The Tribune: Wicket Ways

A 2009 article featuring Neil and Thomas from The Tribune.

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Neil Hannon and Thomas Walsh,the Duckworth-Lewis Method, tell Ger Siggins why their new album of tunes inspired by cricket is anything but batty.

The Duckworth Lewis Method:

1. An ingenious system of finely calculating a target score for the team batting second when a cricket match is interrupted by rain.

2. An ingenious pop group whose finely crafted songs provide glorious entertainment when a cricket match is interrupted by rain.

Of course, if you don’t ‘get’ cricket, then The Duckworth-Lewis Method is probably just a silly side project by two musicians who’d be better off concentrating on what they do rather well in their day jobs. But, just like the sport, the DLM is worth the effort.

Their new album, The Age of Revolution [sic], is launched this week on the outfield at The Oval, one of English cricket’s iconic grounds. But DLM are not two twits from Berkshire, but two red-blooded Irishmen whose passion for the game shines through every line of their songs.

The pair in question – Neil Hannon, of The Divine Comedy and Thomas Walsh, of Pugwash – are utterly delighted with the reaction to their record so far. Like the time last month when they were invited to Lord’s ground in London, think Croke Park, Christ Church Cathedral and the National Museum rolled into one, for a dinner in its holy of holies, the Long Room.

There were 20 people around the table, including composer Tim Rice, comedian Frank Skinner, Oscar-winning scriptwriter Ronald Harwood, Bank of England governor Mervyn King and former England captain Mike Atherton. “It was fascinating to hear them talk about the game, and after a while we chipped in too,” said Walsh.

The pair discovered their shared interest when they met at comedy writer Graham Linehan’s wedding. “I got into cricket when I was 18,” says Hannon. “At school I wasn’t into sports at all – I used to spend lunchtimes in the music hut. But in the years before the world discovered my talents I got into cricket. It was a great way to spend days and days.”

Thomas Walsh grew up in Crumlin, Dublin and fell in love with this strange sport when he was given a plastic bat and ball set as a child. “I got really into it and started watching it on telly, Ian Botham was the man at the time.”

But surely, for hip young musos, sport was a lowly activity to be derided, “Well, it was in the ‘80s”, said Hannon. “But then Oasis and the Manchester bands started name-checking football. I suppose none of the musicians I know are into sport.”

The pals cross swords when Hannon tries to deconstruct the famous Bill Shankly aphorism ‘Football’s not a matter of life and death – it’s more important than that’. “Of course he was wrong”, says Hannon. “It’s not life and death. It’s just a game.”

Walsh, a Liverpool fan, takes this personally and rebukes the Manchester United-supporting Hannon. “I don’t hate Liverpool”, says Hannon, “that whole Liverpool/Leeds and Man United/Leeds thing is born out of traditional antagonisms in the north of England that I know nothing about. I can’t stand that tribalism.”

A lack of tribalism is part of what endears cricket to Hannon. “I love the way an English crowd will clap a great shot, even if it’s hit by an Australian. That’s really nice.

“I love sport, the day Ireland won the Grand Slam was the best day of my life…” he continues, before rapidly correcting himself, “sorry, the second, after the birth of my daughter. Sport allows us to talk crap to each other.”

Walsh and Hannon had been writing songs together before they hit on what became the DLM. “We started writing cricket songs just trying to outdo each other,” says Walsh. “We would both bring bits of stuff and eventually we had an album. ‘Test Match Special’, ‘Sweet Spot’ and ‘Age of Revolution’ were fully-formed demos when Neil brought them in. Then I had ‘Mason on the Boundary’, ‘Flatten the Hay’ and ‘Gentlemen and Players’. I was delighted the way ‘Gentlemen’ turned out.”

The Age of Revolution is an oddly timeless collection of songs, evocative English pastoral pop of a type mastered by XTC and Ray Davies. For DLM’s love is for the international game, not having sampled the ever-improving Ireland team just yet. The Belfast cricket venue Stormont is name-checked in the title track, and the pair vow to attend the Ireland v England game there at the end of August.

They’ve lined up a couple of live outings, including Electric Picnic, but then it’s back to their main work, which for Hannon is a new album he recorded before The Age of Revolution. “I thought I had finished it but when I listened to it recently, I realised it needs a bit more work. It will be out in early 2010.” Walsh is looking forward to a compilation taken from the four Pugwash albums, due out in the autumn.

The two are delighted to hear that BBC Radio FiveLive is planning to use ‘The Age of Revolution’ as the theme for its new Ashes chat show. Indeed, several of the songs have a chance of becoming the backdrop for the game on TV for years to come. “We’re not proud” says Walsh, “we’re happy to be the Mobys of the cricket world!”

Cricketers, like other sportsmen, tend towards the Phil Collins/Coldplay school of music appreciation, and the pair ribbed their Lord’s dinner companion Graeme Swann for his love of the Charlatans. Walsh pays due respect to former Ireland bowler Dave Langford-Smith for his cutting-edge listening, while Ed Joyce stands out among his Irish former team-mates as a fan of the Mars Volta and Keane.

The D-LM album makes its bow this week on the eve of cricket’s most anticipated series in years, the Ashes clash between England and Australia, which starts on Wednesday. Was the timing deliberate? “God no, it was just a happy accident,” says Hannon. “If we’d really got our act together, it would have been out for the World Twenty20 when even more people would have been tuning in.”

When England and Australia fetch up at Cardiff for the first test, the pair will be rooting for the home team. “We’re England followers rather than England supporters”, says Hannon, as Walsh tries one last time to explain why he loves the game: “Hurling has its wonderful charms, but it’s a little too tribal for me. A bit too much like the coconut and the plank… cricket is the same test of strength and power but it has far deeper subtleties. And it is the subtleties that make it great.”

“It’s an art form”, nods Hannon.

Willow warbling: Top 10 songs about cricket

1. ‘When an Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease’
One can imagine old folkie Roy Harper’s wistful ballad being played as Geoff Boycott’s coffin is lowered beneath the soil of Yorkshire

2. ‘F**kin’ Hell It’s Fred Titmus’
Half Man Half Biscuit’s ode to meeting the England and Middlesex all-rounder

3. ‘A Lover Sings’
“There is no real substitute for a ball struck squarely and firmly”, sang Billy Bragg

4. ‘Howzat!’
Fizzy Australian pop from mid ‘70s band Sherbet

5. ‘Dreadlock Holiday’
“I don’t like cricket, oh no, I love it” sang 10cc over some risible reggae

6. ‘The Captains and the Kings’
Brendan Behan’s anti-imperialist ballad begins with a metaphor about stumps being drawn

7. ‘Rally Round the West Indies’
The nearest the Caribbean has to an anthem, courtesy Dave Rudder

8. ‘Again and Again’
Paean to village cricket by Roots Manuva

9. ‘Victory Test Match’
The 1950 calypso by Lord Beginner commemorates ‘cricket, lovely cricket’ and two West Indian spinners

10. ‘Mr Carbohydrate’
Manic Street Preachers namecheck Welsh star Matthew Maynard.

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