All Out Cricket: The Duckworth Lewis Method
A track-by-track chat with Neil and Thomas about their latest long player "Sticky Wickets"
Heard the one about the two Irish musicians who wrote an album about cricket? Turns out it all went awfully well and they were nominated for an Ivor Novello. Fresh from completing their follow-up, the boys tell AOC what to expect from the new one.
A songwriting award was probably the last thing The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon and Thomas Walsh of Pugwash were thinking about when they formed The Duckworth Lewis Method in 2009, but after the resounding success of their eponymous debut, followed by recognition from the Ivor Novello panel, the boys are back with album No.2, Sticky Wickets.
Released in June, the new LP features turns from the likes of Stephen Fry and Daniel Radcliffe to Henry Blofeld and Bumble, and contains songs such as Boom Boom Afridi and Nudging and Nurdling.
On the origins of the band, Hannon says: “We were going down to record a charity single that Thomas was doing and something about cricket came on the news. It was an England score, which was crazy, as you never hear anything about cricket on Irish radio or TV. I asked them to turn it up, despite the fact that none of them would care. Thomas then said ‘Of course I bloody care, I love cricket!’”
The two were planning on writing songs for mainstream acts such as Tom Jones but instead found themselves using the work for cricket. “There were so many things that didn’t happen,” explains Hannon. “In the end, we just got pissed and the conversation turned to cricket. We thought it would be the craziest idea ever to write an entire album about cricket. So we did!
“When you make something like that, it’s a paradox. You think, ‘This is the greatest thing that’s ever been done and it will sell three million records’ and, at the same time, you’re thinking ‘We’ll be lucky if we even get to release it!’ We got somewhere in between, happily.
“There had to be a follow-up to the first album,” adds Walsh. “We had fun writing together and we can’t really write with other people. We have a good laugh together; there’s something there…”
TRACK 1: STICKY WICKETS
Thomas Walsh: We came up with the concept of a heavy Stones/Who riff . Then, of course, [Stones album] Sticky Fingers came up and from that came Sticky Wickets.
Neil Hannon: Sticky Wickets was just an excuse for me to go heavy…
TW: We were so close to having Mick Jagger on it, too.
NH: In the sense that we asked him and he said no.
TW: I almost like him more for not wanting to do it.
Best Lyric: “It’s no good/Play it on the back foot/Wait for it, wait for it”
TRACK 2: BOOM BOOM AFRIDI
NH: Rather than an ode to Afridi, it’s an ode to David Lloyd, who appears on it. I’ve always loved Bumble’s commentary. It goes a bit psychedelic in the middle and he goes quite distorted.
TW: Cricket’s rock’n’roll. Let’s face it, the greatest rockers of all time loved the game: Clapton, Harrison, Lynne, Jagger and… John Major.
Best Lyric: “If you want to flash, flash hard/If you want to touch, the stars”
TRACK 3: IT’S JUST NOT CRICKET
NH: This song is like a pretty, summery Britpop song. It’s the first single.
TW: We got a Pussy Riot reference in there: “Vlad the Impaler is taking off his shirt/To wrestle with the Riot girls down in the dirt.” We can do politics!
NH: It has a wonderful cameo appearance by Henry Blofeld. He came into the studio in his slippers. When we told him what we wanted, he just ran with it and did 15 minutes of freestyle.
Best Lyric: “Bend over bank man and take one for the team/A billion dollar bonus and a handshake from the queen/It’s not right, it’s not cricket”
TRACK 4: THE UMPIRE
NH: Lyrically, this song has a lot to do with all referees in all sports, as they get a bum rap; we wouldn’t be able to play or watch these sports if there wasn’t anybody to referee or umpire them.
TW: We took a very man-on-the-street approach. A guy, persistently down, having to go to his job where he’s hated and he ends up not liking the thing he used to love.
NH: A very Reggie Perrin vibe.
