||The Divine Comedy
Joined: 21 Nov 2002
|Posted: Thu Nov 28, 2002 1:51 pm Post subject: FW: The Way We Were, Part 1
I found some old (and cheap) Melody Makers and NME magazines in a shop the other week. I haven't (with minimal searching) seen them on TDC sites elsewhere, so starting a (very) occasional series, here's the first one:
Melody Maker August 7, 1999
Waterway With Words: Daniel Booth
Shoot Canal: Stephen Sweet
THE DIVINE COMEDY's new single is all about hay fever, so we sent Sultan of Suave Neil Hannon into the Hertfordshire countryside for a spot of aversion therapy... Go on, Neil, sneeze - it's better than sex!
ADMIRAL Neil Hannon of HMS Divine Comedy is steering our barge, the adorably-named Bracken, along the Grand Union Canal in the secluded Hertfordshire countryside with all the authority of Columbus crossing the Atlantic.
"I'll have to get a silly sailor's hat," chortles Neil, as he perfects a tricky three-point turn.
The Maker takes over at the helm for a bit, feeling decidedly unsure of our rather rudimentary steering capabilities, as Neil skates perilously around the narrow ridge of the boat singing: "You give me barge rage" quietly to himself. We don't want to be responsible for the death of a pop star. Well, at least not this pop star.
"I'm only doing it for a laugh," trills Neil, nearly slipping as we bump clumsily into the bank.
Are you a good swimmer?
"No, not at all."
Thanks, that makes us feel a lot better.
"I only learnt to swim when I was 18. Before that I'd been frightened of water. It didn't help when, as a 15-year-old schoolkid, I was running to the shallow end as usual, when my geography teacher got hold of me and threw me into the deep end! After I came out coughing and spluttering, Mr Galbraith - I'll name him - took me to one side and said: 'Why didn't you tell me you couldn't swim?'"
Were you ritually humiliated by teachers forcing you to wear armbands?
"Not armbands, but I had those awful floats," he groans. "I still react nervously when I smell chlorine. I like swimming now, but I can't do much of it."
So if we jerked violently and you fell into the canal, what would you do?
"I'd panic and drown."
We try not to jerk violently.
THE reason we're sunning ourselves in deepest Herts is to honour The Divine Comedy's new single, "The Pop Singer's Fear Of The Pollen Count", a deliciously summery pop canter offering support to hay fever victims everywhere, imploring them to swap Vicks Nasal Inhalers for sunscreen, and to frolic naked in the grass.
Neil suffers from the sort of hay fever that would floor Zeus, as well as a supplementary allergy to cats, though the thick undergrowth of Tring Summit - our stretch of the canal - has yet to tease out a single sniffle from his nose, let alone a full snot-sprinkling sneeze.
"I don't believe it," he huffs, heroically clambering on top of the barge. "A crowd of ducks has just caught up with us!"
A crowd of ducks?
"Yes," insists Neil, "that is the correct term."
Bracken chugs along at a sedate six miles an hour, so not only have we been overtaken by a paddling of ducks (thank you, "Encyclopedia Britannica"), but a gang of determined-looking moorhens are making a serious attempt to overtake the ducks. Neil, however, is more engrossed by a heron he's just spotted in a nearby field to which, apparently with no appreciation of how strange such behaviour is, he starts waving.
"I like birds," he explains. "I mean, I don't know anything about them. I just like seeing them in the wild. It's nice to have some fresh air for a change and get out of the Big Smoke."
You make it sound like it's been so long since you had a day in the country that the last birds you waved to were pterodactyls.
"Well, the last proper day out I had was when we played a tiny gig just on the Welsh border, almost a village festival. There weren't any other bands. It was just us and The Folkestone Jugglers. I fell in the river, actually. We were playing football, as you do, and the ball went into the river. I bravely went down the bank to retrieve it and I fell on my arse and slipped down into the water. I had to do the soundcheck in my underclothes."
You didn't fancy skinny-dipping with The Folkestone Jugglers?
"No, not then. And definitely not today. Canals are a bit too dirty for that," he grimaces. "I'd never skinny-dip in clean water either, as it goes."
NO, but, if requested, he'll grab a bargepole and pretend it's Darth Maul's double-ended lightsabre, an image which awakens in us the peculiar realisation that "The Phantom Menace" would have been vastly improved had
it featured Darth lolling about leisurely on a boating holiday.
"Barging is cool - I feel like I'm in 'Swallows And Amazons'," grins Neil, crouching down to avoid brutal
decapitation by a passing bridge, which always puts a bit of a damper on days out in the country.
