a short site about The Divine Comedy

Sardonic Songster Returns

The first time the Divine Comedy played in Scotland back in 95, "We got things thrown at us," says Neil Hannon. "We were supporting Supergrass and we went on in suits and ties and the audience didn't take kindly to it. It was like 50ps to the head."

Now, seven years on and Hannon stands mostly alone against whatever is thrown his way after a recent shedding of band members. The circumstances behind which have remained somewhat clouded, but Hannon appears to be enjoying his new found freedom. "Well, it's the freedom to change a lot of nappies," he says, referring to recent fatherhood. "It wasn't so much about getting away from anybody. It was trying to re-align myself - trying to work out what I was doing." So he's been spending some time doing a bit of musical soul searching (in between the nappies) and sounds like a man with a slowly evolving plan. "I want to home in on trying to get the simplistic sound. I've been listening to a lot of Nina Simone and other kinds of minimalist performers. I want it to be more about the roots of it, the words and the vocal performances and the musical performances. I really want to make a show something really intimate. Hopefully an experience."

It is this thoughtfulness which has marked Hannon out from a lot of contemporary songwriters, but he resists the pigeon-holing that is often imposed. "I think that life is not just very serious or very silly. I've always liked M*A*S*H because sometimes it was deadly serious and sometimes it was mad. I try to write music like that. When people don't quite know which one you're being, that's quite useful. And annoying probably!" And also quite hard to market. Does he find it difficult working within a music industry that's preoccupied with types? "I find it nigh on impossible sometimes," he says with some exasperation. "The business is very fragmented these days. There is a huge dichotomy between the out-and-out pop music and maybe what you might call adult music and you can't be allowed to straddle these things so they can fit you into their market thing and do their focus groups and their bloody bar charts."

The subject is obviously one which rankles, but listening to the lyrics of The Divine Comedy's sizable repertoire there is an irrepressible sense of fun and Hannon simply cannot hide his love of language. "I've always had a love of words and as a result I've always like things that other people find really terrible. I used to love Richard Stilgoe on Nationwide doing his little songs. Flanders and Swan and Cole Porter - I just giggle when I listen to them. I've never thought that you can't say serious things without humour." So this time, he laughs, "£50 notes would do fine."

Ruth Hedges
The List 01/08/2002