21st Nov 2006

Divine Comedy and Duke Special at the Mandela Hall

The Divine Comedy played the Mandela Hall at Queen’s University, Belfast on 11 November. While I’m fond of Neil Hannon’s songs, and have his Greatest Hits and everything, I was mainly there for the support act, Duke Special. We’ve kind of lost touch, but I used to to know Duke quite well. He even accompanied me once when I sang the blues at a friend’s wedding party. My brother, who went to school with him, has been badgering me for a while to listen to the stuff he’s doing now. I wasn’t particularly grabbed by his first album, Adventures in Gramophone, when I heard it, but the song “Last Night I Nearly Died” finally made me sit up and take notice. How the hell that’s not a hit single I’ll never know. Anyway, I bought the new album, Songs From the Deep Forest, really liked it, and got a huge kick out of knowing someone who could make such cool music, and Alan told me if I thought that was good I should see him play live. And as luck would have it…

So here he is with his ludicrous haircut and marginally less odd percussionist, crouching over his fake piano (it’s a wooden box with a synthesiser in it!), making a remarkably full sound with so few instruments. The album’s quite lushly arranged, with strings and clarinets all over the place, and he doesn’t miss any of it. “Brixton Leaves”, in particular, hits a lot harder live, and not just because of the added rude words. In the last verse he rails against Northern Irish intransigence and militarism, concluding “Belfast… leave me alone.” The audience, as audiences do, cheered wildly at the mention of their home town, only to be told to go away. Made me smile.

It was a short set, and he made a good selection of songs, from the jaunty “Portrait” to the impassioned, hymn-like “Low”, with “Everybody Wants a Little Something” and the aforementioned “Last Night…” that I could sing along with. He finished with “Salvation Tambourine”, with it’s odd, slightly disturbing “I could go to London” refrain and big, noisy finale in which he nearly threw his fake piano into the crowd, and off he goes. Great performer, hugely enjoyable performance. The Divine Comedy had something to live up to.

And they did, and more. Neil Hannon had always given me the impression of a rather earnest, high-minded chap, but the “Comedy” part of his stage-name is entirely justified. The way he finished “Lucy”, which is essentially a couple of Wordsworth poems set to music, with three quick George Formby-style chords, for example. The lighting of a cigarette immediately after singing a single note for about a minute and a half. “Forgetting” the chords to a song he was playing solo on accoustic guitar. He played the audience like a virtuoso.

The songs were great as well, although I knew maybe half of them. “Becoming More Like Alfie” was particularly cathartic, with every man in the audience singing raucously along in joyous celebration of not having clue one about women. “Songs of Love” may be the Father Ted theme, but it also has killer lyrics (“Fate doesn’t hang on a wrong or right choice/Fortune depends on the tone of your voice”) and had the crowd swaying. The set proper finished with the peerless “Tonight We Fly”, which nearly made me cry it’s that bloody good (the last verse in particular is Waterloo Sunset-standard songwriting, just world class). Then the encore, with the singalong of “National Express” followed by an absolute punch to the gut – “Sunrise”, a song I’d forgotten the existence of, and perhaps the ultimate expression of the idiocy of our stupid, fucking stupid little conflict, fighting over who rules a tiny wee corner of a speck in the Atlantic and expecting the rest of the world to take it seriously. This time Hannon did make me cry, the bastard. Then I looked up at Lucy the violinist (who, if I may be so shallow for a moment, is gorgeous) and she looked close to tears herself. This is a man who makes his own backing band cry. God, but he’s good.

And there you have it.

Leave a Reply

  • Illustration/Comics

  • Other Stuff

  • Buy my comics!

  • Categories

  • Meta

  • %d bloggers like this: