It is generally accepted that as a music journalist your primary responsibility is to your reader, then to yourself, and then to the artist.
Your primary responsibility is to your reader.
I’m therefore going to hope against hope that whoever you are reading this piece, you’re a 'cricket tragic' on the same level as me, The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon and Pugwash’s Thomas Walsh – the latter two making up cricket-themed, ELO-loving Irish duo The Duckworth Lewis Method. In light of their much-acclaimed second album Sticky Wickets, DiS had a lengthy chat with the band during the lunch break on day two of the second Ashes Test of 2013. We mentioned the album a couple of times, but you’re warned that all three of us were more than happy to indulge our passion for the best sport on Earth...
DiS The first single from the album is ‘It’s Just Not Cricket’, so I guess we should start with the Stuart Broad incident [After clearly edging a ball to slip in the first Test at Trent Bridge, England’s Stuart Broad refused to walk and was bizarrely given not out by the umpire. Debate raged about the “spirit of cricket”, as Broad continued to put on valuable runs that would eventually prove key to a narrow England win]. What’s your take on it?
Neil Hannon On whether he should have walked off? Absolutely not! When was the last time an Australian walked off?
DiS I think it must have been Adam Gilchrist?
NH Exactly. It’s laudable but to be honest it’s not up to Broad. It was slightly embarrassing because it wasn’t even an edge, he hit the leather off the thing, but if the umpire’s bloody blind then why should he walk?!
Thomas Walsh Personally I think it was embarrassing. There are certain aspects of the game that are becoming worrying, like checking for the no-ball every time someone’s out is weird...
NH The funny thing about the no-ball is that they can’t do it quicker.
TW I mean I’m all for embracing technology but it’s going a bit overboard now. The Stuart Broad incident though I think was embarrassing for the game because he clearly hit the ball and he should have walked off. But to have the balls [to stay in the middle], it’s like going on a blind date with someone who clearly hates you and just staying out all night.
DiS The look of innocence on his face was incredible.
TW Yeah. What was your opinion?
DiS I think it would have been nice if he’d walked, and I think it’d be nice if everyone walked. But then I think it’s a bit naïve to expect that now, or to even hope for it.
NH Yep I think in such a competitive event it is. We would have respected him had he walked off but then I respected the decision not to.
TW I wouldn’t even have considered respecting the guy for walking off, I thought it was so obviously out so he would just go off. I’m glad he stayed out there though because he got a few more runs.
DiS Well without those we wouldn’t have won the Test.
TW I don’t think anyone walks anymore because they check everything [In the second Test at Lord’s England’s Johnny Bairstow was given a reprieve when he was clean bowled off a no-ball from Peter Siddle and continued to make an important 67]. We are a bit “old-school” when it comes to being sporting, but I think he should have just walked.
DiS Do you feel that there is still a “spirit of cricket”? Was there ever one, or is it just a nebulous concept that probably went out the game with W.G. Grace?
NH Like anything the spirit of cricket is not carved in stone, it’s evolved through history. The game is a very, very old game and every new generation has changed it a little bit. Obviously it’s changed quite radically in the past 20-30 years but I think what’s good about the game still remains.
DiS Is that not what ‘It’s Just Not Cricket’ is about? The slipping morality of the game?
NH No that’s about everything apart from cricket really!
TW It’s just using the term and applying it to other things.
NH It mentions Pussy Riot...
TW Lance Armstrong...
NH American foreign policy, the banking crisis. Everything apart from cricket really!
DiS You’ve kind of answered one of my other questions there about a few songs, such as ‘Judd’s Paradox’ and ‘The Umpire’ seeming a bit more thematically universal than simply being about cricket.
NH Definitely ‘The Umpire’, which owes a lot to referees in other sports as well, but it’ll hopefully work for most people...
TW In terms of the chorus – “Who would aspire to be an umpire? – it’s about an umpire and who would be a referee, so it covers all bases.
