a short site about The Divine Comedy

Cinema Paradiso

Neil Hannon is the inventor of Chamber Pop, drawing comparisons with Noel Coward, Pulp, Bach and Michael Nyman. And no wonder, he has created three albums of finely accomplished, lavish, string orientated, mini dramas, and boy should we thank him for it.

While music has long been dominated by guys and gals banging away on guitars, some of whom should never have been allowed recording deals let alone chart positions, Neil Hannon and a rag tag of sessions musicians and chums, in the guise of The Divine Comedy, have cunningly crafted their succession to stardom. The eminently cinematic, 'Casanova', released in February this year, allowed them to waltz on to pop's glittering podium with the easy grace befitting their suave demeanour. There is humour in abundance, and a plethora of saucy innuendo: Charles Hawtrey didn't die, he had a facelift and became Neil Hannon. What is so striking though is the sheer power of the song writing with both classical and cabaret influences present in large doses. Which in these conservative times is damn cheeky really. Imagine the score to a film called 'The Greatest Love Story Never Told', or something, and you'll be somewhere close to getting what the fuss is all about.

Meeting Neil Hannon is a little unnerving at first. The star quality convoyed through his music is not immediately apparent, no expensive suit and cocky arrogant manner, just a short, skinny crumpled man/boy who wouldn't' turn a head down your local High street. Neil Hannon is normal and this isn't right and what's worse (I'm not sure whether I should be telling you this, but what the heck) he is wearing a Benneton t-shirt!

Every interview I've read about The Divine Comedy starts with childhood. For some reason Hannon's music causes yer jobbing journo to dabble in a bit of cod Freudian psycho-analysis. If it's good enough for 'the word's best selling rock weekly' and the like why should I buck the system. "Neil, mate," I say wringing my sweaty hands as I attempt to gaze into his very soul, "tell me about your childhood."

"Born in 1970, got whooping cough and very nearly died, but didn't, miraculously, for the sake of the world. People keep coming up with the middle class thing, but I'm from a clergy family, who are supposed to be classless so they can relate to everybody. Of course that is complete bollocks."

As I stroke my imaginary beard I probe further, deeper, onwards… "What about those difficult teen years?"

"To be honest I should have been bullied, I think it was my complete insignificance that saved me, there were more speccy and skinny people than me. I was just the little blond boy. I had a very poor taste in paisley shirts and I confused them so much that they couldn't be bothered. The school I went to was very Protestant; Ultra Unionist, stiff upper lip, we love Maggie and all that. So I decided I'd be a communist just to annoy them. I didn't know what it was, but it sounded great and I could wear little red badges with a hammer and sickle on it… Why the hell didn't they beat me up?"

Hannon claims he hardly stretched himself at school, "I was quite brainy but I couldn't be bothered". This apparent lack of academic application did not hamper Hannon's musical career as The Divine Comedy were signed to Setanta within months of him finishing school.

"We didn't get a deal, they said 'you sign on and we'll get your music'," he laughs. They put one hundred thousand pound into Casanova, but they stole that in the first place. Every now and again the label boss pops out with a balaclava and a shotgun, and says, I'm going out to get some more money."

From such humble beginning blossomed the success story that is The Divine Comedy. "Does becoming so popular freak you out at all?" I wonder.

"It never used to, but the fact that I'm doing things like this every day makes me thing will I never get a moment's peace again." Hannon laughs the laugh of a man vaguely alarmed though more than content with his lot. "I'm being stretched at the moment, but I love talking about myself because no-one has ever been interested in anything I have had to say before, it is a rare and wonderful opportunity to witter on about how great I am, but now I'm finding it quite hard to say I'm brilliant twenty four hours a day, because you don't feel brilliant twenty four hours a day do you?"

The music press love The Divine Comedy at the moment, what with being oh so terribly fashionable, Dahling. But is the boy Hannon becoming a self satisfied, smug git? Is he heck.

"Every now and again a rogue cannon goes off and says 'he's shit, how can we possibly have a pop star who look like that? And they are quite right, I have no right to be a pop star. When start to believe that I am perfect pop star material that's when will be completely barmy and they'll have to lock me away".

"Do you love being there, people wanting pieces of you?"

"I'm scared, it's easy banging your head against a brick wall, trying to climb the impossible mountain, but once you are there you have to try and remain there, suddenly every move I make will be scrutinised. I'm national press big these days - heavyweights of course none of that tabloid muck - which is quite good. The problem is that it would have to happen for this album as all interviews are X-rated, so I can't show off to my parents."

As ha the sew thing, everything I've read about Divine Comedy is about sex, the album oozes sex, are you just a horny devil?

