There are, of course, benefits to being a media wanker: why else would we happily bear an epithet of which 50% is “wanker”?
Last week, in painfully wanky Soho, DiS was lucky enough to be invited to a small, invite-only show at Dean Street Studios from The Divine Comedy, with Neil Hannon and his latest cast of bandmates (we didn’t get an introduction; sorry guys) performing a handful of tracks from their upcoming album Foreverland, their first in six years.
Look there was no way to write this introduction without sounding smug. We’re genuinely sorry.
As for the songs, the versions performed were – perhaps as necessitated by the smallest of venues – stripped back and quieter than on the record. Hannon took piano duties, switching to guitar only for a visit back to ‘A Lady Of A Certain Age’, and was accompanied by drums, an acoustic guitar (replaced by a banjo for the closer) and a U-Bass. That’s a bass ukulele, which is apparently a thing and far less twee than it sounds.
Lead single ‘Catherine The Great’ kicks things off and, like much of the new stuff, is stripped of much of its theatricality, with backing vocal harmonies replacing its orchestral flourishes. ‘Funny Peculiar’, a string-heavy duet on record, is played as a straight Cole Porter-esque serenade. Perhaps closest to its studio version is ‘I Joined The Foreign Legion’ – a hard song to play according to its singer, although the suspicion is that he’s being coy with us. In terms of style, it’s probably closest to his previous record under this moniker, Bang Goes The Knighthood.
Hannon is in far finer form than you might expect from a songwriter so intelligent playing to a bunch of hacks. “Hold on, what key is it?” he asks before ‘To The Rescue’, turned from shimmering pop ditty to jaunty piano ballad here. He performs ‘A Lady Of A Certain Age’ – an audience request (DiS didn’t have the chutzpah to ask for ‘Jiggery Pokery’, the Shane Warne-themed highlight of the first Duckworth Lewis Method album) – and promptly forgets the lyrics, instead narrating the plot of the song before recalling the chorus for the finale).
The new material is so quintessentially Divine Comedy that there is probably very little need to keep the audience onside with an old favourite but we are treated to ‘National Express’ nonetheless, no less fun for being stripped of its brass and vocoder before closing with album highlight ‘How Can You Leave Me Here On My Own’. After that there's just time to sit down for a glass of wine with Hannon - just the one, as he's got a headache coming on - and discuss, er, cricket (a third Duckworth Lewis Method album is "the last thing" he would consider doing now, sadly, although he and Thomas Walsh might yet reform the outfit for some live shows - there's an Ashes tour at the end of next year, guys). Then off to annoy anyone on the Northern Line who can hear me humming 'National Express' on the way home. Fuck that's catchy.
The Divine Comedy release Foreverland on 2 September and are on tour in Europe (and, for clarification in case of political climate change, Great Britain and Ireland) from October to February. Dates can be found here.