The Divine Comedy (band)
The Divine Comedy
Performing at the Summer Sundae festival, 2007
|Origin||Enniskillen, Northern Ireland|
|Genres||Orchestral pop, Britpop|
|Labels||Setanta, Parlophone, Divine Comedy|
The Divine Comedy are an orchestral pop band from Northern Ireland formed in 1989 and fronted by Neil Hannon. Hannon has been the only constant member of the group, playing, in some instances, all of the non-orchestral instrumentation besides drums. To date, eleven studio albums have been released under the Divine Comedy name. The group achieved their greatest commercial success in the years 1996–99, during which they had nine singles that made the UK Top 40, including the top ten hit "National Express".
- 1 History
- 2 Band members
- 3 Discography
- 4 References
- 5 External links
The beginning and early success (Fanfare to Promenade)
Neil Hannon has been the only ever-present member of the band, being its founder in 1989 when he was joined by John McCullagh and Kevin Traynor. Their first album, the heavily R.E.M.-influenced and now-deleted Fanfare for the Comic Muse, enjoyed little success. A couple of equally unsuccessful EPs – Timewatch (1991); Europop (1992) – were to follow, with newly recruited member John Allen handling lead vocals on some tracks. After the commercial failure of the Europop EP, this line-up soon fell apart.
Hannon, however, was not deterred in his efforts and re-entered the studio in March 1993, teaming up with co-producer/drummer Darren Allison, for the recording of Liberation. Featuring a fairly diverse musical outlook that goes from the tongue-in-cheek synth pop of 'Europop' (nearly unrecognisable from the previously released version) to the classical stylings of 'Timewatching', it is also characterised by a plethora of literary references: 'Bernice Bobs Her Hair' recalls a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald; 'Three Sisters' draws upon the play by Anton Chekhov; and 'Lucy' is essentially three William Wordsworth poems abridged to music. This led to a degree of critical acclaim, but commercial success still proved elusive.
Indeed, it was only some minor success in France that really enabled Hannon to proceed to his second effort Promenade. Released in 1994, and co-produced, once again, with Darren Allison, this was heavily driven by classical influences, with Michael Nyman's stylings clearly an inspiration. Hannon himself acknowledged this when he apparently sent a copy of his new album to the composer, jokingly asking him not to sue. Essentially, a concept album about a day spent by two lovers, it also received similar critical acclaim to that which Liberation was afforded. Commercial success, though, was not forthcoming despite some of Hannon's best songwriting to date, including "Don't Look Down", "The Summerhouse" and subsequent live favourite "Tonight We Fly". Soon after the release of the album the Divine Comedy went on tour with Tori Amos, supporting her during her European dates.
At around the same time, Hannon also wrote and performed, with Allison, the theme music for the sitcom Father Ted (which would subsequently be incorporated into the song "Songs of Love" on the album Casanova), and later wrote the music for the mock-Eurovision song "My Lovely Horse" for one episode.  Hannon resisted widespread requests from fans to release the track as a single for the Christmas market, but it was eventually released in 1999 as the third track on the CD-single "Gin Soaked Boy". This would not be the only time they would be responsible for a TV theme, as "In Pursuit of Happiness" was also used by the BBC science and technology show, Tomorrow's World. Hannon also composed the music for the comedy series The IT Crowd, written by Father Ted co-writer Graham Linehan.
The road to fame (Casanova to A Secret History...)
The album Casanova (1996), and in particular the single "Something for the Weekend", championed by Chris Evans, then BBC Radio 1 breakfast show DJ and presenter of TFI Friday, led to the band's first major success, with Neil Hannon becoming a distinctive, albeit unlikely, popstar in an immaculate suit, and always appearing the elegant dandy. Casanova was the third album to be produced by Darren Allison and Neil Hannon, thus completing a trilogy of albums which began with Liberation in 1993. Further singles from Casanova were "Becoming more like Alfie" and "The Frog Princess" , both of which received widespread airplay, and further cemented the bands reputation.
At the height of their commercial success, the band released A Short Album About Love (a reference to the Krzysztof Kieślowski film A Short Film About Love), recorded live at soundcheck with the Brunel Ensemble in preparation for a concert at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, from which several songs were released as b-sides. It was aptly released on Valentine's Day in 1997. Subsequently, the band contributed a reworking of Noël Coward's "I've Been to a Marvellous Party" to Twentieth-Century Blues: The Songs of Noël Coward, a compilation of covers of the writer's songs, with Hannon affecting a Cowardesque lilt (albeit interspersed with an aggressive electronic musical backing).
The foppish image, but not the suit, was ditched for the more sombre album Fin De Siècle in 1998, although its biggest hit, the jaunty "National Express", belied its more intimate, soul-searching tone. Maintaining the balance between these poles, 1999's Secret History – the Best of The Divine Comedy included rerecordings of Liberation tracks ("The Pop Singer's Fear of the Pollen Count" and "Your Daddy's Car") and two new songs ("Gin-Soaked Boy" and "Too Young to Die") alongside the band's main hits. In the same year, the band also collaborated with Tom Jones on a cover-version of Portishead's 'All Mine', featured on his album Reload.
