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Mansun

+ {Paul Draper}

If Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith had extended their “Hurting” spirit into the Britpop “Mad World” of the mid-to-late 90s, they’d have sounded very much in the sculpt of frontman Paul Draper and MANSUN – and that’s no back-handed criticism, only a true compliment. MANSUN’s blend of melodic neo-glam/prog was nothing short of mind-blowing, but after only three bona fide albums, they created the ultimate vacuum, or indeed… `Wide Open Space’… and disbanded.
Formed in Chester, England, in 1995, only the aforementioned singer/guitarist/keyboardist Draper and drummer Carlton Hibbert (now tagged The Hib) would have any recording experience, having been part of Grind (alongside Steve Heaton on keyboards); the trio issued one rare 12-inch single in 1991: `Thought’ (b/w `The Dying Man’). Teaming up with Welsh-born lead guitarist Dominic Chad, bassist Stove King (or, indeed, Steve) – whom Draper befriended while both were students at Wrexham Art College – and purveyor of the beatbox, Mark Swinnerton, there was only one other thing to do, and that was to rid themselves of their DC Comics-affiliated Grey Lantern moniker; they’d get a chance to resurrect the title in the future. Choosing instead, the name Manson, the group caused a minor rumpus with the legal team of notorious cult-leader killer Charles Manson and, after only one self-financed 45 (`Take It Easy Chicken’) – released in September ’95 on Sci Fi Hi Fi Records – they slightly altered their nom de plume to MANSUN; the er… “U-turn” apparently in respect of a B-side by The VERVE entitled `A Man Called Sun’.
Despite not yet performing as a live unit for very long, although patronised by BBC Radio 1 DJ’s John Peel and Steve Lamacq (not forgetting A&R man Keith Wozencroft), Parlophone Records – through their fledgling indie cohort Regal Recordings – won a bidding war that secured their signatures. Written and produced by Draper himself, MANSUN’s double-A debut release, `Skin Up Pin Up’ / `Flourella’, managed to scrape into the Top 100 that December.
In the process of upgrading to Parlophone meant that Swinnerton was surplus to requirements. Not since RIDE, had a Britpop-styled unit delivered a series of charting EPs, and kick-starting MANSUN’s game-plan was Top 40 entry, `One’. Spearheaded by the solid `Egg Shaped Fred’ (with also `Ski Jump Nose’, `Lemonade Secret Drinker’ and `Thief’ on board), there was no rush to push out an album at this stage. Instead, the `Two’ EP pursued the same pattern; a re-plucked `Take It Easy Chicken’ leading out the pack of four.
The Hib had not settled within the band and when he left, ex-KINKY MACHINE sticksman Julian Fenton filled in on tour prior to ex-DNA Cowboys man Andie Rathbone filling the vacancy. The EP ideology still intact, albeit relegated exclusively to CD-EP titles, “Three” was MANSUN’s inaugural Top 20 entry, chaperoned by the glam-tastic 7-inch A-side, `Stripper Vicar’. As memorable as anything released in 1996, the year was capped-off by Draper and Co’s finest four minutes, `Wide Open Space’.
Furnished by the highlights of the previous year, and anticipated by Top 10 Britpop breaker, `She Makes My Nose Bleed’, MANSUN were as stunned as any in the music business when their debut album, ATTACK OF THE GREY LANTERN (1997) {*9}, shot in at No.1. Ambitious in its stylistic diversity, the double-LP contained supplementary Top 20 hit, `Taxlo$$’ (in awe of The BEATLES’ `Taxman’, no doubt), but not their second Top 10 hit `Closed For Business’. Opening with something one’d expect from a cinematic JOHN BARRY theme entitled `The Chad Who Loved Me’, the lead guitarist was in his element before the orchestral dirge slipped full-throttle into song cycle. The band had so many fingers in so many genre pies it was indeed nigh-on impossible to pigeonhole their dextrous talents on seductive slices, `Mansun’s Only Love Song’ (fuse ABC and SUEDE with PRINCE and Young Americans BOWIE) and `Disgusting’ (TEARS FOR FEARS in OASIS mode). One thing was for sure, the album has lasted more than most Britpop-affiliated sets.
Closed for business until the following summer, MANSUN were back high in the hit parade with two EP-type singles: `Legacy’ (their 8th in the series) and `Being A Girl’; both taken from their pseudo-concept sophomore set, SIX (1998) {*7}, which, spookily enough, reached the same number in the charts. Quite rightly abandoning any alliance or musical kinship with the fading Britpop movement, the band turned to prog-length tracks for nourishment; and for the most part it worked on opening cuts, `Negative’ and `Six’ (both addendum hits).
MANSUN returned in summer 2000 with their third set, the very average LITTLE KIX {*5}. An overly produced, post-Britpop disappointment (hitting only No.12), they seemed content with not only isolating fans, but isolating the music itself with cringe-worthy tracks such as `Until The Next Life’ and `We Are The Boys’. Trying so hard to escape the confines of a collapsing genre was probably their own downfall, but in the crooning or swooning `I Can Only Disappoint U’, `Electric Man’ and `Fool’, they’d still hit Top 30 status. MANSUN’s orchestral aspect remained, but after the melancholy dabbling of the wonderful “Grey Lantern”, this album seemed like the metaphorical difference between a limousine and a horse and cart.
Rumour had it that the group were planning to work with Ibiza dance guru PAUL OAKENFOLD, but they split in May 2003 before a fourth album could test the public once more; their swansong minor hit, `Slipping Away’ (from the CD box-set, KLEPTOMANIA (2004) {*7}) was pushed out within the spectrum of the missing songs and other compilation tracks, thus confusing buyers once again.
PAUL DRAPER, meanwhile, was contemplating a solo career, but chose instead to supplement other acts such as The Joy Formidable, Menace Beach and The Anchoress (the latter alongside Catherine Anne Davies), before taking the plunge in early 2016 with a STEVEN WILSON-endorsed CD single: `EP One’ (featuring Too Pure-endorsed `Feeling My Heart Run Slow’). Will there be `EP Two’? – who knows.
© MC Strong 1998-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Aug2016

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