Best known as the singer, lyricist and main man of The Divine Comedy, Neil Hannon admits one of the reasons he created the score for Swallows and Amazons – which opens at Blackpool Grand Theatre tonight – was its title.
Perhaps that’s hardly surprising when his own hits include the likes of Something For The Weekend, National Express, Becoming More Like Alfie and The Pop Singer’s Fear of the Pollen Count.
“I could see it above a theatre door and that gave me inspiration,” says Neil, of the first of 12 novels writer Arthur Ransome set in the Lake District of the 1920s and 30s.
It tells the story of the holiday exploits of the Walker and Blackett children, their sailing dinghies (the Swallow and the Amazon) and their adventures on Wildcat Island.
“I had the idea several years back – but when I started I didn’t realise how big a thing it might be,” he admits.
Originally developed at the National Theatre Studio, the National Theatre and Children’s Touring Partnership production opened at Bristol Old Vic in December 2010 for a sell out run and comes to Blackpool after a Christmas season in the West End and subsequent tour.
“I enjoyed the writing process but it did get harder as it went on.
“I think people told me I could be writing musicals because of the characters and talking lines in my songs but with Divine Comedy each song is about a different thing.”
He admits to not being too familiar with the book when he started.
“I knew of it, saw a bit of the movie and thought it would be quite fun. Then I read it to my daughter and about half way through I thought it might do the trick – even though I don’t think most kids even in the part of the 20th century that it’s set were any more used to the kind of lifestyle portrayed in the book than youngsters today are.”
So having written the music was he tempted to audition for a role in it?
“No, never wanted that – not at all,” he says.
“Half the joy of it was writing songs that I knew I’d never have to sing.
“It’s been touring five months now and my heart goes out to the cast for having to perform the same songs night after night.
“Then again I wonder why I never thought of it before – it’s better than having to do it myself.
“I’m no actor and the cast are all fabulous.”
He first saw the show in its workshop stage, caught it “innumerable times” in Bristol and London but has only seen it once on tour.
“I’ve an uncle and aunt in Sheffield and my parents hadn’t seen it so we had a family outing,” he said. “From where I was sitting I could see the hollowed eyes of the cast!”
Neil admits liking his life the way it is and says: “I do have to still keep making the occasional Divine Comedy album to let off steam.
“It’s a good way of self expression because no one else can tell me what to do.
“I’ve got itchy feet at the moment but there’s a degree of trepidation about touring, especially when you’re over 40.
“You creak more and there’s things like girlfriend, daughter and dog to worry about.
“I still enjoy being on stage though and I’ve been solo for a good few years – which make the after show parties a bit quiet!
“You have to let go of that rock and roll lifestyle.
“Then again I was never really a party animal, I always had my head in so many other things.
“I prefer to be an observer of what’s going on around me rather than a participant.”
n Swallows and Amazons runs from tonight until Saturday at Blackpool Grand Theatre.