NEIL Hannon's mind is on his rather marvellous new Divine Comedy album, Office Politics.

So much so, the primary reason for this interview had alluded the Northern Irishman.

"Sorry, why did you say you were ringing?" he enquired casually part way through the phone conversation.

"Your music for Swallows And Amazons is being used in the York Theatre Royal production this summer, Neil," came the explanation.

"Ah, that's nice to know," said the Divine Comedian, whose baroque songs for Helen Edmundson's stage adaptation of Arthur Ransome's 1930 adventure story for children were first performed at the Bristol Old Vic in December 2010.

So now you do know, Neil...."I'm delighted. The master plan is coming to fruition," he says. "The brilliant thing about a musical is that it will develop a life of its own, having iterations in weird and wonderful York...which I love."

Hannon performed at York Minster in May 2011, leading The Divine Comedy in An Evening With Neil Hannon, when he took to reading snippets from a York guide book between songs with amused fascination. "I was just trying to think of something to say," he recalls.

As chance would have it, the deluxe limited edition of Hannon's 12th studio album comes with the added attraction of his original piano demos for Swallows And Amazons, newly released on CD for the first time.

"They're from 2010, or 2009," he says. "I have recourse to all the demos I've ever made, and when I went back to them they seemed pretty good! So I've put them on the deluxe special edition."

Thoughts turn to the Office Politics album, whose June release was presaged by a typically witty office memo from Hannon. It read: "MEMO. All departments. To whom it may concern, I told you I would make a double [vinyl] album one day!

"It has synthesisers. And songs about synthesisers. But don't panic. It also has guitars, orchestras, accordions, and songs about love and greed. Phew...

"It is peopled with a shiny new cast of my imaginary friends (and enemies): East Anglian lovers and historical re-enactors, Norman and Norma. Sir Hillary Oldmoney, a complete banker if ever there was one.

"The outrageously selfish 'Opportunity' Knox. He jumps queues, annoys party goers and would kill for a promotion. Christine, who makes excellent photocopies but whose office romance has gone south.

"A pair of furniture removers and part-time minimalist composers named Philip and Steve. Even a certain Billy Bird has squirrelled his way back into proceedings.

"But the central characters in Office Politics are the machines. Machines that do this, machines that do that. Machines that will smother us all in our sleep.

"Perhaps the raging battle of instrumentation and musical genres on the album is a subconscious reflection of this conflict. Perhaps this increasingly crazy world has sent me scurrying to the new wave and synthpop of my youth for comfort. Perhaps I was just bored.

"I'm sorry it's all so crazy. I do try to make normal pop records. But it always seems to wander off into odd territories when I'm not concentrating."

So, Office Politics is kind of a state-of-the- nation report, both political and cultural, Neil? "Yeah, I'm not pretending that I have all the answers but this album...well, I think I'm trying to put my spin on various things that are worrying me," he says. "That's what make it sound so contemporaneous when in fact I've been writing these songs since 2013, and I've finally gone mad!"

When growing up, "even though things were a bit s**t, they were always getting a bit better", says Hannon, now 48. "But ever since 2000, there's been a sea change.

"Things started to reverse and things that were purported to make life better have made them worse, though I do slightly revel in the absurd, the black comedy of our lives. So there are lots of laughs on Office Politics too."

Hannon did not set out with a specific theme in mind. "It's all very organic, and I genuinely didn't really know what was happening until, after a while you have too many songs, and you start putting them before and after each other, and I realised there were a lot about redundancy, people losing jobs, people in the office world."

And so Office Politics was born.

Swallows And Amazons runs at York Theatre Royal, July 26 to August 24. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

The Divine Comedy's Office Politics is out now on Divine Comedy Records. The Divine Comedy will play Leeds Beckett University on October 15.

Charles Hutchinson