Neil Hannon: 'I always get everything wrong on stage. The audience loves it'


You think twice about even letting kids walk the dog round the block these days which is a shame. I don't know whether Swallows and Amazons [Hannon has written the music for a new stage version] was quite fanciful for the 1930s – to let children go off on their own for a fortnight – but it wouldn't happen now. There's a lot of interesting themes going on [in Arthur Ransome's book] – mores concerning what you can let children do. I don't how much has really changed and how much is media-induced paranoia.

I can act 'me' quite well, but that's my only role I really don't want to be an actor but there's a huge appeal to hamming things up – it makes the audience laugh and it makes me chuckle. [Hannon recently performed a concert at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.] I just throw myself on stage and don't think too much about it. If I get it right in rehearsals, I get it wrong on stage. Actually, I always get everything wrong anyway – it's one of the "hilarious", "spontaneous" things that happen live. Anyway, the audience loves it.

I'm not generally that funny in everyday life I've rarely sat down to write a comic song on purpose. It's almost always for the sake of what the song is trying to say; you can point out something foolish or weird better. [As the frontman of the Divine Comedy, he was responsible for such songs as "National Express", giving observations of life from the window of a bus, and he also wrote "Lovely Horse", a song for Father Ted.]

I wrote almost all my big love songs before I'd been in love It's much harder to write when you're in love, as it's so mysterious. Often the songs that mean most to other people mean least to you – it leaves more room for them to put their own feelings and stories on top. I've lost count of the number of people who've told me they walked down the aisle to "Songs of Love", but they weren't listening very hard to it, because it's really about me being sexually frustrated in an attic in Enniskillen.

I was supremely angry when I wrote 'the complete banker' It was in 2008, and my manager said, "We've got to record [the song] now and get it out or it will stop being topical." But it's four years later and, if anything, it's more topical. It was mostly down to what I was hearing on Irish radio: this insanity had been going on and everyone looked the other way, and as soon as it went belly-up, guess who had to pay?

I hardly remember performing with a band I took a long time off to write and when I came back, nobody had any money; I thought, "Well, this would be a good time to do the solo tour..." It was scary, but incredibly satisfying.

I genuinely enjoy performing The only problem is being away from home for extended periods. Now I find it less and less appealing – but that's just getting old. It's a job; mustn't grumble.

'Swallows and Amazons' tours the UK from Tuesday (

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