a short site about The Divine Comedy

Divine Comedy: on a mission from God with Miggy Barradas

Over the most foppish kids on the block, The Divine Comedy have reinvented themselves in 2001 with a grungy new look and an album, aptly titled Regeneration, that takes them into unfamiliar musical landscapes. And drummer Miggy Barradas is loving it. The Divine Comedy may have ditched the suits, but they’re still making top highbrow pop. Hurrah!

Beaming over a pint of Guinness in a Finsbury Park pub, Miggy Barradas is clearly happy with Regeneration, the latest album from The Divine Comedy, the band with whom he bands drums for a living.

“I think it’s actually the first album that we’ve all been pleased with,” he smiles. Certainly, word has it that the rest of the band had far more involvement in Regeneration than on earlier efforts.

“I think that was Neil’s intention,” Miggy says. Neil is, of course, Neil Hannon, the gifted vocalist, songwriter and lyricist who forms the core of The Divine Comedy. “He’d come to rehearsals with a new song and say, ‘Play what you think goes, I trust you guys now’. So it developed that way. It’s a bit more organic.”

Of all the tracks on the album, Miggy cites ‘Bad Ambassador’ as his particular favourite. “With that one, Neil sent me a cassette of just him on acoustic guitar. There were about six songs on there, and that one just jumped out at me. I think that’s the sign of a good song, if it works acoustically like that, and it’s turned into a monster. It’s quite funky, it’s very fun for me to play – there’s a few fills. It reminds me of Bowie in the ‘70s, in the vocals and the melodies. It’s just a departure from what we’d been doing.”

With new product comes promotional duties, and the band duly embarked upon a UK tour in support of Regeneration.

“It started small,” Miggy says. “Sort of 600-700 capacity venues. The whole thing is just starting again. We’re not wearing suits this time – we’re sloppy rather than foppy, and the whole vibe is somehow easier and more relaxed.”

The Divine Comedy are also starting again with a new record label. After a decade with the independent outfit Setanta, Neil Hannon has chosen to sign with the musical institution that is Parlophone, the label who brought us everyone from The Beatles to Morrissey, Pet Shop Boys and Blur. Miggy’s impressions?

“Absolutely brilliant. They’ve just let us get on with it, and are there to back us when we need them. I really rate them. Neil had been with Setanta for ten years and six albums, I think, and it was just time to move on.”

The main benefit was that the band were able to spend more time making the album that they wanted to make. “The bones of the previous album were done in ten days. For Regeneration, the bones were done in eight weeks.

“And also, we got Nigel Godrich in to produce it, who was a star. Nigel would turn round and say, ‘No, that’s absolute rubbish. What are you thinking? That’s horrible’. He was brutally honest, but you really can’t argue with his track record.”

The recording itself took place in the pleasant surroundings of RAK, the St Johns Wood studio owned by pop tycoon Micky Most.

“Rather than some bleak industrial estate up in Harlseden, it’s just by Regents Park and it’s three lovely houses knocked together, so it’s got a homely fell to it. Good fun.”

As for his own contribution, Miggy has to ensure that his drum parts passed muster with first Neil and then Nigel. “Nine times out of ten, he was happy, but he got me playing different things that I wouldn’t normally play as well. He got me t expand a bit.”

So he wasn’t one of those producers who simply don’t understand drums, and therefore try to either get it over with as quickly as possible, or spend six months trying to get the hi-hat sound?

“Oh no, he’s very basic and rough. He’ll build a sort of room around me and have two kits set up. One’s a really dry sound and the other’s a really live sound. We’d try both kits for various different songs and see what sounded best. It was a matter of elimination and working things through.”

With live dates in Germany, France and Portugal, as well as a bunch of European festival appearances lined up for the summer, it’s heartening to see that a defiantly non-dumbed-down band like The Divine Comedy still have an audience in this tawdry age of the plug’n’play karaoke pop star.

“A very old friend of mine, Ernie McKone, who played bass for Paul Weller and Galliano, was saying, ‘You know this isn’t my favourite type of music, but bloody well done, lads, for keeping at it and getting out there among all those bloody manufactured bands’.”

And long may they continue to get bigger and better. That would be divine justice indeed.

Five facts

  1. To their surprise, The Divine Comedy recently discovered that they are big in Portugal. “We played in Lisbon and Porto,” Miggy affirms. “In 4,000 seat venues.”
  2. Last year, Miggy played a few dates with venerable Hammond maestro Reuben Wilson standing in for regular drummer Crispin Taylor.
  3. Miggy’s father is also a working musician, playing steel drums, and Miggy still enjoys joining him for the odd gig.
  4. Prior to working with The Divine Comedy, Miggy worked with such groove-heavy artists as Diana Brown & Barrie K Sharpe, Galliano and Gone Washington.
  5. Before he fell into the London session scene, Miggy was a successful graphic designer in advertising. “I wasn’t a yuppie, though,” he says.

Miggy’s Gear

“I’m playing a Premier Signia kit – 10”, 12”, 14” – sometimes I substitute a 16”, depending on how big the gig is – and a 22” bass drum. I’ve got a lovely old wooden shell Premier piccolo snare drum, which I picked up in Belgium. I’m still using UFIP cymbals, which I find very nice and crisp. I’ve got a 20” ride, a 16” and a 14” or a 13” crash, depending on where we play, and a lovely pair of 14” hi-hats… It’s not a massive set-up. I’ve never gone for that. Especially in the early days, when you had to lug your own kit. I don’t think I’ ever go with more than three toms – I just don’t see the need.”

Pat Reid
Rhythm 07/2001