October 1997, and my newest obsession were on tour again! And I literally could not wait to see them in London. So I zoomed up to Manchester one Saturday to see them there first.
In October 1997 I was experiencing something of a crisis in my London life. Since my last gig in September, I’d spent three weeks with my mum in Victoria BC, Canada – my mum’s hometown, where she’d been spending the summer with her own mum and sisters. She flew home to Australia the same day I flew home to London, and I arrived back in my tiny Chelsea room with serious doubts in my head as to just exactly where “home” should be. Yes, I was living my dream life in London, but where was it leading? Did I really want to be a part time clinic receptionist for the foreseeable future? Could I carry on just living for the next gig, or did I need something more? Surely it would make sense to return to Perth, carry on with my uni studies, and spend more time with my family?
Added to this was the fact that I had a valid plane ticket back to Perth for the 30th of November. I’d originally booked a three month return trip when I’d travelled to London the previous November, and when I’d decided to extend my trip, I postponed my flight home to the latest date allowable – exactly one year on from the date I departed Perth. So, with homesickness newly quadrupled by the fact I’d just spent a wonderful holiday with my mum, it was very, very tempting to just say ‘sod it’ to the London life and get on that plane back to the familiarity of Perth and the security of my old bedroom in my family home.
But before that final decision had to be made, I had an October full of gigs, and to begin, it was time to see Mansun again. My obsession for Paul Draper and co. was reaching a hyperventilating peak in the latter part of 1997. I’d spent the first couple of weeks of September, before jetting off to Canada, glued to the radio to catch every possible airing of their astounding new single “Closed For Business” (my diary reports that I heard it 20 times on XFM but only twice on Radio 1 – shame on you, BBC!) Now Mansun were about to play one of my favourite venues in London, the Astoria, and my excitement knew no bounds. But one gig was not enough, and so I zoomed up to Manchester the Saturday before to see them there. And it turned out to be quite the weekend of misadventure.
It all started fine, despite a “tidge of last-minute rush” as I’d neglected to pack anything til the morning of the gig, but I made it onto the 9.50 train to Manchester and then trekked through the rainy streets to the hostel. I did a recce of the best route to the Academy, and then settled back to relax for the afternoon. But I had a surprise in store. From my diary:
“So I kicked off my boots and settled down. At this point however I noticed that while my right foot was perfectly dry, my left sock was slightly soaked through. I examined my boot in search of the leak. I found that the sole has split almost entirely through.”
So, a slight wardrobe crisis had transpired. But luckily I had some time to sort it out.
“Not wishing to find myself only wearing half a boot whilst crashing about to “She Makes My Nose Bleed”, I dragged myself out to the Arndale centre…”
Sensible Scruffy. Time to buy some new mosh-ready footwear!
“…to get some superglue…”
Regular readers of this blog will note that I was not always the most practical in my approach towards gigging safety, one particular highlight being the way I used to dehydrate myself before a gig so as to avoid needing the loo whilst crushed at the barrier. However, reading this again after all these years, even I was taken aback that I would be so silly as to think superglue would fix the sole of a boot that was about to be jumped about on very enthusiastically for an hour or two.
“So back in the hostel I stuck my ailing boot back together with only a couple of near misses involving superglued fingers, and had dinner. Happy that the boot was sorted and it had stopped raining just in time for the queue experience, I got eyeliner’d and glitter’d and strode off towards the evening’s adventures!”
You never know! Maybe it would work!
“I took one step into the hall! I heard a loud crack!”
“That was the sound of my left boot defying the laws of superglue and tearing itself asunder once again. So I went back in and had another go with twice as much glue. This lasted at least halfway down the hall. So at this point the only fitting response was “stuff it” and I continued towards the Academy.”
