a short site about The Divine Comedy

Music Of The Gods

A Short Album About Love, the latest offering from 27-year old Derryman Neil Hannon, founder and frontman of The Divine Comedy, "will make men cringe, women cry and dogs wag their tails!". DANNY O' CONNOR met up with one of the star attractions at on the main stage at this years Fleadh to talk romance, orchestras and pygmies.

Neil Hannon is sitting across the table from me in the relaxed environs of a central London bar softly and sardonically assessing the relative merits of being a balladeer in the late nineties. The wine has been ordered, the background music is suitably ambient and the conversation soon turns to the key cultural concern of the moment. Neil Hannon is not wearing a suit!! Instead, he's traded it for an anorak and trainers!! So, how can Cupid's favourite singer, Northern Irelands very own Burt Bacharach possibly be taken seriously without dapper threads on????

Danny. So you haven't always been a smart you man?

Neil. (Smiling) Smart is a state of mind and it takes a while to master it. I mean I'm no overnight success. After I left school I had just about managed to get a half decent band together. IN my year out before college, I got signed to Setanta Records, which consisted of one man and his Camberwell council flat in those days and needless to say I never made it to college. We started making records that didn't sell, so the band left shortly after and I returned home to Northern Ireland, where for two years I wrote lots of songs. I came back eventually and made a couple of pretty cool albums. They were popular with the press and some people actually bought them!! I then went on to make Casanova, which spawned some Top 30 singles so that album did quite well. From there i got an orchestra and made A Short Album About Love, the current album and hey presto, here we are!

Danny. Your songwriting has obviously evolved over the six or seven years you've been making records. When would you pinpoint significant changes in direction both is terms of style and lyric?

Neil. A Major change of direction happened in 1992 when the band and I had all went our seperate ways. We had very much been an indie band adhering to the unspoken rule of modelling ourselves on whoever was flavour of the month at that time, be it Blur or Ride and so on. I decided from thereon in to do whatever came into my head without trying to relate it to the current trends, basically because I felt it stiffled the music somewhat. It was also an attitude thing. There was a great release in knowing that you didn't have to put on the distortion pedal. So, instead I concentrated on my main influences at that point, Scott Walker and Micheal Nyman. The second significant digression was Casanova, it took a long time to make, cost lots of money and was bursting with some sort of energy which could be seen as aggresively egotistical or indeed insanely sexual in a very naïve way!

Danny. Each album, from Promenade to Casanova through to A Short Album About Love, deals very much with matters of the heart. How do they differ in approach?

Neil. Promenade (affects a mockingly innocent tone) was as pure as the driven snow! It was like one of those Forties musicals which sometimes would allude tot he boy and girl going upstairs, but you'd never see what happened! It was very romantic in an idealised sense but I'd decided by Casanova that I'd better have a look upstairs. As a result Casanova looks at life with a lustful grin, it's full of fruity innuendo of the Carry On variety rather than graphic detail and is to be taken with the tongue stuck firmly in the cheek! The new album is an antidote to that indulgence. It's still a little indulgent in that we have an orchestra playing on it, but it isn't as vulgar. It's trying to regain the moral high ground that I lost on the last record!

Danny. A Short Album About Love was made in quite an unusual way, wasn't it?

Neil. It was made in a very short space of time, I had some songs written and then got a few more done just before we started recording. We then managed to rustle up an orchestra and hired the Shepherds Bush Empire in West London for two days, over which the period we recorded the album whilst we were rehearsing and soundchecking. It was absolute hell but at least it only lasted two days! All in all it took about three months from concept to completion, a bit of a contrast to Casavova which was completed after two years!

Danny. The first single, Everybody Knows, was quite striking and in a sense is a perfect introduction to the heart and soul of the album?

Neil. Everybody Knows comes from that region in my head marked simplicity. It's just a silly love song really but it has got a nice little twist in that it slightly mocks unrequited love. "Everybody knows I love you except you". That begs the question why don't you know? The person who is singing this is obviously completely inept when it comes to relationships! I think people sometimes take my songs from a slightly wrong angle. They might listen to that and assume I'm talking about myself. It's not that I don't believe every word I'm singing but I'm generally playing a role. A role which is certainly influenced by who I am, as well as by other people's experiences, books, TV and a whole range of stuff really.

Danny. So how does it feel to be carrying the balladeer torch into the late nineties?

Neil. All music and all genres and styles have their period of pure originality and they go through that period of "old hat" wherein they're held up for mockery and then they all come back eventually. I'd like to think I'm putting anew twist on a musical style that has evolved through the years from Scott Walker to myself.

Danny. And now that you're becoming really successful do you feel you're fulfilling a lifelong ambition to take your music to the rest of the world?

Neil. Yeah, I'll play to whoever wants me, I'll play to pygmies, i just don't think they'd be very into it really! I suppose you could worry that an American audience may not embrace what could be construed as Euro-centric, even Anglo-centric music, but I'm optimistic about America, maybe naively optimistic! But we'll just keep popping over and playing and hopefully they'll buy some records.

Danny. So what plans do you have for the rest of 1997 in terms of touring and possibly going back into the studio?

Neil. We do want to play an awful lot this year and I'm really looking forward to appearing at the Fleadh at Finsbury Park. As far as recording goes, I think having this album out so quickly after the last one gives us a bit of breathing space to really see the world. There certainly won't be another record out this year unless I do a silly Christmas single, which might be fun!

Danny O' Connor
Fleadh Supplement 06/1997