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!!)


THE £20 CHALLENGE (Week One)


JC writes…..

Blogging wise, I haven’t been able to do much this past few weeks for one  reason or another (this week it’s been about looking after some very welcome visitors from Canada). The postings, as is my habit, are all written ages in advance so that I can keep things going in such circumstances. It also meant that I wasn’t reading or replying to e-mails but  this has worked quite well…

Yesterday’s guest blogger was Charity Chic, whom I’m sure you will know, from making your own visits over to his corner of the internet, specialises in writing about music he has mostly picked up from browsing around charity shops.

Today’s guest posting is also about charity shopping and it features the long overdue return, to these pages, of the adventures of S-WC and Badger. So without any further ado……here’s S-WC to set the scene.

The £20 Challenge –Week One (where Badger and S-WC do some sterling work charity but don’t like to talk about it. Much)

What follows is a mostly true account of an actual conversation that Badger had with me last week. I was at work having just got back from my lunch time run. I ambled back to the office to see an obviously excited Badger run up to me. Readers, if you are a Blackadder fan – think of Series 2 when Blackadder needs cash fast to pay off the Bishop of Bath and Wells and Percy decided to turn metal into gold and succeeds in making ‘some green’. He bursts out of the door, massively excited – it was a bit like that.

“You’ll never guess what I’ve just found” he shouts at me – considering he is standing next to me I thought this was rather rude, it may also be because I still had my headphones in – but anyway. I think of a clever answer, largely because it always annoys Badger.

“Erm, you’ve found the chemical formula for the mind altering drug that ITV pumps through the television on to an unsuspecting public that makes them think that Keith Lemon, Ant and Dec and Vernon Kay are talented television presenters?”

He looks at me blankly and then says “no, I mean obviously that would be a wonderful thing to find, largely because I can’t stand Vernon Kay, I mean he is just so plastic. So plastic that I actually think he doesn’t have any genitals…..Erm…No, I found £20”.

I have to say that as an answer that was rather underwhelming. I mean its nice to find £20, its free drinking money or free food or some free music, or in my case, some new toys for my daughter. Oh I say, and start to wander back to my desk. “I found it in a book” he shouts. “In a book that I just bought”. He continues “from a charity shop”. I am suddenly interested.

“Which Book?” I ask.

“It was Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas” came the reply. A high brow choice I thought to myself. It was wedged in the end of Chapter 8 and the start of Chapter 9 apparently. Badger went into shop to drop off some stuff, had a browse found this book that he has wanted to read for ages, bought it, and the rest is history…For those of you who are interested it was the Rycroft Hospice shop on Totnes High Street, you should probably check it out – just in case there are other books in there filled with cash.

I looked at Badger and said – so we are going to the pub then to get pissed on free cash? (Obviously it would take us more than £20 to get pissed, considering its like £4 a pint in Exeter) but it’s early and we could always mug a granddad to get more free cash a bit later.

“No” he said and handed me an A4 envelope, which jingled as he passed it. “We are going to do this instead”.

This ladies and gents is an important moment in history – the very first ‘Excellent Idea’ Badger has ever had. The last time he thought he had an excellent idea we ended up in Rochdale.

Inside the envelope was £19 in cash and a CD by the band Mansun. Badger was bouncing up and down when I pulled the CD out of the envelope.

“Do you need the toilet?” I asked him in my most patronising voice.

“No, no, no…Look he said, I can’t take money from a charity shop and spend it on me, it’s not right. So I thought that we could make it fun”. I looked at him with a sense of dread – “by playing Mansun CD’s” I said raising my eyebrows wisely.

mp3 : Mansun – Stripper Vicar

He sighed. “Every week we buy a CD, until the money runs out, we have to buy them from a charity shop, we can’t spend more than £2 on each CD. I buy your choice – on this occasion Mansun – and you buy mine – so next Tuesday you present me with a CD, and the remaining money – and the CD has to be something that you think that the other person won’t already have. I know you don’t have that Mansun CD because you mentioned it once on one of our cricket trips – that bloke who you hate, Frank, stole your copy when you were DJing somewhere.”

This is a true story. When I was a student, a guy called Frank, who was a dickhead (probably still is) stole my copy of ‘Attack of the Grey Lantern’ along with an Acid Brass CD, ‘Kellys Heroes’ by Black Grape, and ‘Let Me Come Over’ by Buffalo Tom. It wasn’t all bad he dropped my copy of ‘Anarchy’ by Chumbawamba in his rush to get out of the DJ Booth. Strange lad.

So you paid £1 for this CD. Wow. I was genuinely amazed as I had only two days ago considered downloading it – I didn’t. It’s a brilliant idea I said. Does it have to be the same shop every week.

“No, let’s spread the love” he said.

Can I buy you anything, anything at all in the shop, that you won’t already own. Meatloaf, Mantovani, Phil Fucking Collins….I let that hang in the air and then chuck in The Stereophonics, Nickelback, Orson….

“Well, make it something I would enjoy” he said and then his phone rings and he is off back to his desk.

I stood there trying to remember which charity shop I saw the debut album by Moloko in the other week.

So here folks are some tracks from Mansun’s excellent debut album ‘The Attack of the Grey Lantern”. Please enjoy them. I have no idea as I type what Badger will get next week, but he’ll let you all know.

mp3 : Mansun – Egg Shaped Fred
mp3 : Mansun – The Chad Who Loved Me
mp3 : Mansun – Taxloss


JC adds…..

I’ve most of the early Mansun singles in the collection.  If any of you like, I could make the b-sides available in a future posting.