The Divine Comedy

Hometown hero Neil Hannon charms the crowds at Ardhowen Theatre

Portora schoolmasters and Cathedral parishioners sit proudly in the front row of Enniskillen’s Ardhowen Theatre, but the word is Neil Hannon is nervous about playing to the hometown crowd. If there are any jitters it doesn't show however, as Enniskillen's favourite son strides out to a warm welcome, sporting bowler hat and a pipe in mouth, a la Sherlock Holmes.

Hannon completes the look with briefcase in hand and quips, 'Sorry I’m late, 15 years late', referring to the last time he performed in the town where he spent his formative years. 'I take it you’ll be wanting a few tunes.' Seated at the piano, he strikes up an old favourite, 'My Lovely Horse'. Reassured and relaxed, Hannon colluded with the collective pride. 'Land of my upbringing, You see what you did to the world!'

A sympathetic blue spotlight along the keyboard, soft footlight shadows, and a velvet red carpet set the scene for the tender 'A Lady of a Certain Age'. It was her with cheque book and a family tree who chased the sun around the Cote d’Azur, until the light of youth became obscure and left her on her own in the shade. The applause breaks the spell and Hannon describes the audience response as 'shockingly lovely.' He remembers a rather dry atmosphere at Ardhowen, but says it’s not like that tonight.

From The Divine Comedy’s latest album Bang Goes The Knighthood, Hannon offers 'The Complete Banker', his take on the current economic crisis. The Armani-suited gent who rides around in his Bentley with Samantha by his side makes a profit on somebody else’s loss, then asks if anyone can lend him ten billion quid! Warming to the task, Hannon moves from the piano to the guitar 'to torture a different instrument'. 'Assume the Perpendicular' roams romantically around a stately home in Somerset, with gardens, complete with manicured maze, laid out by Capability Brown.

Hannon continues without a set list offering the songs that come to mind. 'The Art of Conversation', 'National Express', 'Lucy', 'Becoming More Like Alfie'. The playing is forceful, but the rhythms rock and shimmy and swing with lyrics crisp and clear. Crossing his hands on the keyboard is just one of the tricks Hannon uses to reproduce the recorded arrangements. He reflects that there isn’t an 'Indie Disco' in Enniskillen and while he was living uptown in the Deanery he used to sit in the attic penning songs for girls while the other boys (with trousers on fire) went out to court them.

These days Hannon may turn his hand to other subjects, but when he does write a love song, it doesn't fail to tug at the heart. The ascending, aspiring scale that opens 'Everybody Knows (Except You)', is bound to beguile. Asking 'Have You Ever Been in Love', and then comes up with a neat definition – somebody who can see into your head.

By now Hannon has the audience in the palm of his hand, upon asking to whistle the ‘Father Ted’ tune, the crowd oblige. 'Magic', he replies and concludes that his audience have been 'obscenely kind' and offers 'I Like', a song written for someone else, but 'tonight it’s for you'. Hannon dedicates the show to his parents seated somewhere near the front of the theatre, then he cranks up the cabaret cadences of 'Can You Stand Upon One Leg.'

This evening proves just how far Hannon has come since his boy soprano days when he was filmed singing 'O For the Wings of a Dove' in the Marble Arch caves. Today he’s a celebrated world class wordsmith, melody maker, singer and musician. After all the rhyming couplets, Hannon ends the show on a sustained high note, with the choir boy coming full circle to make Enniskillen proud once more.

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