If you've heard of Dante Alighieri, you'll probably know about La Divina Commedia, one of the many celebrated works for which he is justly famous. This entry, however, is not about that literary masterpiece. This is about a band from Ireland, who prospered under the song-writing abilities of an extraordinary musical genius.
Some say this quiet, small Irishman is one of the finest songwriters ever; not simply because he writes lyrics of indescribable beauty that move you to tears, which often they do, but also because you'll be wetting yourself and giggling uncontrollably at the lyrics at the same time. So either you'll end up rolling about in laughter or the experience will render you wide-eyed in amazement at the sheer revelation of clarity and truth that the songs bring.
Neil Hannon is the son of the present Bishop of Clougher, he was born in Fivemiletown and raised in Derry and Enniskillen, Ireland.
The Rest of the Band
Technically, the rest of the band are actually session musicians who are used repeatedly and do every gig. Neil is the only member of the band who actually has a contract.
Joby Talbot, as well as playing the piano, harpsichord and cello, and having been BBC Young Composer of the Year in 1996, has done all the orchestral arrangement for the band since the release of Casanova.
Stuart plays organ and accordion, having decided not to be a high-flyer in the city. Wise man.
The band's bassist, he went to the same school as Neil, but was in the year below.
Brother of Joby and mate of Bryan (Ivor also went to the same school as Neil, and was in a band with Bryan before The Divine Comedy), Ivor is the band's guitarist. He also plays the mandolin.
Of Venezuelan descent, born in Trinidad, and now living in London, Miggy is the band's drummer. Quite a mover, our Miggy.
Rob, the youngest member of the band, has been playing with The Divine Comedy ever since he banged a timpani (kettledrum) during the recording of Casanova. He plays percussion, and joined through his association with Joby Talbot.
The Music Itself
The band have been going for the last nine years, since Neil formed an indie band influenced by REM with two school mates. These friends left the band to follow educational paths to proper careers. Fortunately for the music-loving public, Neil persevered. Their fame has only come since 1996, when Chris Evans2 lent his considerable media weight into pushing the band into the realms of musical stardom.
To understand why Neil Hannon has to be considered as one of the finest lyricists in the world, one only has to listen to a couple of songs. 'National Express' is a witty and scathing attack on the bus company. 'Something for the Weekend' is a well-worked analysis of the small world and small-mindedness of the adulterer. 'Tonight We Fly' is just bringing all parts of society together under one banner, a good deal neater than socialism ever could, rendering us all down to our essential humanity:
'Tonight We Fly'
Tonight we fly
Over the chimney tops,
Skylights and slates.
Looking into all your lives
And wondering why
Happiness is so hard to find.
Over the doctor,
Over the soldier,
Over the farmer,
Over the poacher,
Over the preacher,
Over the gambler,
Over the teacher,
Over the rambler,
Over the lawyer,
Over the dancer,
Over the voyeur,
Over the builder,
And the destroyer,
Over the hills and far away.
Everyone, all classes, professions and vocations, all sorts, all in one verse, and all inspired by the following lines:
Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own.
He who secure within can say,
'Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today'.