a short site about The Divine Comedy

BackBeat - Perfect Comedy Timing

The last 12 months have been tumultuous ones for The Divine Comedy. Throughout the 90s the band were a recognisable and reliable force, skirting around the edges of the Britpop boom with no small amount of foppish charm.

The band, essentially front man and creative force, Neil Hannon, plus a regular bunch of jobbing musicians, released a succession of highly successful albums and a string of hit singles which included the ironic, arched-eyebrow pop of 'Something for the Weekend', 'Generation Sex' and 'National Express'.

It was clear where the emphasis lay. Each record sleeve featured a solitary, debonair-looking Hannon, complete with sharp suit, cravat, shades and knowing gaze, looking for all the world like an indie Noel Coward about to sweet talk you into bed.

Then suddenly, last year, it all changed. Pictures of a seven-piece band in scruffy jeans and T-shirts appeared. Hannon grew his hair long and the band's seventh album, Regeneration, was being talked up as a communal effort between all the musicians. Gone were the orchestral arrangements, the big gestures and the dandy lyrical quips. What on earth was going on?

And then before we had a chance to take this in, Hannon announced that he'd sacked the rest of the band and intended to carry on himself as The Divine Comedy. Since then, not a lot has been heard from the man, yet The Divine Comedy are set to play Edin-burgh's Queen's Hall next month as part of this year's T on the Fringe festival. So what kind of state are The Divine Comedy in at the moment?

"Confused," says Hannon with a little laugh down the phone from his home in London. "We did a gig last night here, and the line-up was me, drums, an accordion, a double bass player and a piano player. I'm just trying out new, different line-ups each time I play," he pauses, "just so that none of the shows can possibly be any good."

With this he lets out another small laugh. Even if the band is in a state of flux, one thing that's clear is that Hannon isn't losing any sleep over it. Throughout the interview he is relaxed, charming and talkative, and seems happier than ever to be making music.

So how come The Divine Comedy club's membership has fallen to just one?

"It's not like I was trying to get rid of anybody," says Hannon, "I just needed to offload the respon-sibility of having to design my music for that specific line-up and for those specific personalities as well. I wanted to be able to go back to my attic, you know, and live in a fantasy world like I used to."

But surely it was Hannon's idea in the first place to make the band more democratic? After all, the focus had clearly been on him for years before Regeneration came out, then all of a sudden there were si: other blokes we were supposed t care about.

"Yeah, it was my act of dictatorship to make it into a democracy, he says.

"I wanted to try that out because we'd been a band for so long am yet the sound and the dynamic of the seven people never really came across on the records up until then

"And it was a very good am valuable experiment and a very good album came out of it, wind I still hugely enjoy. But unfortunately I have a very low boredom threshold..." again he trails of before laughing. "Oh dear, people must think I'm a complete idiot.

Another major transformation in Hannon's life has been the arrival of his first child; a baby girl called Willow. This, along with getting married and turning 30 in the last two years seems to have created a much more mellow human being than the slightly frantic quote machine of old. "I think I'm a little more chilled out than I was a couple of years ago. I definitely feel better about myself," he says.

So has he found fatherhood a piece of cake then?

"It's great, I love it," he enthuses. "Before I had the baby, well not me personally, I thought I didn't get on with kids that well, that I was a bit too serious But I've actually discovered I'm really on Willow's wavelength.

"I've got the same sense of humour that she does — pretty childish. But she's a very happy baby, very chilled, so we're very lucky."

Apart from being knee-deep in nappies then, Hannon has actual-ly been pretty busy on the music front, and recently completed his biggest ever tour — a coast to coast jaunt across the States, performing solo as the opening act for Ben Folds.

In the meantime he's also been working on new material, and claims already to have too many songs for a new record. According to the man himself, these new tunes take a more laidback approach, somewhat in keeping with Hannon's newfound maturi-ty, no doubt.

"Well I've noticed that some of the things I've been writing have actually been a little less, how would you put it, a little less anx-ious," he says.

"Sometimes my music has been a little too eager to beat people around the head and say, 'Look at me, look at me, I'm great!' and that can put people off I think.

"So I want the new stuff to be a bit more thoughtful and aware of its own place in the world. Maybe it doesn't have to be the best song ever written every single time, you know?"

Clearly, as far as Hannon sees it, this break from the past is a new beginning for him, and he's obvi-ously revelling in immersing him-self once more in the mysterious art of songwriting.

"I like the craft element of song-writing, and I think you just keep getting better at it, but it takes years," he says.

"I'll probably be writing my best stuff when I'm about 70. I'd cer-tainly like to think so."

Doug Johnstone
The Big Issue 18/07/2002