NH That’s the modern problem. The person who’s trying to deliberate in the middle tends to get it in the neck from all sides and that’s part of the game.
DiS As an aside from that, what’s your take on the DRS [umpire’s Decision Review System]? Does it need changing?
TW I thought they were an excellent boogie-woogie band from the Deep South of America. No wait, that’s VCR. No I think it’s great, I do like DRS. Aside from the Broad incident where he was clearly out there’s something inside you that says “I’m not leaving this” and the stubbornness that makes you think “I’m not leaving here” is a bit worrying for me. So DRS, I like it.
NH The question about DRS in that regard is how far it goes. Surely the match referee or the third umpire could have gone “Oh no hang on, he was out, can you make him go away?”
TW But they hadn’t got any reviews left, that was why they couldn’t refer it.
DiS So you think it should belong to the on-field umpires rather than the players?
NH No I think it should stay pretty much the way it is. They were talking about lowering the number of reviews you’re allowed, which to my mind is kinda ridiculous.
TW It’s funny, they’ve been doing it in the Premier League for years and no one’s said anything about it. You are basically telling the referee on the pitch that something is wrong through an earpiece, and that hasn’t been embraced yet in football, they try and pretend it doesn’t happen. Somebody is looking at what happens on the pitch and they’re talking to the referee through an earpiece and it’s almost like they’re hiding that! Cricket is an antiquated game and a lot of people are embracing technology.
NH It’s quite strange the way football seems to be quite conservative.
DiS You released the album around the time the ICC Champions’ Trophy was taking place, with a number of rain-affected matches having targets revised through the Duckworth Lewis Method. You couldn’t have timed that better could you?!
NH Ha! Well as long as cricket is played our name keeps getting mentioned quite a lot!
TW It’s like if we’d called ourselves “The Weather Forecasters” our name would be on telly every day!
NH People aren’t going to go “Oh it’s that band The Weather Forecasters. It only really worked because people know who we are in the first place.
TW We do have a bit of a chuckle every time it’s used because it’s become close to our hearts after two albums; we only thought we’d ever make one.
DiS I noticed that when they were off for rain during the Champions Trophy final they published a link on The Guardian’s over-by-over blog to a review of the new album.
NH When I’m on tour I tend to follow their over-by-over, blow-by-blow accounts. It’s a lot of fun because the guys seem to think there’s nobody really reading them so they say whatever the hell they like!
DiS In light of the first six or so days of this Ashes series how do you see the series going? Have your expectations changed since the start of the series?
NH I’m sticking to my initial forecast. Thomas?
TW I think Neil’s sticking to it but he’s a little worried because [the first Test] was so close!
NH I said 3-0.
TW I said 3-1, I think they’ll [Australia] win a Test.
DiS I said 3-0 but I’m a little concerned over the way this one is going [England had been bowled out for a below-par 361 and Australia looked well-set when we spoke at lunch, only to quickly collapse to 128 all out and suffer a heavy defeat].
TW They’re looking good!
NH England are always saved by their superior bowling attack. Australia’s bowling has been better than I expected...
TW It has but even so it’s only been solid: good line, good length. But they shouldn’t be doing that well, I mean that day Siddle got a five-fer he should never have got three of them wickets.
NH The English batting at the top of the order doesn’t seem to be getting stuck in.
TW Well KP [Kevin Pietersen] is still a worry isn’t he?
NH The fact that you can always rely on Anderson to offer that bit extra over anybody else...
TW He’s the star, and then Graeme Swann’s a great spinner.
NH The other bowlers for England are brilliant but Anderson’s probably the best bowler in the world. There’s him and Dale Steyn.
DiS Do you have any concerns over England’s batting?
TW I think Pietersen’s a worry, I don’t think he’s ready to get back into Test cricket.
DiS He got a 50 in the last one [and got a hundred in the next at Old Trafford].
