a short site about The Divine Comedy

He's got a lovely horse. And that's not all...

1991 – 1996 If this band was a fish, it would be a Spanish Dancer Nudibranch

Stranger things have happened than Neil Hannon’s rise to fame, but only one springs to mind and it’s happening right now. The Divine Comedy’s helmsman, Derry-born son of a preacher man, writer of gloriously sexy post-Pulp hits such as ‘Something For The Weekend’ as weel as the unholy chaos of Father Ted’s Eurovision/Christmas single, ‘My Lovely Horse’, is sitting in a Japanese restaurant, showing off his underpants.

Ever seen a pop star’s pants? Neil – off to tour Europe, hence the undies hunt – is broadly grinning as he pulls a selection of shorts from (gulp) a Tie Rack bag. Normal shorts, but with a difference: each pair is liberally dotted in Dalmatians. 101 Dalmatians. Doggy-style, indeed.

They say fame makes people crazy and this only proves it. Recognition from the discerning pop lover, much less the seven million anointed souls who tune into Chris Evans every morning, has been three proper albums in coming to the shy little fella in a tweed Mod suit. Just like the song says, there’s plenty going on in that woodshed.

Owners of the hit singles have much to gain from delving The Divine Comedy’s lushly orchestrated slabs of perfect pop – not a term to be bandied about lightly. Nor is new-found fame. So, Neil, what’s best about being famous? “Lots of cash!” And what’s worst? “Too much work!”

Check this for an itinerary: Neil’s only ‘free’ day for two weeks is an endless round of interviews. The following say, before slinging a suitcase full of doggy pants over his shoulder for a three-week tour of Europe, he’s up early to do The Big Breakfast. And when he returns, there’s the small matter of ‘My Lovely Horse’. Neil, who writes all the music for Father Ted, penned this winning ‘Eurovision’ entry for Fathers Ted and Dougal to warble in a frankly ludicrous episode of the recent series. Now “staggering public demand” dictates its release.

“They fancy the idea of it being… a Christmas single,” Neil mumbles. “I have to re-record it and it won’t come out as The Divine Comedy. I’ll sing it, and they’ll… be it. It’s not that I generally disown my work, but ‘My Lovely fucking Horse’?”

There are, of course, more serious matters than the Christmas number one on Craggy Island, and Neil attacks a few of these on Casanova, couching his bewilderment with women in beautiful orchestrated settings.

“Well, I was talking about it from the very basic perspective of – heh heh – Oh folly! I’ve just got laid! Which was more or less a complete surprise,” he laughs. “It’s a mid-‘20s angst album.”

This well-documented research into matters psychosexual may qualify Neil as pop’s first agony uncle. “If being in agony all the time qualifies me, then I suppose yes, it’s possible. But that’s just self-inflicted mental anguish, you know? You feel duty bound to point out all your traumas when you’re making record. It’s complete rubbish. I’m not really that traumatised,” he laughs.

Neil’s detractors have asserted that Casanova is filled with vivid depictions of misogynist thinking, casting aspersions on Neil’s personal life and admittedly calamitous roll call of romance for the sake of a few penetrating lyrics. Mistake. Men’s feelings towards women are justifiably complex and deeply entrenched: lyrics such as “Maybe I hate her / Because I didn’t create her” have been carried as silent emotional baggage since Adam and Eve, since the Greek myth of Pygmalion and Galates placed a statuesque beauty on a pedestal and allowed the man of the piece to complain that she wasn’t the girl he thought she’d be. Strangely, Neil’s loudest critics are not women but other men dubiously playing devil’s advocate. With friends like that, what girls need enemies?

“Oh, totally,” sighs Neil, who’s acutely aware that the battle Of The Sexes has two sides. Nick Cave he ain’t. “I wanted to approach the subject without too many of the old, big sexist clichés getting in the way. I mean, I’m not exactly a big hunk of a man. I don’t run around throwing lager over people’s heads and wearing false breasts.”

If anything, Neil’s attitude towards women was born of idealism.

“The main problem I had with my various strange relationships was that I simply didn’t believe that women were as different as people made out. Sometimes I was slightly disappointed that they were different and that it wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought.”

Also, the man who wrote ‘The Booklovers’, the roll call of great authors on Promenade, who seems to empty libraries into his records as a matter of course, claims – distressingly – to be more badly read than you’d credit.

“I did actually have a go at The Great Gatsby recently. Unfortunately, at this stage in my career it seems impossible to read anything once begun,” he complains.

Instead Neil did what every swot secretly does; he flicked on the telly every wet afternoon to fill his head with visions of actresses. After all, this was easier than speaking to scary local girls or reading War And Peace. “If I ever see anything more than once it has to be really soppy, so my favourite film is probably Breakfast At Tiffany’s… simply because at the end there’s the rain and Audrey Hepburn’s cat poking its head out. Thoroughly soppy!” swoons Neil, then composes himself. “When I went to New York I did actually do to Tiffany’s, but I was hardly impressed. It’s only a jewellery shop, isn’t it? You can get breakfast anywhere.”

Well, at least he knows how she must have felt, staring at the baubles while consoling herself with a stale croissant. It’s clearly getting to him, this fame stuff. “The trouble is, at this stage nobody understand when I’m being ironic. I’d like to offer people a visual clue by carrying around little cards with ‘irony’ on them, or a pair of inverted commas which could go on either side of my head when I need them to.”

And then there are the women: despite the perplexing array of ambitious beauties who’ve begun to notice him since the hit singles, Neil’s spurned the lot in favour of an incredibly intelligent and charming girlfriend. Happy ending? Get out those inverted commas.

“Unfortunately, she’s buggered off to Canada to do a film and TV course of her degree. For six months! It’s thoroughly horrible because I’ve got all this fresh cash to use to visit her, but I can’t possibly go till November,” Neil whinges. “Of course, I’m having delicious agony about all of this.”

So, a little drunk and heavy-lidded, Neil prepares to let it home to receive a call from Canada. Poor kid – all he wants is to get the girl and put his feet up in his own place. Shouldn’t that be easy?

“Especially with a bit of new-found success, people start taking every word I say as Biblical truth and believing the strangest things about me. I speak less truth now than I ever used to. And people still ask what was in that woodshed…”

Susan Corrigan
Volume 17, 12/1996