Paul Draper, lead singer of 90’s band Mansun is back in Belfast this week to play The Limelight. This fourteen date tour is to celebrate the 21st anniversary of their seminal album Attack of the Grey Lantern which he will play in full.
He will also showcase songs from his debut solo album Spooky Action, released in 2017. I caught up with Paul in advance of the Belfast gig to gain an insight into his the musical life of Mansun and Paul Draper.
It’s been 20 years since you played in Belfast. How does it feel to be back and what do you remember about the place from the last time?
“Amazing, really. I never thought I’d go on the road again, never mind coming back to Belfast but I’m really looking forward to it. I know the city has changed and I want to have a look around. I can remember the last time we were here, out for the ‘craic’ after the gig and looking forward to having a bit more of that this time. I loved Belfast the last time and really looking forward to coming back and seeing the changes.”
Musically, who was your inspiration when you were younger to pick up a guitar?
“The Beatles. I’m from Liverpool originally and was indoctrinated with loads of Beatles records around the house. When I was a teenager, it was about writing songs on an acoustic guitar like John Lennon. That’s what I wanted to do and I’ve been incredibly lucky to make a living out of it.”
How does it feel to be playing Attack Of The Grey Lantern in full on its 21st Anniversary. Why do you think it has stood the test of time?
“I don’t think anyone would have known before the album came out, that it was going to be successful. It was a surprise even to the record company. And it was a good album, we had a few good years of hits and touring the world.
“I don’t know what the key to it is. I think for a start it is a good album, has good songs on it and honestly don’t think it has dated as much as some of the other Britpop albums. It’s found a new lease of life on the streaming services and people are still listening to it. It lasted and is sort of bigger than the band, everyone knows the single Wide Open Space.
“The album itself and the follow up Six as well are remembered more than the band. It’s interesting as I obviously have a solo career and I wanted to keep moving forward as an artist but people always want to hear that music so I can’t drop it. It’s always going to be part of the set. Doing the solo album, I’ve picked up so many new fans. It’s a whole different musical world now and if something is good from the past it lasts. I think Attack Of The Grey Lantern had something about it that made it last and here I am twenty one years later still privileged to be playing it.”
Had you always wanted to release solo material after the Mansun split?
“No. When Mansun finished, I got a studio in London and started writing and doing production work for others. I worked with a female artist called Skin from the band ‘Skunk Anansie’ and then rented out the studio commercially, produced another album for a female artist called ‘The Anchoress’. She is currently working and touring with Simple Minds. In the end, fashion changed and it was just the right time for me to do a solo album, so I put the album out and it went Top 20 in the UK and from there it was just ‘Wow!, here we go again’. You just put the music out and thankfully people liked it.”
What is your preference – working behind the scenes or playing live?
“When I finished with Mansun, I was sick of it. Sick of going on the road, sick of living out of a suitcase and sick of the other people in the band. My favourite elements of working in music were working in the studio because I produced the Mansun records, as well as writing the songs. To start with, maybe I missed playing live but after a while that goes, it was not something I hankered after until we put six gigs on last year after the album came out and they sold out so we decided to do a bigger tour. Fourteen cities across the UK and Ireland and we have sold over 10,000 tickets and I’m as shocked as anyone else. I’m just going to go with the flow as I’d expect it all just to collapse tomorrow!”
Recently Public Service Broadcasting remixed Friends Make The Worst Enemies from your solo album. How did that come about?
“Unbelievably, Public Service Broadcasting’s favourite album when they were growing up was Mansun’s second album Six and they talked about that in interviews. I ended up messaging the guys and thanked them for the compliments about the album and they said they were massive fans so I asked if they were up for doing a remix and they said yeah. At the minute it’s just on YouTube but it’s going on to a digital EP next month so you will be able to buy it. I think what Public Service Broadcasting do is brilliant so it is a massive compliment that they bestowed on us, with a remix.”
Do you feel Attack Of The Grey Lantern was ahead of its time and do you think it has influenced other musicians?
“Bands are influenced by all kinds of things and many famous musicians have come to me and said they were influenced by the album. Other said they took the Mansun melodies and turned them round to shape their own. I take that as a compliment. When we were young, our influences were punk rock – The Beatles and Pink Floyd, and Mansun was just a big concoction of things that we knew about. I couldn’t tell if it was ahead of its time or behind it, but it was sort of viewed as a little odd, left-field at that moment in time of Britpop, the guitar based pop, but it has stood the test of time. There is a big fan base that do conventions. It’s phenomenal now and I can only be grateful that I was part of it.”
What is the best bit about taking the music of Mansun out on the road again, coupled with your solo material?
“For a start, I would never just go out and play old stuff. I wouldn’t have the heart for it. I’ve made this new album and the last tour we did, 90% of it was all new material but because it is the twenty first anniversary of Attack Of The Grey Lantern. The record is being re-issued in vinyl format and in a box set. We sat down with the agent and record company and asked how are we going to do this. I didn’t want to flip over to doing just a live set of Mansun material so I am basically going to be my own support act. I’ll play for an hour, just doing all my solo stuff, have a twenty minute intermission and then play the Mansun album in its entirety. So those who are just getting into the solo stuff have a chance to go back retrospectively and listen to the Mansun stuff.”
One of my best friends has a brother-in-law who is a big Mansun fan and has named his Ridgeback dog ‘Draper’ after you. It’s a true story so I’m asking how does it feel to have a dog named after you?
“It’s an honour!. I’ve heard of people naming their cats ‘Mavis’ (after the song, Dark Mavis) but I’ve never heard of any animals being named after me. I’m delighted there is now a dog in Northern Ireland that carries my name.”
What happens now after this run of shows is finished?
“Because of the success of the first solo album, I’ve just signed up for the follow up second one which is great but as soon as I’m finished the UK and Ireland tour, I’m off to America to do eight solo shows then back for some summer festivals, including Festival No. 6 in Portmeirion, Wales. And ultimately lots of studio work to get the second album out next year.”
And finally, For people who are new to Paul Draper can you pick a track from Attack Of The Grey Lantern and one from Spooky Action that they should make a point of listening to?
“If you are not familiar with Mansun, you don’t actually have to go out and buy Mansun records these days, as you get them all over the streaming sites, and the big one would be Wide Open Space. That would be the one I’d tell you to stick on your playlist. The one that seems most popular with fans of the solo material is a track called Things People Want and, with my own Spotify and YouTube pages, you can now just go on and listen. For someone like myself with a job as a musician that is the beauty of the new world, you can just check someone out and if you like them then go to the gig.”
Paul Draper plays The Limelight 2 in Belfast on Saturday 24th February 2018 – for more information, click here.