Hannon goes all coy on me

"I'm a bit bored of talking about sex."

"Are you a good lover?" I probe in a attempt to get his, ahem, juices flowing.

"Yes, quite good actually."

Pause, pause bloody pause, "I'm off girls at the moment."

Now this is just darn typical, he can wax lyrical about sex and being a cad till the cows come home usually. However much I writhe, bat my eyelids, tease and taunt he's having none of it, he just doesn't feel like it, hurumph.

Talk drifts on to festivals, as he was just about to go strut his stuff on the Reading stage the day after we met.

"We did one in Portugal which was great, but the best bit was at the airport when we came in, we went through the sliding doors and all these cameras went off and these blond bimbos walked up to us and were giving us free caps and lighters and the like and I was like grinning away going 'all right, this is the life,' just totally buttering us up because they have difficulty getting any acts in the first place".

The schedule to promote the soon to be released single 'The Frog Princess' is relentless for Hannon. He's on a seemingly endless round of interviews, wowing the sartorially challenged masses at Reading, and touring on his crusade to take his very individual world view to the provinces. Hot doodly, what is he like?

"I'm doing Radio 5 tomorrow" the crown prince of foppery informs me.

"You realise you'll have to talk about sport," I reply incredulously.

"Well there's scrabble I suppose I'm good at that." I sigh, relieved he's not a big rugger fan before he careens off tangentially, "The one I'm worried about is Loaded, God, the record company have been trying to bride them with porn on the internet access. But there's me smoking these stupid 'More' fags. He didn't ask me the sort of questions they're famous for, he just said, 'So Neil, you're a bit weird aren't you, and I was like 'well.....yes', that was his angle."

"We did a questionnaire for this female Loaded called Minx and they asked me ridiculously sordid questions, really vulgar....great." I realise perhaps Hannon has smut fatigue after the Minx girls had 'done' him and this explains his lack of interest in the rumpy pumpy department.

"What about obsessive fans?" Neil Hannon must have them by haremful.

"They are mostly French, but there is this lovely Japanese girl who just appears at the strangest gigs. I always have a little talk with her and she's like 'I'm so happy, I'm so happy'. When I ask her how she is she's like, 'Oh, ooh I'm fine.'" Indeed Hannon has become quite a star in Europe where dreamy-eyed females throw themselves at him with monotonous regularity. A British man doing what the French do but better, crikey Moses, this guy's more European Jacques Brel smoking Gitanes and drinking espresso. Macarena comes over the radio in the café we've moved to and Neil loves it, naturally.

In another, although parallel universe 'Casanova' transports the listener straight into the middle of a French new Wave film, all smoky atmosphere, aching lust: Lushly romantic and ultimately smoulderingly sexy. The Divine Comedy exist in a world made of pure celluloid. I have no doubts whatsoever that Hannon will one day write, score and appear in at the chicest film ever made. It could be a contemporary 'Blow Up' (the slick David Hemingway movie, not the posey West End club, dolt), or a British 'A Bout de Souffle' (look it up) with a few musical interludes. Anyone who has seen the 'Becoming More Like Alfie' video, where Hannon is Michael Caine will agree, I'm sure. But he must need co-stars, who would have the honour of sharing the silver screen him?

"Past Audrey Hepburn, present Jennifer Jason Leigh."

"What about chaps though?"

"Chaps, oh fuck them."

"Look, we are writing this film and there must be a love rival" I insist.

"With Audrey it could be Gregory peck, but I'd win, with Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Robbins. The strange English doctor would be played by Richard E Grant who'd obviously be on my side because he's cool. Oh and David Niven in the past one."

Tonight The Divine Comedy are playing "as a favour" support to Gene, but I know and I think he knows that he should be headlining. The Divine Comedy take the stage with the assured air of those about to claim their rightful place in pop's glittering firmament. And how they shine tonight, playing the hits 'Something For The Weekend' and 'Becoming More Like Alfie', he soon to be 'Frog Princess' and the sure to be all the rest. The venue is heaving, the audience glisten in a most unappealing manner. However Hannon and Co. remain immaculate in their besuited splendour. I, like anyone else with an iota of style and taste, am captivated by the sheer spectacle of the performance. But although the brightest stars shine bright they do so briefly.

The moment Gene's fetid sub-Smithsian dirge begins I am compelled to leave. As I step into the rain drenched mean streets my head is still spinning with the filmatic glamour of The world according to Neil Hannon. As my taxi speeds me through London's darkened, rain slicked streets I'm reminded of yet another great moment of cinema which sums up the widescreen scope of The Divine Comedy: "Some day a real rain'll come and wash all the scum off the streets."

Travis Bickle - Taxi Driver.
IT? 09/1996