Kelvingrove Summer Nights: Neil Hannon
The 2017 summer season of concerts at Kelvingrove Bandstand is almost upon us. Glasgow’s beautiful, bijou outdoor arena will host the likes of Brian Wilson, Nile Rodgers & Chic, Kool & the Gang, Sir Tom Jones, Texas, Pixies, Hipsway and Arab Strap over the next couple of months, but opening proceedings are The Divine Comedy, best loved for their elegant and witty Britpop hits such as National Express and Becoming More Like Alfie.
In recent years, mainman Neil Hannon has worked on a rich variety of other projects, including a stage musical version of Swallows & Amazons, a couple of opera commissions and an organ composition, To Our Fathers In Distress, inspired by his own father, before reactivating The Divine Comedy on latest album, Foreverland.
We spoke to Hannon ahead of his Bandstand revels on such pressing issues as his cult following, his typical childhood Sundays, his Napoleon complex and an asinine collaborator…
Here is Neil on:
Touring with a band again
I was so knackered after the solo touring for the last album, Bang Goes the Knighthood. It’s very intense when you’re doing shows just by yourself. I feel I can really cut loose a little bit when there’s a band behind me. I’m mostly not playing any instruments, just singing and arsing about in a Napoleon costume. Really it’s just a great excuse to hire the costume and prance around on stage and shake my epaulettes.
Working with Wayne the donkey (who can be heard braying on Foreverland track How Can You Leave Me On My Own)
He has quite tricky to work with. You have to shake the bucket of food in a very certain way to get him to respond correctly. But he instigated that collaboration. My studio is in the front room of the house and he was in the paddock about twenty yards away, and I listened back to a demo of that song and I could hear him on the record, and I thought ‘that works really well so I’ll do it for real’ so I stuck the mic out the window, shoved some food in his direction and the rest is rock’n’roll history.
How he learned to stop worrying and love his fanbase
You eventually work out who you are and stop desperately trying to be somebody cleverer. The only problem is by the time you’ve worked it out, everybody’s gone on to the next band. After the hits and the Top of the Pops era died away – which it was always going to, but I took it hard for a few years – you start to re-evaluate.
I’m lucky in that I’ve developed a niche market slightly apart from mainstream pop. The audience stayed with me and in a way it’s like a big cult. Not like the Scientologists, more like the Moonies…
His “royal” commissions
Probably the least successful was the Royal Opera House Opera Shot. I had other, funnier ideas but I settled on the most pretentious one, which was a short story by Tolstoy about the Crimean War called Sevastopol. Basically, it was a bit like when sixth formers decide to do Brecht. I just think I bit off a little more than I could chew, and also with the budget we had, I could maybe have written for a smaller ensemble. But this is all a learning curve and I really enjoyed trying to do it.
And then there was the organ piece for the Royal Festival Hall. I only do royal things now… They refurbished their magnificent organ back to its former glory and it is astonishing, it takes up the entire back of the stage. And they said ‘you can have a choir too’, and I thought I’d write a piece about the Hannon family average Sunday in the 1970s. The most resonant foodstuff of an average Hannon Sunday in the 1970s was fried bread. Now they’ve started telling us that any hint of carbonization, the blackening of the toast, is terribly carcinogenic – well, I should be dead by now, because everything I’ve ever loved is burnt. There is only one rule to live by and that’s do nothing to excess.