We talk to Neil Hannon and Thomas Walsh from The Duckworth Lewis Method about their new album.
By Dave Tindall
Last Updated: 10/07/13 8:58am
Let's be honest, there haven't been too many songs written about cricket down the years.
'Dreadlock Holiday' by 10cc features the famous refrain "I don't like cricket, no no, I love it."; The Who's 'I'm A Boy' talks of a young lad, Bill, who "wants to play cricket on the green"; The Kinks released a song called 'Cricket' on the 1973 album 'Preservation Act 1'.
What else? Impressionist Rory Bremner had a comedy hit with a cover of Paul Hardcastle's '19' in the 1990s, cult indie band Half Man Half Biscuit wrote a song about Fred Titmus.... after that it's a bit of a struggle.
But in 2009, Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy and fellow musician Thomas Walsh from Pugwash took the music/cricket crossover to a new level when they teamed up to form 'The Duckworth Lewis Method'.
The name - taken from the formula used to set revised targets in weather-hit one-day games - immediately suggested they were genuine cricket fans and the album went on to be nominated for a prized Ivor Novello Award.
On July 1st - again, just in time for a hotly anticipated Ashes series - Walsh (Duckworth) and Hannon (Lewis) have released a second album devoted to cricket, 'Sticky Wickets'.
Featuring a whole host of celebrity guests, including Sky Sports' very own David Lloyd, cricket fans will once more lap up this articulate and witty celebration of the game in which any ideas of novelty nonsense are clean bowled by quality song-writing.
We caught up with Neil and Thomas to discuss the album and all things cricket.
Sky Sports: Congratulations on another great album. The world is full of football songs but cricket lovers have been rather starved.
Neil: I think we've definitely doubled or trebled the amount of cricket songs in the world.
Sky Sports: That said, there are bands who love cricket, most famously The Rolling Stones. Have you ever seen Mick, or Bill or Charlie at a cricket match?
Thomas: Yes. Charlie Watts once said being in The Stones is like being in a five-day Test because it's so long and there's such huge gaps with nothing happening.
Sky Sports: There's a very famous shot of the Rolling Stones playing cricket, taken during the Beggars Banquet photo-shoot in Derbyshire. It's quite a weird picture. What do you think's going on? Has Brian Jones been bowled behind his legs? Has he hit a six? Are there two balls in play? It's a bit Alice in Wonderland.
Thomas: Well Brian Jones just looks like Botham did in '81 - bags under his eyes. It goes back to the psychedelic English thing. Cricket lends itself to that era, '68, '69, when Beggars Banquet was. It's just got great imagery. The mannerisms, the clothing, the ideals, the LSD influence. And Alice in Wonderland was very big around that time with The Beatles as well as The Stones and Ray Davies.
Sky Sports: If you had to pick between The Beatles and The Stones would you choose the fact that The Stones like cricket as a tie-break decider.
Thomas: That's a good question, because the Beatles were never really a sporty band.
Neil: Did any of The Beatles do any sport at all?
Thomas: George was a huge Formula 1 fan.
Sky Sports: There's an Italian 7" with Paul McCartney on the front supposedly playing golf but it looks more like a forward defensive cricket shot than a golf shot.
Thomas: There is! Yes, it looks like he's doing a bit of both but cricket wouldn't have made it to Italy.
Sky Sports: Okay, let's go forward a bit in time to Half Man Half Biscuit who had a cult indie song called 'F***** **ll it's Fred Titmus'. Theirs is more outright comedy but are you fans?
Neil: I don't have a clue about Half Man Half Biscuit.
Thomas: They did a song 'All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit'. And they also came up with the greatest song title ever - 'Trouble Over Bridgewater'.
Neil: Oh, yeah, that's fantastic. That is wonderful.
Sky Sports: When and how did you guys get into cricket?