A serious side to the band was also in evidence in 2000's collaboration with Ute Lemper on her album Punishing Kiss, most of which featured The Divine Comedy as Lemper's backing band. Neil Hannon and Joby Talbot also contributed two original songs and an arrangement of Brecht and Weill's "Tango Ballad", whilst Neil Hannon sang two songs ("Tango Ballad", "Split") as duets with Lemper.
Post-Setanta and recent activity (Regeneration to present)
The 2001 album Regeneration attempted to remove the band still further from its association with comedy. Hannon hired famous producer Nigel Godrich to "remake" the band. Neil ditched the suit and donned a Britrock band image. The album was a greater critical than commercial success, and soon after its release it was announced that The Divine Comedy were splitting up. However, within a year Hannon was touring again with a revised band line-up, playing a series of joint-headline gigs in the United States, United Kingdom and Ireland featuring both The Divine Comedy and Ben Folds, who would cover The Divine Comedy's "Songs of Love" on his Sunny 16 EP.
Eventually a new album surfaced in the form of 2004's Absent Friends. Striking a balance between the occasionally earnest sound of the band's later material and the lighter tone of the more popular releases, it encapsulated the essence of The Divine Comedy. 2004 saw two dates of particularly acclaimed performances featuring The Millennia Ensemble orchestra, one at the London Palladium (which was later released as a live DVD) and one at the Royal Albert Hall.
In January 2005, Hannon announced that he had acquired the worldwide copyrights to all of his recorded output with his former record label, Setanta Records. He launched his own record label Divine Comedy Records in order to re-release his 1990s output.
Hannon's ninth album with the Divine Comedy, Victory for the Comic Muse, was released in June 2006. The bulk of the record was recorded over two weeks, much of it live rather than multi-tracked, hence a more spontaneous sound, and features appearances from Travis bass player Dougie Payne.
Neil Hannon also provided vocals for songs on the soundtrack for the film of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy released in 2005, working with Joby Talbot, the composer for the film and former Divine Comedy band member. This sci-fi connection continued in late 2006, when he contributed vocals to two tracks – "Song For Ten" and "Love Don't Roam" – on the Doctor Who: Original Television Soundtrack album. In an interview with Bullz-Eye.com, Hannon explained that, "literally, I was asked to add my vocal by the composer of the songs, who writes for the show. And I didn’t feel that I could say no, simply because I spent my childhood watching this programme. It would be just plain wrong to not do it."
In 2006, whilst on tour, the band did a Take-Away Show video session shot by Vincent Moon. Most recently,[when?] the first ten or so seconds of "Tonight We Fly" was used as the ending tune to BBC7's Digi Radio. The song was also used for an advertisement for the Airbus A340 airliner.
Meanwhile, Neil took part in various projects: he recorded "Perfection As a Hipster", included in the God Help the Girl soundtrack, a soon-to-be-released musical film by Belle and Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch as well as the LP The Duckworth Lewis Method, together with Thomas Walsh of Pugwash.
In March 2007 Neil Hannon's relationship with Parlophone came to an end.
On 31 May 2010 The Divine Comedy released their tenth album entitled Bang Goes the Knighthood on DC Records. As with Victory for the Comic Muse it was recorded in RAK studios in St John's Wood by Guy Massey and the orchestra was conducted by Andrew Skeet who was the arranger on this album. The album charted at 20 in the first week of release, making it their highest charting album since Regeneration in 2001. The album itself was preceded by the download-only single "At The Indie Disco".
A live album featuring performances from the 2016/17 Foreverland tour, "Loose Canon", was released digitally on the 16th February 2018 after being made available as a CD on the tour.
