The Guardian: Hits For Six
The Guardian's take on Cricket Pop and the debut album.
Neil Hannon’s new album celebrates cricket’s ‘beautiful silliness’. It’s about time the sport got its musical due, writes Anthony Bateman
There are changes afoot in the world of cricket this summer. The World Twenty20 series is already under way, while next month sees the release of The Duckworth Lewis Method, a pop album about cricket written by Neil Hannon of the Divine Comedy with Thomas Walsh. Together they have produced what they describe as “possibly the least necessary album of recent years ... a kaleidoscopic musical adventure through the beautiful and rather silly world of cricket”.
It promises to be fun: new tracks include Test Match Special, Meeting Mr Miandad (about the former Pakistan captain, Javed) and The Nightwatchman, an ode to England’s demure pace bowler, James Anderson. The lyrics of Jiggery Pokery celebrate the famous moment in 1993 when Shane Warne’s “ball of the century” bamboozled a corpulent Mike Gatting: “How such a ball could be bowled I don’t know,/ But, if you ask me,/ If it had been a cheese roll it would never have got past me.”
While football has inspired countless hit singles, cricket and pop are stranger bedfellows. Cricket, after all, is a pastoral game that evokes the tranquil landscapes of village green and meadow, whether it is played at Lord’s, in Melbourne or Mumbai; its measured ritualism sits less well with the breathless modernity of pop. You could say that a Test Match has the dramatic sweep of Wagner. But cricket and pop? It just doesn’t seem, well, cricket.
At any rate, this is what some of cricket’s most influential myth-makers would have us believe. Neville Cardus, cricket correspondent of this newspaper for many years, used to lace his copy with allusions to classical music, and once wrote that his boyhood batting idol, Reggie Spooner, “taught me to love cricket much as I love Mozart”. The cerebral former England captain Mike Brearley hummed Beethoven to himself when batting against Australia - in particular, a cello passage from the Rasumovsky quartets. (He was once greeted by a banner in Melbourne that read: World’s Greatest Whinger JM Brearley - Classical Music Lover.)
In fact, there is a long if largely undistinguished tradition of cricket-related pop. A song called Our Don Bradman sold 40,000 copies in Australia in the 1930s, at the height of the Depression. Bradman himself was a proficient pianist, and he wrote the music for a hit song called Every Day Is a Rainbow Day for Me (which, when he batted against England, it usually was). More recently, the fast bowler Brett Lee recorded You’re the One for Me with Bollywood singer Asha Bhosle: the song reached No 2 in the Indian charts.
The imperial reach of cricket has produced its most interesting musical results. While West Indian cricketers such as Learie Constantine and Gary Sobers refashioned the game with their innovative styles of play, Calypsonians such as Lord Beginner improvised songs in which cricket was celebrated as part of the popular consciousness - even as a form of resistance to empire. In 1950, when the West Indies won their first Test series in England, Beginner’s song Victory Test Match praised “those two little pals of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine”: the pair’s spin bowling had wrought havoc on the English batsmen.
The BBC has made Booker T and the MGs’ Soul Limbo synonymous with the sport, but perhaps the most famous cricket song of all is 10cc’s reggae-inspired Dreadlock Holiday (“I don’t like cricket/ Oh no, I love it”). Sky used the song for its coverage of the 2007 World Cup, overlooking the fact that it is actually about a tourist being mugged.
The English cricket song has tended to be more conservative, though it went briefly psychedelic in 1973 with the Kinks’ Cricket. Another 1970s classic, Roy Harper’s When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease, was a somewhat mawkish dedication to cricketers John Snow and Geoff Boycott, with brass-band accompaniment and sentimental lyrics. Still, it had its influential fans: John Peel wanted An Old Cricketer played on air after his death, while Tony Blackburn described it as “the pop song of the 70s”.
The Duckworth Lewis Method’s more irreverent angle probably gets nearer the stumps. Cricket is, after all, a faintly ridiculous game - something Hannon and Walsh have captured perfectly. While their claim that “few have attempted to encapsulate the king of sports in song” is not entirely true, they appear to be right about one thing: it does seem to be “the first Irish concept album about cricket”. It’s almost as bold a departure as holding an Ashes match in Wales.
• The first Ashes Test begins at Cardiff on 8 July and The Duckworth Lewis Method is released on 6 July
The Guardian - Anthony Bateman