a short site about The Divine Comedy

Hint Of Perfection That's Just Divine

"Sad but amicable." Those were words used by a record company spokesman to describe the news of Neil Hannon's parting from the other six members of The Divine Comedy at the end of last year.

They also serve as a very fitting description of Hannon's music and his demeanour, although if you were to be perfectly honest about the latter you would have to add "playful and mordantly witty".

Hannon, admits the break-up was hard on him - "think of breaking up with a very long-term boy or girlfriend and multiply that by six," he says - but felt it was something he was compelled to do.

"I found that I simply wasn't enjoying it all as much as I used to," he says. "I missed the freedom and felt I was watering down my ideas to keep everyone happy. It wasn't a big problem. I wasn't ever going to have a nervous breakdown over it, and we could've carried on quite happily . Unfortunately life's too short to settle for that. It was of course a terrible thing to have to do to one's friends but I believed I was doing the right thing for us all.

"I had to get back to working on my own because I'd missed it but I didn't want to accept that I'd missed it. The band was all very democratic for a while but I had to admit to my own nature,"

Which is? "Oh, that of a sad and lonesome solo artist," says Hannon impisihly.

The 31-year-old Irishman may have gone solo but he is adamant he is keeping the old band name.

"I've wrestled with the question of whether to keep the name or not for the last six months. I have even asked other people's advice on the subject - which is not something I generally do.

"After the break-up I was anxious to change the name or to, as it were, 'go solo'. I was heartily sick of TDC and wanted to start again with a clean slate. Over time, however, I've realised just what the name means to people and how much it means to me.

"The Divine Comedy has always represented the two poles of my existence; on one hand the search for truth, beauty, the meaning of life etc. . . and on the other, the love of all things temporary, flippant, rude, kitsch and very, very silly," he laughs. " And anyway, I like it because it means that it doesn't concentrate people's minds on my personality. It concentrates their minds on the imaginative vista of the work."

From most other artists this would sound ineffably pretentious, yet Hannon has carved out a niche in bitter-sweet symphonic pop. Last year's Regeneration album may not have set the charts alight (it reached number 14) but Hannon's exquisitely tasteful orchestrations and painfully intelligent lyrics have won him a devoted following .

"The last album was extremely sonic," admits Hannon. "It was all about how the instruments sound, which was good, and I love the album, but I don't think that's the direction I'll be heading in. I'm not a sound man, I'm a notes man." Hannon will be experimenting with a scaled-down version of TDC on Thursday at the Queen's Hall. His new band consists simply of himself on guitar and piano accompanied by another guitarist and a double bass player.

"What's challenging about that is to try and be imaginative with a small palette but hopefully my vocal performance will be the linchpin."

And while a possibly overly optimistic press release estimates that a new album will be out early next year - don't hold your breath.

"I've actually got tons of songs but every time I write a new one it muscles another one out of the bag," sighs Hannon. "I suppose I am a perfectionist but every time I decide I've done it perfectly about six months later I change my mind.

"You can't really be a perfectionist because nothing's really perfect," he says ruefully.

Now that's a real perfectionist talking.

Rory Ford
The Eveing News 06/08/2002