Thomas: 1981. It was to do with Headingley, to do with Ian Botham and to do with Bob Willis especially. Anyone who had a 'fro around that time was always good for me as I'm a huge Jeff Lynne fan, still am. He just had a wonderful bowling style. I always loved the way his run-up curled into straightness. I always loved the behind the back swinging. The thing nowadays is not to see the ball because the batsman might see which way it's going to go but there's no way you could have seen it with Bob Willis.
Neil: He was a bit of a whirling dervish when he put his foot down. There were just limbs everywhere. Anyway, eight years later, in 1989, a small boy from Fermanagh leaves school and has nothing to do. And that's pretty much why I came to cricket, Test cricket especially as you could do nothing for even longer. So it was kind of my wilderness years where I really got into cricket. Before I was just an indie-spindie, anti-sport teenager. I've made up for lost time over the last 20 years.
Sky Sports: If your entry was 1989 that came at a time when England were getting hammered by Australia and would do so for many years afterwards.
Neil: Yes, I started watching the moment England really couldn't play for sh*t! But it was fun to watch Robin Smith rolling his eyes, it was kind of the Gower-Atherton handover period. (Aussie skipper) Mark Taylor was asked during the 1989 Ashes which one of the England players he'd have in his team and he said well I'd have Gough as 12th man just to have around the backroom for a bit of a laugh.
Sky Sports: Do you play cricket yourselves?
Neil: I've been playing the last few years with The Theatrical Cavaliers who are a bunch of actors from Dublin and, my god, it's quite tiring isn't it! Between the wickets... it's quite a long way!
Sky Sports: When you go to the cricket, what sort of spectators are you? Do you have a sing-song with the Barmy Army or would you rather sit quietly and record dot balls?
Neil: Thankfully we get stuck in posh seats with people who blag us in. We're watchers. We're not singers. Let's face it, the reason why we made a cricket album in the first place was to get into the cricket and it worked a treat.
Sky Sports: Turning to the new album, the first thing that strikes you is the cover! Tell us about that.
Neil: Well, it's 1975, Lord's and, no, it's not Matt Berry from the IT crowd although it has his figure. But it's just such a rock 'n' roll pose. It's just utterly wonderful and slightly vulgar. It's perfect.
Thomas: If you outlined it and put it on a t-shirt it would look like Pete Townshend. It could be any iconic rock pose really.
Sky Sports: Going through the song titles, 'Boom Boom Afridi' is a personal favourite. Sky Sports' David Lloyd appears on that one. Did you get to speak to 'Bumble' as he's a big music fan?
Neil: Sadly, no, as he was in New Zealand at the time. We're hoping to bump into him this summer. He just read it into his machine and e-mailed it back. It worked perfectly.
Sky Sports: He loves The Fall and The Inspiral Carpets.
Neil: He has fantastic taste. One of the funniest things I've ever heard was him trying to explain to Mike Atherton who Joy Division were. It was just genius. He's such a character, he's the funniest man and he's just as willing to talk about gardening and allotments as he is about Peter Hook, or cricket for that matter.
Sky Sports: In 'It's Just Not Cricket' you've got Henry Blofeld. Did he actually call either of you 'my dear old thing' at any point?
Thomas: He did, several times! Everyone loved him. He was bang on time, he looked majestic in these lovely soft slippers. There's not an ounce of difference between what you know Henry Blofeld to be and what he is. He's very rock 'n' roll, he really knows his way around a mic. He's a star.
Neil: Once we'd managed to explain what the hell we were on about he really went with it, 15 minutes free-forming into the mic.
Sky Sports: On 'Third Man' you've got Daniel Radcliffe. How did Harry Potter get to be involved?
Neil: He's a Divine Comedy fan. He's been to a couple of my shows, for his sins. And he likes cricket as well so it kind of all came together. He talked our hind legs off when he came into the studio.
Sky Sports: Is 'Line And Length' a bit of a nod to 80s hit '19'?
Neil: Yes, Paul Hardcastle, definitely. He's in there along with the Art Of Noise, Scritti Politti. They're just 80s classics.
