A pint with...
The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon on bishops, cricket and fights
Under the guise of the Divine Comedy, Derry-born Dublin-based Neil Hannon has been successfully plying his trade as a recording artist and live performer both here and around the world for the best part of twenty years.
Over that time he’s demonstrated a knack for creating musical concoctions that combine hummable melodies with intelligent and often amusing lyrics and rich arrangements – songs such as National Express, Something for the Weekend and 2010’s At the Indie Disco.
He’s also the man behind the Father Ted theme music and Ted’s contribution to the world of Eurovision – My Lovely Horse.
The Divine Comedy has, over the years, swelled and contracted – sometimes it’s been just Neil at the piano or guitar, sometimes he’s performed with a band, sometimes he’s had the support on stage of a band and a full orchestra. Throughout, Neil has been the one constant.
He has never been averse to the occasional collaboration, including a fully-fledged side project with fellow Irishman Thomas Walsh of the band Pugwash under the guise of The Duckworth Lewis Method, who released a concept album based around the game of cricket. Really.
He will next be seen collaborating with his real-life partner Cathy Davey and a number of other guests at the Button Factory on Friday 1 April, for The Jack Daniels-sponsored JD Set 2011.
In previous years, The JD Set has been an unsigned band competition, but from this year onwards the format is changing to feature Irish singer-songwriters covering an album by an artist that they respect and admire, with Neil the first person to be asked to pick an album and perform it – Neil’s choice being the debut album by American band Vampire Weekend.
JOE sat down with Neil at the launch of the event at Dublin’s Button Factory to talk collaborations, bishops, cricket and troublesome gigs.
JOE: So what will it be Neil?
Neil Hannon: Pint of the black stuff [a quick pause, while he remembers who’s sponsoring his forthcoming gig] and a JD, of course.
JOE: You’ve enjoyed a long and varied career, and a good deal of success with The Divine Comedy, but you’ve never been averse to fiddling around doing collaborations alongside your main day job. Is the chance to fiddle about and do something different what attracted you to do the forthcoming gig here at the Button Factory?
Neil: 'Fiddling' is the right word. I like messing about and this was right up my street. I get a lot of offers, but as soon as I saw the email offering me the chance to do something at the Button Factory, my juices started to flow. I thought, ‘That’s a cool idea’, and they pay you to do it.
JOE: That idea being...
Neil: You get to pick your favourite musicians and play your favourite albums. I don’t see what could go wrong.
I have lots of ideas involving lots of people but I just have to get them to say yes. Then we have rehearsal time in March over three days and then the gig on 1 April. It’s a little worrying but I’m looking forward to it.
JOE: And you’ve picked the debut album of a fairly new American band to cover. Isn’t covering Vampire Weekend’s first album an odd choice? Isn’t it meant to be a band who’ve influenced you, yet you’ve gone for a band who’ve been around for a lot less time than you have.
Neil: Hopefully as a musician you keep getting influenced as you go along. You don’t suddenly stop being taught by other people, and so I’m quite happy to say that when I heard Vampire Weekend’s album it blew me away – even if I have been in this game a lot longer than they have.
I heard it and I thought ‘F*cking hell, I’ve got to try harder’. The fact is that a lot of my favourite bands, whose individual songs I love, made dodgy albums. So it was very hard to find one that I could live with the whole way through. I can play it over and over again and not get sick of it, which is a good thing to do when you have to sit down and spend time listening very carefully to it in order to be able to cover it on stage.