The end of an era, for me, although I didn’t know it at the time: My last ever Mansun gig.
When I look back to early 2001, it feels something like a new beginning. Granted, my life in all its practical aspects was exactly the same as it had been for the previous four years: still working in Outpatients in the Royal Brompton Hospital, still living in a tiny room on the fourth floor of their Nurses’ Home. But one important thing had changed, which was that all the uncertainty over whether I would be staying in London or returning to the family home in Perth had gone for good. After the decision I’d come to at my previous Mansun gig in November 2000, I never again had a wobble about which city was the right one for me. And a good thing too, as my parents left Australia in 2001 to return to my mom’s native Canada, and the family home was gone forever.
So when I strode out to the Astoria this February night in 2001, I was in a phase of life full of plans, ideas and hopes about how my future as a permanent Londoner might pan out. But unbeknownst to me, there was one thing that was about to end this February night. This would be the last time I ever saw Mansun live.
I wish I could say that my last ever time seeing the greatest live band I have ever witnessed was up there with their most incendiary, life-changing performances. But it was not. From my diary:
“Well, if the usual Mansun gig is a full-blown Wagnerian epic opera, this was more of a scaled down, abridged concert performance. But still, what a performance.”
The reason behind my somewhat more muted response to this gig was that Paul Draper was, at the time of this tour, not very well at all. I’d read reports online about the two warm-up gigs they’d played before this one, and it turned out Paul was “suffering from a vicious flu and was actually on doctors orders not to sing at all for three months, so they were playing a shorter set. I thought they may not even make it on stage, by the sound of things.” So the intense anticipation I usually felt before seeing Mansun live was somewhat quelled.
“And then I was in the Astoria, sidling up to second row Chad-side, and there’s this support band hollering on with generic teenage angst and I felt very very old and out of place.”
But all sense of being underwhelmed, and too old for this type of thing – nearly 26! – disappeared completely the moment the second support band appeared. “Then King Adora come on, and reaffirm my faith in rawk’n’roll! That glorious, defiant, freakish androgyny… I may not give up on it all, just yet, after all…”
And then, “beaming in from their distant universe of unfathomable brilliance“, came on our four boys, and here was my last chance to immediately record the crucial information of the evening. “Chad had a silly hair-obscuring hat on, and Paul had the demonic face of Charles Manson upon his shirt.”
Once again they began with “Take It Easy Chicken”, “a great shuddering metallic monster, seemingly slower than usual with the bass and drums thunderously overpowering.” Despite Paul’s ill health, his performance was immaculate. “You would never have guessed Paulie D had a sore throat. He glided through “I Can Only Disappoint You” and hollered “Being A Girl” as powerfully as ever. Only in comparison to previous gigs does it become apparent how little he stretched himself last night.”
However, he was definitely not in his usual hip-swaying, manic-dancing form, which made this a slightly different Mansun experience than ones I’d had in recent years. “With fewer crazed antics from the Draper, we were left with the mere experience of Mansun as Classic Rawk Band and this it must be said is a pretty breathtaking experience. Indeed, as I watched Paul and Chad strangle the soul out of their guitars during “The Chad Who Loved Me” I felt shivering echoes of that night in April ’97 when I realised I was witnessing a band as great as any that ever existed.”
The same applied to “She Makes My Nose Bleed” and the cover of Magazine’s “Shot By Both Sides”, sung by Chad, presumably to give Paul’s ailing vocal cords a little break. This gave me the chance to have a small Chad Appreciation Moment. “I was further from Paul than I usually like to be, but I enjoyed my excellent view of Chad. It seems gobsmackingly stupid that I’ve never realised this before, but Chad is to the electric guitar exactly what Paul is to the vocal cord ie God, really”.
