Neil Hannon Talks Swallows And Amazons.

Neil Hannon talks about his musical playing at Bristol Old Vic this Christmas

Neil Hannon at Swallows And Amazons Press Launch
Neil Hannon at Swallows And Amazons Press Launch
© ShotAway 2014

Neil Hannon is the composer of Bristol Old Vic’s Swallows And Amazon’s which returns to Bristol Old Vic this Christmas after a successful run back in 2010 which played the West End and toured the following year. Best known for being band founder and frontman of The Divine Comedy the band have had a number of successful singles including National Express and Something for the Weekend.

What drew you to the project in the first place?

Well I guess, I came up with the idea as I knew Tom (Morris- the original director of the project and artistic director of Bristol Old Vic) was after me to write a musical, and I was trying to find something that made sense to me as he has lots of ideas that are esoteric and hard to fathom. When I was reading Swallows to my daughter, it’s funny, it happens a lot when you’re reading a book or watching a film and within few pages or minutes you’re thinking this could be a musical, and about two thirds through, you think ‘no this can’t be’. Swallows was the opposite, I was well into it when I thought this has all the necessary elements and I blithely said it to Tom and he laughed in my face because he read it as a kid and associated it with jolly hockey sticks. But when he re-read it he got a lot more out of it then I did. There’s a lot in it about childhood, playing, the imagination, creativity that is somehow beaten out of us as we get older and adult life intrudes.

What were your musical Influences for the project?

I suppose most of the influences are the usual ones from my records, but with some interesting additions. I don’t know…when I was writing them I found myself sort of slipping into ways of constructing musical songs that I would never do in pop music, and you’re thinking ‘ah that’s why they do that in musicals’. Obviously I was trying to avoid a lot of pitfalls (that I find in musicals) as well. As much as I like Sunday in the Park with George or Funny Face, High Society, Oliver is a great musical as well but it all starts to go wrong for me in about 1970 and I’m really not a fan of Lloyd Webber or Rent. I kind of find that people do exactly the same thing every time and they’re terribly terribly dull. I was trying to avoid that. I’ve said this quite often in interviews but you often are influenced by things you hate by trying to avoid them.

How was the collaboration?

It was interesting as I had never experience an editor. Occasionally record companies would ask are you sure and I’d say ‘yes’ and they’d say ‘ok’. I was my own editor as I knew what was good and what wasn’t. In this scenario I had to refer to Tom and Helen’s (Edmundon- book writers) greater experience. Quite often it was the case of me writing something quickly in one room whilst Helen would write the script in another room and we’d meet with Tom and he’d say ‘its very good but can you try again’. And I’d say ‘but I’ve written an entire song.’ But he was right, every time…bastard.

Were you surprised by the success Swallows And Amazons has had?

Well we didn’t transfer to Broadway. I’m so proud of it considering its humble origins, I’d love for it to get bigger and bigger and bigger as I want more people to hear it, but I guess as I’m involved in it it will not be that successful. I seem to be anathema to a project making real money!

Any future collaborations?

We have been tentaitively chatting about new things together. I’m just waiting for them to say yes to my idea! I can’t say what or it won’t happen but plenty to be getting on with.

Swallows And Amazons is playing at Bristol Old Vic until the 17th January 2015.