All the gigs of my life

All the gigs of my life: Gig 45 – Mansun, Sunday, August 29, 1999, Reading Festival

“So how does this affect me?! Emotionally affect me!!?! Too damn right it does.”

The seventh of my ten Mansun gigs, and the zenith of my hyperventilating obsession. This post contains inordinate quantities of excitable capitals and exclamation marks. You have been warned.

I don’t have a ticket stub or programme, so here’s my train ticket!

1999’s festival season was in full swing. The previous weekend I’d been to see the Manics play an incendiary set at V99, and now it was time to see my other favourite band in the world, Mansun. But just as with the week before, I found myself not in the festival mood, and had to drag myself from my tiny Chelsea room to make my way to Reading. In my diary I listed all the reasons why I really didn’t want to go out that afternoon. “Could I handle it, I wasn’t sure, the crowds, the waiting and wandering about a hell on earth, the uncertainty of how the bloody hell I’d get home…”

But I made it out the door and to Reading, and navigated the obstacle course of getting into the festival site. “Forgotten just how bloody unfathomable that fest is, I mean, couldn’t they just put signs up to tell us how and where to bloody get in!!? Through a gate down the road to the left through a campsite round that tree round the bend argh!” But I found my way in, and it turned out to be okay.

My first port of call was the signing tent, to find out when Mansun would be in there. The answer turned out to be: right that very moment. “They walk in looking divinely gorgeous, even Andie with his odd beard, and the fans roll in.” I decided not to join the queue, as I had memories of waiting two and a half hours in the queue for Suede’s signing two years previously without getting anywhere near the band. So instead I bought myself a disposable camera and stood watching the boys and taking a few pictures, which turned out to be an entirely fruitless endeavour, as all my pics turned out completely rubbish. But at least I had the fun of staring at Paul Draper for an hour.

“Though I was feeling very jaded and oh come on they’re just normal blokes my stomach did hurdles every time I came under the tiniest impression that he’d cast his glance in my direction for a split second. Which was nice, I suppose.”After this I decided not to worry about the trains or getting home. “I was just going to scream at my boys for as long as they let us and sleep in flipping Reading station if necessary.”

So it was time to prepare myself for the evening’s rock excesses. A hearty dinner was surely in order! “I had a crepe, equipped myself with water, and worked my way into the throng at the Radio 1 stage.” Okay, not the most strength-building of meals. Clearly then I was planning on a less raucous gigging venture than usual. After the almighty crush of Mansun’s Brixton Academy gig the previous year I had obviously learned my lesson and would not let myself be squeezed to within an inch of my life at the barrier. “So I stood to the far left for the moody sleazy crashingly dull Sparklehorse and after them I managed to sneak my way in ’til I was second row, to the far Chad, and very happy with that. However, after the wacky, internal organ fixated, slightly good Flaming Lips were gone, so in fact, were the two people in front of me. So I was down the front. Half an hour from MANSUN!” What can I say. Old habits die hard.

Having just recently stared at the boys for an hour and a half while they did their signing, I was perhaps not quite so filled with the usual hyperventilating anticipation as I would normally be when about to see Mansun. “Didn’t even scream too loud when they came on, oh hello again, had a good couple of hours since I saw you last? Play us a tune then. So they do. And it’s “TAKE IT EASY CHICKEN”!!! FIRST! And the crowd, being one huge heaving mass of Mansun obsessives, have suddenly reached the levels of euphoric mania that we’d normally have a the end. And it’s the first song.”

Thus began a gig of sheer screaming unrelenting hysteria from start to finish. “We screamed along! TO EVERY WORD!!! We greeted every song like the long lost love of our life, our very soul brought back to life from hideous torpor!” After a storming rendition of “Stripper Vicar” it was “Drastic Sturgeon”, and we learned that Paul had a new in-gig routine, which was drenching as much of the audience as possible from a bottle of water. Which was, believe it or not, unbelievably exciting. “Paul’s down right in front of us, right in front of ME! and drenching us (ME!!!!) with his bottle of water, and I screamed so seriously hysterically at this ordinary bloke waving a plastic bottle in my face that I had to have a brief moment to pause and reflect afterwards and think, steady on, girl. For about 0.00000001 seconds.”

Then Paul went guitar-free for “Being A Girl”. “He’s thrusting his hips apart for the verses, does a little ballerina twirl to that music box interlude, to massive screams, and I thought to myself, Can it be that less than two years ago I was shocked to see Paul, well, move about a bit to “KISSING”!? I could never have foreseen the demon of demented abandon he was to become even then, let alone way back in the mists of Kilburn!” Screams filled the air as Paul kissed Chad on the cheek after the line “I wanna experience being a girl!”, and then they veered into “Everyone Must Win”. “He came to my side of the stage for the second verse, and just before the chorus he looked like he was set to climb up the scaffolding at the side of the stage, no doubt so he could shake his hips at us from on high.”

This was truly a gig of moments, “moment after moment after moment of sheer exhilarating rock’n’roll genius, you know, like Paul’s high aching howls at the end of “Everyone Must Win”, and again, shrill and pained in “Mansun’s Only Love Song”. “Six”!! That wonderful song, and he took advantage of our habit of singing our little throats out by getting us to do the “life is a compromise anyway” bit, and for the final chorus he shrieked out the “more!” while we provided his lines.” But despite the fact that “Six” was their most recent album, the setlist was far more heavy on songs from their debut, “Attack of the Grey Lantern”. Which of course included another incredible moment in “Wide Open Space”.

“Let’s just say that “Wide Open Space” was the meaning of life from start to finish, and this time it was the choruses which did me in, I was crushed inside a massive cacophony of heaven and wanted to stay there forever and ever and ever and then it’s “Ski Jump Nose” which is THE riff, the ONLY rock monster in the world, my god it rules.”

You know I was overwhelmed by the sheer rock brilliance of the boys when it takes me this far into the diary entry to describe how they looked. “I’ve not mentioned what they were wearing, Chad was in a lovely grey suit with a bright red shirt, Paul in a sleeveless top, black jeans.” And yes, you guessed it, the obligatory Paul Draper Appreciation Moment is now upon is. In which I might have gone slightly overboard.

“Paul was everything, an icon of genius, rock’n’roll splendour, the greatest vocalist ever, his voice never ceases to amaze me. I can get jaded to the presence of the four boys, even come to take their sheer rock magnificence for granted, but I will never, ever fail to be awestruck by Paul’s heart-stopping vocal powers. His voice is the sound of everything the lyrics express: the tearing confusion of emotion, the mind’s devious machinations, he can croon and sigh and melt your heart with one note and then tear the place apart in screaming rock frenzy.”

What can I say? It was all true.

After a storming “She Makes My Nose Bleed” it was time for their epic finale. But having thrown out “Take It Easy Chicken” at the beginning of their set, how could they possibly end it? “Taxloss”, of course. “I don’t think they’ve ever done such a stunning version of “Taxloss”, can’t believe they once used to chuck this song away in the middle of the set, mind you, they are all show-stoppers, aren’t they? You know, it shook us by the shoulders with sneering contempt then swayed us gently side to side then throttled us into oblivion and we all knew exactly what was coming and we LOVED it and Mansun are officially in possession of the TWO greatest live songs ever, the start and finish, the be-all and end-all of rock glory.”

And so we were treated to a finale of impossibly intensified screaming hysteria complete with water bottle drenchings. “Paul’s at the other side of the stage, taunting them into a frenzy with his bottle of water, d’you want it? he’s saying, YES!!! they’re shrieking, and so he ignores them completely and takes an almighty swig. Then he’ s sitting Chad side in front of ME!!! and egging us on to huger screams though he has no water bottle to reward us with, just basking in the glory, and god he deserves it, and I was so tempted to fling water at him from my own little bottle but I thought if it misses and hits security, or falls laughably short I’d be so humiliated I’d be forced to commit suicide in some heroically dramatic way. And I can’t do that! For I’d miss Mansun’s next gig!”

And then, all too quickly, it was over, and I found myself trying to recover. “So it all ends in a crazed haze, amazed and dazed, I couldn’t bear to see them go, it was ages before I could peel myself away from the barrier and even longer before my legs rediscovered the meaning of walk.” But once I had regained the ability to walk, it turned out I didn’t want to stop: I got the train back to Paddington and in my euphoric, exhilarated post-Mansun state I walked all the way from there back to my Chelsea room, on my own at 2am on a Bank Holiday Monday.

Mansun were always untouchable live, but this gig was truly something else altogether. The three final Mansun gigs I still had ahead of me were all wonderful in their own ways, but when I look back at my all Mansun gigging experiences, this mad summer’s day feels like the zenith. The sheer mayhem of obsession, adrenaline, and throat-tearing screams that two and a bit years of Mansun addiction had brought me reached a peak here, and it was like no gig I’d been to before or have been to since. It was one of the most incredible, memorable gigs of my life.

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