Divine Comedy

“…I got my cheeky back…like Justin”

So said Neil Hannon and new album “Victory for the comic muse” certainly finds him in rude health, sounding confident and relaxed. Free from record company hassles The Divine Comedy appear happy in their own skin once more. “Diva Lady“, “To Die A Virgin“, and “A Lady of A Certain Age” are at least the equal of anything they’ve done so far.

Unsurprisingly then I jumped at the chance to loiter around in the background as Neil, accompanied by John Evans on guitar recorded a session in the BBC 6 music hub. The grand sounding “Hub” is actually a couple of sofas and a coffee machine with probably room for a dozen at most, and due to paranoia about not getting in I turned up ridiculously early to find Neil and John still setting up. With a good forty minutes before they were due to go on air I sat with a couple of 6 music staff while they sound checked, chatted and recorded a couple of prerecords for broadcast at a later date. Neil also wanted to find out if he could actually get home that evening due to the 40 or so short hall flights that were being cancelled… Ireland seemed like fairly likely cancellation candidate. Webcam fun by Pip

There was some debate over whether they should try “Light of day” as the second prerecord or go for the apparently safer option of “If” a favourite of mine including the immortal line “If you were a horse I’d clean the crap out of your stable… Never once complain“.They finally opted for “Light of day” on the basis that if it didn’t work they still had time to do “If“, however barely mid way through the track a guitar string abruptly snapped. “Its such a thrash of a song, a real string killer!” quipped John.

With on air time approaching they spent some time trying to get the balance right on new single “To Die A Virgin“, Johns slide guitar was almost deafening, leaving Neil’s keyboards barely audible. Right on cue around 10 people turned up just in time to go live, and Nemone introduced what turned out to be a flawless rendition.

Hannon swiftly moved seats from keyboard to guitar before having a brief chat with Nemone. A rumoured cover version of the Vapours “Turning Japanese” was discussed with Neil saying it was “a little bit drum and bass”, and that people would have to wait until it was included as part a desperate attempt to shift a best of. The Divine Comedy had apparently considered a covers album but after trying five or six arrangements abandoned the idea, perhaps wisely given the sales of The Beautiful South’s covers collection.

The new album came out simply because of the weight of material I’d built up. Songs have a sell by date and go off if left, you kind of forget what you were thinking about when you wrote it… So I had no choice I had to do a new record“. Neil Hannon

Divine Comedy

After the forthcoming V festival he said was taking a short break to see his daughter through the rocky first weeks of primary school, but declared 8am starts were really “not very rock and roll”.

Next up was “A Lady Of A Certain Age” my personal favourite of the new songs, and it turned out to be the highlight of the session, with the acoustic arrangement and slightly slower pace focusing the mind on its beautifully observed lyrics.

Your son’s in stocks and bonds and lives back in Surrey

Flies down once in a while and leaves in a hurry

Your daughter never finished her finishing school

Married a strange young man of whom you don’t approve

Your husband’s hollow heart gave out one Christmas Day

He left the villa to his mistress in Marseilles

It’s a fantastic, and sadly rare moment when a gig takes you by surprise and from nowhere you get tingles down the spine. There was something about Hannon sat five foot away delivering the lines above with such clarity that did just that. Call me a soppy old sod if you like but goosebumps there were. At the end of the song there was a moment of silence as Neil remained hunched over his guitar, and the audience suffered a collective fear of applauding too soon on live radio, “finished!” Neil jokingly prompted.

The audience left as quickly as they had arrived, leaving Neil and John to return to the abandoned “Light of day” prerecord which went smoothly save for a frog in Neil’s throat on a particularly high note. “You can edit that right???” he asked before continuing.

And that was that, I had time to quickly ask Hannon about the St.James Church gig a few months ago, which he said was a lovely place to play, but the sound had been terrible. It was worth it he said just for the chance to ask the audience to “All rise” in a church.

Thanks go to 6music, Neil Hannon and John Evans for kindly allowing me to hover in the background, and here’s hoping he managed to find a flight home.

Divine Comedy

Website / Myspace

Audio: Listen Again to the 6music session & Interview

Divine Comedy – “To Die A Virgin (Live on BBC 6music)” (MP3)

Divine Comedy – “A Lady Of A Certain Age (Live on BBC 6music)” (MP3)

Pictures: Gallery of photos from the session here.

Images from the webcam adapted for comic value by Pip on the Divine Comedy forum.

Video: Divine Comedy – “Diva Lady” (YouTube)

Loads of entries for The Divine Comedy “To Die A Virgin” make a video competition on Youtube.

Buy: CD’s from £6, including best of for £7.99 from The Divine Comedy store.