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Show must go on... Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon tells musicians not to give up amid Covid-19 restrictions

Singer urges young artists to keep their dreams alive despite facing Covid crisis


Drive: The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon

Drive: The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon

Drive: The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon

The Divine Comedy's frontman Neil Hannon has urged young artists "to keep going and keep taking huge risks" despite music venues around the world remaining closed due to Covid-19.

The singer, who turns 50 next month, was speaking to Hot Press magazine to mark the band's 30th anniversary, which has seen the release of 12 acclaimed studio albums and hundreds of live shows.

To mark the milestone, the Northern Ireland band's formidable back catalogue has just been remastered and brought together in a collection entitled Venus, Cupid, Folly & Time: Thirty Years of The Divine Comedy.

The band was also due to play a five night residency at London's Barbican Centre in September, treating fans to their entire back catalogue, two albums a night.

Instead that was cut to just one night - described by Hannon as "the first night of the tour, and the last night of the tour" in front of a well spaced out live audience and a remote streaming audience, enjoying a 13 song set.

Reflecting on the start of his own music career as a wildly confident 20-year-old, Hannon said he doesn't envy the position young artists now find themselves in as they prepare to launch into the industry during the Covid-19 pandemic. "I absolutely implore people to keep going, and keep taking huge risks," he said.

"It's very hard for young bands to take risks these days, because the avenues for people hearing your music just seems to have narrowed a bit."

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"I thought it was hard enough for young artists anyway, in the current environment - but this seems to have doubled that.

"I saw some terrible press report that said almost a third of musicians in the UK might just leave the profession, because there's no way to make a living. That's horrific.

"Are people going to have to have two jobs? That's sad, because with music, you have to throw yourself into it, 100% - almost to the detriment of the rest of your life - in order to make music that is essential."

In July, Hannon was among almost 150 artists, including Van Morrison, Snow Patrol and Ash, who wrote a letter to the Department for Communities (DfC) pleading for "urgent financial support" for Northern Ireland's music industry. "The Government needs to be quite free with social services, and with unemployment benefit - and not be all up in our faces about getting a job, if there are no jobs out there," Hannon said.

"It certainly helped me a good deal in my early years - I was on the dole for bloody centuries.

"Without it, I don't know how I could have really started.

"They used to joke that it was called the 'Young Musicians Allowance'.

"I know the Government is trying to keep everything balanced, and that's good," he adds, "but life is worth nothing without art and music and books and these things that we amuse ourselves with. Otherwise it's just drudgery."

Hannon, who was born in Londonderry but grew up in Enniskillen, has a daughter Willow (18) with his ex-wife Orla.

He has been living in rural Co Kildare for the past few years with the indie singer-songwriter Cathy Davey, who runs an animal sanctuary.


Singer Cathy Davey

Singer Cathy Davey

Singer Cathy Davey

Hannon's father Brian is a former Church of Ireland Bishop of Clogher,

In 2015, he devoted his organ composition To Our Fathers In Distress to the retired cleric, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2007.

Hannon said he considers himself "one of the lucky ones" in the midst of the ongoing pandemic.

"I'm not going to moan at all.

"I have a nice house in the country, and I was always pretty unsociable anyway. I've got lots of dogs for company - and an occasional girlfriend!"

Although his work on the highly anticipated Father Ted musical has been put on hold for now, Hannon says he has been kept busy during lockdown with other projects.

"Luckily I had this small Irish film to write music for. I'm not entirely sure what it's going to be called. It's about time travel, weirdly. But it was good timing, because that's something I can do in my little studio at home.

"I had a burst of creativity with that in August, and it was great fun. And now I'm sort of left, again, twiddling my thumbs.

"I've been thinking very hard about what sort of music I could possibly write… And I haven't come to a conclusion yet! It feels like a bit of a turning point, really.

"I wouldn't hold your breath, though. Then again, nobody's holding their breath for the next Divine Comedy album!" he said.

Having penned the song Dark Days Are Here Again on the morning after Donald Trump was elected US President four years ago, Hannon added that he's "just desperate" for Joe Biden to win next month's vote.

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