He was born in Derry on November 7th 1970, lived at Christchurch Rectory, 80 Northland Road, and is the son of a Protestant minister, now a bishop.
The first Divine Comedy album, Liberation, was released in August 1993. Promenade followed shortly afterwards, in March 1994. Casanova was the third album from Neil and his band. This time it seemed that it would bring the commercial success which the British press had predicted. The first single Something For The Weekend was championed by Chris Evans. As the single rose from the Radio One C list to A list the week before release, Neil became more accustomed to TV, appearing on The Big Breakfast, Saturday Live and eventually Top Of The Pops. Suddenly The Divine Comedy were appealing to a whole new audience. The last single from Casanova was The Frog Princess on November 4th 1996; It reached number 15 in the UK chart.
Now the new album A Short Album About Love is on release and has already received huge acclaim.
I spoke with Neil Hannon and the band, recently in Ireland to promote the new album, on the new found success.
Neil, would you describe your rise to success as meteoric?
NO! [laughs] It's taken quite a while. I mean I've been in this business for about 9 years so it's been non-meteoric but successful now.
The new album is called A Short Album About Love. Does Neil regard himself a romantic?
I'm all things to all men and women [laughs]. The album is about something that I'm not sure I know much about but I thought I'd give it a go anyway! The fact is that even if I don't know anything about love, I might be able to write it!
Where is Neil taking his experiences from. Are these things that have happened to him in his life?
There is quite a lot of personal experience on this album but I do tend to take wherever I can find. It's like received information from friends and maybe books and music and other people's private conversations [laughs again].
Will these people know themselves in the songs?!
I do hope NOT! [laughs] I do try to write about things that are true but that doesn't necessarily mean they are about anything in particular.
How did Neil get involved in music in the first place?
Not being able to do anything else! I began writing in my early teens and I brainwashed myself to the point that I really couldn't do anything else.
The Casanova album was very much an album of the flesh; the new album is an album of love. As his father is the Bishop of Clogher, did Neil have a strict moral upbringing?
Perhaps I should write an album of the cloth! My upbringing was moral but not strict. I think I grew up knowing what was roughly right and wrong. Nobody was pressurising me to believe in anything in particular. I had to make my own decisions, which was great and I made my own decisions... which I'll probably regret at some stage! My parents have always been very supportive of me and my work.
Given the subject material of the albums and Neil's songs, did his father view them with any sort of disdain?
Certainly not. I mean how could anyone view making cash with disdain. I was never clever enough to realise what's taboo and what's not. I just write about whatever I want to write about and I did not set out to shock in any sense of the word. I think you can hear a lot of the reserve I was brought up with in the record, in that I'm unwilling to say anything straight out, just plenty of good old innuendo to cover it all up with.
Is Neil surprised with the amount of attention he is getting now, or does he think it is long overdue?
I can't really be surprised because this is what I was always intending, and if I was surprised that would infer that I didn't believe it was possible.
The music business within the UK appears to be looking for something different. First there was "Noel Rock", now they are talking about "Neil Rock". Can Neil accept that?
It's a very amusing idea considering I have always been against the idea of rock in the first place. I think rock has been dead for years. I was always aware that people were looking for something different and I was waiting for the time when I could were being offered. There is not a great deal of choice these days and also, the more things get pigeonholed the more difficult it is to get something universal, and I never liked the idea of being angled at one particular part of the market. I should think that the next album will be a whole different theme.
As you may or may not know, Neil Hannon is the man responsible for writing the theme music to Father Ted. In the show there was a wonderful send up of the Eurovision Song Contest with the main characters singing a little ditty called My Lovely Horse. It seems that many people are looking to buy this for their collection.
It's not my fault that they like complete rubbish! I wrote that song to be a sickly, sweet, yucky piece of music but I think I succeeded in striking a chord with the people of this country. Wouldn't it be the ultimate if I actually WON the Eurovision with that song [laughs].
Was Neil approached by the makers of the show to make the music?
They were in the midst of making the first series when they approached me to do it. The writers had always been fans of mine. Graham, one of the writers, had always written good reviews of the band in the past.
What had Neil's involvement in music been before The Divine Comedy?
Em... I'd always been in church choirs [laughs]. I've always had a band since I was 14 or 15. I've never had a proper job.
How does Neil see the future for the band and himself? In a big mansion?
Oh, no, no. Em... well I wouldn't mind a cocker spaniel! I really don't know. I don't want to map out the future for myself. There is enough of it mapped out already. The next year is planned already.
Does Neil enjoy being a pop star?
Yes, I love it, it's great! It's hard work, but you expect that, and if you get it right it's very lucrative. It's easy to work hard when you are working at something you enjoy.
What kind of music did Neil grow up with?
The E.L.O., Nik Kershaw. I find myself being influenced by things I don't necessarily like. I don't like reggae and a good deal of country music.
With that, Neil Hannon parted, leaving me with the impression that here was a man we were going to hear an awful lot of in the future. The new album is selling at less than a tenner, and well worth the cash.
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Last updated 30 April 2002
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