The gig carried on with “Comes As No Surprise”, “Special / Blown It” (“my least fave “Six” song well on the way to becoming one of my faves now, due to association with so many times shouting along to it live“), “Electric Man” and “Taxloss”, but my diary entry does not explode with hyperventilating exclamation marks at the brilliance of each song as it normally would, post-Mansun gig. “It could not be faulted to be sure. A fraction underwhelming, but entirely understandable. In my second-row spot I had more space than usual to move about and this proved most useful in their single song encore when I invented the Wide Open Space Wavey Dance, which was great fun.”
In the unlikely event that anyone who was at this gig captured video evidence of said Wide Open Space Wavey Dance, please burn it.
The gig ended abruptly after “Wide Open Space”, and though a much shorter and more muted Mansun experience than usual, I was still mostly happy with what I’d seen.“I did hear a few mutters of disappointment from the Mansun faithful as we wandered off afterwards, but for me, the only real disappointment was the lack of “Legacy”, which I know they included in the warm-up gigs.”
And then the last line of my diary entry breaks my heart a little.
“But far, far better to experience a truncated Mansun than no Mansun at all!”
Because unbeknownst to me, no Mansun at all is just what I had in front of me from the moment that gig ended. The band remained mostly quiet for the rest of 2001, and when they resurfaced for a tour in 2002, there was no London date. I could have travelled to see them, of course – a younger me would have booked a train to Manchester in the blink of an eye – but I had just been through some wearying medical treatment, and didn’t quite feel up to it. Plus there was no whisper of a suggestion that they were a band in crisis, on the brink of splitting. I was confident they’d play London again before the year was out.
But 2002 ended with no further gigs in sight, nor any news of the new album they’d previewed on the tour. Then in 2003 I was in much better shape and had a complete renaissance of my gigging life, going to more gigs that year than I’d been to in 2000-2002 combined. But Mansun, of course, were not to be one of them.
Here’s what I wrote in my diary on the 3rd of May 2003, the day after the split was announced.
My feelings go from blankness to tearfulness and back again in seconds. I mean it’s over two years since I last saw them, and even more since they had anything new out. But then, that bootleg I downloaded of one of last year’s gigs – and how I regret now, not travelling to see them on that tour – those new songs were so brilliant, got me excited again, will they never see the light of day?
Never hear “Wide Open Space” live again.“
Looking back on this now, it makes me happy to reflect that I only had to wait until the following year for those songs to see the light of day on the brilliant “Kleptomania” compilation. And even more happily, I was entirely wrong about never hearing “Wide Open Space” live again – though I’d have to wait fifteen years to experience it again. Of course, I knew none of this on that sad May day, but I held some hope for the future.
“All is not necessarily lost! For while it seems that Stove and Andie are giving up on music, there’s no word as yet on Paul or Chad’s future plans. Who knows? They may even work together, or have separate solo careers. As long as Paul Draper continues to write songs and sing them, then I cannot be completely inconsolable. He could be a great, great solo artist.“
And again – though it was a long wait – here we are in 2019 with one Paul Draper album behind us and another imminent. It may have been a long time coming, but it was worth the wait.
“And I have been able to experience first hand the great years of one of the greatest bands, whilst still young enough for it to be meaningful. I know in future I’ll think of those unbelievable gigs and realise just how lucky I was.”
So here I am, in that future I was talking about back in unhappy May 2003, and I do realise not just how lucky I was then, but also how lucky I am now. Revisiting all those unbelievable gigs over the past year or so on this blog, and sharing them with the people who lived those gigs along with me, has been a fantastic experience. We all have our own different memories of this most incredible band – how they changed our lives, helped us through terrible times, gave us gig after gig of immense rock-n-roll magic. And it turns out that, just as we were back then, we’re still all this this together.
So thank you, Paul, Andie, Chad and Stove, for all the amazing gigs I was lucky enough to attend. For the four uniquely astounding albums. For expressing all the fury and the sadness, the alienation and the wonder of life. For dragging me out of drudgery and depression with tunes that ignited like fire in my mind and guitar breaks that exploded in my soul. For making me feel less alone. For that voice.
You always were, and always will be, My Boys.