NH Joe Root’s got great potential but hasn’t put in a knock yet [Root got 180 in the next innings].
TW You’ve got to give him a chance. Pietersen’s not on it though.
DiS You’ve said before that you’d never really planned to make a second DLM album. How did this one come about? Whose idea was it initially?
NH It was mutual; we just sort of looked at each other one day and went “Shall we make another one? Yeahhh.”
DiS I did enjoy the joke in the press release about thinking it would be 20 years before anyone wanted to hear a second DLM album, but you applied Duckworth Lewis to that and revised it to four...
NH Oh yes that was Thomas’s joke.
TW That wasn’t a bad little quote by me! Even when it comes to press releases we try and entertain. There’s a lot of stock stuff thrown out there.
NH With a lot of press releases you think “what the hell are they on about?” With press releases we tend to read over them and edit... a lot.
DiS Jokes about no one wanting to hear anything from you for 20 years aside, did you find there was much public demand for a follow-up?
TW I think Neil released Bang Goes the Knighthood, the Divine Comedy album after the first Duckworth Lewis and he was getting asked loads of questions about us, and I had a Pugwash album out [2011’s The Olympus Sound] and I was getting loads of them. So I think it did get into the psyche of the journalists and the press.
NH With most of the records we make, the people who like them really bloody like them! We may both be niche acts, but the fans are very, very, very enthusiastic. So we did know pretty much straight away that if we made another one then people would listen to it.
TW We still had to write it...
NH We had to write it and it had to be good, because you can’t get away with it the second time.
DiS Being Irish, people might be surprised that cricket is your passion – things are different now but when you were growing up Ireland didn’t have much of a team – how did you become such passionate fans?
TW Well football, cricket, golf: I’m a fan of most sports, but I saw Ian Botham playing and I thought that this was a very exciting sport, because obviously he was very exciting to watch. It was very simple for me, I didn’t think of any of the political overtones or of any history at all, I just thought this was a great sport. My Dad got me a cheap little cricket set in Cleary’s department store in Dublin and I brought that with me on my holidays. We’d sit in a field, baton down our own little crease and we’d have our own little game. We were just kids so we’d run after everything all day and that was all we did. I loved the game because I got into it very early on, it got stuck in my head.
DiS What are your thoughts on how Ireland should take the next step forward? They’re doing really well on the ODI circuit at the moment but are they ready for Test status yet?
TW Well they should hide all the good players because you [England] take them!
DiS It must be frustrating to see the likes of Eoin Morgan, Boyd Rankin, and earlier Ed Joyce being poached by England?
NH Oh God are they after Rankin? He’s a good bowler.
DiS He played in the warm-up match.
NH It’s a little disturbing, I just want to say “hands off!” This current Ireland team doesn’t have the players who are going to get them Test status. It’s about how much you can develop the grass roots cricket in Ireland itself. The only way we’re ever going to field a proper team with a proper following is by investing in people coming to the game and enjoying themselves.
TW We’re good enough to be a Test side but I don’t think we’re going to get there.
NH I can’t see it myself.
DiS I always thought it’d be a good idea for touring sides to play four day games against Ireland rather than playing the likes of Worcestershire and Somerset all the time.
NH Or if Ireland took part in County Cricket.
TW That’s a bit like if Celtic and Rangers were to play in the Premier League though isn’t it?
NH A little bit but you know. You’ve already got the Irish provinces in rugby playing in [The Rabo Pro12 Celtic/Italian league] and stuff like that. It’s just a way to really build the game and build the experience of the players. It’s very difficult though, I wouldn’t like to be in charge.
DiS You said recently that cricket is the sport of rock & roll. Would you agree that there’s a greater link between rock music and cricket than with any other sport? There’s that great story about how Devon Malcolm inspired Hugh Cornwell to leave The Stranglers.