The band has at times consisted only of Neil Hannon (vocals, guitars, keyboards, bass), but has also included:
- Bryan Mills - bass, guitars
- Chris Worsey - cello
- Charlotte Glasson - viola
- Darren Allison - drums
- Grant Gordon - drums
- Ivor Talbot - guitars, bass
- Joby Talbot - oboe, saxophones, cor anglais, recorder, piano, synthesizer, harpsichord
- John Allen - celeste
- Tommy Hallawell
- John McCullagh - bass
- Kevin Traynor - drums
- Miguel "Miggy" Barradas - drums
- Stewart Bartlett
- Natalie Box - violin
- Rob Farrer - percussion, drums
- Simon Little - bass, double bass
- Stuart 'Pinkie' Bates - organ, synthesizer, accordion, trombone
- Andrew Skeet - piano, harpsichord
- Lucy Wilkins - violin
- John Evans - guitars
- Tim Weller - drums
- Tosh Flood - guitars, banjo
|The Divine Comedy discography|
|1990||Fanfare for the Comic Muse
|1997||A Short Album About Love
|1998||Fin de Siècle
|2006||Victory for the Comic Muse
|2010||Bang Goes the Knighthood
|2011||Live at Somerset House
|1999||A Secret History... The Best of the Divine Comedy
|1996||"Something for the Weekend"||–||14||Casanova|
|"Becoming More Like Alfie"||–||27|
|"Comme Beaucoup de Messieurs"
|"The Frog Princess"||–||15||Casanova|
|1997||"Everybody Knows (Except You)"||23||14||A Short Album About Love|
|1998||"I've Been to a Marvellous Party"||–||28||Twentieth-Century Blues: The Songs of Noel Coward|
|"Generation Sex"||24||19||Fin de Siecle|
|"The Certainty of Chance"||–||49|
|"The Pop Singer's Fear of the Pollen Count"
||24||17||A Secret History:|
|"Gin Soaked Boy"||–||38|
|2001||"Love What You Do"||48||26||Regeneration|
|2004||"Come Home Billy Bird"
|2006||"Diva Lady"||36||52||Victory for the Comic Muse|
|"To Die a Virgin"||–||67|
|"A Lady of a Certain Age"
|2010||"At the Indie Disco"||–||173||Bang Goes the Knighthood|
|2016||"Catherine the Great"||–||–||Foreverland|
|"How Can You Leave Me On My Own"||–||–|
|2017||"To The Rescue"||–||–|
- Live at the Palladium (2004) - with The Millennia Ensemble
(appearing as either The Divine Comedy or Neil Hannon)
- "The Good Life"; "The Good Life (piano version)" on Gangster No. 1 soundtrack 1993
- "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out"; on The Smiths is dead tribute album, marking 10 years since the release of The Smiths album The Queen Is Dead – November 1996
- "Life's What You Make It" on Volume 9
- "All Mine" duet with Tom Jones from the album Reload
- "I've Been to a Marvelous Party" from the album Twentieth-Century Blues: The Songs of Noel Coward 1998
- "No Regrets", backing vocals on Robbie Williams song from the album I've Been Expecting You – 1998
- "The Dead Only Quickly Decay"; on The 6ths album Hyacinths and Thistles – 1999.
- "Jacky''" on Next- A Tribute To Jacques Brel 2004
- "October" on U2 tribute album Even Better Than the Real Thing Vol. 3
- "So Long And Thanks For All The Fish (Reprise)"; "Vote Beeblebrox" (co-vocals) on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy soundtrack
- "Home" on Jane Birkin's album Fictions – 2006
- "Three Cheers For Pooh, Cottleston Pie, Piglet Ho"; on the charity album Colours Are Brighter – October 2006
- "Aliens" on The Cake Sale
- "Somewhere Between Waking and Sleeping" on Air's album Pocket Symphony
- "Love Don't Roam", "Song For Ten"; on the official Doctor Who: Original Television Soundtrack – December 2006
- "Take Me Away" on Pugwash's album Eleven Modern Antiquities
- "Our Love Goes Deeper Than This" on the Duke Special special 2 cd version of Songs from the Deep Forest
- "Perfection as a Hipster"; on the soundtrack album God Help The Girl by God Help The Girl – June 2009
- "Life on Mars", with Yann Tiersen on his album Black Session - 1999
- "Les Jours Tristes" on Yann Tiersen's album L'Absente – 2001
- "Oscar the Hypno-Dog" on Oscar the Hypno-Dog, by various - 2012
- Sarig, Roni (1998). The Secret History of Rock: The Most Influential Bands You've Never Heard. Billboard Books. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-8230-7669-7.
- Liner Notes – The Divine Comedy "A Secret History". Setanta Records SETCDL100, "The History of The Secret History" page.
- "The Divine Comedy - Gin Soaked Boy". Discogs. Retrieved 21 May 2018.
- BBC Doctor Who website
- "Neil Hannon interview, Divine Comedy interview". Bullz-eye.com. Retrieved 21 May 2018.
- ""Tonight We Fly" Airbus Ad". YouTube. 26 January 2007. Retrieved 21 May 2018.
- "Divine Comedy left labeless!" Hot Press 2 March 2007 Retrieved 7 June 2010
- "irishcharts.com – Discography The Divine Comedy". 2006–2010 Hung Medien. Retrieved 11 March 2010.
- "Divine Comedy - Full Official Chart History". Official Charts Company. Official Charts Company. Retrieved 20 January 2016.
- "The Divine Comedy - Absent Friends". Retrieved 11 March 2010.
- "Chartverfolgung The Divine Comedy". Musicline.de. Retrieved 31 March 2011.
- "IRMA – Irish Recorded Music Association". Irma.ie. Retrieved 21 May 2018.
- "Le Top de la semaine : Top Albums Fusionnes - SNEP (Week 36, 2016)" (in French). Syndicat National de l'Édition Phonographique. Retrieved 13 September 2016.