Best lyric: “There was a time when we were held high/But now they’ve got technology/Replaying every scene to prove we are of no further use/Sport is just a computer game”
TRACK 5: THIRD MAN
TW: It’s incredibly jolly and poppy. Oh, and Harry Potter’s on it! He’s Daniel Radcliffe so can do anything he wants; he offered his time, came along and was such a lovely guy.
NH: He talked our ear off…
TW: Third Man is about the movie with Orson Welles. The idea was that third man is a position where not a lot can happen. We thought this person could be stood on the boundary all day daydreaming about actually being The Third Man.
Best Lyric: “To lessen my depression/I spend session after session/In the decadent decoration of a dream”
TRACK 6: CHIN MUSIC
TW: I bought a harmony guitar, which is four strings, and tried out a silly melody. I played it to Neil, and he really liked it.
NH: We called it Chin Music, although apparently that original term is from baseball.
TW: It’s a music reference, too, which we never thought of utilising. We didn’t think we’d have a lot of lyrics about chin music, so we decided to do an instrumental.
TRACK 7: OUT IN THE MIDDLE
NH: You’ve got no one else but yourself to blame when you’re in the middle. Nobody’s going to help you. I also managed to squeeze in a reference to one of my most hated things, which is when people blame God for their success. Leave him out of it; why are you more special than the next bloke?
TW: All aspects of the game need to be right when you’re out in the middle. It’s good it comes after Chin Music, which is about psyching players out, and this song is about having mental strength.
Best Lyric: “You could have money and fame/You could have crowds calling out your name/But you’ve got only yourself to blame out in the middle”
TRACK 8: LINE AND LENGTH
TW: This is the curveball of the album.
NH: I was watching the cricket and Geoffrey Boycott was criticising Stuart Broad’s bowling. He kept saying “line’n’length”, which sounded fantastic. The song is basically 80s Art Of Noise; a crazy hodgepodge of samples.
TW: There has to be the track on the album that people aren’t going to take to straight away, as it makes it even better when they come to love it.
NH: We didn’t work very hard on the lyrics; they’re just copied down from Google! They’re basically the explanation of line and length.
Best Lyric: “Gotta get the ball/Where it oughta be/In the corridor of uncertainty”
TRACK 9: THE LAUGHING CAVALIERS
NH: It’s an ode to my Taverners side that I play for. It’s a bunch of actors that kindly invited us along and I occasionally put the pads on to make a tit of myself. It’s basically a drinking song for cricket clubs.
TW: It has a Yellow Submarine quality to it.
Best Lyric: “Everything is better when we’re getting wetter/Propping up the bar/Pouring Guinness down our sweater”
TRACK 10: JUDD’S PARADOX
NH: There’s a film called Another Country, which explores spies. There was one scene where they were watching people play cricket, which is such a paradox as cricket is everything they despise about England and imperialism. I thought it was pretty cool, so nicked it. I wrote those lyrics at the end of the 90s.I suggested we got Stephen Fry to say the words. We had a good laugh, thinking it was never going to happen, and then he said yes!
Best Lyric: “The bourgeoisie bat/The proletariat toil in the field all day/I should be incensed by what it represents/Yet it’s a damn good game”
TRACK 11: MYSTERY MAN
TW: We just wanted to put every single delivery into one song! “Doosra, Slider/I just can’t decipher.” We somehow got every ball on that track. It has Matt Berry in it, giving the credits of the album as a scorecard on the outro, while we play ska-style music.
Best Lyric: “Wrist spin?/Off spin?/ Leg spin?/Shake it all about spin?/In swinger?/Out swinger?/What’s it gunna be, uh-huh?”
TRACK 12: NUDGING AND NURDLING
TW: It just keeps going on and on, with a succession of people saying “Nudging” and “Nurdling.”
NH: It could have gone on forever, really!
TW: There’s 35 people saying it, varying from Joe Elliot from Def Leppard to Alexander Armstrong. Basically, we called in every favour we could for this album, just because we could. We didn’t do it for any wrong reasons, we did it because it was fun and it sounded good.
Best lyric: “We don’t want to be superstars/’Cos that’s not who we are”
Sticky Wickets is out now on Divine Comedy Records Ltd
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