DiS recants the story mentioned in our review of the new album, in which Cornwell recalled that seeing hapless tail ender Malcolm hit a ball for six to relieve pressure built up by the Indian bowlers inspired him to move on to life without the rest of the band.
TW Yep that’s a true story. I did a few gigs with Hugh Cornwell back in the day and he’s an incredibly funny, weird man. I interviewed JJ Burnel as well, and that was even weirder! I did a radio show in Ireland a few years ago and I got some good interviews, but I think that’s the most rock & roll story I know about cricket. Also people like Jagger and Clapton, they’re rock legends and they’re fans. You’ve got them and then you’ve got us, which kind of levels it all out.
The thing is cricketers are pretty cool. If you’ve met Michael Atherton, which I’m sure you have at some stage [I never have], I think he could be the next James Bond, he’s an amazingly, incredibly cool guy.
NH Lovely fellow, very erudite. But he doesn’t like music.
TW No he doesn’t.
NH It’s the weirdest statement I think I’ve ever heard from anyone about anything.
TW Recently I think he might have started to come around.
NH No I think he doesn’t mind us because we’re funny. But he Doesn’t. Like. Music.
DiS Was that it? Just that blanket statement?
TW He just came out and said it to us.
NH What were we talking about again?
TW Rock & roll.
NH Frankly rock & roll is the rock & roll of rock & roll and cricket is the cricket of cricket.
TW You’ve turned into Jesus.
NH What I mean by that is things being called the rock & roll whatever, it’s all media bollocks. It’s just, cricket is fucking great and it’s worth writing songs about.
DiS What is it about the game that inspires such great writing? John Arlott and Harold Pinter both wrote poetry about the game, Roy Harper wrote ‘When an Old Batsman Leaves the Crease’. I thought ‘Jiggery Pokery’ deserved an Ivor Novello too!
NH Thank you. Cricket is the most beautiful game to watch. It has a poetry about it.
TW It’s all about weather as well, and where you play, the village green, people with silly clothes and hats and wearing silly hats. It’s an experience.
NH That’s right, there’s so much to it. It’s less brutal than a lot of other games. Football is so tribal; you could never write music about it because you know you’d have somebody throwing a brick through your window if you said the wrong thing. And golf’s so boring.
TW For me all sports are valid for entertaining or for making people feel the same way. But for us as songwriters cricket is an inspiration because of its elaborate foundations. So many things are going on in the game.
DiS Did Mike Gatting ever say anything about ‘Jiggery Pokery’? Or even Shane Warne?
NH We’ve never met Mike Gatting, although I think we might be.
TW It’s funny, he’s happy to get ribbed about it by Shane Warne and other people every day of the week, but when it came to commenting on the song he never did. Even when he was asked straight out about it by Michael Vaughan on the radio he just didn’t answer.
NH [Vaughan] said “It must be good to have a song written about you?” and he veered away and talked about another subject completely, so who knows?
TW I think what’s offensive to him in his head is the cheese roll remark [the song includes Graham Gooch’s famous quote about the rotund Gatting: “If it had been a cheese roll it would never have got past him”].
NH It’s a little bit of a shame because Gatting was a fantastic batsman but it seems more and more that he’s known as the batsman who was bowled by Shane Warne with The Ball of the Century and that may be getting to him a little bit.
TW There’s that and he’s also known as the man who shoved his finger in the umpire’s face , and the man who got hit by Malcolm Marshall in the face and was then asked where did it hit him ? So he’s been unlucky three times.
DiS Similarly did you ever get to meet Javed Miandad [subject of the first album song ‘Meeting Mr. Miandad’]?
NH Nooooo. We’ve done alright, we’ve got to meet a lot of players and a lot of commentators. There’s a lot of cricketers in the world...
