Neil Hannon Q&A: “I had no idea how little I understood about humanity”

The musician talks Clement Attlee, University Challenge, and “Thank You for the Music” by Abba.

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Neil Hannon was born in Derry, Northern Ireland, in 1970. He is known as the founder and frontman of the chamber pop group the Divine Comedy, as well as for his theme tunes for “Father Ted” and “The IT Crowd”. He lives in Kildare with his partner, the Irish singer-songwriter Cathy Davey.

What’s your earliest memory?

I don’t know if it’s because I was quite ill as a baby and spent a few months in an incubator, but the only strong images I have are of my mum, my thumb and my pastel blue blanky. God, I loved that blanky.

Who are your heroes?

Toilet cleaners. Dogs with jobs. Scott Walker. My mum.

What book last changed your thinking?

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari. I’ve never gone out of my way to have my mind blown; I find existence in and of itself pretty bloody weird. But when I picked up this book on a whim in an airport I had no idea how little I understood about humanity; a genuine “scales falling from my eyes” moment.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Clement Attlee. It’s easy to come up with brilliant utopian schemes to make people’s lives better. It’s well-nigh impossible to actually put them into practice.

In which time and place would you live?

The more I see social progress reversing and the climate changing, the more I feel blessed to have spent my first 30 years in the latter part of the 20th century. If pressed, I’d ask to be born in 1958. Rationing at an end, incubators up and running, and I’d be perfectly positioned to be at the forefront of the New Wave!

What TV show could you not live without?

University Challenge. Though it’s sad I can never be on the celebrity version due to my lack of third-level education.

What’s your theme tune?

“Thank You for the Music” by Abba. Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty? What would life be? Without a song or a dance what are we?

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

My old geography teacher, Miles Hulme, found me programming my drum machine in supervised study one day and said, “Forget all that stuff, Hannon. Do you really think it’s going to get you anywhere in life?” Wise words, Mr Hulme.

What’s currently bugging you?

First there was the Conservative Party and their internal war over Europe. Then there was Tony Blair, who allowed the banks to do whatever they wanted. Then there were the criminals in the financial community. Then there was David Cameron, who, after imposing horrific cuts on public spending, thought it was the perfect time to silence his Eurosceptics with a public vote on EU membership. Then there were enough liars and angry gullible people in England for Leave to win. Then there was Theresa May, who refused to accept she’d have to compromise. Then people complained they were bored of the mess they had created!

What would make your life better?

A pint of Guinness.

When were you happiest?

In the first few giddy months of my relationship with my partner, Cathy. And I must have been super-happy considering how happy we still are.

In another life, what job would you have?

Keyboard player in the Duckworth Lewis Method.

Are we all doomed?

Only if we continue to be this greedy and apathetic. 

The Divine Comedy’s first double album, “Office Politics”, is released on 7 June

This article appears in the 07 June 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump alliance