The Scotsman: It’s Not Just Cricket
A 2009 interview with Neil and Thomas from The Scotsman.
FROM being the “least necessary album of recent years,” two cricket fans’ love letter to the gentleman’s game suddenly looks set to become one of the sounds of the summer.
Taking their name from the formula for deciding rain-interrupted one-day matches, The Duckworth Lewis Method’s eponymous debut album is the maiden delivery from Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy and Thomas Walsh of Pugwash.
Songs include the romping Test Match Special and the broodingly orchestral The Nightwatchman. Jiggery Pokery, meanwhile, is a Noël Cowardesque account of Mike Gatting facing the “ball of the century” at the 1993 Ashes – it features comedians Phill Jupitus, Alexander Armstrong and Matt Berry booming “baboon, baboon, baboon” and culminates in a cry of “I hate Shane Warne!”
Released two days before this year’s Ashes, The Duckworth Lewis Method is a suitably eclectic, eccentric overview of the game, hailed as “magnificent” by cricket lover Stephen Fry.
“I’m flabbergasted by all the interest frankly,” concedes Hannon. “I guess we just hit on an idea that tickles people. It tickled us so why shouldn’t it tickle others? We were basically noodling about, thinking we’d put it out as a novelty download, but one thing led to another and here we are.”
Notwithstanding Rory Bremner charting as The Commentators in 1985 with N-n-nineteen or the appropriation of Booker T and the MGs Soul Limbo for the BBC’s cricket coverage, Duckworth (Walsh) and Lewis (Hannon) are pioneers in their field. And they reckon they’re onto a winner.
“I remember brainstorming in the pub. And after about four pints of Guinness I had my notebook full of phrases and names,” Hannon laughs. “Certain ones were so resonant that they naturally suggested a style and subject.”
“Cricket’s so steeped in brilliant stories and historical characters,” concurs Walsh. “But the only track where we really allowed ourselves to raid Wisden (Cricketers’ Almanac) was Gentlemen and Players. We’d read about Fuller Pilch playing in his top hat and thought ‘what a great name! We’ll have that falling off and hitting the bails!’”
Hannon and Walsh found working on cricket-related music to be a liberating experience.
“Because we hadn’t expected anyone to be remotely interested, we let ourselves off the leash,” says Hannon. “It’s a lot freer than either of our records would be independently of this. I’d probably never write something like The Age of Revolution or The Sweet Spot on one of my own albums.”
Indeed, The Sweet Spot is unapologetically sexual in its appreciation of a well-judged shot and as Hannon observes, “for quite a few songs, cricket was simply the jumping off point and we took them wherever they wanted to go. We didn’t only want cricket fans listening to it because that would be dull. It’s a good record regardless of the subject matter. You can just laugh at the idiocy and whistle along to the immensely catchy tunes.”
The pair first met at Father Ted creator Graham Linehan’s wedding, discovering a mutual, unfashionable fondness for symphonic rockers ELO , whose influence can be found in the album’s artwork and a hidden backwards track. In 2006, Walsh asked Hannon to contribute to a Christmas charity record but it was only a chance remark while driving that alerted him to his companion’s other abiding passion.
Hannon’s interest in cricket had developed as a bored teenager, “lingering like a ghost in my parents’ house, waiting for my music career to start”. But for Walsh it was a childhood obsession – “the rules, the minutiae of the game” – and he recalls “painting stumps on the walls in our working-class street, the ball bouncing ridiculously high and low off the concrete.”
Flatten the Hay captures his idyllic memories of the fields around Wexford – “you’d hit the ball and spend three hours trying to find the f***ing thing”. He reckons a big part of the album’s appeal is that this most English of pastimes is being extolled by “two Irish geezers and that’s not right. But they actually sound pretty good and that’s not right either.”
Hannon is eager to stress that media interest doesn’t necessarily translate into record sales but he’s already postponed his release of the new Divine Comedy album, while Walsh is thrilled that the buzz coincides with a UK release of Pugwash’s back catalogue.
Never intending to perform live, Walsh admits the pair “are scared shitless” about appearing at the Latitude Festival as a five-piece this summer, auxiliary members of The Divine Comedy and Pugwash having been hastily summoned from the pavilion.
“I can play live at the drop of a hat and so can Neil, anywhere, anytime,” he maintains. “But we literally only spent six hours recording the album and there was never any rehearsal for live stuff.”
Hannon claims that “at most, we thought we’d get to see some cricket and meet a few of our heroes.” He was therefore audibly, childishly delighted to be invited into the Test Match Special commentary box at The Oval recently, acknowledging that “we’re already there on the blag front. Long may it continue!”
Moreover, so committed is he to the cause that he will retain his luxuriant Victorian mutton chops “until the end of the Duckworth Lewis innings. I was a bit nervous, not about the media attention or anything but more about going down my local Spar. They paid me about as much attention as usual though, nothing. There are a lot of lunatics around.”
“My beard’s out of control,” says Walsh of his enormous, WG Grace effort. “We’re very excited about the facial fuzz, but we’ve made some appearances in cricketing whites and it was a bit silly, it detracts from our pride in the record. The beards are fine but I don’t want to be walking out at the Latitude Festival in pads. I’d be worried they’ll throw cricket balls at us.”
• The Duckworth Lewis Method’s first single, Age of Revolution, is released on 28 June.
The Scotsman - Jay Richardson