All the gigs of my life

All the gigs of my life: Gig 137 – Taxloss Lovers and Desperate Icons, Saturday, February 18, 2017, Parr Street Studio 2 (Mansun Convention)

A 20th anniversary celebration of the greatest album of my lifetime: “Attack of the Grey Lantern” by Mansun.

In February 2017, the Mansun faithful were eagerly awaiting the arrival of a new album and gigs from Paul Draper, which were promised to occur during the coming months. Before that, however, came this wonderful event in Liverpool to celebrate 20 years since the release of Mansun’s era-defining debut album “Attack Of The Grey Lantern”, held in the very studio where it was recorded. And the culmination of the evening was to be a gig featuring two esteemed Mansun tribute bands. Could there be a chance that Paul would turn up and join them for a song or two?? It was clearly an event not to be missed for anything in the world.

So I jumped on a train to Liverpool this chilly Saturday morning and made my way to my hotel, which very handily just happened to be right above the convention itself. And then it was time to make my way inside and see what Mansun-shaped adventures might await. From my diary:

‘By the time I’d festooned myself in blue roses and glitter and made my way down to the convention space it was a quarter to five and Wide Open Mic was just finishing. I had a little wander to look at the merch stall and stood about awkwardly for a bit, before procuring a large and surprisingly good house red and finding an empty spot of sofa for the first panel. Two blokes who used to be tour managers for Mansun who talked at length about the Draper’s difficult reputation (general verdict: he’s mostly okay) and what tore the band apart (drugs and fraud).’

Following this was the panel I’d been looking forward to the most of the day.

‘However, it was the second panel that interested me the most, with two ladies who used to do PR for the band. The first of which was one Caffy St Luce, a name I recognised from her connection with Manic Street Preachers. She was full of passionate indignation at the failure of the world to recognise Mansun’s undying brilliance. On top of this she was wearing a TARDIS necklace. I had high hopes of approaching her for a chat later on but the opportunity did not arise, unfortunately. Both ladies were so full of love for the ‘Sun, with the other one almost becoming tearful when recounting how she found out the band had been dropped (an angry Scouse voice at the other end of the phone prompting a frantic questioning of management).’

By this time, it was about 7pm and I made my way back to my room for a bit to have something to eat and deposit the programme and badge I’d bought.

Sauntered back down after twenty minutes or so to watch the auction, in which I was v. tempted to bid on something with blue roses on it, but refrained. At this point the room had become v. crowded and stuffy, so I took off my jacket, and suddenly I was a magnet for exclamations of awe and wonder ‘cos as it turns out my blue roses shirt is v. rare indeed, and everyone wanted to know where I got it, to which I could only reply “somewhere in 1997”. Still, at least it meant I had a few conversations beyond “is this seat taken?”’

The final panel was with someone who’d worked with Mansun in the studio making their debut album. ‘The highlight of this was his iPod full of rare early version of tunes from that album. Most were versions of “She Makes My Nose Bleed” showing its evolution from Oasis mimicry to the strings and menace we know and love, but best was an entirely different version of “Dark Mavis”, all sinister beats and whispered venom. I really want to hear that in full.’

After this panel it was music time, and a “very special guest” was promised.

‘Could it be the Draper??!? Spoiler: It was not.’

But any disappointment at the lack of Draper was not felt too strongly, for the very special guest was none other than the amazing Andie Rathbone, Mansun’s drummer!

‘The first band was Desperate Icons, a stripped down three piece featuring a bloody excellent singer. They did some b-sides and some hits and were really rather great, especially when Andie Rathbone and joined in on a kind of weird drum/stool hybrid. Andie played on if memory serves “The impending Collapse Of It All” and “Legacy” and looked exactly the same as I last saw him sixteen years ago, if perhaps a trifle wearier.’

And then it was time for the headliners Taxloss Lovers. who unfortunately were not quite as fantastic a closer of the evening as they should have been.

‘Their set was played much more faithfully to the style of Mansun gigs of old, and while it was fantastic to hear these songs live again as they were meant to be, the singer left one hell of a lot to be desired. Fair enough if he couldn’t match the Draper’s epic range – who can? – but it’s pretty unforgivable that he got the words wrong in almost every song and pretty much mumbled his way through “Disgusting”. On top of this, he kept pulling agonised tortured artist poses, which is a bit much when you’re singing someone else’s songs. If only the Lovers could hook up with the Icons’ singer, you’d pretty much have the perfect Mansun tribute band.’

However, when you are given the chance to witness Andie Rathbone drumming on a number of Mansun classics, it hardly mattered.

‘The singer’s deficiencies could not dull the thrill of seeing Andie drumming to “Negative” and “Chicken”, just as he should do, and at such close range too. He’s lost none of his fire. You know, if Paul and Andie decided to reform Mansun with the guitar and bass plucked from this band, I would not complain at all. And you never know! ‘Cos at the end of Taxloss Lovers, one of the tour blokes from the final panel appeared to read out some texts from Paul, and he promises to play at the next convention to celebrate “Six” at 20.’

Sadly, that convention never happened, but we have of course been able to revel in Paul’s performances of the entirety of “Attack Of The Grey Lantern” in 2018. And the Mansun fandom remains as strong and devoted as it ever was, ready to support Paul and Andie on any future projects they may venture on. There can’t be many bands who split up nearly two decades ago that can boast a fandom strong enough that we’ll travel from all over the country just to hear people speak about the band, but for the few hundred of us here this evening, Mansun will always mean more than any ordinary band. They were the most extraordinary, transformative and inspiring band to exist in my lifetime, and I will always consider myself extremely lucky to have had them in my life, whatever the future may hold.

Scruffy seeking camouflage amid the blue roses…