The Divine Comedy
Neil Hannon talks politics, a new album and even more award nominations
The Divine Comedy are back with a tenth studio album Bang Goes The Knighthood, a sure pop hit single with 'At The Indie Disco' and yet another award nomination. This time, Neil Hannon is up for best album at the Ivor Novello Awards for his side project, The Duckworth Lewis Method.
Following on the surprise success of the cricket concept album, Hannon's now back writing under the Divine Comedy name with Bang Goes The Knighthood. This latest output covers a much more eclectic range of subjects, taking aim at crisis-causing bankers, rich men caught with their pants down and as he sees it, the lost art of conversation.
'For me, a record is like how I see myself and the world this year, it’s like a résumé. Things that I have been pondering. It’s a mixed bag, but then my albums usually are rarely upon one theme, except the ones that were all upon one theme.'
Ever the humble sort – even after winning the Choice Music Prize for the 2006 album Victory For The Comic Muse – Hannon is genuinely surprised at the Ivors nomination. ‘Well it’s fantastic! Completely unexpected in the extreme. I mean Thomas [Walshe, DLM co-writer] almost fainted when we told him.'
Hannon, who says watching five days of test cricket is simply 'perfect', says the duo had a real blast writing together: ‘It’s the only occasion on which I’ve had that stupid an idea and it’s actually happened. When we told our friends that we were going to make a whole album about cricket, they just looked at us blankly and sort of thought "you idiots, that’s the first and last we’ll hear of that” and it’s actually been remarkably successful.'
He adds: 'It’s just amazing, I mean I don’t know what to say about it apart from the fact that I really admire juries that are free-thinking enough to look past the superficial nature of the album, which is it’s an album about cricket, and listen to the music.‘ Back in Belfast this month for the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Hannon says the live experience will be an intimate evening with him and the piano. ‘I’ve decided that’s the way I’m going to do the year’s touring and that’s just the way it shall be,' he says defiantly, 'it will make for a spontaneous and hopefully intense evening.'
Only a songwriter of the calibre of Hannon could suggest that playing CQAF's sold-out marquee would be 'an intimate evening,' but he certainly isn't adverse to taking requests from the audience, within reason. 'I haven’t done one of these shows yet this year, I did a couple of solo ones last year. But the problem with asking people what they want is that they all ask it at the same time and you can’t hear.’ Having penned some truly great pop hits including 'Generation Sex', 'National Express' and 'Something For The Weekend', would Hannon heed a baying call for 'My Lovely Horse', Father Ted's stupid entry to the Eurovision Contest? ‘That’s not stupid at all, it’s a fine song. But I rarely play it I have to say.’
With 'The Lost Art Of Conversation', Hannon has penned a ode to the social networking generation. So the revolution won't be tweeted? 'The Twitter thing leaves me completely cold. I mean, I don’t want to know what my favourite people had for breakfast, that’s not what I want from my celebs or my favourite authors or whatever. You know, Stephen Fry, I love him, he is one of the greatest people alive on the planet today, but I still don’t care where he is right now. All I want to do is read his books and listen to his shows.'
Although 'Divine Comedy HQ' is on the micro-blogging website, Hannon doesn't even try to hide how confounded he is by it all. 'I wouldn’t see why anybody would want to follow me either. I mean, I have about twenty good ideas per year and I’m not going to waste them, you know, on Twitter.' Hannon is equally alarmed by some of his friends' descent into the online world. 'I feel like people I know are evaporating, they’re just disappearing off into this ‘Facebookland’ where everybody’s talking to each other and I’m not, I’m being left behind,' he continues, laughing, 'but I don’t care, you know, I would rather ring someone up and say “are you coming to the pub?” It’s much more healthy.’
The first single from Bang Goes The Knighthood reminisces about dancing the night away to Pixies, New Order, and The Cure. Hannon himself was 'a complete indie kid' in his late teens, so did he frequent many indie discos? ‘Well I didn’t, because there were none in Fermanagh. If there were, they didn’t tell me about it as usual. I’m going to write a song called "Nobody Told Me"!' Hannon is in jovial form, barely containing his laughter as he recalls his desperation to hear some good music. 'So you’d end up in Blazers in Ballinamallard [Enniskillen], pleading with the DJ to play [The Cure] ‘The Love Cats’ or something, anything!’
Despite this, Hannon contends he's never felt the need to experience something first-hand in order to write about it, saying that to do so would limit him hugely. 'I wrote a song called ‘Thrillseeker’ about jumping off mountains, with a parachute and stuff like that, which obviously I’m never going to do in a million years. It’s not my cup of tea at all, for a start I’m terribly afraid of heights and secondly I can’t be bothered. Too much like hard work.'
On speculation of a Duckworth Lewis follow-up, Hannon is wary. 'No doubt Thomas and I shall work together again, but it’s far too soon to think of another record. I don’t know, the more [the press] say it, the less it seems like a good idea, because there would actually be quite a lot of pressure on it and the whole reason the first one succeeded was there was no pressure at all. It’s like Blair Witch Project 2. Nobody cares.'
Hannon's rare live appearance in the city coincides with the General Election on May 6. Now living in Dublin, Hannon is relieved to not have to go through it again but this doesn't stop another Blair weighing heavy on his mind. ‘Luckily I don’t have to vote anymore. I had the misfortune of voting in Blair twice, when I lived over [in the UK]. We were duped, incredible. If I was over there I would vote Liberal Democrat.
'I love the way [the opposition] paint their policies as crazy, mad hippy stuff, when in fact they’re just common sense and it’s just because it’s not the general received wisdom of politics.' Hannon's eldest brother, a Lib Dem councillor in Devon, is currently helping his local MP get elected. Is there a temptation for the younger brother to join in the political circus? Not on your nelly, says Hannon. 'I can’t argue, that’s my big problem. I just get annoyed and frustrated because I can’t remember the right argument.'
'But I would love to be instantly made Taoiseach and have a go, without the bother of having to be elected. If I were king for a day,' Hannon muses, tongue-firmly-in-cheek, 'I would sort the traffic system out, definitely.'