Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Mansun


For this next entry in my band profile series, I'm going to change gears from the older bands I've written about in previous entries and focus instead on a band that I was lucky enough to discover and be a fan of while career was still active. The band is Mansun, who consist of, above from left: Andie Rathbone (drums), Paul Draper (vocals, rhythm guitar, songwriting), Stove King (bass guitar), and Dominic Chad (lead guitar, backing vocals). Coming on to the scene in the mid-1990s at the height of the BritPop/Cool Britannia era that defined the decade in England, Mansun were completely out of step with the rest of the scene. While bands like Blur, Oasis, Suede, Pulp, and other lesser groups were ubiquitous throughout the decade and released singles and albums that defined their generation, Mansun were more the brooding, slightly off-kilter outsiders who crashed the party and found themselves with a string of highly successful records in the charts. They managed to outlast BritPop, but just barely, eventually succumbing to pressures both internal and external and splintering early into the new millennium.





Mansun formed in Chester, England in 1995 when Draper and King brought in Dominic Chad and decided to form a band. Using a drum machine, they recorded some demos and released their debut single, "Take it Easy, Chicken" in late 1995. The band was initially called Grey Lantern, but then switched to Manson for their first single before settling on their eventual name of Mansun. They came to the attention of DJ John Peel and eventually signed with Parlophone Records. At their debut gig in August 1995, they'd drafted Carlton Hibbert in on drums and Mark Swinnerton on drum machine programming. Swinnerton left after a few months and the four-piece line-up released some more singles before Hibbert was sacked, after feuding with Chad, in spring 1996. Julian Fenton filled in on drums until Andie Rathbone joined in August 1996, solidifying the line-up.  Their debut album, Attack of the Grey Lantern, was released in early 1997 and knocked labelmate Blur's critically acclaimed self-titled fifth album off the top of the charts. The album is a concept album looking at  various bizarre characters amidst life behind the scenes of the village they inhabit, all from the perspective of the Grey Lantern who observes it all. The Stripper Vicar, Dark Mavis, Egg Shaped Fred, Penelope Cheapskate, Fatima Toothpaste, and other residents populate daily life in the town,  as it's revealed that the vicar is a stripper and that Dark Mavis is his daughter. The end of the album concludes with the death and funeral of the Vicar as the entire town gathers to pay their respects. Beginning with the beautifully sweeping opening track "The Chad Who Loved Me" and ending with the long chanted fadeout of "Dark Mavis," it's a fantastically grandiose album, where every song segues into the next...the entire record comes off like a technicolor movie for your ears. The songwriting and band performances are top-notch, and the album hangs together as a cohesive whole masterfully. Beyond this, there are several excellent tracks that work as standalone songs outside of the album's concept, including"Wide Open Space," "Naked Twister," "Mansun's Only Love Song," "She Makes My Nose Bleed," and others that would become staples of their live act (which will be discussed later in this piece).




After the touring and promotion for the album was finished, the band began recording their second album. However, at the time Draper was suffering from writers block; because of this, rather than bringing completed songs to the sessions, he brought forth dozens of song fragments. Stitching these together and making the album from scratch in the studio, the result was the critically acclaimed but (relatively) commercially flawed album Six. It's a sprawling, dense, and harrowing album full of twists and turns, hidden bits tucked in every corner...a true headphones records and to the 1990s what the White Album is to the 1960s. With its elaborate album cover filled with hidden references to the lyrics and the kaleidoscopic texture of the songs (again, without breaks between tracks), the album had a definite psychedelic and progressive rock feel and had little to nothing to do with BritPop. Throw in the fact that there was even an interlude partway through where the album was split in half like a vinyl record ("Witness to a Muder, Part II"), and you're left with a masterpiece that was perhaps too ahead of its time given the moment in 1990s Britain when it was released. There were, however, several successful singles from the record including "Legacy," "Negative," and "Being a Girl." While the album was met with confusion in its time, it has since rightly been hailed as the pinnacle of the band's recording career and it is often invoked as one of the lost masterpieces of 1990s rock. Due to Six's relative failure, Parlophone insisted that an outside producer oversee the sessions for the third album, the making of which was not a particularly happy time for the band. They were pushed into a slicker, more commercial-sounding direction and the resulting album, Little Kix, while solid, lacked the spark of their previous efforts and was quite uneven. The band hate it and fans are split on it...in my opinion, half of the album is great and half should be swapped with the B-sides for the album's singles, which are stronger tracks!




