The 1999 release of A Secret History….The Best Of The Divine Comedy included a couple of previously unreleased songs, one of which was this rather exquisite number:-

mp3: The Divine Comedy – Gin Soaked Boy

It’s a song in which almost every line starts off with ‘I’m the….’.  In my book, it’s a ridiculously clever lyric with a lot of humour, that turns quite surreal near the very end with the reference to the actor Jeff Goldblum.

But there are some who thought it was all a bit pretentious.  David Stubbs, for instance, who penned a rather vitriolic review in the NME:-

“Drat it and fish hooks,” thought Hannon as he scurried across Main Quad towards the Junior Dorm. “I’ve made an awful bish of this pop lark. A beastly rotten bish.”

His sandals crunching on the gravel, he was just a blur of clever reference points at waist height as he whizzed past the RSM’s dog, Monster. He thought of the awful ragging he’d got from the younger boys after prep when they’d heard the ‘National Express’ single. He wouldn’t pick up crumpets like that any more, that was for jolly certain.

“Glad rags on as per Matron’s recco?” he thought. “Rather! Slightly glummo fizzog on one, rather like old Eggy Duggan’s after his Mater rescinded his Railway Modeller subscription? Rather, rather! Lots of whizzo prank lyrics like, ”I’m the goodness in the bad/I’m the saneness in the mad”? Sound a bit like James?

Oh. Maybe they’d hate this single, too. He suddenly felt another terrible biffing coming on.

By the time a ‘Best Of’ album was in the pipeline, the NME had long gone past the stage of actually caring about The Divine Comedy, despite the fact the paper had championed Neil Hannon back in the days when he was an unknown.  I don’t suppose the NME readership was actually the target market for the album or the single.

Gin Soaked Boy was actually something of a flop in that it only got to #38, in November 1999, but then again the purpose of its release was only to give a second stimulus to the album which had entered at #3 in the week of its release some three months earlier.



The Divine Comedy had been on the go for about seven years before the first whiff of success.  It came via a fabulous single and the opening track from their fourth album, Casanova, which was released in 1996

mp3: The Divine Comedy – Something For The Weekend

It’s got the sort of plot that would make for a great short story.  The reason I’ve not included it within that particular series is that too many of the lyrics get repeated throughout the song, but this is actually one of its strengths as it really is quite a simple premise.

Man tries to woo an attractive woman but isn’t quite sure how to really go about it.  Woman convinces man that she is very interested in him but before it goes any further she needs him to go to an outbuilding in the garden as she’s convinced there’s something strange afoot.  Man goes into the outbuilding whereupon he gets beaten up and robbed, discovering when he comes back into a state of consciousness that his wallet and car keys are gone….as is the teasing and alluring woman.

There’s a superb arrangement on the track, with violins, violas, cellos, flutes, a clarinet, an oboe, a bassoon, a saxophone, a trumpet, a flugelhorn and a trombone all in the mix, alongside the guitars, bass, drums, piano and Hammond organ.

You can actually thank, indirectly, Edwyn Collins for it all.  The unexpected world-wide success of A Girl Like You had brought immense riches to Setanta Records, which meant that all other singers and bands on the label could enjoy bigger budgets for recording their next singles and albums.  The sounds that had been going around inside Neil Hannon‘s head over the previous years could now be fully realised.

Something For The Weekend reached #14 in the UK singles chart, the first of what would prove to be twelve Top 40 singles for The Divine Comedy over the next eight years.

Here’s the three tracks which accompanied the CD single:-

mp3: The Divine Comedy – Birds of Paradise Farm
mp3: The Divine Comedy – Love Is Lighter Than Air
mp3: The Divine Comedy – Songs Of Love (Theme from ‘Father Ted’)

The second of the above songs is a cover of a Magnetic Fields song, from the previous year’s album Get Lost. The third of the above songs will, I’m sure, put a smile on many faces, recalling one of the funniest and most original TV sitcoms with 25 peerless episodes all told. Any overseas readers not familiar with Father Ted should click here.



Today’s posting is looking back at what has, thus far, proved to be the biggest hit enjoyed by The Divine Comedy.

I suppose I better set the scene for some overseas readers who might not get the cultural reference(s).

National Express is a long-distance coach service in the UK, covering more than 750 locations with just under 2,000 services a day. It is a cheaper alternative to the train, but the downside is that the journeys tend to take a bit longer, albeit the majority of trips use the motorway network. Being a cheaper alternative to the train, it has an undeserved reputation for attracting folk who are less well-off, which is important to bear in mind…….

