Named after a highly complex score calculator for rain-shortened One Day cricket matches, the idea of Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy and Thomas Walsh of Pugwash writing a concept album about cricket is a little surreal. Nevertheless they have done so, and they speak to DiS about how they met, Mike Gatting and their hopes and predictions for the upcoming Ashes series.
DiS: So, I guess the obvious thing to ask is where on earth did the idea come from? It seems a bit odd, an Irishman and an Ulsterman writing about cricket...
Neil Hannon: It all springs from meeting Thomas – we met first at Graham Linehan's wedding, he was playing there and I borrowed his guitar. Later on he persuaded me to sing on a charity single he was doing, a Christmas song called 'Tinsel & Marzipan'. On the way down to the studio I heard cricket results on the radio and said “could you turn that up?” and, to my surprise, he was equally interested in the results. Which is unusual for a large West Dublin man from Crumlin. You just don't expect it really.
Thomas Walsh: It was great to find out we had this one love of 70s hairy pop and cricket. And the rest is history as they say...
DiS: And then from there...?
NH: We started writing songs together to try make some money, to sell them to people but nobody wanted them so we thought “let's just write songs about cricket, it'll be much more fun.” It was never really meant to be a big thing it just kind of gathered momentum as it went along and we realised “this is sounding pretty bloody good” y'know? And so instead of sticking it on the internet with no hullaballoo it kind of grew and suddenly it's like...everybody wants to talk about it, which is very surprising to us...because it _is_ silly.
DiS: Sport is one area which isn't really explored too much in music, aside from the odd Half Man Half Biscuit song or whatever. Do you think it's neglected?
NH: It's funny, somehow the two things are very difficult to marry up successfully, the mentality of the sportsman seems to be the antithesis of the artistic mind. They have to be incredibly single minded and not be able to think creatively to be able to do all that stupid exercise. In a way there'll be plenty of books and films about various sports because there is high drama in it, but cricket has had so little music written about it, it's insane, but we're not claiming that this is a terrible sin that has to be righted...it gives us a little niche, though.
DiS: Where did you both get into cricket? Again, though Ireland now have a reasonably decent side, it doesn't seem like the most obvious of past times...
NH: I ignored sport entirely when I was a teenager because I was too into music. It was only when I left school in my wilderness years just hanging out in my parents' attic for about three years I looked for anything which would fill up the time – there's nothing better for filling up the time than test cricket, really. And I thought that any sport that went on for all day for five days, I mean, what could be better? So that, and very long Eastern European movies was what I did for those years. I miss those days! The irony being of course that I've been so busy promoting this record that I haven't had a chance to watch any cricket!
TW: It was a cancer to even mention the word cricket back in the day, nobody played it...it wasn't pushed in any kind of way. It was a very upper class game, there was a couple of teams and some nice grounds around. We drew cricket stumps on our wall outside our house in the working class area of Dublin. We played in the street, we had kids coming from all over to play the game. I got into it about 80, 81 obviously the classic Botham Ashes. Bob Willis is my hero, people like that y'know? I just latched onto it because, to be honest with you, I was never a fan of being told what to like or what to do really as kid.
I liked the game, thought “who cares” – cricket stimulated my head as a kid more than anything else and I loved that.
DiS: Hopefully it'll get people in the mood for it, then?
NH: I hope so.
DiS: How did the songwriting process develop with the both of you?
NH: The nice thing about it was, because we thought nobody would be interested we kind of let ourselves off the leash a little bit and there's quite a few songs that neither of us would have written individually. 'The Age of Revolution' is kind of out of my remit. 'Jiggery Pokery' is pure Noel Coward and I fear going down that road by myself because I think I couldn't do it too well and feared I'd become a cabaret act. But I love 'The Sweet Spot', it just totally rocks, and I never would allow myself to be that cool.
TW: I had a hell of a time on this record because I normally do a lot of stuff on my own, I take on a lot of the parts and I'm not a huge multi instrumentalist because Neil is a brilliant, almost classically trained piano player. I sort of just plug away at my stuff and it gives it its own charm. It was great because it was a completely 50-50 project and it was wonderful to be able to say “you have that”...to be honest with you, studios aren't normally a place of immense fun, but with this record it was, we looked forward to it every day.
DiS: It's definitely got a nice summery feel...
NH: Yes, it is the sound of The Summer 2009
DiS: How much of a struggle was it for lyrics? 'Jiggery Pokery' is a pretty in depth cataloguing and commentary of Mike Gatting's thoughts before and after the delivery of the 'ball of the century', isn't it?
NH: I just kinda went for it. The funny thing was that it only took two hours to write. It's almost easier, the more second-by-second you move it. That is the most extreme, ultra-cricket song. They vary from that to absolutely probably nothing to do with cricket. Just taking an idea like 'The Sweet Spot' and running with it. 'The Nightwatchman' is half about that situation and half about an obsessive stalker type love-song. It drifts about all over the place but we didn't want it to be so...anal, statistically cricket orientated and try and name drop but it'd be so dull for anyone who didn't like cricket, y'know? We really just took it off as a jumping off point for a lot of the songs.
