CHESTER’S FINEST

Britpop, almost 25 years on from the pinnacle of its popularity among the record buying public, has become something that is now more sneered at than it is revered. I’m very tempted to argue that this is a deserved turn of events given that far too many very ordinary bands were signed up by overly-eager record labels and the amount of money wasted proved to be obscene…but then again, the money didn’t simply vanish and a lot of folk did get rich on the back of things.

It’s also unfair to tar every act labelled as ‘Britpop’ (and there are almost 50 of them listed within a wiki article) with the same brush as some did manage to produce music that has actually stood the test of time reasonably well. Mansun are one such example.

Formed in Chester in the north-west of England in 1995, a number of its members had been in other bands earlier in the decade and so came to things with a bit more experience than usual, more able to look out for and avoid any potential traps.

Their first release was self-financed in a limited edition of one thousand 7″ singles, on the band’s own Sci-Fi Hi-Fi Records and the spelling of the group’s name was Manson…..yup, different from that under which they would later enjoy success. The debut enjoyed a fair bit of airplay on a number of evening shows on BBC Radio 1 and, rather unusually, the band were being championed by both Steve Lamacq and John Peel which led to something of a bidding war for the band’s signature, which all concerned found hilarious given that they hadn’t played any live gigs, preferring to be a studio entity on account of lead singer Paul Draper suffering badly from stage fright.

They went with Parlophone but only after the release of their second single, again via an indie label, by which time they had changed their name to Mansun after the threat of legal action from the Charles Manson Estate.

mp3 : Mansun – Skin Up Pin Up

One of the things the band had insisted on when they signed with Parlophone was to be allowed to release a series of EPs, four of which were issued throughout 1996, during which time they embarked on a number of UK tours both in a support role and as headliners. They were an instant hit with the critics and popular acclaim soon followed, with the third and fourth EPs cracking the Top 20. Oh, and the lead track of the second EP was the same song as had been the debut single.

A fifth EP went Top 10 in February 1997 and a shortly afterwards, the debut album, Attack of the Grey Lantern, hit the #1 spot.

One listen to the debut album is all you need to realise that Mansun, although labelled as ‘Britpop’ had very little in common with those happy-go-lucky combos who made bright and breezy radio-friendly tunes. This was an ambitious, occasionally dark and occasionally flawed LP that seemed to have loads of influences and yet sounded nothing like anything else.

mp3 : Mansun – Egg Shaped Fred (from EP One)
mp3 : Mansun – Take It Easy, Chicken (from EP Two)
mp3 : Mansun – Stripper Vicar (from EP Three)
mp3 : Mansun – Wide Open Space (from EP Four)
mp3 : Mansun – Mansun’s Only Love Song (from Attack of the Grey Lantern)

A sixth EP would follow in April 1997, featuring Taxloss, a track from the debut album. The promo video saw the first backlash against the band, with tabloid newspapers condemning the chaos the filming had caused while critics bemoaned what was literally the throwing away of money:-

Having said that, Mansun’s next two EPs both went Top 20 in 1998 and sophomore album Six went to #6 in September of that year, with many perhaps being attracted to the band from comparisons being made, in terms of attitude as much as anthing else, to Radiohead who were very much at the top of their game at this point in time.

Britopop died its inevitable death, but Mansun kept going. By now, I had lost interest in them, being disappointed with the second album and feeling that the new material was sub-standard in comparison to what had come before. The EPs continued to appear at regular intervals throughout 1998 and 1999 and then in the summer of 2000, they went back into the Top 10 in the UK with this, taken from EP 12:-

mp3 : Mansun – I Can Only Disappoint U

It was followed immediately by a third album, Little Kix, which reached #12, with sales significantly lower than the previous LPs.

What happened next was rather strange but in keeping with the unorthodox story of the band.

They went into a studio in 2001 to begin work on a fourth album, indicating that the regular run of EPs would also be maintained. Nothing new emerged during the year and indeed August 2001 had seen an online official announcement that a planned EP had been shelved. Illness and injury, it later transpired, were the cause of the inactivity with Paul Draper requiring five cycles of chemotherapy to recover from cancer. In April/May 2002, the band went out on the road under a pseudonym intending to play low-key gigs in which new material would be tested out, but the modern world being what it is, the secret gigs were soon public knowledge and old material had to be incorporated into the sets.

The record label was expecting the new album to be ready and in the shops before the end of 2002. The band, however, failed to meet a succession of deadlines and things got tense. There was a mysterious posting on the band’s website in January 2003 indicating that one of the members, (without specifying who), had left amid tensions and animosity. This led to all sorts of press speculation about Mansun having split-up entirely, none of which was rebutted although the official announcement didn’t come till May 2003.

Incredibly, the songs intended for the fourth album did see light of day in September 2004. Kleptomonia was a triple-album(!!!), consisting of 12 new tracks on one CD, 16 non-album singles, B-sides and EP-only songs on a second CD and 14 rarities, demos and unreleased material on CD3. Almost 200 minutes all in, it was of appeal only to fans and with no band members around to promote it in any shape or form, it was a monumental flop. It was accompanied by a 7” vinyl single and digital download that reached #55 in the charts:-

mp3 : Mansun – Slipping Away

I’ve long intended to have this posting appear on the blog, but had held off thinking someone out there would come up with an ICA, a task I’m not qualified to do on the basis of having next to nothing beyond the first tranche of EPs and the debut album.

It would still, I reckon, be an entertaining addition to the ICA series if anyone wants to take it on (and there’s nothing to prevent any of the above nine songs being part of it!!)

JC

4 thoughts on “CHESTER’S FINEST

  1. I volunteered to review the reissue of Grey Lantern last year – I had one of their singles which was apparently more than most, but hardly made me an expert. Listening to the album after all this time it really is excellent, and not the Britpop landfill that it was lumped in with. I couldn’t do an ICA but I think they are a worthy subject.

  2. Interested to learn what happened after the third album, which I enjoyed a lot more than the second. But for me, they never surpassed Wide Open Space – the one song of theirs that has been a constant on my playlists.

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