An Interview with Paul Draper (Mansun)
By Neill Barston
With a wry laugh, former Mansun frontman Paul Draper reveals it was a mere quirk of fate that saved his long-awaited solo album from complete oblivion. According to the Liverpool-born singer, the demos earmarked for Spooky Action had frustratingly gathered dust within the depths of his West London studios, seemingly destined for classic ‘lost album’ status.
But after finally summoning the courage to revisit these half-realised songs following a successful spell as a producer, it emerged his sound engineer Ben had accidentally taken the album’s fledgling recordings home thinking they were blank DVDs ripe for recording over.
“It’s just lucky we had those demos on DVD-Rs that were not a re-writable format, otherwise they would have ended up as Ben’s recording of Arsenal on Match of the Day. If anyone wants to ask him any more about that, he’s now in my band as our guitarist,” says Paul on the curious course of events.
While such an ocean of time elapsed since his former output could easily have put paid to the prospects of a return, it seems there was a strong sense of unfinished business surrounding Spooky Action’s emergence.
“Debt of gratitude”
Though it may have been a long and winding road, persistence has paid off with the album gaining critical acclaim and cracking the top 20 charts. Its performance prompted record label Kscope to embark on a major re-issue of Mansun’s back-catalogue over the next 18 months.
Significantly, the band’s vocalist has no interest in being viewed as a nostalgia act, though admits the decision to perform and write again was in part inspired by fans devotion. This included several high profile conventions over recent years that ensured the music remained in the public’s consciousness.
“I suppose I was a studio person as that’s where I’d been for the past 15 years, but I’ve so enjoyed being out doing the live shows again. It’s been quite an adventure,” remarks Paul on the whirlwind events of the past six months, which has seen him move away from production desk duties honing material for the likes of Skin of Skunk Anansie, and most recently being at the helm of the debut album for the Anchoress.
He says he owes a debt of gratitude to those who have carried forth the legacy of the band, which at its late 90’s peak stood on the brink of near stadium-sized fame with the success of their first two albums.
In recounting those years, he concedes a sense of frustration over the band’s demise surrounding the recording of their fourth album, Kleptomania. Following pressure from fans, it gained a belated release by Parlophone records following the group’s demise.
Consequently, by Paul’s own admission: “It’s more likely the Beatles would get back together in their original line-up than Mansun,” Although he explains he has had contact with former drummer Andie Rathbone.
“Far more complex”
Despite the band’s untimely implosion, there were some notable highs, including the chance to meet Paul’s musical hero Prince while touring in the US. As he recalls, it was an all too fleeting encounter in a VIP club lounge, with the Purple Rain songwriter being surrounded by a typically large entourage. He described his shock death as ‘a massive loss to music,’ as was the passing of his other great inspiration, David Bowie.
“I’ve always been a Bowie fan, and it was great to be able to support him on his tour of Italy back in 97. One night, he just came backstage to our dressing room, chain-smoking a cigarette and he just said how much he liked our music. He insisted we just call him Dave – he was very disarming, and the consummate performer. It didn’t get much cooler than being able to hang out with him.”
As for his latest band line-up, he enthuses it’s far more complex than it was first time around, with keyboards adding to depth of their sound. They’ve even raided the EMI archives for effects that were used on his former early recordings that will be placed centre-stage for the upcoming tour dates.
“It’s been a long while since I’ve played the songs from our debut Mansun album, and I think certain records last the test of time, which this one has done. For the new tour, this will be the first time that we’ll be playing Attack of the Grey Lantern in its entirety, which we didn’t even manage back in the day.
“I’m just pleased that fans have seen the new material as a continuation of what we achieved with Mansun,” explains Paul, who had been refreshingly modest about the prospects of his latest material before its release.
“Sense of momentum”
While he admits that being on an independent label has meant that the sustained promotion afforded to the likes of solo artists such as Ed Sheeran would never be possible, it’s a situation he is entirely happy with. Being able to pursue his music on his own terms is something that he is valuing hugely, as he speaks with real hope for future shows and recording.
“What’s been happening the past few months has taken me into a whole new world – the response to the new album has been much bigger than I’d thought. We’re putting out a live album based on a London show last year at the Scala, which is taking up all my time right now,” admits Paul. He recalls he managed a few drinks with friends over Christmas before swiftly returning to the studio that has almost become his second home.
The New Year has clearly brought key challenges in preparing to head out across the country. But buoyed by a fresh sense of momentum, Paul enthuses that he’s already penned several tracks towards the follow-up to Spooky Action.
For someone who has comparatively achieved so much in their career, you can’t help wonder if there’s anything that he would add to a personal wish list of ambitions?
“I think to be honest, I would be fine just being a jobbing version of me, I’m happy just doing what I’m doing right now,” adds the singer who is clearly thriving in a rich vein of songwriting and relishing the prospect of hitting the road once more.
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