So with one boot attempting to make a break for freedom I got to the Academy at about a quarter to seven. “The queue was pretty bloody long by this time. I didn’t go early ‘cos I was planning on a Behind The Mosh experience for this gig, as I didn’t want to be in any serious pain for Tuesday’s Astoria experience. Plus I’d had something of a tiring day and didn’t fancy being crushed to bits. However, we got in at around 7.35pm and this is when I discover that despite the legions ahead of me, to the far left of the stage the excitable throng is only one row thick. I mean what else could I do??? I positioned myself in second row Chad-side and decided he would be my fave for the evening.”
But before our boys, there were two support bands to get through. First up were Perm, who were quite pleasant. “Before I found out their name I had personally christened them Shoegazing Lives. Fuzzy sonic cathedrals, the singer either horrifically shy or outrageously affected as he repeatedly buried his head in his arms to avoid the sight of the frightening masses.” Second up were Cecil, and they were bloody awful. “The songs were largely an uninspired and highly forgettable mass of indie unambition and went on for bloody ages. Plus the remarkably unattractive twonk of a lead singer leapt into the crowd during the second-last song and caused mass waves of extreme discomfort and serious shouts of abuse and expletives and “off! off! off!” Most of the cheers at my end of the crowd were of relief that they’d finally buggered off.” The only good thing about Cecil was that their stage set-up included “tiny balloons tied to everything, which were duly distributed to the crowd after the band were gone and so a mass balloon popping frenzy ensued.”
But who cares for balloons when it’s time for Mansun! “They strode upon the stage to that outlandish orchestral flourish at about 10pm. Stove shirtless and displaying his new muppet tattoo, Paul in military gear, Chad in a black ruffly shirt and the same stripey trews from V97.”
But this was a new Mansun that we were encountering that night. Over the course of my first three Mansun gigs, I’d got used to their aloof performance style, with Paul a serious, uncommunicative presence, glued to his guitar. Things were different this night.
“They are off into “Everyone Must Win”. From the first moment it’s clear that this is not quite the same Mansun that throttled me so unexpectedly back in April. For this first song Paul is guitar free! It was such a complete THRILL to see Paul Draper being solely the Star, the Singer, unhindered by his instrument. He was so compelling, so charismatic, so reminiscent of David Bowie actually, and let us be frank, quite completely beautiful.” I may have decided that Chad would be my fave for the evening, as I was standing on his side, but after seeing Paul on such magnificent form, there was no chance of that. “I must admit I quite totally failed in my aim to shriek lustily after Chad all evening once I’d seen Paul scream noiselessly away from the mic, face contorted in celestial existential anguish, during the unrelentingly emotional first tune. Yes that’s right! Outright emotion from Mansun! This is truly a new beast we have before us.”
Next up was a “thoroughly manic” “Stripper Vicar”. Unfortunately, at this point it became quite clear that technical issues were being experienced. “Paul closed the song by crouching at the front of the stage and squalling out some guitar noise as Chad and roadies frantically flicked some switches.” The gig carried on with “Taxloss” despite these sound problems. And there were more surprises in store for this song. “I lost sight of Paul at one point when he flung himself to the floor, and when he sat up and I regained sight of him, he was SMILING! Is this a first or flippin’ what?!”
But the biggest shock was yet to come.
“PAUL TALKED TO US!!! I never thought the day would come when Paul Draper would remark about football scores between songs (some big match was on, it seems). He introduced “Mansun’s Only Love Song” as “a song from our album” and “Ski Jump Nose” as “a new song” for reasons best known to himself. Say what?? Paulie D teasing the crowd???”
With all these new aspects of Mansun to assimilate I barely noticed that the sound, which had started off fairly ragged, seemed to be gradually deteriorating into the unrecognisable chaos it was towards the end. “It was certainly hell-blastingly LOUD. I was determined to last the whole gig in my 2nd row position, even though at times I felt not so much faint, but as though I was taking part in someone else’s rock’n’roll nightmare and my brain swivelled round 360 degrees with every crash of the drums.”