"I know it makes me sound ridiculously old before my years," he guffaws, "but I like the idea of just floating down the highways and byways. In my canal fantasies, there's usually a barge full of girls we'd happen upon and they'd laugh as I fall in the water and they'd have to dry me off, ha ha ha, et cetera, et cetera..."
You'd have to prise them off Benny Hill's bargepole first...
"Ooh, um, yes, haha, it does sound like a Benny Hill sketch."
Tring Summit is sadly bereft of any such delights. A dead fish, possibly a trout, decomposes in the water, but it's hardly a satisfactory substitute.
We decide to moor by some flour mills to enjoy the safety of dry land, after a dithery fisherman tells us about some three-foot mutant terrapins who have been terrorizing the canal's fish population, a warning which leaves us slightly concerned that our barge isn't equipped with a harpoon.
You're not going to let that fishy tale curb your boating enthusiasm, are you, Neil?
"Well, it won't become more than a hobby," he stresses. "I wouldn't enjoy it if it was more than a one holiday thing. And I'm sure my other half would not approve. I certainly couldn't live on a houseboat. I like the comforts of home. I'd miss decent sanitation. And a nice big comfy bed. With a nice cup of tea."
SLOWLY, we've become suspicious of Neil's state of total hay fever-free perkiness. There has been a curious absence of "atishoos", an eyebrow raising scarcity of sneezes. Could Neil be a fraud, callously exploiting the misery of hay fever sufferers in order to write an endearingly quirky pop song? Is his hay fever 4-Real?
Eager to find the answer, we head out into a wheat field that positively fizzes with poisonous pollen. Neil looks around anxiously.
"If this doesn't reactivate my hay fever, nothing will."
"My nose is twitching."
"I feel a tingle."
"No, nothing's happening."
"Look, there's a cat!" we lie, hoping that just the thought of a flea-ridden moggy will be enough to dislodge a torrent of green slime from Neil's nose. But he's not fooled.
"I'll try to force a sneeze out," he giggles, raining wheat down on himself, tilting his head so that several ears of wheat worm their way up his nostrils.
We wait a few seconds. Neil closes his eyes, concentrates and...
"... Bugger! All these years of sneezing and I finally release a sneezing single and I can't sneeze," grieves Neil.
You seem fairly blasé about your hay fever. Has this summer been a lot better than usual?
"I had a really bad couple of weeks about a month ago when the hay fever was extraordinarily bad," he begins. "The pollen count was. huge due to a very wet spring being followed suddenly by very hot weather. But since we've done the video for the single, which was silly because we were standing in a field of flowers - not a sensible idea if you suffer from hay fever - it's all cleared up."
Maybe, in the same way that you can cure arachnophobia by forcing the victims to stroke, snog and swap phone numbers with tarantulas, standing in a field for long periods cured your hay fever.
"Ummmmm, hmmm, perhaps it was a massive shock to my system," he muses, not bothering to disguise his scepticism regarding our theory. "But if that's how they cure arachnophobia then I'm quite happy to be arachnophobic. You won't get me stroking any spiders."
But at least you're rejoicing in The Great Outdoors, disregarding the inconvenience of hay fever, the very behaviour that "... Pollen Count" proscribes.
"Well, although it is a pain in the arse, hay fever is a lot less annoying than a lot of other maladies," explains Neil. "So I just count myself lucky and get on with it. It's no big deal. Though I do prefer late summer to June or July. September's pretty cool. It's still reasonably warm and I'm not sneezing my head off."
BACK on the barge, keeping an eye out for any kamikaze terrapins, we send Neil into deep hypnosis, hoping he'll remember the trauma of his first hay fever attack.
"When I was about nine or 10, we used to go down to a farm that was owned by friends of the family down in Wexford. The first really bad attack was when I was helping the farmer with his hay doing... erm... y'know... whatever it is that farmers do with their hay. Moving it about a bit. Shaking it up a bit."
Has your hay fever ever led to any embarrassing social situations? Ever sneezed over the Pope?
"Not recently," smirks Neil. "I never get embarrassed about it because what the hell can I do about it? It just means locking all your windows and doors and not going out. I try not to record in the summer, although the studio seems to be the one place that is consistently pollen-free. But all it takes is one attack and my voice can be ruined for days."
Presumably, it can also hamper your festival performances?
"Yeah, often. Except Glastonbury, because it's always horrible weather. I know it was sunny this year, but we didn't play because we had such trauma last year in the mud. But it doesn't affect you onstage, because the adrenalin kills all ills. I've had bronchitis and really bad 'flu, but you get through gigs fine. You just die at the end of it, that's all, once the adrenalin buzz dies down."
