a short site about The Divine Comedy

New to Q

Though you may feel like you need it, forego that pre-gig noggin if you’re intending to see Tori Amos on the forthcoming leg of her British dates. For connoisseurs of the unconventional have an early treat awaiting them in the form of Ireland’s premier romantic chamber-pop intellectuals, The Divine Comedy.

Actually, the plural is a misnomer. For although augmented by sundry string and woodwind players for practical expediency, The Divine Comedy is essentially the fervid brainchild of one man. He is Neil Hannon, 23-year-old Fermanagh-born son of The Bishop Of Clogher and the man behind Promenade, one of the most absorbing album to appear in years and a svelte and witty amalgam of pop’s gusto and the lush, evocative strains of the orchestral world. Promenade, a journey through the landscape of one day, Ulysses-style, is The Divine Comedy’s third album and continues to chart a path some way on from last year’s lauded Liberation and far removed from the more orthodox, if shrewd, guitar pop of their 1991 debut.

Yes, originally I was very taken with rock’n’roll,” explains Hannon in his measured and jocose tones. “I was very interested in the purity of the three chords and all that but I was lured away by polyphonic harmony. But I was very interested for a while. I wanted to play the guitar and wig out. I wanted to be Mark Gardner of Ride very badly indeed.

And whatever became of the rest of the group? “Well,” he demurs timidly, “it was down to them realising several things: that they didn’t want to live in a dingy flat in Tottenham any more, and also realising that Neil’s an arrogant, egocentric bastard.” He declares himself ‘euphoric’ at being able to drop all pretence at democracy and make the music he wants: an exotic hybrid that unashamedly bears the influence of Baroque music, literature, Scott Walker, various European art movements and Michael Nyman. “I am very easily influenced. It’s a worry. I sometimes have to avoid things for my own good. I’m trying to put a few things to one side. Would you like some Scott Walker records?

On whether his Irishness has any bearing on his work, he is swift to reply, “Absolutely. I wouldn’t spout this Anglophile drivel otherwise, would I? Besides, when I go home, I feel completely out of place there.” But doesn’t a young man of such evident culture feel out of place anyway in a milieu where Eddie Vedder qualifies as a political philosopher? “It’s a great business. What other business is there for a pseudo-intellectual like me? I quite enjoy having to convince people that what I do is pop when in reality it was all done 200 years ago.” A pause follows.

I hope you don’t think I meant that.” he concludes with a nervous chuckle.

Stuart Maconie
Q Magazine 06/1994