Ex-lead singer of 90s cult band Mansun, Paul Draper is due on stage. It’s his second gig in fourteen years and the air is charged. Last night it was Leeds, tonight Manchester. The crowd are expectant, excitement is in the air. Mansun exploded onto the late 90s scene with experimental but catchy songs such as Wide Open Space, Stripper Vicar and Tax Loss achieving some commercial success with three albums.
During the making of the fourth, they parted ways and not on good terms either. Draper disappeared from view and appeared to give up on music. However, behind the scenes, he worked in the studio collaborating with various artists. It took a legion of internet followers urging him, over time, to release new music that brought his debut album Spooky Action from conception through to incarnation. Last year two EPs were released and now the album. It is a record that draws heavily on his bitter departure from the band and is raw and visceral in its content. The 11 songs are dark and richly textured bearing down on a more electronic sound than of old.
And there he is and suddenly the audience are chanting “We are the boys” one of Mansun’s tracks before he dives into The Silence is Deafening from his first solo EP. Don’t You Wait It Might Never Come encompasses rock with throbbing bass beats. The tinkling piano intro of Things People Want is haunting and brooding. Due to the weightiness of his lyrics I expect Paul Draper to take himself seriously: not at all, he is quite the comic. I’m stood high up on the balcony and can’t quite hear all his banter with the audience but he seems relaxed although with a bit of a cold. In the one hand, he appears to hold a beer or wine and then later he’s sipping from a builder’s mug (Lemsip perhaps?) Someone backstage brings out a stool for him to sit on and he states that this is new for him: “the stool section” and is happy cracking jokes.
He introduces the band before pretending to ignore the petite lady to his left on the keyboards. “I’m sure you know who this is?” he utters (or words to that effect) and the audience replies, “The Anchoress”. (The Anchoress being Catherine AD, talented Welsh-born instrumentalist who he collaborated also with on Spooky Action and her debut album).
He entwines Spooky Action and Mansun songs including Disgusting. The night is set the air electric. Grey House is industrial meets squelchy reverbs. The audience is happy and then indeed rapturous as for an encore Paul sings the favoured Mansun track Wide Open Space. Every corner of the venue is bouncing with sound. It’s only when we think they’re gone but no, a second encore brings Don’t Poke the Bear from Spooky combining synths sounds and 1950s “spooky” sci-fi effects thus bearing the fruit of more than10 years hard work in the making.
It’s been worth the wait. The gig was a sell-out as were others on the tour. If you missed/miss him this time catch him next February/March when he has some more tour dates.