The Divine Comedy: What Makes Neil Hannon Such A Huge Talent
I’m going to admit it – I came to The Divine Comedy relatively late in life, which might explain my almost evangelical need to share my enthusiasm with others. It was in January that I heard the most stunning song on my local radio station. Beautiful, melodic and haunting, its lyrics made me stop what I was doing and actually listen :
You chased the sun around
the Cote d’Azur
Until the light of youth Became obscured
And left you on your own And in the shade
An English lady of a certain age
I promptly Googled, Wikipedia’d and finally YouTubed The Divine Comedy , and thus started a musical love story that has continued throughout the years.
Here’s the thing. Neil Hannon is the son of a Northern Irish bishop, and chose the name The Divine Comedy after seeing the book on his father’s bookshelf. He freely admits to not having read it at the time, but must have caught up at some point as literary references run throughout his work – one of his earliest singles was Wordsworth put to music, for goodness sake! Despite not being classically trained, he has an innate understanding of music and composition, drawing on influences as varied as Scott Walker, Michael Nyman, Jacques Brel and Bach. He’s got an extraordinary voice that puts far more successful ‘singers’ to shame, never letting him down, even live. But it’s his lyrics that make my jaw drop. Intelligent, witty, sensitive, wry – only he can make you want to laugh out loud one minute and burst into tears the next.
Below please find my top ten – in no particular order – favourite The Divine Comedy songs and performances. What does anyone else think?
A Lady of a Certain Age (Victory for the Comic Muse)
This was the song that started my love affair, about a lady, getting on a bit, who lives on the Cote d’Azur. Elsewhere on You Tube you’ll find the recorded version, but this, I think, is a particularly lovely recording in Paris.
Our Mutual Friend (Absent Friends)
This has to be my favourite of all his performances – what a man, what a song, what a note to end on!
National Express (Fin de Siecle)
Probably his most successful single – a wonderfully jaunty song with a nicely dark video.
stunning, gorgeous. Wordsworth to music, and possibly my ultimate Desert Island
Disc. A part of me would like to change my name to Lucy just so they can play this at my funeral. Weird, I know.
Very different from the album version, but I just love this performance, and how the song goes from chirpy ditty to something much darker.
The Summerhouse (Promenade)
Taken from the same concert (in Paris 2008), I just love the passion, the memories and the underlying sense of loss.
Middle Class Heroes (Casanova)
Just love the jaunty/dark mix again. Not to mention that voice.
The Pop Singer’s Fear of the Pollen Count (Liberation and rerecorded for A Secret History)
Seriously, how many pop stars would dare to write about hay-fever and include the line: ‘So blow your nose, baby’? One of those infectious, smile-inducing numbers you can’t get out of your head.
Diva Lady (Victory for the Comic Muse)
Just glorious – funny, clever and a video that always makes me laugh.
Edward the Confessor
Unbelievably, this doesn’t even feature on an album, but I think it was once a B-side. Gorgeous, heart-breaking and romantic.
Here’s one last treat for you – it’s not that I can’t count, I just couldn’t resist. Taken from the BBC’s The Culture Show , it’s Neil Hannon’s analysis of the perfect song for the Eurovision Song Contest – a cheesy annual event we Europeans have to put up with. Even when he’s parodying something (which he frequently does), he does it miles better, and the resulting song’s laugh-out-loud genius.
There are many, many songs I’ve missed here: Tonight We Fly, Gin-Soaked Boy, The Certainty of Chance, Commuter Love, Your Daddy’s Car, When the Lights go out all over Europe – I could go on, and on.
What does anyone think of my line up, and what other favourites are out there?
STOP PRESS: Mr. Hannon's masterful side project, The Duckworth Lewis Method, the world's first concept album about, er, cricket, has been nominated for a prestigious Ivor Novello award! UPDATE: OK it didn't win but it's still a fantastic album, even if you don't give two hoots about cricket.
- The Divine Comedy: The Wit and Wisdom of Neil Hannon
An exploration of the lyrics of indie group The Divine Comedy, with five examples of wit, and five of wisdom.
- The Divine Comedy
The Divine Comedy's official website.
More by this Author
A brief travelogue of India, surely the most fascinating place on earth, with a selection of ten of the author's personal favourite places.