From here it was sadly downhill for the band; their planned fourth album was to be a back-to-basics affair, stripped down, rawer, and self-titled to boot. However, internal tensions throughout its gestation led to King being sacked after the final tour in 2002, and the band called it a day in 2003. But the story didn't end there; vigorous fan petitioning led Draper and Parlophone to release the final album sessions in 2004 as a 3-CD box set, entitled Kleptomania, that also included a disc of rarities and a greatest-hits disc as voted on by fans in an online poll. Listening to this set, it's reinforced how much of a shame it is that the band split when they did, as the 4th album tracks have a raw, gritty energy that bristles, and while the trademark Mansun sound is stripped down, it doesn't mean they've gone completely low-fi...the beautiful atmospheres and textures their best work has is still present, and to great effect. A further compilation, Legacy: The Best of Mansun, was released in 2006 and contained all of the band's promotional videos and a new mini-documentary on the band, on the bonus DVD included in the set. Since then, it's been quiet from the band, with rumors of Paul Draper's solo album, as well as rumors of a full band reunion, popping up over the years. Nothing has happened although those of us who have been passionate fans of the band have never stopped loving the band and their music, to the point that there will be fan convention held in Chester in August 2014, where rare Mansun memorabilia will be on display, there will be several Q&A sessions with people from the Mansun camp, and the first Paul Draper solo track will be premiered!







As for Mansun's influences, in an era where their contemporaries were citing 1960s and 1970s legends like the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Who, Small Faces, T Rex, and David Bowie as musical touchstones, Mansun, while sharing the Bowie influence, drew upon different inspirations, including 1980s New Wave, Duran Duran, ABC, and Magazine among others. Along with being musically apart from their peers, Mansun were also quite striking in their appearance, eschewing the Fred Perry/Adidas/neo-Mod stylings of BritPop in favor of a darker, Gothic/Romantic look that had more to do with the Doors, the Velvet Underground, and 1970s punk than any of the more colorful and florid looks making a comeback in the 1990s. Whether it was Chad wearing a dress, the band wearing eyeliner, or Paul with the word "STRIPPER" scrawled across his chest with lipstick, there was more of an edge to their look than the mainstream bands of BritPop. This melding of their look and their music was perfect and manifested itself to great effect not only in their promotional videos, but in their concerts. For as great as Mansun's records were (and still are), they also were one of the best live acts of their era, putting on shows of incredible power. The songs took on a harder, heavier edge in a live setting, with many of them stretching out to ten minutes or more, including storming numbers like "Take it Easy, Chicken" and "Taxloss," which were two regular showpieces of the live act. Additionally, they drew upon their rich catalog of B-sides, many of which were as good, if not better, than album tracks. They had a handle on dynamics, where quieter passages were used to great effect to build tension and excitement before the music would explode over the audience...one only has to hear a live version of "Electric Man" or "Comes As No Surprise" to hear what I mean. And instrumentally, the live stage gave them a chance to stretch out and flex their chops, none more so than Andie with his thunderous drumming flying all over the drum kit, and Chad with his stinging and soaring solos and his mastery of effects pedals. Some songs were transformed from their majestic studio incarnations into powerhouse performances, including "Naked Twister," "Mansun's Only Love Song," and "Everyone Must Win," while longer concept pieces like "Television" became truly epic when played live.