In January 1999, The Divine Comedy (which in effect is the name under which composer/singer Neil Hannon records) released a song called The National Express. It was the third single from the album Fin de Siècle and it attracted a very scathing NME review from Steven Wells:-

What a filthy, disgusting, revolting, nauseating little record this is! Summed up in one utterly crass but nonetheless deeply psychologically revealing lyric, we find all the reasons we’ll ever need to hate The Divine Comedy… This is mock-pop. This is the work of an ‘artist’ who thinks himself superior to his art form and despises his audience.

Here, in full, is the lyric that so seethed Mr Wells:-

Take the National Express when your life’s in a mess
It’ll make you smile
All human life is here
From the feeble old dear to the screaming child
From the student who knows that to have one of those
Would be suicide
To the family man
Manhandling the pram with paternal pride

And everybody sings “ba ba ba da…”
We’re going where the air is free

On the National Express, there’s a jolly hostess
Selling crisps and tea
She’ll provide you with drinks and theatrical winks
For a sky-high fee
Mini-Skirts were in style when she danced down the aisle
Back in ’63 (yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)
But it’s hard to get by when your arse is the size
Of a small country

And everybody sings “ba ba ba da…”
We’re going where the air is free
Tomorrow belongs to me

When you’re sad and feeling blue
With nothing better to do
Don’t just sit there feeling stressed
Take a trip on the National Express
On the National Express

Let’s go

National Express, National Express
National Express, National Express

The NME review did upset Neil Hannon a bit, and in response he pointed out he had made a bit of a living from penning light-hearted observational songs, none of which were intended to cause offence. Indeed, he went as far to state that the line about the man with the pram was specifically an in-joke at his brother’s expense and nothing throughout the lyric was a dig at anyone’s social circumstances.

Most folk ignored the spat, including a multitude of radio producers and presenters who ensured the single got plenty of air play. It went on to sell enough copies to reach #8

mp3: The Divine Comedy – The National Express (radio edit)

Here’s the two tracks made available on the CD1 version of the single:-

mp3: The Divine Comedy – Going Downhill Fast
mp3: The Divine Comedy – Radioactivity (a Kraftwerk cover)



With apologies to those of you who keep in touch via the personal Facebook page as you’ll be sick-to-death at me going on about this.

Tonight sees the launch of Mixtape at The Admiral.

It’s the brainchild of my friend Robert who, along with Carlo and Hugh, has been the driving force of the very successful Strangeways club night that has been a mainstay of the Glasgow scene for some 10 years. Strangeways is a night based almost exclusively around the music of The Smiths and Morrissey that has grown in size and popularity and now takes place in the downstairs suite of The Admiral Bar where some 200 folk pack in four times a year with all profits going to various charities and worthy causes. I DJ’d on one occasion at Strangeways and did a decent enough job to be asked back to help at ‘There Is A Night That Never Goes Out’ in which the intrepid trio went for a theme of 80s music, often with an indie or electro twist.

Mixtape takes things a wee bit further in that the music will be anything goes. As Robert said when he went public with it:-

Mixtape is a new night for the bar of The Admiral. The music is non genre so really anything goes.

The night is designed as a sound track the bar with the option for some late night dancing or clubbing for people who don’t like clubs. 🎧

The playlist covers Indie, Electro, Disco, Post Rock , New Wave , House, Soul, New Romantic, Mod, Pop, Punk, C86 and anything else that sounds good.

Initially, it will be taking place in the upstairs part of the pub where we will do our best, through our own tastes, to entertain the regular drinkers but also taking requests and so on in the old-fashioned way. The only difference from the 80s is that instead of lugging around heavy boxes of vinyl, the DJs will be bringing along a memory stick to plug into a laptop – I’ve got just short of 1,000 tracks on mine just now but even then I know I won’t have everything that is asked for on the night.

Mixtape at The Admiral is going to be a regular residency, scheduled for the final Friday of each month. It’s free of charge in the upstairs bar but, all being well, the plan in due course is to shift downstairs every so often, charge a few quid to get in and again raise monies for good causes.

I’m looking forward to it…but with a degree of nerves. I’ll report back in due course about how it all goes.

mp3 : The Divine Comedy – At The Indie Disco

And tomorrow, after all that, I’ve got the biggest game of the season for the Rovers with the pre-match music and announcing malarkey.  A win, in what is the final match of the season, and we clinch the title and gain promotion.  A draw or loss and its likely we have the lottery of the play-offs. This has the potential to be a memorable few days in my life.




Hi Jim

Loving the above occasional series. I am a bit obsessed by a song’s lyrics. Some of my favourite songwriters can turnout an amazing phrase or concept but for me the skill of a song as a short story is where every word earns its place and not a phrase is wasted for the sake of scanning,

The examples you have shared so far all stand on their own two feet on the printed page.

Loads to choose from but gone for this , part character study and part story. Put out of your mind National Express and the arched eyebrow . I hesitate as wondered if a short story song could have a chorus and then realised that was giving this way too much thought.

The thing I love about this is that take out any line and the whole is diminished. The subtle changes in the chorus all add to the picture and only in a couple of places is the phrasing slightly forced. The only place where the words alone don’t quite have the full impact is that they miss the sadness of the way Neil Hannon sings the final “No , you couldn’t be”. Kind of a upper class sister song to Labelled with Love

David (Friend of Rachel Worth)

Lady of a Certain Age

Back in the day you had been part of the smart set
You’d holidayed with kings, dined out with starlets
From London to New York, Cap Ferrat to Capri
In perfume by Chanel and clothes by Givenchy
You sipped camparis with David and Peter
At Noel’s parties by Lake Geneva
Scaling the dizzy heights of high society
Armed only with a cheque-book and a family tree

You chased the sun around the Cote d’Azur
Until the light of youth became obscured
And left you on your own and in the shade
An English lady of a certain age
And if a nice young man would buy you a drink
You’d say with a conspiratorial wink
“You wouldn’t think that I was seventy”
And he’d say, “no, you couldn’t be!”

You had to marry someone very very rich
So that you might be kept in the style to which
You had all of your life been accustomed to
But that the socialists had taxed away from you
You gave him children, a girl and a boy
To keep your sanity a nanny was employed
And when the time came they were sent away
Well that was simply what you did in those days

You chased the sun around the Cote d’Azur
Until the light of youth became obscured
And left you on your own and in the shade
An English lady of a certain age
And if a nice young man would buy you a drink
You’d say with a conspiratorial wink
“You wouldn’t think that I was sixty three”
And he’d say, “no, you couldn’t be!”

Your son’s in stocks and bonds and lives back in Surrey
Flies down once in a while and leaves in a hurry
Your daughter never finished her finishing school
Married a strange young man of whom you don’t approve
Your husband’s hollow heart gave out one Christmas Day
He left the villa to his mistress in Marseilles
And so you come here to escape your little flat
Hoping someone will fill your glass and let you chat about how

You chased the sun around the Cote d’Azur
Until the light of youth became obscured
And left you all alone and in the shade
An English lady of a certain age
And if a nice young man would buy you a drink
You’d say with a conspiratorial wink
“You wouldn’t think that I was fifty three”
And he’d say, “no, you couldn’t be!”

mp3 : The Divine Comedy – Lady of a Certain Age





S-WC outlined all sorts of reasons why cover versions are recorded.  As he mentioned, sometimes it can be for a tribute album.  From wiki:-

The Smiths Is Dead is a tribute album to the 1980s’ English alternative rock band The Smiths, released in 1996. It was compiled by the French cultural magazine Les Inrockuptibles and released to celebrate the 10th anniversary of 1986’s The Queen Is Dead. The album was released at the height of the Britpop phenomenon and contained covers by many popular Britpop acts such as The Boo Radleys, Supergrass, Bis and Placebo.

It’s very much a mixed bag and I think it’s accurate to say that none of the covers improve at all on the originals, but that would have been a near impossibility to begin with. The other biggest problems are that too many of the tracks fail to digress all that much from how The Smiths themselves recorded the songs or that the band asked to do the cover do so in a way that even Morrissey’s backing band would have been embarassed by the efforts.  However, an honourable mention must go to Boo Radleys for what is a hugely different take on the title track… that too me many years to really appreciate but nowadays is the only one I have on the i-pod :-

mp3 : Boo Radleys – The Queen Is Dead
mp3 : The High Llamas – Frankly, Mr. Shankly
mp3 : The Trash Can Sinatras – I Know It’s Over
mp3 : Billy Bragg – Never Had No One Ever
mp3 : The Frank & Walters – Cemetry Gates
mp3  : Placebo – Bigmouth Strikes Again
mp3 : Bis – The Boy with the Thorn in His Side
mp3 : Therapy? – Vicar in a Tutu
mp3 : The Divine Comedy – There Is a Light That Never Goes Out
mp3 : Supergrass – Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others