Paul Draper is the former frontman of cult 90s Britpop/prog band Mansun, and currently a solo artist and producer. Returning to the spotlight after years of studio work, his 2017 solo debut Spooky Actionwas a critical and commercial success. Paul is now embarking on a tour to promote that record and celebrate his past with Mansun. We caught up with Paul to talk about the tour and what else the year holds for him.
‘There will be two sets each night – we’ll start with some solo material, followed by an intermission, and then Mansun’s debut album Attack of the Grey Lantern in full’. I ask why he decided to play an album in full: ‘At first we thought we’d play some old songs mixed in with the few, so we digged up a lot of the master tapes from the EMI store rooms to get the sound effects for the live show. My new record company Kscope acquired the rights to the entire Mansun catalogue, and will be re-issuing Attack later this year, so to mark this in the end we decided to celebrate the reissue and the album’s 21st anniversary in this way.’
Since that album came out he has gained a lot of experience as a songwriter and producer, but he believes the album has stood the test of time: ‘I don’t listen back to it and think “Oh, I wish I hadn’t done that”, I listen to it and I think it’s a great debut album that people still like now’.
We touch on the rest of the Mansun re-issue campaign, which will unroll over eighteen months and see the catalogue remastered in 5.1 and deluxe vinyl. ‘We found unreleased songs, full concerts we’ve recorded, alternative versions of the songs, orchestral versions, jam sessions… It’s a massive archive, that myself and my engineer Paul Walton will restore for the people who remember the band’. This will, of course, include Mansun’s fourth album Kleptomania – the record they were making as they split up and which was never intended to be released. As a result of a fan petition back in 2004, the unfinished sessions were released as part of a three-CD boxset with bonus rarities. Paul tells me that now he will spend time to finish that album off as well.
After Mansun ended, Paul withdrew from the spotlight and focused on building up a career as a producer in his West London studio. I ask him how he made the transition from behind the mixing desk to centre stage: ‘Little steps by little steps. As a producer I still wrote a lot of songs and recorded instruments in the studio, but now I’m back to singing my own material as well. However, the biggest jump of all was going out and playing the songs live’. I ask whether he had missed it: ‘I did for a little while after Mansun ended, but then I was quite happy just going on with my life. Getting back up there was really quite daunting, a massive leap for me.’
Nonetheless, the fans don’t seem to be getting tired of it anytime soon – his first solo UK tour in 2017 sold out and produced a live album from his London gig at the Scala. The live record was initially going to be a limited vinyl release, to be sold only at gigs in the upcoming tour, but fan demand led to it getting a proper release – another example of the unwavering support of the Mansun fanbase, which has been a never-ending source of support for Paul’s undertakings. ‘I’m really lucky in that respect. I never would have thought it would get this big again, but we played those gigs and people were enjoying the old and the new stuff. I want to predominantly play my solo stuff and not just be a nostalgia act. I’ll always play a few from the old ones, but mixed up among the new songs – I always want to keep moving forward.’
And that’s exactly what he has been doing – last year’s Spooky Action proved a big hit, with its roots in the intricate arrangements and song structures we remember from Mansun, mixed in with a host of new sounds and influences. But he started working on it right after Mansun disbanded in 2003, and it almost never saw the light of day:
‘On the deluxe edition of Spooky Action you can hear demos from that period. I had the lyrics and the skeletons of the songs, but when I resumed working we took them to the studio and built them up a lot. I shelved that album initially, I was never going to be a performer again, but times changed and here I am’. The finished product was very successful, even gracing the UK charts for a short while. ‘The record company were absolutely delighted with it, so they’ve signed me up for a second one. This is now up and running and I’m four songs in’, Draper shares.
The UK tour is not the only exciting news on the live front, as Paul is about to open for prog-maestro Steven Wilson. ‘Steve and I have known each other for a few years – he collaborated with me on a track called ‘No Ideas’, and I appeared on his album. When I heard he was going on a tour in the US, I gave him a call and asked how he fancied me as a support act, and he was up for it straight away. I’m happy to be supporting Steven, and delighted to be going back to play in America, which I never thought would happen’.
With two tours, a re-issue campaign and a new album in the works, it’s already looking like a very busy year for Paul Draper, but I ask if there is anything else that the rest of 2018 will hold for him: ‘I can’t announce anything yet because it’s top secret, but we are going to be playing a big show – playing a certain record on a certain day. Keep your diaries open’.
But before that, make sure to clear your diaries for one of Paul Draper’s dates on this upcoming tour:
Dates for the ‘Spooky Action & Attack of the Grey Lantern’ Tour: