This was my third and last V festival and the beginning of the end of my Mansun gigging career, all during a time of Important Life Decisions.
In August 2000 Mansun released their third album “Little Kix”. It was by far their most polished and poppy album and came as a stark contrast to the darkly experimental predecessor “Six”. Many fans at the time were disappointed, and in truth it’s hard to think of “Little Kix” as anything other than the least great Mansun album. But I still loved it.
August 2000 also saw me right in the middle of my Last Great Wobble about my London life, having formulated a plan to return to Australia in 2001 and start post-graduate studies at the University of Western Australia. Much as I was convinced that this was the sensible thing to do for the sake of life goals and long term career plans, it did mean I would have to sacrifice what up until this point had been the most important thing in the world to me: seeing my favourite bands live. And none moreso than Mansun. So when I trundled along to Chelmsford this August day to see them, the very real possibility that it might be the last time I ever did was uppermost in my mind.
The V festival was the scene of one my legendary Mansun gigs of 1997, and I was excited to see them again on the same stage. Though not quite so excited that I arrived at the fest quite so ridiculously early as I did in 1997. In fact it was nearly 6pm when I got to Hylands Park, which was perhaps a little too late. From my diary:
“All Saints were on as I wandered in, doing their fab recent single “Pure Shores” so I headed straight for the main stage. The song was just finishing, “Thank you very much! Enjoy the rest of the festival!” they shouted. Ah well.”
Having missed most of All Saints I made my was to the second stage, “home to mega Mansun thrills precisely three years ago”. It was not quite so easy this time to manoeuvre myself around the site. “I swear this fest gets more ludicrously crowded each year. I’m sure it wasn’t so tricky to get from stage to stage at V97.” Still, eventually I made it to the outskirts of the stage just in time to again miss almost all of the set of one of my favourite bands.
“Emanating from therein was a familiar resounding plonky piano, a well known silky voice – it was St Etienne! Doing “Sylvie”! I really should have organised myself better for this fest. I mean, yeah, Mansun were of utmost importance but it would have been fab to have seen at least one of the Saint bands all the way through. As it was the Et then launched into “Like A Motorway”, wonderfully, and then did this unfamiliar one that went “sail away” on and on and on so long I knew it must be their last tune, and knowing, too, that there was probably only one more band before my boys.”
So it was time to get some food, “a fruit salad and bottle of water” being typical of the robust and nourishing choices I always made at festivals, and then returned to the stage to get myself as close as possible to the front of the crowd, “traditionally Chad-side”. Starting about five rows back, I managed to slide my way into second row during the Bloodhound Gang’s set which preceded my boys. “Now that band was demented, of dubious musical merit but highly entertaining, injecting bits of teen-pop anthems into their thrash-rap just like Faith No More in their heyday, and engaging the audience in various interactive activities such as crowd-swimming, stripping on stage (two ugly blokes – thoroughly nauseating) and quests to drink a case of Virgin cola for $100.”
After they’d finished I managed to sidle up to a front row position a little more towards the centre, though still just past the stage boundary, and found myself giddy with excitement. “That familiar refrain! Down the front, half an hour from Mansun!” Unusually for me, I discovered I had someone to talk to while waiting for the band. “I found myself next to Kate who does the official Mansun fanzine. She recognized my affiliations from my Grey Lantern t-shirt and we chatted intermittently about various ‘Sun related issues, the new album, new keyboard player, similarities to V97 etc. It was, indeed, the exact same location and timeslot as three years ago.”
Kate, if you’re reading this, hello! and thank you for sharing this particular Mansun adventure with me!
Before Mansun started, the anticipation did not feel quite as hyperventilatingly intense as I was used to at Mansun crowds. “I’m positive the stage was about twice as far away last night as at V97. And there were no cheesy band announcers in 1997, just a chaos of airborne bottles. Yes it’s all gotten a bit commercial. I think that was the least partisan Mansun crowd I’ve ever been in, last night. There was no crush at all! I mean, this is down the front at Mansun we’re talking about! Ah well.”
Mansun were announced and strode on, and so, crucially, I noted down key aspects of how they were looking. “Paul’s got shorter hair than before, reddish dyed. Chad was in his usual Brian Jones Revival getup.” As at Reading ’99 they began with their erstwhile set closer “Take It Easy Chicken” which was “rawk thrills all the way through“, then “I Can Only Disappoint U” was “gorgeous“. But it was one of the recent album tracks that threw this gig into high gear.
“The first real highlight was “Comes As No Surprise”, perhaps the highlight of the whole night. The tune itself was breathtaking enough, Paul was in angelic, soul-tearing vocal form. Then Kate excitedly pointed out to me the perfectly-timed sunset, the left side of the sky melting into a fuzz of heartbreaking, dramatic pink clouds, and it all became a bit of a Moment, really.”
Then there was “Being A Girl” and the “inevitably shoutalong” “Stripper Vicar”, which were “fairly average, really. By which I mean that they were solid proof of Mansun’s eternal, untouchable greatness, vibrant, powerful tunes that take on an extra dimension live, literally, come alive.” The next two songs from the new album were perhaps somewhat less successful in comparison. “Not that “Electric Man” was anything less than a sheer delight, especially the acoustic intro and the moody guitar solos. But it just did not ignite like the tunes of old. Though perhaps all it needs is to be rammed into the nation’s consciousness as a Top 5 single which is surely its destiny.” Or, alas, actually no. 23.
My favourite song from “Little Kix”, “Love Is…” suffered a similar fate, “though hardly devoid of groovy thrills. We punched the air and proclaimed along with the Draper that “love is mine!” but alas he lost the plot slightly (Kate: he’s reading the words from a lyric sheet! Me: and still getting them wrong!)”
I was disappointed with the lack of songs from “Six”, represented here by only a single tune. “It was criminal that they did, from the universe’s most head-shrinkingly brilliant album, “Special/Blown It” and not “Negative”, or “Legacy”, or “Six”. Though said tune was still a thing of demented genius.” Some of my faves from their debut were also neglected. “I sorely missed “Mansun’s Only Love Song” as well, but the inevitably glorious “Wide Open Space” made up for it somewhat.” And “Wide Open Space” gave me my chance to go ever so slightly overboard as I tried to describe just what seeing Mansun live meant to me.
“Yes, he still beckons to us, evokes our trustful worship with those plaintive verses before throttling our tiny little minds with the choruses’ deviant pain. And the guitar break is still, always, the heart and soul of the universe, Everything, Nothing, the screaming scar of psychosis that is the centre of sanity. And then “She Makes My Nose Bleed” was, y’know, rawk thrills.”
The gig was nearing the end, and of course, as “Take It Easy Chicken” had been re-purposed as set opener, it could only end with “Taxloss”. “Were Paul and the boys perhaps slightly more fevered, fervent and punishing of these old tunes, as the end drew near, in response to the somewhat underwhelming reaction to the new tunes? Certainly “Taxloss” was utterly storming. But it could hardly be otherwise. I was sadly standing in entirely the wrong position to clutch at the Draper as he dashed about in his crowd soaking antics that accompany the song. Must remember to stand Stove-side next time.”
And here’s where I drifted into worlds of anxiety regarding my planned move back to Perth. “If indeed there is a next time. Aaargh! For it looks as though they will not tour now, ’til Jan ’01. Which is when I wanted to be in Perth, so the Great Plan goes. And yet, despite the fact that this was the most subdued and somehow distant experience of my Mansun gigging career, I was gripped from its very first second by the strong desire for it not to be my last Mansun gig ever, a sudden yearning need to be here, for the next tour.”
As I slowly made my way back Londonwards, I found myself pondering Life and Aging in the way only a young person of 25 can, when they’re on the threshold of Big Important Decisions. “On the coach back to the station, as I listened to “Little Kix” emanating from the headphones of the person behind me, I wondered why life could not just be as it was in ’97, when new and glorious music made everything worthwhile, when chasing bands was a fulfilling preoccupation.”
Seeing the band that had soundtracked and shaped my three and a half years in London threw all my plans to leave that city into doubt. And – spoiler alert – as I’m typing this to you from a studio flat in South London, it turned out in the end that I decided to stay. But it took one more Mansun gig for me to fully make up my mind.