Wide Open Space (Mansun)

 

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When Mansun landed on the musical map in 1996 their lead singer and main songwriter Paul Draper exclaimed “Exhibitionism is back” by sporting a new shiny houndstooth suit alongside blue eye liner and nail varnish on his right hand and then proclaimed, “I should have worn my nail varnish on my chord-playing hand really that way it’ll get more noticed.”

The band were formed as a trio in Chester in 1995 and originally called Grey Lantern after one of Draper’s songs. Whilst in a recording studio and technician claimed “That name is the worse fucking name ever”. Draper had a Verve EP in his collection and it contained the track A Man Called Sun which then got concertinaed down to Mansun. The other two members were Stove King on bass and Dominic Chad on guitar and they eventually added Andy Rathbone on drums.

Between March 1960 and December 1967, the chart compilers tracked an EP chart with the Shadows leading the way with 38 charting extended plays. Had this EP chart still been going, Mansun would have had a chance to be high up on it as their first 11 hit singles were all EP’s entitled numbers One to Eleven. Their debut in April 1996 had the lead track Egg-Shaped Fred – a small town ligger and their first top 20 hit was Stripped Vicar about a transvestite.

Wide Open Space was the lead track from their fourth EP and was the track that enhanced their career as it was their most successful single in the USA where it reached number 25 on the modern rock chart. The song took a while to write; in the sleeves notes of Legacy: Best Of, Draper explained how he recorded the entire song without the vocals six months before he wrote the lyrics. He remembered, “”I struggled for six months to find the lyrics, but I eventually got them from absorbing someone talking on TV which gave me the title, then I painted the imagery around that.” The song reached number 15 in the UK chart and was promoted by two different videos. The first was directed by Paul Cunningham and featured the band playing in a small dilapidated room while Martino Lazzeri (who played Joe Williams in Grange Hill) walks around a city alienated and paranoid amongst a vampire-like atmosphere. The American’s probably wouldn’t have got that so a second and simpler video was made and that was directed by Nigel Dick.

The track is included on the million-selling album  Attack Of The Grey Lantern, but that wasn’t the original title as Paul recalled, “No, it was originally called Attack Of The Green Lantern, but then we talked about it amongst ourselves we realised that none of us are into green, so we changed it to grey.” The American version of the album was quite disastrous with many unnecessary changes. The album has all the tracks segued together but Stripped Vicar was replaced by the early single Take It Easy Chicken which didn’t seem to fit with the grandiose feeling of the album and other tracks were chopped into a different order which made it lose its feel, as journalist Stephen Thomas Erlewine put it, ‘it ludicrously robs a fine concept album of its concept.’

Eighteen months later Mansun unleashed their second album, Six, which reached a respectable peak of number six, but within four weeks it had disappeared from the chart completely. Their third long-player, Little Kix, did even worse, reaching number 12 in the UK and barely registering in the US when it appeared in the summer of 2000. One track from it, Electric Man, had heavy rotation in all the men’s toilets of UK Cineworld cinemas, but may weren;t in there long enough for it to register and turn it into sales. Work began on a fourth album in 2002 but Mansun split up in May the following year. The results of the new material appeared on the double CD Kleptomania in 2004.

The reason for their split was unknown at the time but it transpired that Paul Draper was undergoing chemotherapy treatment at the time, having been diagnosed with cancer in 2002. Paul had made a full recovery, but did have to have half a finger removed during surgery which resulted in a slightly different sound because he had trouble with some of the chords.

In 2009, at the last ever gig at London’s Astoria, Paul appeared with the My Vitriol performing a version of Wide Open Space. In 2010 Draper started promising fans new solo material which hasn’t, as yet, materialised. Now it doesn’t look likely because during 2011 he contacted numerous internet forums and blogs requesting that all dialogue relating to his solo material be removed.

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