Return of the man from Mansun
Ahead of a live date at Scala, Paul Draper talks about his new music – and offers a cautionary tale for young bands
31 August, 2017 — By Róisín Gadelrab
Former Mansun frontman Paul Draper will play live at Scala on September 21
“ONE, write good songs; two, be honest; three, hold all your meetings together,” former Mansun frontman Paul Draper is setting out his advice to new bands who want to avoid falling apart.
And Paul should know – Chester band Mansun was a cult success in the 90s – not quite as big as the Brit Pop heavyweights, but winning critical recognition and a loyal army of fans, until their acrimonious split in 2003.
Paul continues: “Four, make sure you all get separate lawyers! No one does at the start and that’s where Mansun imploded really. The only winners were the lawyers.
“Five, get in a band with your friends or, if you’re in a manufactured band, make sure you get along with the other people in the band. I tried everything I humanly could to avoid the people in Mansun and, in the end, my only way was to just leave.”
And leave he did, ending up with his own studio in Acton, writing and producing for other artists and welcoming musicians including Frank Ocean and Pixie Lott in to record.
Over time, he built up a collection of songs – some written while still angry about the Mansun split, others penned after he had moved on. He released two EPs last year, while his debut solo album Spooky Action was released earlier this month.
His London show at Scala (September 21) sold out in a day and Paul has revealed that he will soon be announcing some bigger shows for early next year.
This recent success has come as a surprise Paul admits. “I’m going with the flow. Every day people want to speak to me about it. I don’t think anyone involved in the project would’ve believed it would have got to this stage and this big.
“We put on some dates and they sold out, so we’ll announce more. We realised we should have done a much bigger show at somewhere like the Roundhouse. In the next couple of weeks, we’ll announce a new single on vinyl and bigger shows in London and Manchester.
“It would have saved me a lot of grief, not having to do two tours, but it’s a different level of success.”
Paul was encouraged to release his own work after Mansun fans petitioned for him to bring out a solo album.
He said: “I started the idea when I left Mansun in 2003. I tinkered around with demos, then I went into writing and producing. The pressure started about 18 months ago, with a few offers from record companies. Because I could see dollar signs in their eyes, I dug out some demos. I left that project when I was angry and disillusioned – I was coming out of a rock band that split. It was a long time ago and I’m over it now – I can talk about it dispassionately, although the album is an autobiographical catalogue.”
Right now, he’s rehearsing for the tour. He said: “We’re going to throw in a couple of Mansun songs, but it will be mainly new stuff. I’ll play a Mansun one acoustically, but I won’t say which one.”
All the songs on the album have “personal or autobiographical meaning”, he said, adding: “The next single is Grey House, which is probably one of my favourites off the album.
“It’s going to go to radio and we’ll release a 7” single, too. I love the whole vinyl revival – it’s interesting times. Of all the tracks on the album, the ones that come to the fore are Grey House and Jealousy is a Powerful Emotion. On Facebook, Mansun fans have forums with tens of thousands of people and that came to the top.
“When you complete an album, you don’t know what is good and bad – you have to wait for the mirror of society to come back to see what resonates.”
Bringing out music in the age of social media has added a new dimension to the way Paul operates.
He said: “In this age, you can speak directly to the fans. For example, if you want tickets, follow my Facebook. I live in my own bubble – I can’t compete with Katy Perry or Kesha and there’s no Top Of The Pops.
“I love the whole deconstruction of it – for me, it’s the perfect time. My audience is still relatively young. I can sell out concerts and put out vinyls. We got to the top 20 and we didn’t go any higher, because we’re on an independent label.”
What does he think is the secret to Mansun’s enduring cult status? He said: “I don’t know the answer – it was a lot of people’s favourite band when they were 14, 15 or 16. People were pretty young and as soon as I reared my ugly head again, they were all still there.
“They had their internet forums and were arranging conventions. Next year, they’re doing a London convention. If I knew the answer to that question, I wouldn’t be here. If I knew how to build giant fanbases, I’d be a marketing expert for record companies.
“We put out a lot of tracks on EPs and wrote to all our fans. We left some interesting music behind, and it was cut short in its prime. One of the guys in the band didn’t want to do it anymore – he wanted to pursue a solo career as a blues jam project, but I’ve not heard anything so can’t say if he succeeded.”
He adds that the music came about through “naïvety and a lack of experience”, adding: “I don’t think we were very technical. I just remember, that whatever knowledge I did have about music, I pushed it a hard as I could, to try to make things original, as deep as I could melodically and acoustically interesting.”
Paul, who still speaks to drummer Andie Rathbone, but says he is “well rid” of the other two, has not ruled out making an appearance at the London Mansun convention.
“I think Andy turned up and played at the last convention. If the London one goes ahead, I might go myself. Mansun was a part of my life and I’m positive about it. It made a lot of people happy.
It’s given me a career as a songwriter and record producer, solo artist, so who knows.”