GIG REVIEW: The Divine Comedy at the Barbican Centre (5-night residency overview)

By Neil Durham

WORTH A LOOK?: *****

WHEN?: Wednesday 31 August to Sunday 4 September 2022

‘Same time, same place – this is starting to feel like a full-time job,’ reflects The Divine Comedy frontman Neil Hannon as he arrives on stage at this prestigious venue at 7.30pm for a 5-night residency that will see his band play a total of 113 different songs.

  • Read on for reasons including how Hannon would do a 6-night residency once the band’s released a new album

His flock is so devoted at these sold-out shows there is the feeling of a minister performing for his congregation and Hannon is hugely entertaining explaining different elements of the 10 albums we are hearing in full excluding 1990’s debut Fanfare For The Comic Muse and the most recent Office Politics we saw performed at an award-winning Eventim Apollo gig in 2019.

We were so taken by this residency that we gave it a 5-star review after the 2nd show which included an encore that featured an extraordinary gallop through mock Eurovision entry My Lovely Horse (full version available to watch below) from Channel 4’s Father Ted.

This review will highlight the final 3 shows and reflect on a feat that we can imagine few acts attempting and 1 likely to make the shortlist of our gig of the year award, or monsta if you will, from late November, current 2022 longlist here.

There’s a jolly moment during National Express in the 3rd show in the run when Hannon puts on a bus conductor’s hat thrown on the stage by a fan and once again puts his microphone into the audience at the song’s close to encourage different members to sing along the title.

There is even a personal highlight during the extended outro of Eric The Gardener where Hannon leaves the stage and sits next to us in the audience in the 3rd row, patiently sipping his Bloody Mary and observing proceedings ignoring those taking selfies with him (we didn’t!), until he returns to the stage shortly before the band finishes the song.

We love the apparent prescience of The Flood, with Hannon himself describing it as end of the century, end of the world material, but are immediately uplifted by the gorgeous Sunrise elevated by Hannon’s impressive and often under-rated croon.

We get the impression that the writing of both Fin de Siècle and Regeneration was not the happiest time for Hannon and indeed, after the 1st 3 songs of the latter, talks about entering the ‘abyss of despair’.

We’ve previously explained our history with the band and underrated album Absent Friends contains some real gems which flag the warmth and empathy that fatherhood seemed to nurture within Hannon. Charmed Life has a particularly affective lyric (‘Well I’ve never really worried that much
About making lots of money and such And I always seem to land upon my feet. And though there’s been some difficult times The good times were never far behind.’) and the title track is a beautiful way to honour those not with us but who we wish were.

There’s a comedy moment where Hannon struggles with a child’s Speak and Spell toy that he wants to use to feature in a song and then worries his answer might be misconstrued when he explains why he won’t be using it in a repeat of this run in France this month. Tickets

‘The French have kept me in business for 30 years,’ he tells the audience. ‘I like them more than Liz Truss. And on that note onto the next song The Wreck Of The Beautiful …’

1 of our favourite of the band’s songs is A Lady Of A Certain Age from Victory For The Comic Muse which is a warm look at an occasionally unsympathetic character which shows a maturity in its writing that perhaps wasn’t quite so in evidence during big hit National Express, the ‘conspiratorial’ and ‘theatrical’ winks linking both.

Hannon’s 11-strong band has been brilliant throughout and we make no apologies for crediting Andrew Skeet (piano), Ian Watson (accordion and keys), Tim Weller (drums), Simon Little (bass), Tosh Flood (guitar), John Evans (guitar), Lucy Wilkins, violin, who we remember from My Life Story in the 90s), Calina de la Mare (violin and viola), Chris Worsey (cello), Sarah Field (trumpet and sax) and Christian Forshaw (flute and sax).

Hannon tells us how he struggled over some album titles (Victory) while others like Casanova and Absent Friends came easily and sometimes ahead of the songs themselves.

Curiously the final night seemed to boast the most enthusiastic crowd and Hannon described the residence as ‘revelatory’. ‘It’s been fantastic fun, if quite hard,’ he said. ‘The next normal set might be quite different indeed.

‘This has been quite revelatory. There’s some material that I’ve come to think is really rather good.’

As an audience member, it’s also made us appreciate the band so much more including songs that had previously passed us by. The Divine Comedy is a band that is consistently brilliant. Some bands struggle to find 1 album that stands up to be played in full, while Hannon and co managed 10 – which isn’t even including the most recent and excellent Office Politics.

Towards the end of the set the fans really don’t want the marathon to finish and Hannon promises a 6-night residency once the band has released a new album. We’d love to be once again the audience for it.

  • Pictures via Facebook courtesy The Divine Comedy Tickets and by Neil Durham
  • Have you seen any of these shows? Let us know what you thought in the comments below
  • Enjoyed this review? Follow monstagigz on Twitter @NeilDurham, email neildurham3@gmail.com and check us out on Instagram and Facebook

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