Louder than War’s Martin Leay recently visited the studio of Paul Draper, former frontman and chief songwriter of indie legends Mansun, for a chat and an exclusive listen to tracks Draper has produced with a mysterious character known as “The Anchoress”.
In the first of two reports, Louder Than War has the definitive account of what’s really happening with Paul Draper.
Although out of the public eye in recent years, Paul Draper has “always been doing music behind the scenes”. With fans petitioning for the release of his solo album, and others still holding out for a Mansun reunion, Paul has stuck his head above the parapet.
Followers of his new Twitter account will know this is because Draper has been working on a new project with “The Anchoress”.
Beginning as a small collaboration between Draper and Catherine Anne Davies, “The Anchoress” quickly became a twelve-song album with a full band; the first complete record on which Paul Draper has sat behind the production desk since 1998’s “Six”. Paul makes it clear this is not about him – “I haven’t brought any of my songs to the party and got her to sing them. It’s her project – Catherine is the Anchoress.” Paul has co-written and co-produced six songs on the record (with Davies) and the remaining six are Catherine’s compositions which they have produced together. The end result is “something completely separate from what she’s done before and from what I’ve done before”.
Catherine AD’s solo material is piano-based with vocals dripping in fragile beauty. Draper’s work has always been innovative and impossible to pigeonhole. It is difficult to imagine then how the two strands, together, will sound. Even Paul struggles to define it; “it’s not indie, it’s not pop… all I know is it’s quite different.”
“There are definitely elements of me in it”, Draper says, but “all the sparks have come from her”. I’ve heard three songs. “What Goes Around” is a Draper/Davies composition with striking piano chords and beefy guitar underlining Catherine AD’s powerful vocal. Lyrically, it fits the “revenge pop” theme which runs through the record. The song has an undeniable Mansunesque structure and the guiding hand of Paul Draper is clearly felt.
“One For Sorrow” features Catherine twinkling away on piano before the band kick in with funky bass line and shimmering guitar chords. This song rejects the formula of finding a boy and settling down as an outdated and misogynistic design for life. The name “The Anchoress” implies that Catherine is a strong and principled front-woman and when pressed, Paul describes her as an “ultra feminist woman”.
Davies wrote “Popul-ah-ah-ah” after being told as a child she’d never amount to anything. It is another (tongue-in-cheek) revenge song, but The Anchoress may yet have the last laugh. The record was made using Draper’s vintage Mansun gear, integrated into the digital world. While modestly describing himself as “the junior partner in this whole endeavour”, there is no mistaking Paul Draper’s touch around the edges. Mansun fans will be intrigued to hear it.
Paul Draper is not afraid to talk about the past or what the future may hold. He speaks enthusiastically about interviewing Paul McCartney a couple of years ago and how this meeting of musical minds inspired him to write again. After spending time with Macca, he drove straight over to Catherine’s house and they wrote a song there and then. That song – as yet unheard and unreleased – is “Chip On Your Shoulder”.
In recent years, there has been a definite resurgence of interest in Mansun. Dev Hynes has covered “I Can Only Disappoint U” under his Blood Orange moniker, which Paul considers “an amazing compliment”. Draper talks about how “Six” was released at a time when conceptual rock records were regarded as a joke, yet people point out to him that “Muse picked up your baton and ran with it”. You could forgive him for being bitter that Muse went on to headline Wembley using a similar template to Mansun, but Draper simply quips that there wasn’t room for such pomp in the Britpop days.
Paul is, quite rightly, proud of Mansun’s two conceptual albums, “Attack Of The Grey Lantern” and “Six”. With “Little Kix”, the band were pushed into “doing something we didn’t want to do”. It almost tore them apart but they regrouped and were able to “go back in with a relative amount of free rein and we tried to make Kleptomania, but it imploded… because the band was bust.” The fourth album was abandoned but subsequently released because of fan pressure – an interesting precedent for fans who want to hear Draper’s solo work.
Paul would never reform Mansun to “go out and play the greatest hits tour”, but is “not opposed to doing something relevant”. He still speaks to Andie Rathbone, the band’s drummer, and they’ve discussed one day performing the “Six” album in its entirety. This would be an endeavour of real integrity, making for a blistering live spectacle.
Paul reveals he receives offers “a good couple of times a year to reform Mansun” but it can’t happen because lead guitarist Dominic Chad “does not want to do Mansun again”. Perhaps with the confidence of hiding behind what he terms “an impossible dream”, Draper tells me what a fifth Mansun album would be about.
Paul says “I would love one day to finish off that trilogy of conceptual rock albums… I’ve always kept it to myself but it would be about a rock star who starts imagining things”. Crushingly though, as things stand, “it’s never going to happen.”
What will definitely happen in the New Year is the launch of “The Anchoress”. John Astley, who has worked with Tori Amos and The Who, is currently mastering the album. Paul says “every record company in London is calling me to speak to her” and a deal has been struck for the debut single. I can’t reveal the label, but having seen some of the other artists on the roster, The Anchoress will be in excellent company at the office Christmas party.
Gigs are also on the cards. Live music is more important than ever, “which is why The Anchoress developed into Catherine playing with a band.” Paul’s involvement, though, will cease once the album is mastered. I make the comparison with Brian Wilson, who stopped touring with the Beach Boys to concentrate on writing songs. However, Paul is quick to clarify he was never going to be in The Anchoress; “I’m just sort of the co-producer”.
I can’t help thinking that there definitely are parallels between Paul Draper and Brian Wilson and so we turn to the elephant in the room that is Draper’s solo album. The album does exist. It was made ten years ago, in his home studio, after Draper had returned from America where he had escaped to in the wake of Mansun’s messy breakup. It was to be released by EMI. But prior to completion Draper scrapped the sessions and archived the songs. He pulled it because of disillusionment with the music industry and once he had walked away, it was gone forever. Or so he thought.
Until recently, Paul hadn’t listened to the album since 2004 and “never had any intentions of putting anything out under my own name ever again”. However, when Draper performed on 6 Music in October with Menace Beach (another band inspired by Mansun), he was made aware of the fan petition, and decided to listen back to the songs.
The solo album is “a collection of individual rock songs” which tantalisingly, he likens to “Revolver” era Beatles. Draper is now considering his options – “it’s come into my mind now of maybe putting out that ‘lost record’, as they say”, which brings us back to Brian Wilson. “Smile” was shelved in 1967, but finally came out almost forty years later. Draper’s album has gone down in indie folklore, but will it be another thirty years before it is heard?
Draper says “people have asked me about it constantly now for ten years”. Already into its second decade, fans won’t accept the record is gone and many view it as the “Smile” of our generation. Paul teases the “distinct possibility I may just put out a track or something next year”. However, he has “absolutely no intentions of becoming a solo artist”. While he became the singer in a Britpop band, his true passion was always “being in the studio making records.”
And so, Paul reverted to talking excitedly about his new project. When he went to grab his trusty V87 microphone – to show me the mic used to record backing vocals for “The Anchoress” (and all his other vocals) – I noticed a curiously titled folder on his hard drive. And that’s when I realised I’d seen the title of Paul Draper’s solo album.
Be sure to visit Louder than War in a week’s time to read “Being Paul Draper (Part Two)” for more on Mansun, Paul Draper’s song-writing influences, and to find out the title of Paul Draper’s mysterious solo record.
All words by Martin Leay, as was the photo of Paul Draper’s production space. The photograph of Paul Draper is © Suzi Meredith. More work by Martin on Louder Than War can be found here.