Evening Standard: Pop And Cricket? A Perfect Match

A 2009 interview with Neil and Thomas from the Evening Standard.

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Neil Hannon and Thomas Walsh love the sport so much they’ve made an album about it.

Rick Pearson bowls them some googlies.

I’m standing in my whites at Lord’s. In my hands is a cricket bat and behind me, lurking in the slips, musicians Neil Hannon and Thomas Walsh are looking for an outside edge.

I’m here to interview them about their maiden album as The Duckworth Lewis Method, a 12-track tribute to all things cricket — and it just wouldn’t be right if we didn’t have a knock-up beforehand.

As cricketers, Hannon (38 not out) and Walsh (39 not out) won’t be giving the England selectors any sleepless nights, and not just because the duo are actually Irish.

As songwriters, they score higher, however. From first delivery to final over, their album is an affectionate tribute to the gentlemen’s game, taking in calypso, gentle strings and vaudevillian singalongs.

It’s a novelty, to be sure, but a pretty funny one, with a gentle nostalgia for a bygone age of village greens that only non-Englishmen can really get away with.

Hannon, who is known for the records he makes as Divine Comedy, has a history of this kind of thing.

In 1999, he reached Number 8 in the UK Singles Chart with a song about the National Express.

Yet both he and Walsh — who plays in the band Pugwash — seem genuinely surprised with the level of interest in their latest project.

It seems there is a hitherto untapped market for whimsical cricket-based pop.

“We’re huge cricket fans,” explains Hannon, who’s sporting a Merv Hughes-inspired moustache for our interview.

“And no one’s really made the link between pop music and cricket before.”

That’s not totally true, of course. Who could forget Roy Harper’s When An Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease, or 10CC’s Dreadlock Holiday?

These clearly weren’t enough for Walsh, who, speaking through the kind of beard that would have made Victorian cricketing legend WG Grace blush, can barely contain his evangelism for the sport.

He riffs excitedly on the Seventies fast bowler Bob Willis (“an idol of mine”) and David Gower (“the Chris Gayle of England, because he always looked like he didn’t give a shit”).

This childlike enthusiasm for the game and its characters informs much of the album (the very name Duckworth Lewis Method alludes to a convoluted scoring system too complicated to explain).

The track Meeting Mr Miandad is a light-hearted singalong about travelling to see Pakistan batsman Javed Miandad in a VW campervan, while The Nightwatchman pays mournful tribute to the art of batting as the sun goes down. OK, it won’t knock everyone’s bails off but, as a soundtrack to the upcoming Ashes tour, it’s pitched perfectly.

Indeed, Ashes legend Shane Warne is the subject of one of the album’s highlights.

Jiggery Pokery (featuring guest vocals from Phill Jupitus) describes Warne’s dismissal of Mike Gatting in the 1993 Ashes with “the ball of the century”.

Sung from the perspective of a bewildered Gatting, it harrumphs: “It was jiggery pokery, trickery jokery, how did he open me up? Robbery, muggery, Aussie skulduggery, out for a buggering duck.”

It should go without saying that, as arch-nostalgists for the game, Hannon and Walsh are looking forward to the longueurs of five-day Test cricket that the Ashes will bring, after the smash-bang thrills of the recent Twenty20 World Cup.

Though they are Irishmen, they claim they are England fans “all the way”. “And I think they’ve got a really good chance this time,” says Walsh. “But the Aussies do make great villains,” adds Hannon.

It is clear, however, that they fear the gentle game they pay tribute to is being destroyed by the thirst for money and quick thrills.

“Test cricket is cricket,” says Hannon. “It’s the way you get the proper result.

There’s enough time for the subtleties of the game to come out — the defence as much as the attack.

Some people say Test cricket is boring because they happen to catch a couple of hours where somebody is just mindlessly blocking the ball, but that’s all part of it. It’s like War and Peace: there are some very boring bits, but it’s worth it in the end.”

Walsh fears for the future of the long-form game. “I think the rise of Twenty20 is a threat to it,” he says.

“If you’re getting force-fed Twenty20 all the time, you’re going to find it hard to get people going to five-day Tests on a regular basis.”

As we say our goodbyes, I bowl Hannon a googly, asking him about the parallels between pop and cricket.

For a moment, he’s foxed. “I guess you could compare Twenty20 cricket to Barbie Girl and Test cricket to the Ring cycle,” he says at length.

“But I think the only real marriage between cricket and pop music is with Kevin Pietersen and that bird from Liberty X!”

And with that majestic cover drive, he sends me chuckling back to the pavilion.

The Duckworth Lewis Method (Divine Comedy) is out on 6 July.

A SPORTING PLAYLIST

ATHLETICS: Stars Of Track And Field by Belle & Sebastian.

A bittersweet tale of an adolescence spent “throwing discus for Liverpool and Widnes”.

CRICKET: Victory Test Match by Lord Beginner.

Delightful calypso describing the West Indies’ improbable series win against the English.

FOOTBALL: The Man Don’t Give A F**k by Super Furry Animals.

Dedicated to hard drinking Reading player Robin Friday, who once defecated in Mark Lawrenson’s kit bag.

GOLF: Straight Down The Middle by Bing Crosby.

Bing tries to convince himself “the life of a golfer is not all gloom” in a tale of wantaway ball.

CYCLING: Tour de France by Kraftwerk.

Ideal Kraftwerk subject matter: a serene synthesis of man and machine.

BOXING: Hurricane by Bob Dylan.

More about a miscarriage of justice than the noble art, but the tale of wrongly imprisoned middleweight Rubin “Hurricane” Carter packs a mean punch.

BASEBALL: Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball by Buddy Johnson & His Orchestra.

Bob Dylan devoted a whole Theme Time Radio Hour to baseball - this is the jaunty highlight.

WRESTLING: The Wrestler by Bruce Springsteen.

From the recent Mickey Rourke film - a poignant tribute to a broken star.

Richard Godwin.

Evening Standard - Rick Pearson and Richard Godwin.