TW But unless they visit the UK we’re not going to meet them really. We haven’t ventured any further than the UK and Ireland with the project. We know we have a lot of fans in India and Pakistan, and a lot of people through YouTube have put up lovely messages from Pakistan. They’ve probably heard it, so let’s hope that Boom Boom [Shahid Afridi, subject of the Sticky Wickets song ‘Boom Boom Afridi’] does more things like he did recently where he got 50-odd runs in about seven balls. That was incredible.
DiS Why did you choose Afridi as the subject for a song?
NH Because he’s a great player and because Bumble [David Lloyd, who provides vocals on the song] is my favourite commentator. David Lloyd came up with that phrase; in fact for the lyrics I pretty much ripped off everything David Lloyd has ever said! We had to get him on the track.
TW That’s not a sample either, that’s him actually doing it for us.
DiS There are some guest stars on the album your probably wouldn’t expect to hear on a pop record: Stephen Fry, Daniel Radcliffe, Henry Blofeld and Bumble. How did these collaborations come about?
TW It’s in keeping with the eclectic nature of the whole sport really. You’re not expecting to hear Stephen, and we had a lot of trouble getting through to him, but we did in the end and he was brilliant. He was so cool and Neil was very nervous. It was a great day when we met him. He’s an incredibly big, intimidating man in a nice way and so cool and professional.
DiS Was there anyone who was particularly fun to work with?
NH That has to be Blowers [Test Match Special’s eccentric commentator Henry Blofeld, best known for his musings on busses and pigeons on air, and guest vocalist on ‘It’s Just Not Cricket’]. Henry Blofeld’s amazing, he kind of padded into the studio in his slippers; when he finally worked out we weren’t mad punks who were going to kill him he kind of free-formed for about ten minutes into the microphone.
DiS The live performance on Test Match Special last week was amazing.
Neil lets out a high pitched cackle as Thomas is talking.
TW He got a little bit of stage fright but he did very well in the end.
DiS He looked quite nervous on the video.
TW He was! I kept poking him with my elbow whilst I was playing the guitar to tell him “This is where you come in” and he just kept going [adopts perfect, flustered Henry Blofeld voice] “I just don’t... It’s just not... My dear old thing!” Very funny man.
DiS That’s uncanny. I was quite disappointed as Jonathan Agnew said he was going to be rapping and I’m not sure that’s quite what it was.
NH That’s probably the most rock & roll thing Jonathan Agnew’s ever said. I think that says a lot more about Aggers than it does about Blowers.
DiS I’ve met Jonathan Agnew before and he loves Elton John.
NH Does he?! I don’t know, I’ve warmed to Aggers in a way. He was very scary the first time we were on and was slightly accusatory, like “What do you, Irish people think you’re doing, but the second time he was lovely.
DiS Second day of the first Test you were being interviewed by Aggers at lunchtime, now here we are at lunch on the second day of the second Test and you’ve got me, it must be quite a comedown!
TW Ah come on now, don’t be like that! You’re all the same to us.
NH We give 110% on every interview. It’s the same amount of bollocks for everyone.
TW We gave 111% to Aggers actually, you just missed out. Funnily enough with TMS it’s so difficult because it’s a tiny little room. I’m barrelling in there, Neil had a little keyboard, Blowers is trying to get a mic to his mouth and then of course we had Billy the trumpet player [Billy Cooper, the official trumpeter with England’s travelling band of fans The Barmy Army, who caused a stir when he revealed that he hadn’t been allowed to play at the first Test on account of Trent Bridge’s inflexible ground rules].
DiS You managed to get him into Trent Bridge, well done!
TW *We* got him in, playing trumpet at Trent Bridge, yes! He might as well have been walking around with a surface-to-air missile given some of the people’s reactions when he had it, it was ridiculous. He got embarrassed at the end when even [England wicketkeeper] Matt Prior mentioned that “[The win] would have been much better had we had the trumpeter playing.” He was embarrassed that he didn’t want to go on talking about it so people were talking about it on his behalf. To me he’s just a wonderful musician though.