Thomas: Honestly, I love that kind of 80s music. I grew up with it, I know it back to front. To be honest with you, Neil and I would never do a track like that in our day jobs.
Sky Sports: On 'The Laughing Cavalier' there are overtones of 'Autumn Almanac' by the Kinks. Is the whole album maybe in that style... Ray Davies, storytelling, characters etc.
Neil: I think the first record was maybe a bit more Kinksian.
Thomas: Obviously, Neil is a huge Kinks fan and Ray Davies is such an influence on me. His writing would lend itself to this as let's face it 'Village Green Preservation Society' could be a cricket record. But as for this album, 'The Umpire' was certainly a great melody that leant itself to some Kinksian lyrics.
Sky Sports: On 'Judd's Paradox' you've got Stephen Fry doing a voiceover. How exciting was that, getting him on board?
Neil: Pant-wettingly exciting. It was astonishing really. We'd got this song together but didn't really have a vocal tune so I was just speaking the lyrics on the verses. Then Thomas said to me 'why don't we get Stephen Fry to say it instead of you because you're crap.' I said he'd never do it in a million years but we went through the wonderful Phill Jupitus, a mutual friend, and he came!
Thomas: Stephen tweeted about the first album. Neil's not in that Twitter world but I saw it when it happened and it produced an amazing response. We were blown away that he did that.
Neil: He was saying he hasn't got a rhythmic bone in his body but he can certainly find the rhythm in a line.
Sky Sports: On 'Nudging and Nurdling' there are lots of guest vocalists. Can you let us know a few.
Neil: Basically on the last track we thought we'd sweep up all the rest of the celebs we'd forgotten about.
Thomas: I became a big fan of The Peep Show in the last six months, watched the boxsets and really fell in love with Isy Suttie who plays David Mitchell's girlfriend. I saw her on Twitter and she came back to me and said she loved Duckworth Lewis and Pugwash so I invited her to come on the new album and she did. I got Neil Finn (Crowded House), Dermot O'Leary's on there, comedians David O'Doherty and Chris Addison...
Neil: I got Carl Barat (Libertines), Alexander Armstrong and two legends of music in David Hepworth and Mark Ellen.
Sky Sports: To finish off, who is your favourite cricketer, past or present?
Neil: I'm going to go for Adam Gilchrist. He had a phenomenal record, he was utterly solid behind the wicket but he was also just the most exciting batsman I think I've ever watched. Sadly, Australian, but there you go.
Thomas: I've watched a lot of Viv Richards on YouTube lately and he's just mind-blowing. I saw Chris Gayle in the nets at The Oval recently and I've never seen anybody hit the ball so hard in my life. But for the impact they made on my childhood it's between Botham and Willis but I'll go for Bob Willis. He looked like a maniac running in with the ball.
Sky Sports: If you had walk-on music when you came out to bat, what would it be?
Thomas: I'd go for 'The Shoemaker Of Leatherwear Square' by The Lemon Pipers (60s psychedelic pop band from the US).
Neil: I'd go for 'The Man With A Harmonica' by Ennio Morricone (song is used in Once 'Upon A Time In The West'). Just because it has the most spectacular build in musical history.
Thomas: You've only get 30 seconds to walk to the crease!
Neil: I'd walk really slowly! The song also has that feeling of impending doom so that would work.
Sky Sports: Finally, a correct scoreline prediction for the Ashes series.
Thomas: 3-1 England
Neil: 3-0 England. I don't see Australia winning a single match. I don't care how good the new coach is, to change your coach just two weeks before the first Test just shows what a mess they're in.
The interview is over but as I sign off, Neil and Thomas are still postulating about what could happen this summer....
Thomas: Then again, what happens if Anderson goes over on his ankle in the first Test? There are certain key players for England that they need to have.
Neil: Anderson is a key player but England have a lot of depth in their bowling, much more so than Australia so I still don't see how that would turn the series.
And so they go on. Two obsessed cricket fans intrigued and excited about the summer ahead.
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