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Before diving into the final night of Paul Draper’s legendary Attack of the Grey Lantern tour at Electric Brixton, it’s probably worth digging up a little bit of context as to why this was so legendary. In the early part of the millennium, 90s outsiders Mansun split somewhat acrimoniously in the midst of recording their fourth album, which would later become the unfinished Kleptomania.
No doubt in part to internal friction and a poor reception to third record Little Kix, this was the end. Silence followed. Singer Paul Draper entered the wilderness, whilst the rest got on with life, purportedly involving children’s TV, ambulance driving, and speedway.
Rumours of solo work failed to desist, until 2016, where he released his first material in over 10 years. After huge fan demand, a full LP Spooky Action fell the following year, to critical acclaim.
After a successful tour, Paul mooted the question to Facebook fan group Mansun’s Only Love Song as to whether he should perform a Mansun album in full, and the response was unanimous. What was less certain though, was whether it should be debut epic Attack of the Grey Lantern, or the sprawling and prog Six (Little Kix was also included, but gained the same amount of votes as such options as ‘The Best of Little Mix’, ‘Marilyn Manson’, and ‘Mmmbop’).
After thousands of votes, only a handful separated the titans. AOTGL won, and so February and March saw Paul Draper hit the road with some solo songs and a 1997 Number One album in tow. Brixton marked the end of this tour, and he went out with a bang.
Solo songs like ‘Don’t Poke the Bear’, ‘Things People Want’, and ‘Feeling My Heart Run Slow’ went down a treat, proving that people weren’t just here for nostalgia. These songs could perhaps be mistaken for lost Mansun tracks, but Paul has brought enough of the 21st century into proceedings to make them sound fresh.
Ultimately though, the room was here to hear a lost gem from the 90s performed in full for the first time. People were in disbelief that this day was actually happening, many Mansun fans having given up hope in the 00s. As the backing track played out the strings to ‘The Chad Who Loved Me’, it began to sink in as to how important this was to people.
Fans had waited years to dance to the breakdown of ‘Taxloss’, and someone appeared to be on the verge of tears after hearing the guitar solo of ‘Naked Twister’. Some of these songs had not been played live since the 90s, if ever.
The opening songs from AOTGL are a broody duo, opening what is at its core, a strange superhero concept album. ‘Taxloss’ kicks some more energy into things, Paul asking the crowd “Are you ready to dance?” as he screams the lyrics over a drum machine beat. Mansun were always remembered for Paul’s unique voice, and 21 years later with no computer trickery, it still sounds utterly amazing and transfixing.
Hit single and quite possibly Mansun’s most famous song ‘Wide Open Space’ erupts the crowd, engaging even the people who had merely tagged along to please their Mansunite friends.
There’s a bit of awkwardness before the introduction to ‘Stripper Vicar’. “Who’s up for some stupidity?” sighs Paul, “this one’s really fucking stupid”. And with lyrics such as ‘But the only thing the Stripper Vicar wears is plastic trousers’ and ‘Found him gagged and bound in stockings and suspenders’, who are we to doubt him?
The final duo ‘Egg Shaped Fred’ and ‘Dark Mavis’ gives everyone a chance to sing along, as Paul said himself, “I’d ran out of lyrics by this point so there’s a lot of na na na’s.” The finale was sung along by everyone, creating a truly unbeatable atmosphere.
As with every gig, there was an encore. Usually this would consist of a fan favourite or a hit single, and in Mansun’s case, perhaps something like ‘Wide Open Space’, ‘Being a Girl’, or ‘I Can Only Disappoint U’. In this case we witnessed hidden track ‘An Open Letter to the Lyrical Trainspotter’, a song designed to wipe away any illusions of taking AOTGL seriously. The chorus of ‘The lyrics aren’t supposed to mean that much, they’re just a vehicle for a lovely voice’ was met with waving arms and jubilation from all, and ends this chapter.
The Six chapter shall come in due course, but for now, everyone can reflect on what was a special tour and a special night, which many thought would never come. To some it was perfect, but ultimately this was a minute detail away from this lofty height. At the end of the day, this wasn’t Mansun. It never will be. But after 15 years of lacking Mansun in any form, there should be no dwelling on this gift horse.