DiS Tell me about the music that inspires you. You probably hear it a lot, but I’m guessing there’s a lot of ELO in there?
TW Well there’s a lot of ELO for a reason: it was a shared love of ELO and cricket that started the project. We nearly got Jeff Lynne – Jeff Lynne has been communicative with me over the past couple of years, he sent me a letter from LA saying how much he liked Pugwash and that he really loved the cricket album. He then sent me another one about my last album, which he said lovely things about. I was blown away by that, it’s something that I’ll happily take down to my grave. Those letters will be buried with me.
NH Buried with my Jeff Lynne letters? He really likes Jeff Lynne! I was always a big ELO fan but I’m not an obsessive collector like Thomas.
TW No but we don’t sit down either and go “Let’s recreate ELO.” We stick to what we love.
NH You just need to listen to the records to know that that’s an element but it’s just one of many. In the Venn Diagram of our tastes there is a large crossover, mainly from about 1977 to 1982.
DiS I get the feeling that these influences are similar to those when Thomas is writing songs for Pugwash, more so than when Neil is writing The Divine Comedy’s?
NH No that’s not really the case. I guess both of us to a degree were bringing influences on the Duckworth Lewis Method that we wouldn’t use on our own records.
TW There’s definitely stuff we don’t do, but what you might see – that might back up your theory a bit – is that the first record was very much under the Pugwash umbrella because it was done with the crew of people I’d worked with for about ten years and it was done at home in the same studio where I’d just done an album. [Sticky Wickets] though was wonderfully organic in a way, with people in the band who were in The Divine Comedy and some from Pugwash. So it was a real organic amalgamation of the two and that’s why it doesn’t really sound like any of us on this one.
NH ‘Age of Revolution’ on the first album has an almost West Indian dance feel to it.
TW You can’t dance to a Pugwash record.
NH You waddle to it. And you very rarely dance to The Divine Comedy as well.
DiS I think I’ve danced to The Divine Comedy before...
NH Well you probably have more than I have anyway.
DiS There was also ‘Line and Length’, which had a kind of 1980s techno feel to it.
NH Well we have a thing for ‘80s dance. I’m a massive fan of various synth pop, The Human League and what have you.
TW I do love my synth pop. Neil is probably more absorbed in it but I do love it. OMD and the like.
NH The fear is that we’d get a Scritti Politti angle to it.
TW ‘Line and Length’ was quite fun because we’d never done anything like it before and Neil had this idea of “Line, and length, line, and length”... if you look at the Wikipedia entry for “Line and Length” it’s been rewritten with “shoulda, woulda, coulda” in there [sadly the lyric has now been removed].
I can give you an exclusive Dan: that lyric is me quoting Judge Judy. I love watching it and when it was on I kept singing [adopts falsetto] “Shoulda woulda couldaaa”...
NH I took issue with it at the time. I left it on because it’s kinda funky.
DiS The other song I wanted to ask you about is probably my favourite song on Sticky Wickets, ‘Third Man’. You sing about a hapless fielder being put out to pasture there but in the modern game it’s quite a busy area. Is the cricket you write about from a nostalgic bygone era?
TW Well it was a big field placing back in the day but it’s got less...
NH The reason is that third man is more about saving runs and field placings have got more aggressive with the advent of Twenty20 and all of that so you don’t find many third men. It’s a place that I would usually be put when playing cricket. Because I can’t play cricket.
TW It’s weird. Why has that field placing become unfashionable?
NH Because it’s behind the slips...
DiS I’m not sure about that. In T20 especially you tend to get a lot of late cuts, scoops, ramp shots, lots of aerial shots down that way these days.
TW Then shouldn’t it be a fairly strong field placement?
DiS That’s what I thought?
NH But it’s just like closing gates after the horses have bolted, because as soon as you put third man in they’ll be aiming it somewhere else where there isn’t a fielder.
TW Why would they have horses on the cricket field?
NH Yeah... moving on!