FEELING hungry, and not fancying raw duck or genetically modified terrapin on toast, we amble into Tring and settle in Tringfellows, a quaint café, blessed with possibly the best pun-funny name of any eatery in Hertfordshire and a toilet that smells of marzipan. Having failed with the best that Mother Nature can offer, we wonder whether Tringfellows' pepper can stimulate Neil's hay fever, helpfully waving the pepper cellar under his nose.
"I know that pepper doesn't make me sneeze," says Neil, unfazed, "because the first time I recorded '... Pollen Count' on 'Liberation' (The Divine Comedy's 1993 album - Archivist Ed) I wanted to add real sneezes on the middle eight like we have on this new version. I tried pepper to make me sneeze, stuffing it up my nose, but nothing happened."
Unfortunately, Neil doesn't leave the table at any point during the meal, so we're unable to test this theory by emptying the entire contents of the pepper cellar into his lasagne. Shame. Would've been fun.
"We had the same trouble with the new version," continues Neil, "but then I discovered that the secret is to stick your fingers up your nose, really ram them up there, and wiggle them about until your nose is so irritated that it sneezes, hehhehheh! And thus I achieved the biggest sneeze ever!"
Have you a long history of trying weird alternative therapies?
"I like a good moan, so I usually say: 'Oh it's no use, nothing's going to work.' It gives me a good excuse not to have to attempt a social life. When I smoked, I swore that smoking prevented hay fever, but I think that may just have been an excuse to smoke. You do get very annoyed and very snappy when someone says: 'Have you tried such and such?'...that makes me want to punch their face in."
Can't you just get pissed and forget about it?
"I once had it really bad and I went out for a pizza and I was drinking for all I was worth," he recalls. "I was still getting all the symptoms, but the drink made me laugh at them: 'Haha, my eyes are streaming so much I can't see anything, but who cares!' It doesn't actually cure it, it makes you care less about the effects."
Are you ever tempted to abandon hay fever etiquette and wipe your nose on your sleeve?
"I try to use a hankie," he claims. "If you wiped your nose on your sleeve it would get very messy. It streams out. There's a lot of gunk."
WE stroll back to Bracken via a different field, just to give the summer one more chance to unleash the Demon Pollen, but Neil's new-found resistance remains strong.
"At the moment I'm using Zyrtec anti-histamines and Beconase Nasal Inhaler, but I've only recently used that combination, so maybe that's the solution. I've finally found a formula that works."
The distant hum of a tractor alerts Neil to the fact that we're trespassing over what appears to be very lucrative farmland.
"How long before we spot the irate farmer?" he sniggers, morphing into Bernard Matthews. "'Ere, Jim, there's some straaangers on yoour laaand'."
All fear of the pollen count momentarily forgotten, he then stomps (it's almost a frolic) through the field with all the glee of a man whose belly button has grown back and he can't stop fiddling with it.
"We should definitely do a quick crop circle before we leave," he chuckles.
However, bereft of alien guidance, all we can manage is a pathetic crop splodge, which, if you're feeling generous, could just about pass as a crop hexagon.
"It looks like the front of a Shredded Wheat packet," titters Neil, before recoiling suddenly. "Weurrgh, there's a baby grasshopper. Go away, little grasshopper. No, don't jump on me."
It's more scared of you than you are of it.
"I don't actually believe that. He's probably thinking, 'Ha ha! You coward!'"
Adding grasshoppers to the increasingly girlie list of Neil's allergies, we consider the playground hypothesis that if you sneeze seven times in a row, the effect is as pleasurable as experiencing an orgasm.
"I know all about it," he nods. "Sometimes I don't stop sneezing for about 15 minutes. Your nose feels like it's about to fail off. It's not as nice as achieving orgasm, but I can see what they mean, because it's quite a big giddying jolt to the body. The only thing to do is to stick your head in a bucket of water."
Now you can see why we were trying so hard to make him sneeze. Imagine it: Neil Hannon, impeccably attired, the Sultan of Suave, the Noël Coward of people who'd like to be Noël Coward... with his head in a bucket of water.
"It proves what I've known all along," sighs Neil. "Hay fever isn't very rock'n'roll."
'The Pop Singer's Fear Of The Pollen Count' is out on August 9 on Setanta. 'A Secret History: The Best Of The Divine Comedy' follows on August 30
Thanks to Chiltern Chuggers for barge hire. Call 01442 827673 for further information
Joined: 28 Oct 2002
|Posted: Thu Nov 28, 2002 3:31 pm Post subject:
I'd already done this (see press archive section) but I couldn't save the photos for some reason. So I'll replace my version with yours as you have got the photos.
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