Chester has never been known as a hot bed of rock and roll, but for a brief moment in the late 1990s and early 2000s the city and its surrounds could claim one of the UK’s biggest bands as its own.
With huge hits such as Wide Open Space, Taxloss and I Can Only Disappoint U and a number one debut album, Mansun inspired undying devotion from a fanbase in love with the band’s glam-influenced Britpop sound.
But by 2003, Mansun had imploded amid huge tensions and strife, with the legal wrangles that followed the split overshadowing the legacy of one of British rock’s most singular acts.
Now 20 years since their Attack of the Grey Lantern LP knocked labelmates Blur’s self-titled album from the top spot of the UK album chart, former frontman and songwriter Paul Draper is launching a comeback with his debut solo album Spooky Action and a sell out tour.
“I took 12 months off and it became 12 years by accident,” laughs Paul, of Connah’s Quay, during an exclusive chat.
“I thought about doing a solo album when we split, but I looked at the music scene and it was The Strokes and the White Stripes and I thought ‘I’m old hat here’.
“My real love was working in the studio so opened one in London and we had a lot of big artists work there like Pixie Lott, Savages and Frank Ocean, but the fans never went away.”
It was Mansun’s fervent cult following who Paul, 46, credits with dragging him back into the limelight after years of writing and producing behind the scenes.
“Mansun fans are quite hardcore and they always kept our name alive on the internet,” he says.
“They started a petition for me to put out all these unreleased tracks and they organised a Mansun convention in Chester.
“They’re basically the reason why I’m here. I think they thought the convention would be more ike a meeting in a pub, but it became a real international thing with people coming from Brazil, America and the Far East.
“They asked me if they could hear an unreleased track they could play at the convention and someone bootlegged it and put it on YouTube. That’s when the offers of the solo album came in.”
Paul grew up in Liverpool before moving with his family to Connah’s Quay. He attended St Richard Gwyn Catholic High School in Flint.
He met bassist Stove King in the early 1990s while they were working in the printing industry as photo retouchers for rival companies situated opposite each other on the same industrial park in Little Stanney.
After teaming up with guitarist Dominic Chad, who was the bar manager at the former Fat Cat bar on Watergate Street in Chester, the band were signed to Parlophone in 1995.
“Chester was my city and being the third best songwriter from Chester after Gary Barlow and Russ Abbot is no mean feat,” chuckles Paul. “To be honest I never quite hit those heights, but I came close.
“When I was 15 and 16 I started going out there and it’s where Mansun formed.
“We’ll always be known as a Chester band and we were the only ones that really made it, which makes me very proud.
“In Connah’s Quay I could see the cathedral from my bedroom and the top of the library, so Chester was always my city.
“I lived in Handbridge for 15 years and it’s where I met all the band and my family still live so it’s my city. I would count myself as a Cestrian spokesperson.”
Mansun never seemed to fit into Britpop and were derided for their constantly changing sound and fashion sense, as their style ranged from punk, new romantic, army fatigues, A Clockwork Orange-style boiler suits and even women’s clothing.
“The hardest thing in the music industry is to keep your own personality,” says Paul.
“We were an amalgamation of our childhood heroes and there was all sorts of weirdness swirling around Mansun. Half of the rumours are rubbish, but a lot of it is true and we’re a band whose reputation has grown over time.
“Whatever we could get away with we would do it, but eventually it was all taken out of my hands when we became a pop group. I wanted to be as big as possible and be a massive arena band, but I’ve accepted now that we were a cult band and we did do some crazy things.
“We were a lot of people’s favourite band though, so who am I to stand in the way of it? I went to one of the conventions and it was purely positive, so I can only count myself as a rather lucky individual.
“Someone recently told me ‘I really loved Mansun because you were like a prog-musical version of The League Of Gentlemen’,” laughs Paul. “Make of that what you will.
“I was just a working class product of the art school system from a small Welsh town. People just think we had good songs.
“We did so many EPs, played 200 gigs a year, we shook every hand. We never took any fan for granted. Those fans never went away.”
Released on August 11, Spooky Action is the result of a decade of thinking, tinkering, writing, recording and focusing.
“I had a lot to write about,” he admits. “I wrote down all of my thoughts about what happened to me in Mansun, and what happened to me afterwards. It was just another form of therapy.
“It has been a cathartic process. I don’t work in a professional manner, I do it to heal something - whatever that is.
“I got a lot of anger out and I’m on the other side of it now. It’s taken a lot to get there.”
So much so, that Paul is already looking ahead to touring and a follow up solo album. But for now, he’s just excited to get this record out there and enjoy the ‘whole new world’ of music in 2017.
“The reviews of it have to come in and if they’re bad and it enters the charts at 284 you won’t see me for dust,” he adds.
“I used to be the pop music of my day, but now I’m the alternative and I’ve got to get used to that.
“I’m taking one step at a time. The tour is so nerve-racking, but the day we announced it all sold out. Now it’s down to some serious business of getting the band in shape.
“It’s too serious to worry about nerves. It’s like doing a high jump – there’s a place you can get to in your mind where you can get over that hurdle of nerves and it’s sink or swim.
“I will throw in a few old Mansun tracks, but I don’t want to be a nostalgia act. I want to be a current and relevant artist -– I don’t know if that will bring me a massive audience like Mansun did but I can’t do it any other way.”
lSpooky Action is released on Kscope on August 11. For more information on Paul’s solo dates go to >co<>f
See full story in the Chester Leader