One year on from my last Mansun gig, and I had a deep-seated need to be crushed against a barrier once again, screaming at the brilliance of My Boys. And they sure as hell did not disappoint.
“Look at the STATE of me! Eyeliner all down my face, hair a disaster of other people’s beer and sweat, no wonder I got some odd looks on the Circle Line.”
1998 had been a difficult year for me, and this gig came like a shot of adrenaline in the arm, just when I needed it most. Mansun obsession had hit me hard in 1997, and I saw them live five times that year. But now, in October 1998, a whole year had passed since my last Mansun gig. They’d toured a bit outside of London early in 1998, and played a few fests in the summer, and I’d made vague plans to try and make the effort to travel and see my boys at one of these gigs. But the fug of depression which I lived in at the time was too impenetrable for me to make any such trips, and so I had to wait until they came back to London, which was for this pretty damn epic night at the Brixton Academy.
I’d been to a few gigs by other bands in the year since I’d last seen my boys, but none of them was like this: the crush, the screaming, the idolisation and hysteria that only Mansun brought out in me (and, to be fair, in many, many others amongst their fans as well). From my diary:
“Oh I have one thing to say about Mansun at the Brixton Academy: CRUSH!!!!!!!! Kilburn revisited times 10 to the power of complete respiratory collapse. And I never ever knew it was possible to be unable to breathe and yet still be capable of screaming and singing one’s lungs to shreds. I’m not entirely sure my ribcage is in quite the same shape as it was three hours ago.”
The chance to throttle my lungs apart to the songs that meant the most to me in the world was exactly what I needed at this point in my life, and I gave it my all. My diary records that I was “certainly the most rabidly possessed fanatic in my area of the down-the-front crew”.
“MANSUN! I can’t believe I’ve just seen my boys again, after so long. I started off second row, fantastic view, totally crushing the girl in front of me, but I couldn’t really help it. Mansun! “Negative” was first, and what a way to begin. Paul was in, as ever, unbelievable vocal form. His voice seemed to have a new edge to it at times, a rawer, rougher, soul-tearingly emotional edge, but losing none of its shimmering spite.”
After a tumultuous year, I was not exactly the same person as I’d been when I last saw the band, and it seemed that the same could be said of Mansun, or more specifically, Paul Draper. When I first saw them live in April 1997, Paul was a distant and uncommunicative front person, hiding behind his guitar. Six months later, I’d been astounded to see Paul abandon his guitar for a few songs and engage a bit more with the songs and the crowd. I had felt sure then that I was witnessing a band in mid-metamorphosis, and now, a year later, I was proved gloriously correct.
“They are without a doubt a new creature. The transformations I witnessed beginning a year ago are now fully-fledged. Paul was guitar-free most of the time, but light-years away from the distant iconic pose of yore. His hips never stopped swinging camply as he sang, and during non-vocal bits he was verily possessed by the music, thrashing about the stage in manic fervour. It was bizarre and wonderful to behold.”
And now it’s time for the Obligatory Paul Draper Appreciation Moment:
“Can I just say how out of touch I’ve become, for I never even knew Paul had a new hairdo, centre part and shaggy, and very very sexy.”
It’s safe to say that Mansun were at the peak of their brilliance at this period, in their music as well as their hairstyle choices. They’d just released their astonishing second album “Six”, and appropriately enough, this was my sixth Mansun gig. It was my first chance to hear the incredible new songs live, and they were “blasting cacophonies of genius”.
” “Being A Girl” came second, extended version. “Shotgun” was there too, and “Special / Blown It”, but of all the “Six” songs they did, I think it was the title track that astounded me the most, for the sheer genius of the song, the glory and pain in Paul’s voice, spanning the octaves in seconds. And “Television”, that guitar mayhem in the middle, Paul whirling about the stage, clapping his hands like a Spanish dancer, lost to it. And that gloriously, seriously OTT ending, higher than high he sang, cannot really express how great a singer he is.”
But to hear the already classic tunes from their first album, the songs I’d screamed along to so many times in 1997, was an utter joy.
” “Everyone Must Win” was just as stunning as at the Astoria. “Wide Open Space”, there’s something about that guitar break, like at the Manchester Academy it totally shattered me, I could not believe how glorious it sounded. What a wonderful moment. And “Mansun’s Only Love Song”! It was about the time they did “She Makes My Nose Bleed” that I was squeezed by the masses behind me right into the front row, and the real pain began, but what did I care! “Nose Bleed” was the rawk monster it always is, as was “Taxloss” which they ended the main set with. Yes for get this! They did an encore!”
Here was another aspect of the New Mansun of 1998. At all the five gigs of theirs I’d been to before, there’d been no encore. The band always left the crowd wanting more. But this time, we got it.
“And oh my god it began with “The Chad Who Loved Me”, full vocal version, a tremor-inducing joy. Followed by a screaming “Drastic Sturgeon” and “Legacy” which seems to have succeeded “Wide Open Space” in the moody epic of alienation / crowd surf mania inducer paradox. The throng were frothing and Paul was obviously impressed by our fervour. “I feel like I’m Pavarotti or something!” he exclaimed, which almost made sense at the time.”
And the gig could end as, it seemed to me at the time, the only way a Mansun gig could possibly end (though as it turns out, I was to be proved wrong at my very next Mansun gig…)
“We all know the next bit. The greatest live song ever ever ever. That one. “Take It Easy Chicken”! The full throttle. Paul spun round and round holding his guitar like a deranged propeller, scraped it along the mike stand, then put it down very carefully before coming forth and bowing repeatedly.”
And it was time to somehow return to normality after being blasted with the band’s searing genius for an hour and a half. There was nothing else for it really – time for a merch frenzy! “I staggered out, bought a fanzine, a lovely “Being A Girl” t-shirt and a “Six” poster I could practically wallpaper my room with, and tubed it home, shattered.”
Sadly, none of these items have lasted with me til the present day. I sold almost all my band t-shirts during my foolish 30s, and the poster was lost in a move somewhere in the mists of time. As for the fanzine, I have absolutely no recollection of even buying it, let alone what happened to it. Ah well.
And so ended the sixth of my ten Mansun live experiences. Mansun gigs always left me feeling overwhelmed, exhilarated, transformed, and this one was no different. But this time, at the Brixton Academy, there was something more – an added intensity of emotion that I hadn’t witnessed in the band before.
“What a band, the greatest band in the world, they’ve surpassed everyone, yet still go on rocketing ever higher to ever further-reaching galaxies of inspiration. Nobody could accuse Mansun of lacking ‘heart’ now. It’s the grim reality of emotion they express, the twisting, tearing confusion that life is, the stomach grinding lurch from one extreme to the next. Mansun are the most emotional band there is.”
And I woke up the next morning “still in the thrall of Paul’s voice. I cannot believe that his singing is actually becoming even more stunning, when he was already the greatest singer in existence.”
Which is, funnily enough, the exact same thing I found myself thinking just over a year ago, when Paul returned to play his first live set in 15 years at Rough Trade East in August 2017. After all these years, it seems that some things really do never change.