The American Songbook has The Chatanooga Choo Choo and its opening lines of:
“Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?
Track twenty nine, boy you can gimme a shine,
I can afford to board a Chattanooga Choo Choo.
I’ve got my fare and just a trifle to spare.”

The British Songbook’s National Express by The Divine Comedy sings about travel of a different kind and advises:
“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.”

In America it’s a travelogue of a journey with good companions, decent food and a good degree of comfort:
“You leave the Pennsylvania station ’bout a quarter to four,
Read a magazine and then you’re in Baltimore.
Dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer
Than to have your ham ‘n’ eggs in Carolina.
When you hear the whistle blowin’ eight to the bar
Then you know that Tennessee is not very far.
Shovel all the coal in, gotta keep it rollin’
Woo, woo, Chattanooga, there you are.”

In Britain it’s travel of a very different kind. You pay your money and you take your chances for what comes with that:
“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.”

So what’s going on?
National Express is a song by The Divine Comedy. It was released as the third single from the album Fin de Siècle and reached number eight on the UK Singles Chart in early 1999 and number 18 in Ireland.

The song is based on The Divine Comedy’s founder and only constant “member” Neil Hannon’s observations of life from the window of a National Express coach as he commuted up and down the country.

For reasons not apparent in the official video for the song, directed by Matthew Kirkby, it examines with some irony the UK National Health Service from the viewpoint of a patient (portrayed by Hannon) who is being referred to a psychiatric hospital. Throughout the video the patient is shown being pushed in a wheelchair by a porter who has trouble controlling his behaviour and takes him for electroconvulsive therapy.

The video ends with the patient, unconscious from his treatment, starting to wake up while the porter pushes him back to his ward.
Wikipedia describes The Divine Comedy as “a chamber pop band from Northern Ireland formed in 1989 and fronted by Neil Hannon.”
But in most respects it’s more a case of The Divine Comedy being Hannon and a succession of mates/musicians rather than a band in the traditional sense of the word.

Hannon has been the only constant member, playing, in some instances, all of the non-orchestral instrumentation except drums. To date, eleven studio albums have been released under the Divine Comedy name, “they” achieved “their” greatest commercial success in the years 1996–99, during which “they” had nine singles that made the UK Top 40, including “their” biggest hit, National Express.
He has rarely taken the traditional approach to pop songwriting.

Other compositions include a plethora of literary references: Bernice Bobs Her Hair recalls a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Three Sisters draws upon the Anton Chekhov play and Lucy is essentially three William Wordsworth poems abridged to music. Other intriguing titles have included Something for the Weekend (number 14 in 1996), Becoming More Like Alfie (number 27 also in 1996), and The Pop Singer’s Fear of the Pollen Count (number 17 in 1999).

Other claims to fame include writing and performing, with Darren Allison, the theme music for the sitcom Father Ted (which would subsequently be incorporated into Songs of Love on the album Casanova), and later writing the music for the mock-Eurovision song My Lovely Horse for one episode.

Hannon resisted widespread requests from fans to release the track as a single for the Christmas market, but it was eventually released in 1999 as the third track on the CD-single Gin Soaked Boy. His composition In Pursuit of Happiness was used by the BBC science and technology show Tomorrow’s World and Hannon also composed the music for the comedy series The IT Crowd, written by Father Ted co-writer Graham Linehan. Hannon also provided vocals for songs on the soundtrack for the film of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy released in 2005, working with Joby Talbot, the composer for the film and former Divine Comedy band member.

This sci-fi connection continued in late 2006, when he contributed vocals to two tracks – Song For Ten and Love Don’t Roam – on the Doctor Who: Original Television Soundtrack album.

In an interview with, Hannon explained that, “literally, I was asked to add my vocal by the composer of the songs, who writes for the show. And I didn’t feel that I could say no, simply because I spent my childhood watching this programme. It would be just plain wrong to not do it.”

WRITERS: Neil Hannon
PRODUCER: Jon Jacobs
GENRE: Post-Britpop
ARTIST: Divine Comedy
LABEL Setanta
RELEASED 25 January 1999