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Andrew Miller and Martin Williamson take a look at cricket's contribution to the world of music
July 18, 2006
Sport and music are not necessarily happy bedfellows, and even in that restricted field, cricket barely fights its corner. We look at the best - or worst, depending on your viewpoint - cricket-linked songs. As ever, feel free to send us your alternative nominations
C'mon Aussie C'mon Mojo Singers
This was the tune that launched World Series Cricket in 1977 and was a commercial and public masterpiece, hummed by children across Australia, not least because of Channel 9's virtual saturation airing of the advertisement. Blatant marketing of this kind had never been tried before, and the official Australian Cricket Board product looked old and stale by comparison. Over the next three seasons the lyrics were tweaked to reflect the different tourists, including some dodgy Caribbean accents in 1978-79. The song was given a new life when reality TV show winner Shannon Noll re-recorded it in 2004, with Dennis Lillee and Len Pascoe, the original stars, replaced by more modern players. Pigeon's pounding down like a machine / Dizzy's scarin' batsmen - lookin' mean.
Victory Test Match Lord Beginner
In the immediate post-war period calypso spread from its Caribbean base round the world, and in Europe its popularity was largely as a result of the arrival of immigrants from the West Indies into the UK. Among the first to land in 1948 were calypso legends Lord Beginner and Lord Kitchener, and both were present at Lord's in 1950 when West Indies thrashed England at Lord's. A small band of supporters sang and danced their way round the outfield and all the way down to Piccadilly, and a few days later this tune, most famous for its opening line - Cricket, lovely cricket - and chorus - With those two pals of mine / Ramadin and Valentine was released. The song celebrated more than a win - it was, so wrote CLR James, the moment that the shackles of colonialism were broken.
The Sinking Ship Gypsy
This is a tune likely to make even the unflappable David Gower, England's captain on the 1985-86 Caribbean tour, grimace. For England, the series was a catalogue of disasters on the pitch, only overshadowed by the myriad of rumour, speculation and allegations stirred up by a large contingent from the tabloid press off it. The Sinking Ship was a tune popular in Trinidad at the time - it was actually the story of the island's decline following the death of Eric Williams, its Prime Minister until 1981 - but the lyrics seemed apt for Gower, and it became an unofficial backdrop to the series, played with glee whenever England were in trouble ... as they almost always were. Captain, the ship is sinking / Captain, the seas are rough / Shall we abandon ship? / Or shall we stay on it / And perish slow? / We don't know / Captain you tell me what to do.
Our Don Bradman Jack O'Hagan
The gramophone may have been in its infancy, but cashing in on public figures had already been identified as a potential cash cow. Inspired by the success of Bradman in England in 1930, Jack O'Hagan, who was a big name at the time, let rip with this little ditty which included possibly the worst rhyming couplet in the history of the world. Our Don Bradman / Now I ask you is he any good? / Our Don Bradman / As a batsman he is certainly plum pud. Christmas turkey might be more apt.
Ashes 71 England squad
Inspired by the success of the 1970 England World Cup squad's No. 1 Back Home, Brian Johnston and Reuters' John Henderson, with too much time on their hands on the New Zealand leg of England's 1970-71 Australasian tour, penned lyrics to accompany an old music hall ditty called Winkle Song and it was recorded by England's Ashes-winning squad. But by the time the players assembled in a London studio the Ashes success was old hat and, despite considerable publicity, the public's imagination was not captured. In the end the royalties totalled £53.86 and rather than split the bounty 20 or so ways, a sweepstake was held and fittingly Ray Illingworth, England's captain, scooped the prize. Ian Chappell's tourists in 1972 responded with Here come the Aussies, based on a chant sung by Chelsea supporters. It sunk even quicker than England's effort.
F***ing Hell, It's Fred Titmus Half Man Half Biscuit
Once described as the "most authentic British band since The Clash", Half Man, Half Biscuit was a sharp-witted four-piece rock band from Birkenhead, in the Wirral. A by-product of Thatcher's Britain, the band announced itself in 1986 with the album "Back in the DHSS", which was recorded for just 30 pounds and yet sold more than 200,000 copies. According to Nigel Blackwell, the lead singer, guitarist and surreally talented writer, "one of my fantasies was to have a load of folk shouting something ridiculous like 'F**king Hell, it's Fred Titmus!' back at the stage as a counterblast to all those rock acts whose audience would hold their lighters aloft during some Godforsaken dross concerning 'a girl no longer with us due to flagrant disregard of the speed limit by persons unknown'. Much more fun thought I to have 'em shouting the name of a Middlesex spin bowler. Certainly more believable anyway, I think." Other songs by HMHB included "Hedley Verity-esque," and "Christian Rock Concert", which included a reference to Wendy Wimbush, the legendary former Test Match Special scorer ... playing on a spacehopper ...
Mambo No. 5 Lou Bega
Born in Germany to a Ugandan father and Italian mother, and the singer-songwriter of an Afro-Cuban dancefloor anthem, Lou Bega became the unlikely sound of English cricket for six heady years from 1999 to 2005, during Channel 4's groundbreaking Test match coverage. His breakthrough single, "Mambo No. 5", became an instant worldwide hit, charting in the top 5 across Europe and in the USA, with its catchy lyrics detailing the antics of a serial womaniser. A little bit of Monica in my life/A little bit of Erica by my side/A little bit of Rita's all I need/A little bit of Tina's what I see ... It perhaps never became synonymous with cricket in quite the same way as Soul Limbo did with the BBC, but it was catchy and uplifting nonetheless, and was the prelude to some of the finest commentary and production work that cricket has ever been privy to.
Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo and Andrew Miller is UK editor of CricinfoFeeds: Martin Williamson
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