Divine Comedy Edinburgh: Assembly Rooms, Tue 29 Sep Neil Hannon has something to get off his sparrow-like chest. "I’d like to take this opportunity,’ he pipes, ’to say that I am not a white supremacist.’
The idea of the dapper little Irishman who wrote ’My Lovely Horse' for Father Ted stomping around London in jackboots and waving a burning shillelagh is more than a little ridiculous. Yet one music magazine was moved to question Hannon’s racial views after listening to the lyrics of ’Sweden’ from the new album Fin De Siécle — ’Tall and strong and blonde and blue-eyed/pure and healthy, very wealthy . . . heroes every one.’
’I might as well have written about the fine, tall, Nubian people of Nigeria — the song is really just a big metaphor for the grass being greener on the other side,’ explains Hannon. ’In the 705 and 805, whenever there was something terribly wrong in British society, they always looked for a European example of how they did it so much better and Sweden came up a lot. But it’s a ridiculous idea that Sweden is perfection — nowhere is, it’s just life.’
Ah, life. That along with the universe and everything that’s wrong with it is a constant subject of Fin De Siecle, an album whose thematic weight is more than matched by the towering score - ’tunes’ seems an insufficient word — which includes harp, cornet, bassoon, harpsichord, chapel organ and a full-on chorus. Hannon is evidently becoming less like Alfie and more like Michael Nyman, the contemporary composer with whom he collaborated at Edinburgh’s Flux festival in 1997.
’I just wanted to make a big serious album,’ he purrs disingenuously. ’Although Fin De Siec/e is a very deliberate musical shift away from all things Bacharach and easy.’
Divine Comedy: music for the millennium
Hannon is obviously sick of being portrayed in the music press as the most foppish man in pop. His change in image is illustrated by the difference between the album covers for Casanova (posing in a cravat in Venice) and Fin De Siecle (monochrome and monolithic in Vienna). Still The Artist Formerly Known As Ponce is not above arching the odd eyebrow — he and Neil Tennant from Pet Shop Boys provide backing vocals on the next Robbie Williams single, ’No Regrets'.
‘Robbie phoned me up and asked me and I said [timid little voice] "okay". You can't turn down the greatest pop icon of the late 905. He’s a phenomenon.’
BRS-49: from Bob's Western Wear to Dylan's stadiums
last Visit here demonstrated just how potent they are in such a set-up
It left a nagging doubt, however, abOut just how well it would translate to a bigger stage The answer \Vl” be supplied when they make the step up in size to the Old Fruitmarket this time arOund, on a weekend when they are in competition with The Mavericks for the punters' cash
The experience Will not be a new one for the band, however, since they have graduated to some very big
/ venues back home, including a tour -r a at his personal inVitation as support band to Bob Dylan, which amounts to movmg a long way in a pretty short
Glasgow: Old Fruitmarket, Sat 26 Sep.
Like that other currently hot outfit (in the USA at least), the Squurel Nut Zippers, BRS-49 have staked a claim on a back-to-basics sound which is so retro that it seems newly-minted, so cornball that it feels hip. Their full impact is not felt on record, and while their new album, Big Backyard Beat Show, is the best of their three
40 THE lIST 24 Sep-8 Oct 1998
releases, it still falls short of the punch they pack in a small-scale live venue like the one in which they made their name
Their honest, no-frills approach to country, hillbilly and Western sWing made a boot store named Robert's Western Wear one of the hottest tickets on the Nashwlle scene a c0uple of years back Their success at Robert's flew in the face of all commerCial logic in Music City, and the band's gig at King Tut's on their
time from playing for tips at Robert's
'We were kind of taken by Surprise by how interested somebody like Bob Dylan was in our music,' singer Gary Bennett acknowledges ’It's amazing to be taken seriously by someOne like that We don't see ourselves as all that special, but we love this music, and I always feel there is a real human element in there that all kinds of people can relate to Just as long as it's fun, we'll be Out there doing it ' (Kenny Mathieson)
Dar Williams Edinburgh: Belle Angele, Mon 5 Oct.
Back home in Massachusetts, acoustic guitar-toting songwriter Dar Williams is taking a month off. The Net-famous singer (check out the forum devoted exclusively to her music at firstname.lastname@example.org) has been performing live, touring the States with her band, playing solo, sharing the stage with Bruce Cockburn and Joan Baez and slotting into some of the gigs on this year's amazingly successful all-women touring Festival 'The Lilith Fair' (or Breast Fest to one of our more laddish critics).
Now she needs to write a fourth album (her first three: The Honesty Room, Mortal City and the just- released-in-Britain End Of Summer have sold more than 200,000) and, as she reveals, to do that she’s going back to her roots. ’l’ve recently been writing a script as a way of getting into song. I’ve always written My senior thesis at college was a play and when I get really involved in a script, songs sort of spin out of it. I’ll be working out a play — I like writing in coffee shops — and a song will start appearing. Sometimes it’s like a lightning bolt. But it then needs fleshing out, quality focus.’
’I love stories. That's what I brought with me. That’s the baggage I bring over from scriptwriting. I love having characters that differ — that have two separate pOints of View - and my talk on-stage started as a desire to be understood, to explain a bit about what the song means. But I've heard so many interpretations of my songs -- and they're not wrong — that now i let the audience have their own dialectic'
But as Scottish audiences have discovered over her last few Visits, Dar is never lost for words, and she can be very funny. She feels it’s because, ’There's a lot of accuracy in humour. That’s what the audience recognises. The truth is often abSurd -~ but not pathetic ’
Dar Williams: writing her own script