Oct 16 2008
It annoys me that I wasn’t in the best frame of mind going in to see the Duke Special and Divine Comedy gig. I had just had a bad few days and, if I’m honest, if someone had told me that the gig was cancelled, I wouldn’t have been particularly upset.
But it was not cancelled and I had bought 12 tickets, all of which were in my inside jacket pocket, so there was no possibility of skipping off home. I lifted my head up, grinned a grin and went for it.
At first, I was afraid,
I was petrified,
Dave Couse was on piano
And we nearly cried,
But then he wasn’t all that bad
Depending on the drinks you’d had
And we grew strong
We learned to ignore his songs……
Ahem, yes, we survive the support act Dave Couse (formerly of A-House), which began with promise but ended up delivering to us an irritating man on a piano with two underused band members at either side of the stage. Still, we weren’t waiting long for the main event.
Divine Comedy is one of the first bands I was truly fanatical about. Neil Hannon‘s quirky powerhouse vocals hypnotised me and his mixture of incredible melodies, colossal orchestral pieces and very funny, clever lyrics showed me that there was far more to modern music than boyband pop, sampled dance tracks and heavy metal head banging, all of which I saw too much of in the early nineties. His was a fresh, intelligent sound and I lapped it up.
Jump forward to the early noughties (or is it naughties?) and we were in the bar in the Olympia Theatre waiting for Juliet Turner to kick off. We were skipping the support act, as we were expecting Juno Falls (Lottie is NOT a fan), but then heard a frenetic vaudevillian sound emanating from the venue beside us. I poked my head in and was instantly transfixed by Duke‘s look, the music and the energy that was bounding off the stage. Beer in hand, we cheered and clapped like devoted fans. And from that moment on, we were exactly that.
So, when I first heard that the pair would do a joint concert, as part of the Amnesty International Small Places Tour I made sure to have good seats. On Tuesday night, our group took up one front row table and two second row tables in Vicar Street, and I think it’s fair to say that none of us were disappointed (no Maxi, you cannot have a refund).
It was billed as a duel between Duke and Hannon, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Both artists are known for being theatrical, so it was unlikely to be dull, at least.
The evening alternated between duets and solo tunes, interspersed with a lot of fun light banter between the duo. Beginning with Duke’s song Everybody Wants a Little Something, it was great to hear their voices complement each other so beautifully. The set up of two grand pianos placed opposite each other was reminiscent of the ‘duel’ between Daffy Duck and Donald Duck in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Okay, Neil Hannon didn’t fire a cannon ball at Duke, but both did try to outdo each other, first through music, then through arm wrestling. The swashbuckling was a disaster but their lightsaber fight was nothing short of brilliant.
They challenged each other to do one another’s songs. Duke Special did a fine rendition of Mastermind, while Hannon’s No Cover Up actually added to Duke’s already sublime tune. But it was two cover versions that stole the night. A dazzling version of What Becomes of the Broken Hearted was charming and sweet, while You’re So Vain was performed so uproariously and skilfully that I don’t want to know hear any other version again.
Throughout, Duke on piano far outplayed Hannon. While Hannon’s mistakes were endearing and very funny, there were too many to allow them go without comment. After a disastrous Festive Road (a Divine Comedy song) he said it wasn’t about accuracy but about feeling. Funny and full of feeling as they may have been, Hannon could only show his brilliance when allowing Duke to take the lion’s share of the piano work. Then he could concentrate on his singing and worry less about the technicalities of chords and hitting the right notes. Songs like Our Mutual Friend and Everybody Wants to Be A Cat really let him shine.
And now he’s back
From outer space
He just walked on
With that big stupid ugly grin upon his face
We should have all got locked
We surely dropped the ball
But how were we to know he would come back on stage at all……
Yes, they actually allowed Dave Couse back on stage. Strangely, it wasn’t awful. In fact, they all combined to deliver a fantastic version of Couse’s Endless Art. The song’s theme is something that means a lot to both Hannon and Duke. Artists first and foremost, putting the music before fame and fortune, both will have far reaching legacies for some time to come.
They finished the night with the duet they recorded together last year Our Love Goes Deeper Than This, and Hannon’s Songs of Love from his Short Album About Love – he also reminded Duke that it was from Father Ted. 🙂
It was a superb gig – innovative, witty and full of joy. The showmanship and differing but collaborative style made it so much fun. I am already looking forward to seeing Duke play again in November when his tour kicks off. Maybe he’ll bring Neil along for the ride. We live in hope.