Mansun’s classic ‘Attack Of The Grey Lantern’ at 21 – Paul Draper reveals all about each and every track

It was the go-to album for pseudo-intellectual Britpop kids

Back in the high days of Britpop, Mansun released an album that sat askew from the pervading happy-go-lucky spirit of the times. ‘Attack Of The Grey Lantern’ was a dark, mysterious and quite strange album, filled with genre-hopping oddness, set in a fictitious northern English town and containing lyrics about a recurring character named Mavis. Here at NME, we deemed it the 44th best album of 1997 in our end of year list (and there was stiff competition that year, believe us). With former Mansun frontman Paul Draper now enjoying a solo career after a number of years in the wilderness, his old band’s debut has been re-released in a special 21-year anniversary edition. Here, Draper talks us through the album’s tracks.

 

“The amount of times I’ve sat in pubs trying to explain to people what ‘Stripper Vicar’ is all about is mind boggling, and in the mists of time, I’m not sure I can even remember myself.”

 

1. ‘The Chad Who Loved Me’

“Originally this song was entitled ‘Desperate Icons’, a song I’d began writing quite a few years as a teenager before the album’s release. After we added the strings to the beginning of the track it started to sound like a James Bond theme, so we changed its title to something slightly more humorous. Each Mansun album started and ended with the same style of track, something I thought I’d be able to continue through all our records, so they became like a journey from start to finish. The opening string section on the album also closes the album, although different takes. It was complex to work out how to piece all this together, like a jigsaw, but great fun, the mastering engineer didn’t think so though.”

2. ‘Mansun’s Only Love Song’

“At the start of the recording sessions for the album I’d decided there would be no love songs on this album, or any Mansun album. We stuck with that philosophy for the first two albums. Although this song sat neatly with the narrative of the plot, I thought I’d challenge my own rule on this song, I remember the chorus being really emotional, and it still feels like that now. This was the last song we recorded for the album and we dropped off a track called ‘The Most to Gain’ to fit this track on the album.”

3. ‘Taxloss’

“
A sarcastic swipe at the music industry, Taxloss was originally 11 minutes long and encompassed my modus operandi of the time of jumping between genres and parody. After a lot of head scratching it was cut down to seven minutes for the album and finally to a three minute radio track to accompany the fantastic promo video shot by Roman Coppola. One of the funniest and finest things we achieved.”

4. ‘You, Who Do You Hate’

“This was the earliest song I wrote for the album, you can tell from the lyric it’s from an earlier, more naive me. I was 15 when I wrote it as I recollect and kept it tucked away and always thought it would make a nice album track, and it did. My fondest memory of this track is playing all the instruments on it and being delighted with my drum take that I’d done in one go. Being a huge Prince fan, I loved the way he wrote, produced and played all the instruments on a track, this was the first commercially released track I got to do all that on.”

5. ‘Wide Open Space’

“Again, ploughing the religious imagery on this track, this song wasn’t immediately a huge hit but seems to be remembered along with ‘Taxloss’ as the most well-known on the album. I remember being slightly off my tits in Ibiza when Paul Oakenfold’s remix came on in Pacha and it blew me away. Having been a huge dance music fan it was really satisfying having a big club hit remix from the album too. Great days. I can still hit the falsetto, just.”

 

“I remember being off my tits in Ibiza when Paul Oakenfold’s ‘Wide Open Space’ remix came on in Pacha and it blew me away.”

 

6. ‘Stripper Vicar’

“I think the middle eight on this one is the finest lyrical moment on the album. A bizarre pseudo rap about a transvestite vicar who cross dresses like his daughter, it seemed a good idea at the time and slightly subversive but seems a little tame by today’s standards where such things are pretty run of the mill. Written in the form of a letter from the transvestite vicar to his daughter, it sort of deepens the plot of the album’s narrative a bit before it’s all resolved on the final track, Dark Mavis. The amount of times I’ve sat in pubs trying to explain to people what it’s all about is mind boggling, and in the mists of time, I’m not sure I can even remember myself.”