For me personally, the appeal of Mansun's music, besides its quality, is the fact that while it had identifiable touchstones, it was simultaneously so different and unique; the band truly had a sound all their own. In addition, many of their songs had an outsider appeal and dealt with topics that were more personal than what many of their peers were writing about at the time...I find them to be analogous in this way to other bands who had this natural outsider ethos and embraced it, such as The Kinks and The Smiths. Beyond that, the music and lyrics work so well together and have so many layers to them that repeated listens still reveal new things, and the songs always sound fresh and interesting, which is the hallmark of any great band. I can also find new ways to relate to the same song depending on circumstances or my mood, which makes for a rich listening experience. 

Mansun are virtually unknown here in the USA beyond a small but devoted following. When I've tried to expose my friends to them, they almost always have no clue who I'm talking about...a few of them have recognized "Wide Open Space," which was the band's only (minor) hit song here, but that's about it. In a way, however, I like it this way...it makes the band more of an intimate secret here, something that can be held close to my heart and that I don't have to share with everyone else in the mainstream. And in keeping with the band's status as outsiders, that's absolutely fitting.

28 comments:

  1. Stove King wasn't sacked from the band after the tour. He left by his own accord in December 2002 and had previously not wanted to take part in that last tour. Dominic Chad wasn't present for a lot of the fourth album recordings either.

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    1. correct. stove had already left the band as he didn't want to be in a band with paul draper any more as it was hell, nor did chad. he had to be begged to return to do those dates. draper made the story up about money as an act of revenge, as he couldn't get over the fact that he didn't want to continue in the band. not much point pointing stuff like this out though, as paul draper has an army of sycophants who believe anything their leader claims.

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    2. Interesting...of course there are two sides to every story and both are plausible. I have no horse in the race either way, I just love the music. Do you have firsthand knowledge of this being the case, as you claim? The reasons for the band's break-up have always been such a mystery and something I've been trying to unravel for years.

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    3. the mystery can't be unraveled publically as the the little fella who used to stand in the middle on stage would harass and threaten legal action against any band member or associate who went against their version of events. bit of advise for any budding musos out there - don't work with paranoid schizophrenics who have no concept of rational thought.

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    4. Sounds like you may know some details and be personally involved with some of the band or their associates?

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  2. And some more interesting titbits of info - Andie Rathbone resigned from Mansun Touring Ltd in 2001 and Stove in 2002. The narrative that Mansun split due to financial problems and a fallout with Stove doesn't wash. The band split because the rest of the band (read as Chad) couldn't work with Paul Draper basically.

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  3. Interesting...I had based what I wrote on what I heard from someone close to the band many years ago (I can't remember the name, it was on the old Mansun Music Lovers site)...they told me Stove had been sacked because he had stolen money from the band including most of the profits from the final tour, which is why he was sacked afterward, and also the reason why the 3CD set was titled "Kleptomania" when it was finally released. I had also heard that Chad was losing interest, as you pointed out...basically, Paul got tired of holding the whole thing together and perhaps he was difficult for Chad to work with, who knows? I do think it's telling that only Paul and Andie are up for any sort of reunion, though.

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  4. The band wouldn't have made any money on a tour like that for starters. There's one interview where Paul Draper claims he was nicking hundreds of thousands from the bands accounts - there would have been no band account with such amounts in it for starters and would have resulted in a court case (which of course never happened). Draper fell out with EVERYONE around him - the mangement (who the band split from after Little Kix), the label and the whole band. He and Andie Rathbone haven't actually seen each other since the band split btw. Rathbone is on record as saying a reunion would have to include all 4 band members in the knowledge that isn't possible (and if Stove fucked the band over so hugely, why was Rathbone still in touch with him after the split and would have no problem with working with him now?!).
    It's worth pointing out that around the time of Kleptomania that Paul Draper stalked fan forums and contacted admins with all sorts of nonsense about his ex-bandmates. Draper didn't get tired of holding the band together, the band simply disintegrated around him.

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    1. What's your source for all of this?

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    2. The most accurate piece of how the band split up Jimmy , nice one

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    3. It sounds plausible but it also flies in the face of what I've heard from people close to the band...I'm not saying one is right and one is wrong but I'd love to know the source for Jimmy's claims?