DiS: Have you heard from Mike Gatting at all? Do you know if he's heard the song?
NH: I know of people who know him and say they were going to play it to him, so I'm a bit scared. It's a bit rude, but sincere form of flattery. And he does get to hurl abuse at Shane Warne at the end.
DiS: How much work did you do together before evolving into The Duckworth Lewis Method?
NH: We spent a year of doing songs together. I moved to Dublin about six years ago and I guess we'd known each other for most of that time, four or five years.
DiS: Was there anyone else involved in the making of the record, or was it mainly you two?
TW: Matt Berry sings on 'Mason On The Boundary' - at Graham's Wedding I met Simon Pegg and Kevin Eldon – a real good friend of mine and Paul Putner who was in Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle. I knew all these guys for a long time and they were fans of Pugwash and they still are. For 'Mason On The Boundary' and the middle bit was great but I thought we could get some to narrate a Richard Burton-esque twang – I mentioned it in the studio and Neil said “I know Matt Berry...” he literally rang him up from the studio and said “I'd be honoured” because Matt's a big Neil fan...
NH: Apart from that we played nearly everything ourselves. All of a sudden we're getting gigs and we really didn't ever thing we were going to play live so we're trying to put a band together pretty sharpish.
DiS: That man has a great voice...
TW: Exactly, when he's there talking you think “shit, that's him..” and it's a very distinctive voice. He's a brilliant instrumentalist and writer, too...
DiS: So have you got a tour lined up yet, or is it just the odd gig here and there, at the moment?
NH: It's just odds and sods. We're booked for Latitude, I think we might be doing Electric Picnic over here which'll be a laugh. And we have our launch gig at The Oval...
DiS: When's the launch gig, then?!
NH: We're still trying to pin down the actual date so I can't tell you that.
TW: To be honest with you, we're scared shitless of the live work because we never planned to do any! It's all been done on the hoof, as we go along because once we got the offers we just rang each other and went “we're gonna have to start rehearsing”, as I said earlier we didn't spend 3 weeks rehearsing these tracks and go and do them in the studio. We actually went in with ¾ finished demos and just finished it all in the studio.
DiS: It'd make some great lunchtime entertainment at a test match...
NH: Well hopefully – we're ready: weddings, bar mitzvahs, Ashes, we'll play it. Anything to be able to go and see cricket. The primary aim was to have lots of links and meet our heroes.
DiS: You did a Black Cab Session recently, how did that go?
TW: It went around...in circles. It was really fun. I knew about the Black Cab Sessions because I've got a lot of friends in the Brian Wilson band in LA and I've had a lot of the guys playing on my Pugwash stuff. So I knew about it, and when we were mastering the album in Abbey Road we got a call to do a Black Cab Session and it was fantastic...they were lovely guys. Poor Neil had to sit beside me in the fecking cab, I could hardly get into the cab with the shagging guitar.
DiS: There's been a fair amount of interest from the press, how much has it surprised you? It seems pretty crazy at the moment for you guys...
TW: It's knocked us for six! I mean we just so didn't think...I know Neil has a respected and well-known status, especially in England. We're proud of the record and thought “it's a good record, if it gets latched onto by a couple of cricketing people then great...” but it's gone mental. We hope it goes a lot more mental! So far it's been fantastic, like we've had Stephen Fry Twittering about it to the masses, he loves it and thinks its magnificent. Things like that are coming in every day and we're hugely honoured by it.
NH: We never expected half of it. All the broadsheets seem to be lapping it up.
DiS: How is the stuff with the Divine Comedy going Neil, is the new record still on for release this year?
NH: Yeah, but Duckworth Lewis might have to take precedence now that it's so big. It's mostly recorded, but now that I've left it for four months I feel that I might need to re-record half of it so...that's what time does. I've also been working on a musical for what seems like forever, really, for the national theatre in London.
And finally...your predictions for The Ashes.
NH: I'm totally convinced that England are going to win the Ashes, and I don't see any reason for them not to. I'm not normally inhabiting the “England are gonna win everything” zone, but Australia look deflated and weak at the moment. They've got one really good bowler and the batting is distinctly average, Hussey's a great player and Ponting will always get a century here and there but apart from that...whereas England if they can just put their minds to it and not freak themselves out our spook themselves then I think they can do it, yeah!
TW: I gave a prediction a week ago which I'm sticking with...2-1 to England. I think the weather will play a part somewhere and I think Ponting – if ever there's a good chance to get him it's now, he's probably not on his game with Symonds getting sent home and everything. Whether KP and Freddie are fit I'd be confident because there's some great players in the England side. Hopefully that middle-order collapse doesn't come back to haunt England, but I predict 2-1 to England.
The Duckworth Lewis Method's self-titled debut record is out on July 6. The Ashes are currently under way, with England 1-0 up after two tests.