Independent: Live At The Oval 2009
A review of The Duckworth Lewis Method's 2009 show at The Oval.
The Duckworth Lewis Method, The Oval, London
4 Out Of 5 Stars
A batty testing of pop’s boundaries
To celebrate the launch of their spiffing new cricket-themed album, Duckworth and Lewis – aka Thomas Walsh of Irish harmony-popsters Pugwash, and Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy, respectively – have picked the perfect spot to play themselves in, up in the England Suite of the Oval.
Unfortunately, they’ve also picked the most imperfect time: this being not just Ashes week, but the height of the English summer, a torrential downpour has not unpredictably laid waste to both the London transport system and the Oval pitch, large swathes of which lie hidden under tarpaulins glistening with lakes of water.
Up in the England Suite, however, drinks have been called for and consumed, and The Duckworth Lewis Method are ready to open their innings. They’ve clearly called on the spirit of W G Grace for inspiration: beards are in plentiful supply onstage, and Duckworth boasts the manly physique required to wield a three-pound Kookaburra like a toothpick. Lewis, meanwhile, is seated at the piano in a stripey blazer, with a floppy white sun-hat that speaks volumes about his optimistic outlook. “Might have a knock-about later,” he muses, gazing phlegmatically at the sodden pitch. Some chance.
The band play their album in running-order, a swift coin toss heralding “The Age of Revolution”, their droll but funky analysis of the sweeping changes being wrought in cricket by the combination of Indian money and the short-over game. “Always denied entry by the English gentry,” sings Lewis, “now we’re driving Bentleys, playing 20/20” – an observation that casts a modern shadow over the following “Gentlemen and Players”, a wistful account of the game’s early years stuffed with historical facts and amusing vignettes, such as 19th-century batsman Fuller Pilch’s top hat being dislodged and knocking off his bails.
Prior to “The Sweet Spot”, Lewis’ introduction “This is a song about cricket” receives a sardonic, “Yeah, right!” by way of response from his partner. And well it might, the chunky glam-rock stomp clearly having less to do with sporting endeavours than the kind of – forgive me, ladies – sexual behaviour that real gentlemen would never dream of broaching in mixed company. Obviously, these chaps are no gentlemen. Probably professional players if you ask me, though Lewis does display a certain air of breeding whilst relating “Jiggery Pokery” at the fortepiano, a jocular account of the young Shane Warne’s impact upon the 1993 Ashes series; indeed, he even has the good grace to apologise to poor Mike Gatting, hapless butt of the song, at its conclusion.
“Mason on the Boundary”, a depiction of a daydreaming outfielder, is about as perfect as pop gets, its wry, literate lyric blessed with a beautifully upholstered arrangement, right down to the chipper whistling that accompanies the middle-eight commentary by actor Matt Berry, best known as the sex-obsessed boss of TV’s The IT Crowd. “Meeting Mr Miandad” offers even more perfect pop, in a chirpy Beatles/ELO vein, before the haunting ballad “The Nightwatchman” locates the shared anxieties of the devoted suitor and the out-gunned bowler prematurely promoted up the batting order.
“Flatten the Hay” is yet another gorgeous slice of sun-dappled summery pop, with waltzing harpsichord attending the portrayal of holidays when every day “would bring a new crease to discover”. Then the rugged “Test Match Special” and cascading vocal lines of “The End of the Over” bring the set to a close, with the band swiftly returning for encores of Pugwash’s “It’s Nice to Be Nice”, The Divine Comedy’s “National Express”, and finally a dash through TV cricket theme “Soul Limbo” that leaves appetites whetted for the next day’s first ball. How’s that?
The Independent - Andy Gill