mavis’ before a final run through the tongue in cheek ‘An Open Letter To A Lyrical Train Spotter’, Draper thanked the crowd for their uproarious response, telling them; “Feel the love; it feels wonderful, man” before adding: “We're going to finish this gig and go explore this amazing city”. From the vantage point of the crowd however, everything special was happening right there, in the packed-out Limelight.
A momentous night in Belfast, a personal triumph for the galvanised Paul Draper, and an occasion that won’t be forgotten by those hanging on the Mansaphone. Six / 5.
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