But despite the fact my head was spinning and I was, lest we forget, not quite fully clad in the boot department, I stood resolute in the crush, soaking in the wonderment of this new chatty, happy and occasionally guitarless Paul Draper. “Paul said “this is from our new EP” (okay he may not have said the most exciting things but the mere fact that he spoke is a revelation alright!) They did “KIdoubleSING”, Paul again guitarless and Bowie-esque. This song ended with a magnificent scream out into the darkness and then we had “Naked Twister” (Paul: “this is “Naked Twister”!!!!)”
There was “Egg Shaped Fred”, with an intro that “lasted several centuries”, and then, an unbelievable “Wide Open Space”.
“Paul said “This is an old song” (christ you just couldn’t shut him up last night!) and yes, it was “Wide Open Space”. And not just any old “Wide Open Space”. It was nothing less than the most completely STUNNING version of “Wide Open Space” I have yet had the privilege to stand in heart-in-throat awe of, as Paul began singing those words of numbing loneliness, with tortured, restrained abandon, and as ever those sexy come-hither hand gestures. And somehow the guitar break was the greatest moment of my life.” Mansun gigs certainly were full of the greatest moments of my life.
Around this time the two girls in front of me exited the crowd and I manage to get side on in the front row. “Useful to have the barrier to cling to as the last few songs make my head spin scarily. Not so useful perhaps that my left ear now gets full blast of the speaker, of which I’d been in dangerous proximity the whole time anyway.” Remember that thing about young Scruffy not really being on first name terms with gig health and safety? Yes. Here we go again.
“The sound quality is by now a lost cause, there are unpleasant unintended shrieks of feedback, and “She Makes My Nose Bleed” had Paul and Chad shrugging apologetically to the audience. “Take It Easy Chicken” meanwhile had been torn to shreds before it was even begun. It was barely recognisable. I clung to the barrier with my mind disassembling itself and looked forward to the moment when I could sink to the floor in a crumpled daze. However last night’s feedback frenzy finale was truly a sight to behold. Paul trashed his guitar! Trashed his mic stand! Chucked the mic into the crowd! Grabbed a bottle of champagne, shook it furiously and doused the crowd with it! The other side, alas. I was not the only one shrieking out frantically for him, but he never really ventured to our side of the crowd. He left first, then Stove, Andy, and after throttling the tune to a close and thanking us all, finally Chad. I felt I’d been locked in Mansun magick for days.”
Somehow I made it outside and commenced the journey back to the hostel. “Once out in the cold air all notion of collapse fled my mind and I felt quite wonderful in that post-gig euphoric exhaustion kinda way. One thing I could not do, however, was hear. I really should have known better than to stand so close to the speakers. I have never left a concert feeling quite so deaf. It was mildly frightening and a somewhat otherworldly feeling. I drifted painfully down Oxford Road and then Whitworth Street West.”
Back in the hostel I climbed into the peace and quiet of bed. “Except there was no peace and quiet as I suddenly realised that 5000 bees were swarming within my left ear. Fuck, it was loud. I could not sleep at all. I could only think of tinnitus, never going to any more gigs ever again, and crying for about seven years.”
It was not the most uplifting end to a joyous Mansun experience. I really believed, that lonely and noisy Saturday night, that I might never be able to go to another gig, which seemed the worst prospect in the world. Alone and awake all night in my hostel room, it certainly was a long dark bedtime of the soul.
“When I dragged my semi-dozed self out of bed at about sevenish I was feeling thoroughly sorry for myself it must be said.” But somehow, despite encroaching deafness and bifurcated boot, I made it back to London and to my room, to wallow in self-pity for the rest of the weekend. However, I’m happy to report that the bees that had taken up residence in my ear had all disappeared by the time Mansun’s Tuesday gig at the Astoria rolled around, and I was able to go and scream at my boys to my heart’s content once again.
And surely then, I had learnt my lesson, and never stood so close to the speakers again, and sensibly purchased earplugs so as to protect my hearing for the many gigs to come?
Don’t be ridiculous.