The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon: I just wanted to be a pop star so badly

Alex Green, PA Entertainment Reporter
·3-min read

The Divine Comedy star Neil Hannon has admitted it was unpleasant listening back to the music he made in his 20s because it reminded him of the “single minded” man he used to be.

The Northern Irish musician, 49, said he had been focused entirely on becoming a pop star at the expense of his mental health.

The 1990s saw Hannon release a string of critically acclaimed albums, including Promenade and Casanova, before facing a downswing in popularity.

The singer-songwriter, who recently reissued his back catalogue to mark The Divine Comedy’s 30th anniversary, told the PA news agency: “All of this has forced me to actually relive some of it, not least the liner notes where I was quite autobiographical – the life and times, not just the music.

“It’s not very pleasant for me. I don’t know why. Some people seem to enjoy looking back.

“I guess it is because I was so driven and so single minded back in my 20s that I didn’t really take a lot of care for my happiness or wellbeing or mental health. I just wanted to be a pop star so badly.

“It all rather came crashing down maybe in the 2000s and I had to get a life, you know?

Oxegen Music Festival
The Divine Comedy frontman, Neil Hannon (Haydn West/PA

“That makes it sound terribly dramatic. It wasn’t really. It was just a gradual appreciation that I wasn’t maybe as happy as I could be.

“I suppose, revisiting the memories, the albums are not mini-biographies but they certainly bring you right back.

“They take you back instantly to a time and place.”

Hannon signed his first record deal aged 20 in 1990 and has since written and recorded 12 studio albums as well as the theme music for the sitcoms Father Ted and The IT Crowd.

He rejected comparisons to David Bowie prompted by the variety of styles in his back catalogue.

He said: “I would love to say I was a chameleon like David Bowie but really it is just that I am terribly jealous of the music I like in the world.

Glastonbury Festival 2000 – Worthy Farm – Pilton, Somerset
David Bowie (Toby Melville/PA)

“I listen to Nat King Cole and go, ‘Oh bloody hell I really want to make a record just like that’.

“And then I listen to a Human League record and I go, ‘Oh, I really want to make a record just like that’.

“So you end up slightly scattergun, jumping from genre to genre, and I have always tried really hard to have each album at least sit happily amongst itself.”

He added: “On the whole, I am not rejecting the previous record when I do something that sounds rather different.

“It’s just that I have got bored and I want to do something different.”

Earlier this month, Hannon performed to a socially-distanced crowd at the Barbican in London, after a series of dates in the UK and France were cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions.

He delivered a greatest hits set that included the tracks National Express, Becoming More Like Alfie, A Lady of a Certain Age and To Die A Virgin.

– Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time – Thirty Years of The Divine Comedy is out now.