- 25 Aug 17
It’s all Bonaparte of the job (ouch!) as Neil Hannon talks to Stuart Clark about Glen Campbell, Bowie, pork life and The Divine Comedy’s Napoleonic conquests.
Unless Simon Le Bon owns a herd of Fresians or Chrissy Hynde has invested heavily in alpacas, Neil Hannon is probably the only Picnic-bound act who combines musical duties with animal husbandry.
“I looked out the kitchen window this morning and went ‘Oh, there are three pigs in the garden!’” Neil laughs. “I don’t know why. I don’t ask anymore. They’re just there. As are lots of dogs and horses. I don’t do my fair share of the minding, but I do enough.”
For those unfamiliar with Neil’s domestic arrangements, we ought to explain that he’s happily boyfriended to Cathy Davy – “My infinitely better half” – who runs two animal rescue centres in Kildare where Mr. H is currently recording some new tunes.
“I’m always recording new tunes, just in case someone rings up in the middle of the night screaming, ‘Emergency, I need a song!’” he deadpans. “It’s my default position. I keep chugging along, writing and recording bits and bobs until miraculously I have the bones of an album.” Is there a Prince-like vault under his house containing thousands of unreleased songs?
“That would be so cool but there’s always a good reason for something not making it onto the record,” he resumes. “Nine times out of ten, they’re scrapped before achieving full song-hood. If I were to die tomorrow, there would be slim pickings in terms of posthumous releases. My estate could probably muster an EP, but that’s about it.”
Unlike Blur, Neil is thriving on his pork life with current LP, Foreverland, returning him to the upper echelons of the UK, Irish, Belgian, Portuguese and French charts.
“I think it was good for both me and my audience that there was a six-year break between albums,” he reflects. “Absence and all that… I’m not saying that what went before wasn’t wonderful, but for the first time I can hand on heart say, ‘Things are going swimmingly.’ It helps that I own my own music, and that Natalie, my manager, and myself make 100% of the decisions. We occasionally make mistakes, but they’re our mistakes. I also love the fact that a few weeks ago we were at Latitude, which is quite rock ‘n’ roll, and tomorrow we’re headlining at Fairport Convention’s folky Cropredy festival. ‘Not pigeon-holed’ is one way of saying it, another is that, ‘People don’t know what the hell we do!’ Either is good with me.”
Part of his current live show finds Neil masquerading as Napoleon. I’m not too up on my 19th French history, but is it akin to dressing-up as Oliver Cromwell here?
“Good point,” he nods. “In France they just think, ‘Neil, you’re such an idiot’ but I did wonder how it would go down in places like Spain and parts of Germany where he wrought varying degrees of havoc,” Hannon admits. “I do stress in interviews that I wear it because of the song ‘Napoleon Complex’ rather than me being an admirer of the little guy. Anyway, people just think it’s a funny, goofy costume.”
Recording was put on ‘hold’ last night so that Neil could angrily shout at the studio telly as Real Madrid ran Super Cup riot against his beloved Man U.
“Luckily we won’t be playing Real every week – we’d be relegated if we did – but for all the goals Lukaku will hopefully add, we’re still missing that Luka Modric-like guile going forward,” he says switching into Ron Manager mode. “So, yeah, I’m not expecting too much this season.”
Neil was just getting to grips with his Super Cup disappointment when news broke of Glen Campbell’s passing.
“I can’t claim to be an aficionado, but ‘Wichita Lineman’ and ‘Galveston’ are two of the towering songs of the ‘60s,” he notes. “And who in the western world can’t belt out a few bars of ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’? It was that mixture of his talent as a singer and a guitarist, and Jimmy Webb’s amazing songwriting.”
Neil’s by turns most terrifying and enjoyable moment of 2016 was performing at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC’s Bowie Prom. “I got an eleventh hour call when one of the other participants decided that the complexities of ‘Station Station’ might be a bit too much to take on,” he explains. “I only had a week to get my shit together, which was probably a good thing because instead of freaking out I just had to get on with it. It wasn’t at the forefront of my Bowie knowledge, but having had to unpick it, I now love ‘Station To Station’. It’s multi-faceted and turns on a sixpence.
“What I’ve learnt from these past 18 months of losing incredible artists is, ‘Cherish them while they’re still alive. Sadly, they’re not as immortal as they may appear.’”