Linda Jobling has always had a soft spot for The Divine Comedy but, on the eve of a North-East visit, she asks Neil Hannon why the band keep its light under the proverbial bushel

'LIFE, everything”, says Neil Hannond of The Divine Comedy quite simply, on being asked what the inspiration was for the album Foreverland, which will be the central highlight of his band's forthcoming to the North-East.

“This one gravitated towards what’s been happening in my world for the last six or seven years, and references to history. I like Napoleon Complex intellectually because it’s an interesting premise, and I’m pleased to have pulled it off, but to listen to it I really like The Pact, the only downside to it is that it’s me singing and not Edith Piaff. This would have been ideal considering the musical setting,” he jokes.

There is definitely an impression that Hannon has a clever habit of disguising the amount of work he puts in regarding comical titles and matter-of-fact explanations. In actual fact, he reveals that poetry is a starting point for much of his work, as he reveals his inner bard. “I’ve always had a rather love/hate relationship with poetry to be honest. We want to like it, but it’s quite hard work for us because we don’t treat language in the same way that they did in previous centuries,” he says.

Even the band’s name is derived from “a huge medieval poem by Dante, which contains the words ‘inferno, purgatory and hell'". "It just happened to be on my bookshelf when I was trying to think of a name when I got fed up with the previous ones,” he says, returning to his efforts of not take himself too seriously.

The man behind the Divine Comedy appears relaxed and down-to-earth as he reveals where it all began. “My childhood was lovely, very boring really. The only downer was that I grew up in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s, it wasn’t a particularly pleasant environment, but family life was wonderfully middle-class.”

This comes across as very optimistic under the circumstances before Hannon adds: “I have two older brothers and I was extremely influenced by whatever records they brought home. To begin with it was all ELO, Jeff Lynn, a great musical figure in my life.”

Fans will find this an interesting revelation and a connection some won't have made in a million years. “My dad asked if I wanted piano lessons and it kind of snowballed from there, but I was terrible, I just wouldn’t do my homework,” he says, showing how this early rebellious attitude might well have formed the beginnings of his unconventional and quirky songwriting patterns.

He assures that the upcoming tour will feature the famous dapper suit that Hannon is well-known for. “I started wearing suits because I really couldn’t think of anything else to wear. I’ve always looked rather awful in contemporary wear, I just don’t suit it. I don’t even wear a T-shirt and jeans around the house, I just don’t feel right in them, I need clothes that keep me upright, a bit of starch,” Hannon jokes.

On the subject of highlights in his long and amazing career, Hannon says: “The first time I appeared on Top Of The Pops I thought, ‘Well that’s it, my life is complete’, because I’d grown up on it, and everything after that has been a bonus. You know what, one of the best things that’s happened has been this, my 11th album at the age of 45 going in at No7 in the UK charts, my highest ever album,” he says proudly.

The band struggled in the early days to achieve mainstream recognition and it is to Hannon's credit that he refused to give up and is now clearly enjoying the hand that life has dealt him. “Times weren’t easy, but I didn’t kind of notice because I was so driven and so kind of blinkered, I was just absolutely convinced I was going to be a pop star from an early age, so it really didn’t bother me that I was living in penury in various bedsits in London,” he says. “It all came together happily, but when I look back now it fills me with terror for what might have been.”

His advice to would-be musicians today is, “Stick to your artistic guns”. Wise words indeed.

  • The Divine Comedy – The Sage, Gateshead, Monday, October 17. Box Office: