‘I think this must have been the most terrifying month of my life,’ says Neil Hannon. The Divine Comedy’s frontman is slightly nervous about what the reaction to their new album, Regeneration, will be. ‘l’ve never really stuck my neck out in this way before - I’m just hoping that people will give it a chance,’ he says.

It’s understandable that Hannon’s feeling vulnerable, for the new material has seen the band wave goodbye to their trademark pastiche and cabaret-style approach, instead going ‘back to basics’, as it were. ‘I look on it like a snake shedding its skin,’ says Hannon. ‘We got to the end of the line with the old look and sound. I think we took that role to its natural conclusion, so we decided to revert back up the path and go in a different direction.’ Helping them on the journey was producer Nigel Godrich. Best known for his work with Radiohead, he’s also produced albums for the likes of Travis and Beck, but the glowing pedigree didn’t entirely erase Hannon’s fear about handing over his material to someone else: ‘It wasn’t really fear, it was more just not having a clue what would happen,’ he says. But it proved to be a sound move. ‘He was like the taste police,’ says Hannon, ‘whenever we came up with another cheesy idea he’d just say “no”.’ The band had also got to the stage with their last album that they were virtually employing whole orchestras to get their trademark string sound, and Hannon decided it was time to scale down: ‘To begin with we were saying “no strings”, but we mellowed as some of the songs were just

crying out for big orchestration. In fact we tried to make the album in a very unconscious sort of way. Not through huge amounts of drugs and alcohol, but more by going back down to just the seven of us and the noises we tend to make.’ Not content with throwing out the big arrangements, the band also decided to wave goodbye to their trademark suits. ‘To be honest it just didn’t bear any relevance to who we were any more. I hope that doesn’t sadden our fans, because the suits were just a way of making us look a bit prettier and it got to the stage where we weren’t so desperately worried about that

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Out with the old and in with the new

aspect,’ says Hannon. And in fact the band actually look younger - potentially appealing to a whole new generation of indie kids, although Hannon admits they escaped unscathed from a recent appearance on Ant and Dec’s CD:UK (notorious for its rampaging pre-teen studio audience): ‘They didn’t try to grab us. They more just stood there with rather confused expressions.’ So maybe Westlife don’t have too much to worry about. But for all Hannon’s worries, it looks like the Divine Comedy have pulled off their own regeneration.

(Louisa Pearson)



Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, various dates, see Classical Listings page 59.

/ "'5

Verdi dealt up the most original ‘soap’ operas

It may be 100 years after his death, but there‘s no way that Verdi is likely to become a forgotten, distant memOry. especially with companies like Opera On A Shoestring to keep his music alive. Two successful productions of La Traviata already under their belt. they now. exactly 150 years after its premiere. tackle his dark and brooding masterpiece. Ri'go/etto. Both are wise chOices for a small-scale company. ‘These two operas are convertible to small production size.‘ according to conductor Julian Clayton. ‘In some ways. they‘re Verdi‘s miniatures. as they're so beautifully and precisely sculptured. The orchestration of Rigo/etto is relatively concise. so yOu don't lose any of the texture or colour

50 THE LIST 15—29 Mar 2001

With reduced forces.‘

With well-known tunes such as ‘Caro Nome' and ‘La Donna e Mobile‘. it is also likely to be a popular choice. The story is one of jealousy. spite and revenge in a black. somewhat grotesque drama where comedy and tragedy come together in what Verdi himself described as a revolutionary opera. With Ri'go/etto. he refused to follow the operatic conventions of the day and, as such. it marks a vital turning mm in the glorious history of Italian opera. But the emotions it conveys are not exclusive to its day. ‘The basic messages of the piece are universal.’ says Clayton. ‘It's about the seedier side of human nature. about emotions which are as vibrant today as they ever have been.‘ As court jester Rigoletto murders his own daughter instead of her lover. the Duke - in error. we may feel sympathy. but he is nonetheless a murderer. ‘He‘s a really complex character and although there's something about him that audiences relate to in a positive way. in reality he‘s a nasty bastard a soap opera gift.‘ With a choice of dates that means you can see Ri’go/etto as well as EastEnders. you can easily check out Clayton's analogy. as well as his claim that the Duke is the original Nick Cotton. (Carol Main)



Glasgow Cathedral, Fri 23 Mar; Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Sat 24 Mar.

The acclaimed finale to 1999's Highland Festival finally makes it to Glasgow and Edinburgh. and makes a lot of work for the organisers. including the initiator of the event. mLiSician and broadcaster Mary Ann Kennedy. She says of Lasair D/ie (Flame Of God) 'We're putting together over 150 singers from around the country for a masswe celebration of Gaelic song it's spiritual song but I don't want to call it sacred or holy. or specific to one religion. I don't want anyone to feel it is inaccessible to them. because it isn't. It's just beautiful music.‘

Central to the group is RSAMD-trained Kennedy and the other members; of her gr0up Cliar. round whose Singers. fiddle. harps. guitar. accordion and piano is collected a huge ensemble from Inverness. Nairn and Dingwall Gaelic Choirs. augmented by another half a dozen various Glasgow and Edinburgh chOirs in the respective cities. Sol0ists include Kennedy's mum Kenna Campbell, famed for her rendition of ‘Psalm 23' at the funeral of the late Labour leader John Smith. which she'll reprise at the concerts and the great Lewrs-born Singer Donnie Murdo MacLeod. who sings an English translation of a modern hymn that. Kennedy remembers. ‘Had everyone incredibly moved. It was edge-of-the-seat stuff.‘

And if you‘ve never heard Gaelic psalni-singing. you'll get the chance when Donnie lvlurdo ‘precents' or leads the chOirs in that classm call-and-response form. It is a unique. wild. hair-raising sound as the congregation. or audience. improvise their own melodic phrases in reply.

Central to the concerts. though. is the specrallycommissioned contemporary setting of six Gaelic psalms by six of Gaeldom‘s top musmans. including ace accordionist/keyboard Blair Douglas and the astonishing composer Alasdair Cadona which has already won a Saltire award for excellence and understanding of Highland Culture.

It seems that. if the Devil has all the best tunes. then God has all the best songs. As Kennedy notes. ‘In Gaeldom, there are many men who only Sing for the church. certainly as far as LeWis is concerned. that's where you get some drop- dead amazing singers. (Norman Chalmersi

The Devil has all the best tunes but God’s got all the best songs