Travel Report: Paul Draper Live In Shanghai.
March 2019. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that Paul Draper was coming to China! I mean, really? It wasn’t a difficult decision to grab a ticket. After all, they were highly affordable and Shanghai was just a four-hour train ride from little old Ruian. Finally, I’d found the excuse I needed to revisit the city I hadn’t been back to in almost ten years.
Rattling through the Chinese countryside that sunny March morning, I found myself thinking back to the time my sister and I first heard Attack of the Grey Lantern. How we’d been absolutely blown away at a time when we were already obsessed with the likes of Oasis, Blur, Radiohead and Super Furry Animals. But as much as I loved those bands, for me there was nothing quite like Draper and his electric vocals on a fascinating record that veered wildly between sneering vehemence and mournful beauty. However, that was twenty-two years ago. How would I feel now listening to those songs live? And could Paul get anywhere near reproducing that old magic?
These questions were still running through my mind as I made my way through the entrance doors of Shanghai’s Yuyintang Park, a ridiculously-hard-to-find concert venue hidden away in the basement of a retail complex on Yuyuan Lu.
This was compounded by the fact that I nearly ended up at the wrong venue! You see, Shanghai has another live music venue called Yuyintang! So if you ever find yourself in Shanghai for a concert, make sure you’ve definitely got the right one!
Yuyintang Park was buzzing that evening, a line of expectant Chinese girls hugging the front of the stage with Grey Lantern flowers in their hands. I got chatting to one of them, an excitable student called Lin who told me she’d discovered Mansun on YouTube. “I never think I can see Paul Draper” she gushed.
Scanning the audience, I counted no more than six westerners. And then I felt blown away all over again by the realisation that Mansun really had left a legacy, no pun intended. In fact, sixteen years after the band’s breakup, there was a whole new generation of dedicated fans on the other side of the world that hadn’t even been old enough to appreciate those songs the first time around. Nobody cares when you’re gone? Au contraire…
It was just before showtime when a Yuyintang rep came to inform the audience that Paul “isn’t feeling well”. As a result, he wouldn’t be meeting anyone or signing records after the gig. This news was followed by a sweeping wave of audible disappointment, especially as many had brought their CDs, vinyl, t-shirts and even black markers for their arms.
As I stood there processing everything, a part of me wondered if I was unlucky enough to have stumbled upon one of Paul’s bad nights. Was it really just a simple case of the flu? Or were we possibly in for a repeat performance of the sad scenes witnessed at Nottingham back in March 2018?
Happily, any concerns I’d had quickly melted away as Draper swept confidently onto the stage followed by his modest, almost painfully shy accomplice, Ben Sink. After the briefest of brief hellos (“Ni hao Shanghai!”) he launched straight into a rousing performance of Friends Make The Worst Enemies from his solo record Spooky Action.
This is probably a good time to divulge a little secret. Shh, don’t tell anyone, but I can’t say I fell head over heels for Spooky Action. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some decent stuff on there, but nothing to stand as tall as say Take It Easy Chicken, Disgusting, Legacy, Butterfly or Comes As No Surprise. You know, the kind of music that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
Paul Draper Live In Shanghai.
That said, I felt his new material fared much better that evening in a live setting. Moreover, it was immediately clear, right from word one, that Draper’s voice had lost little of its sorcery. “Your friends will hurt you the most!” he howled on the closing line of that opening song. And, looking straight at him and feeling the raw pain in his voice, I believed every word.
In the aftermath of those final reverberating chords, Paul was suddenly pointing directly at me and asking: “Where you from?” Just about keeping my composure, I told him I was from London and he rolled his eyes playfully, before shrugging his shoulders at the audience.
“First person I ask… London”. Seizing my chance for some banter with my idol, I explained how I’d only been fortunate enough to see Mansun once back in 2000, at Glasgow’s QMU. “You don’t look old enough” he quipped, which I took as a compliment. When I then assured him that yes I was “an old man”, he replied: “Same here man, I was there as well”.
The gig was absolutely fantastic! There were barnstorming versions of Negative (“I look downwaaaaaaards”) and Wide Open Space (You’ll never get to heaven with a smile on your face from meeeeeeee”). Furthermore, he smashed out a psychedelic reinterpretation of The Chad Who Loved Me that received a rapturous reception.
“You can’t denyyyyy that you’re shit just tastes as sweet as miiiiiine”.
Elsewhere, a particularly sorrowful rendition of Disgusting nearly brought tears to my eyes, as is invariably the case. And of course there was Dark Mavis and its anthemic “Na-na-na-na-na-na-na”s, that saw everyone waving their flowers, phones, lighters, whatever else they could get their hands on.
It was the perfect way to wrap up a wonderful evening. Draper himself had been joking and chatting with the audience throughout, enthusiastically encouraging his crowd to sing along as often as possible. For one Chinese girl in the front row it was almost too much. In fact, I spied her sobbing her eyes out during several songs.
With both Draper and Sink having thanked everyone and trotted offstage, an inquest soon began into whether Paul was really unable to sign records. Eventually, the rep reappeared to insist that Paul was “really sick”. After much badgering, a group of determined girls were allowed to go into the dressing room. A short while later they came skipping out, all wide eyes and beaming smiles. This, Mr. Yuyintang confirmed, marked the end of the night.
But as he began ushering the rest of us away, I managed to take him to one side and explain that a friend of mine had flown from South Korea especially to see the show. With a weary sigh he disappeared again before returning to confirm that yes, we could go in.
From the moment we entered that room I sensed that something was off. That the Paul Draper I met backstage that night was not the Paul Draper I’d seen during the show. I wouldn’t like to use this article to speculate on the reasons for Paul’s mood that evening after the gig. Partly because it would be wrong for me to draw any firm conclusions without all the information. But also because I feel like he’s been criticised enough over the past year.
All I can say is that although Paul was clearly not up for meeting us, he still politely shook my hand and agreed to the photo that we asked for. Inwardly scolding myself for forcing a situation that was clearly unwanted, I thanked him, sheepishly grabbed my starstruck friend and whisked her away into the Shanghai night. To further bolster the case in Paul’s defence, he was kind enough to contact me personally a month or so later through Facebook. According to Paul, he’d had salmonella poisoning that day with severe stomach cramps.
Paul Draper’s live show at Yuyintang Park, Shanghai was on Thursday March the 14th 2019. For those curious about the gig, a decent YouTube video of the show in its entirety can be seen below courtesy of Strawberry Alice:
Like this? Have a read through my album review of Mansun’s Attack of the Grey Lantern.
For more on what to see and do in this amazing city, check out my army of travel reports from Shanghai.
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