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  5. Is that you Stove?

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  6. More than plausible .

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    1. Parts of it, sure, but some bits of it beggar belief...in any event, it's an interesting debate and a real mystery why the demise of the band is still shrouded in so much darkness more than a decade after the fact.

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  7. Most of it true in my opinion . Which are the bits that u find hard to believe ??

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    1. The bits about there not being a band bank account, Andie and Paul not seeing each other since the split (as far as I know, they have), and Paul stalking fan forums...I'm not trying to come off as a Draper fanboy, but if Paul was full of it, as Jimmy says, about Stove stealing, why have the other three remained silent for 11 years (and counting)? It just doesn't add up.

      I'm not saying Paul shares none of the blame in the breakup, but Jimmy is making it sound like the breakup was 100% Paul's fault, which seems hard to believe, especially seeing as how Chad gave up music almost the instant the band dissolved, which implies *he* was ready to pack in before the rest of them.

      I suppose we'll never know the whole truth...makes for an interesting debate!

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  8. The band probably did have a bank account , but musicians use ltd companies to get paid into for tax reasons , so they get paid into there own ltd company accounts from this . Do you think Stove would have access to withdraw "100s of thousands of pounds " ?? An amount which changes depending on which interview you read .
    Don't think Draper would stalk internet sites , but I'm sure there are people that do it for him !
    Interesting debate indeed !!

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    1. I'd never heard that Stove had stolen 100s of thousands of pounds from them (honestly, I'd be surprised if that band made that TOTAL over the course of their career! They were successful but not THAT successful). All I had heard, in a few different places, is that he had skimmed money off of the tour proceeds the last couple of years that they toured...enough that it was noticed, but not all of it. It certainly jibes with why Paul retitled the 4th album "Kleptomania" when it had originally self-titled.

      The hard part of all of this is that two of the members of the band have gone to ground and disappeared from the industry, and the other two don't want to talk about it. Perfectly fine, that's their right but it makes for a lot of interesting theories!

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    2. I didn't say the band didn't have a bank account, I said there wouldn't have been one with hundreds of thousands in it. The important thing to remember boys and girls, is that you have only heard the story from one side. There were 4 people in that band and the management. If anyone can track them all down for an article it would be pretty explosive and blow a lot of people minds.

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    3. Jimmy, it certainly sounds that way! Is all of what you've said just conjecture on your part or do you have sources to back it up? Just curious.

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    4. This is going to be my last post. I'm loving the comments on Facebook from people who know fuck all. Re the q&a that Rathbone & Draper did years ago - that was done online from different ends of the country and they hadn't seen or spoken to each other in person and still hadn't this year (has that really changed recently? My point still stands). The bit missing from that story is that prior to that *allegedly* Rathbone had been posting on forums under an assumed name and was (ironically) reported to the police for stalking. Allegedly of course. It sounds so ridiculous, so I woudn't expect anyone sane to believe that!

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    5. And I genuinely am sorry for dragging on this shit up again, but it's ridiculous that people still think the band split up because of Stove despite Draper having already admitted that he and Chad couldn't work together any more.

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    6. Don't be sorry, it's interesting to hear theories from all sides! I genuinely mean that, too.

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  9. I know , it's ridiculous !! 2 probably fed up members and one hanging on to the others coat tails for future work maybe ?? Kleptomania suited the story that he put out about why the band spilt ??
    Interesting !!

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  10. Devil's AdvocateJuly 25, 2014 at 9:23 AM

    Jimmy's point about when Stove and Andie left Mansun is consistent with the following web page:

    http://companycheck.co.uk/company/03423112/MANSUN-TOURING-LIMITED/directors-secretaries

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    1. Interesting, thanks for pointing this out, DA!

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  11. I’ve found this article and it's really interesting, especially when we have got the new EP from Paul Draper, his new interviews, it’s still actually. Thank you!

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