a short site about The Divine Comedy

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Fanfare For The Comic Muse

Fanfare For The Comic Muse is The Divine Comedy’s very first album, and the only one to have been recorded while TDC was still a real band, a rock band.

Heavily influenced by REM (in particular their album Eponymous), Neil Hannon formed a band on the ashes from his former project, October, with his bandmate Lawrence Hoy and two new musicians John McCullagh and Kevin Traynor.

After recording a first demo, at Active Studio in Banbridge, the band would adopt the name The Divine Comedy, and Lawrence would depart from the band. The demo was sent to several labels, including Rough Trade, who may have forwarded it to a new label specialized in Irish bands, Keith Cullen’s Setanta. Even though Keith didn’t like the recording at first; yet his girlfriend did and she insisted on him to give the band a try. And so history was made: The Divine Comedy got signed to the label in January 1990 and the 3-piece recorded Fanfare in Easter.
The album was recorded at Homestead Studios, a place also used by other by other Irish newcomers such as Therapy?; and produced by John O'Neill, guitarist from The Undertones / That Petrol Emotion, who was quite active on the Derry scene and would release a single with his band Rare on Setanta Records later in the year. The choice of such a producer was so probably driven by Keith Cullen, while Neil knew exactly what he wanted do to (i.e. sound like REM): “It wasn’t a particularly happy experience, none of my suggestions were taken on. Neil knew exactly what he wanted, he produced that album himself” recalls John [1].

While the album has not a proper concept or thematic, the songs deal with various themes which remain regular in Neil’s career: love (‘The Rise And Fall’, ‘Secret Garden’ even though in a more adolescent perspective), nature and ecology (‘Tailspin’, ‘Logic Version Emotion’).

The album title is a cross-reference between ‘Fanfare For The Common Men’ and ‘Victory For The Comic Muse’. The later is a quote from A Room With A View, a film he watched as a teenager, and would influence him for years, as the reference would be used again for the album Victory For The Comic Muse. The albums Liberation and Promenade would also use samples from the movie. And it is interesting to note that the demo version (still unreleased) of ‘Secret Garden’ originally featured the line “a worn out copy of A Room With A View” as a reference to the novel by EM Forster.

Little is known regarding the cover art. No credit is given, and reverse image research doesn’t give any clue. According to LastFM [2] it is an adaptation of a drawing of Raphael Sanzio by painter Ernst Wieltschnig, although no reference to the latter can be found. This may lead to think it was actually designed on purpose for the album.

It is true to say the album received little interest from the UK press, and did not sold many copies, however it still may not have been such a fiasco as Neil tends to sum up. To put thing in perspective, it was still the very beginning of the Setanta label (the second LP released by the label, which had mainly released 12” EP before) and so not much distribution, and they (the band and the label) have yet to develop their network. The band played in a handful of clubs in London; but mainly did shows or festivals in Ireland where they received more positive reviews [3].
However, it will acquire with time the reputation of a disowned and controversial album. After the band split-up, Neil Hannon will reinvent The Divine Comedy, and Liberation would be considered as the proper first album.
Despite this Fanfare… has been reissued twice: Setanta reprinted some copies after The Divine Comedy became successful (a bootleg would also get in stores the next year); and more recently within the Juveneilia compilation.

[1] Reference needed
[2] Last FM
[3] Sunny Days 9, 06/1991