7. ‘Disgusting’

“I wrote this song in about 20 mins and we recorded it in a day at Parr Street Studios in Liverpool. The next day I came back and Ronnie Stone, our engineer / producer said to me the verse vocal was weak so I re-recorded it and that was the only change from the track that was completed in a day. He kept a record of the original vocal that is now being released on the outtakes CD and listening back he was right. This was going to be the big single after the album was released to turn us into a huge pop group, but for some reason or another (everyone has a different story) it wasn’t released and ‘Taxloss’ was put out instead.”

8. ‘She Makes My Nose Bleed’

“We recorded a 32 piece orchestra on this track which we didn’t even use in the end, such was the avarice of the era, you can hear the recording on the outtakes disc. This song was originally called ‘She Makes Me Bleed’ and was one of the songs I’d play in my school band, a much earlier incarnation of Mansun. The title was elongated as it seemed to earnest and this whole track was the most long winded and complicated to finish on the album. Our first Top 10 hit though, which is what the record company wanted!”

9. ‘Naked Twister’

“This was the song that secured us our recording contract. I’d played the record companies a lot of the songs I had accumulated over the years and I was asked to write a new one and go in to the studio and record it in a day to see if we had what it took to make it. This was the song that we recorded. I was planning ahead and already had the idea of a skit on a concept record already written down, this song does what it says on the tin and describes a particularly debauched night in the life of the characters on the record.”

10. ‘Egg Shaped Fred’

“Having spent my formative years going to [nightclubs] Cream in Liverpool and the Hacienda in Manchester, this really ignited my love for dance music, and ‘Egg Shaped Fred’ was one of our early tracks where we’d jam our distorted guitars over drum loops from an AKAI S900 sampler. It was our early formula before we developed as a band and this was probably the best of the bunch of our early demos. Listening back to the lyrics I’m reeling off characters from the fictitious small northern town where the album is set, ‘Skinima Nosebreak’ ‘Fatima Toothpaste’ ‘Penelope Cheapskate’ ‘Claudia Farmgate’, not your average lyric for the era really and still makes me chuckle to this day that something so absurd hit No.1 and has built such a big cult following over the years.”

11. ‘Dark Mavis’

“We originally recorded this song with a hip hop groove and some exceptional swearing that was rejected by the record company, these versions appear on the outtakes disc of the box set and its really interesting to hear these early versions and how we finally arrived at the finished version of this song that closed the album. I always thought the chords and melody movement were really complex on this song and I can only imagine they’ll make a West End musical out of it in the end, which would be a suitable ending to the life of this record I think. We added the ‘na, na, na’ outro at the last minute and had a huge choir of Liverpool’s finest scallies turn up to sing the closing refrain of the album. At the very end you can hear them singing ‘Duncan Ferguson’, Everton’s centre forward at the time.”

 

“‘Dark Mavis’ originally had a hip hop groove and some exceptional swearing that was rejected by the record company”

 

12. ‘An Open Letter To The Lyrical Trainspotter’

“This was the hidden track on the album, as was the fashion in the CD era. It doesn’t make sense in this era of streaming and the resurgence of vinyl, however the idea of this track is to reinforce the idea that the album was a skit of a conceptual record, not in fact one itself, which is obviously a paradox, which my younger self would have thought hilarious. This song leaves you with the sentiment of not taking the whole thing too seriously, it’s just a bit of a joke. I still get asked regularly who the real Dark Mavis is, so it didn’t quite work…”

 

Paul Draper plays a solo acoustic tour in November: 

Bath, Moles (November 14)
Wolverhampton, Newhampton Arts Centre (15)
Cambridge, Storey’s Field Centre (16)
Leicester, The Cookie (17)
York, The Crescent Community Venue (21)
Aberdeen, The Lemon Tree (22)
Edinburgh, Pleasance Theatre (23)
Stockton-on-Tees, Georgian Theatre (24)