My review was originally published on The Stinger independent music website here
Perhaps one of the most unlikely outfits to come to prominence during the 90s Britpop era, Neil Hannon’s orchestral pop ensemble The Divine Comedy still retains a devoted following, is still selling records (the Foreverland album released in September hit number 7 in the UK charts) and is still filling venues.
The De La Warr Pavilion tonight is completely sold out and is absolutely ram packed by the time Hannon and his band take the stage.
Songs from throughout The Divine Comedy’s eleven-album career are greeted with a wave of affectionate familiarity as soon as each one starts up, not just the hit singles.
We are most certainly in the presence of a hall full of true fans. For the more casual observer like myself, I took the precaution of going along with a hardcore super-fan lest I needed anything explaining about the world of Neil Hannon and The Divine Comedy.
I needn’t have worried. The evening was effortlessly and infectiously enjoyable.
Besides the ever-present Neil Hannon, The Divine Comedy has had a changing cast of supporting musicians over the years but he has certainly assembled a very talented bunch as they swoop through a vast variety of sounds and styles throughout the course of the evening.
There may be a wry tongue-firmly-in-cheek mode about many of the lyrics but the music is always delivered with absolute sincerity, authenticity and passion. Theatricality and musicality thus combine.
A few songs in and Hannon has donned a bowler hat and brolly for his scathing account of the global financial crash ‘The Complete Banker’ and later on he’s striding around the stage in full Napoleon outfit: ‘Napoleon Complex’ is the opening track on the new album by way of explanation.
One highlight is an unexpected but perfectly fitting cover of the late Cilla Black’s hit ‘Alfie’ before the band go on to perform Hannon’s own ‘Becoming More Like Alfie’
Hannon certainly has a gift for crafting lyrics. As a witty but bitter-sweet observation of everyday life ‘At The Indie Disco’ would even give some of Ray Davies’ finest tunes a good run for their money.
The small strip at the front of the stage starts filling up as a trickle of people leave their seats to dance along to it. “It’s fine by me,” says Hannon, “come on up.”
Soon the De La Warr Pavilion becomes its very own indie disco as more and more people squeeze to the front to dance away to this gloriously catchy tune, audience and performance melding into one.
From the back of the hall it couldn’t have looked any better if you had spent a week choreographing it.
It’s not long before everyone is out of their seats.
The whole place is on its feet for National Express, the bands biggest hit which has probably done more for brand awareness of the UK’s largest coach operator these past twenty years than any amount of paid-for advertising, even if the jolly hostess with the trolley does still struggle to get by to charge those sky high fees…
An utterly charming and naturally witty performer and a talented singer and song-writer with an ability to cross genres and elicit a whole range of emotions, in a different era Hannon would probably have been labelled an all-round entertainer.
For sheer talent and showmanship The Divine Comedy is clearly deserving of the loyal following it continues to attract.