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'Sometimes the England side looks like a boyband'

Pop duo Duckworth Lewis talk about their new album and why the England team needs more characters

Interview by Alan Gardner

July 1, 2013

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The Duckworth Lewis Method have returned with their second album of cricket-themed tunes, Sticky Wickets, which features guest appearances from David Lloyd, Henry Blofeld, Stephen Fry and Daniel Radcliffe. Thomas Walsh (Duckworth) and Neil Hannon (Lewis) spoke to ESPNcricinfo about why cricket so inspires them, Ashes predictions, and the future of the game.


Thomas Walsh (left) and Neil Hannon of pop group the Duckworth Lewis Method, 2013
Walsh (left) and Hannon: timed their second album to a nicety
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You're back with another album. Did you think there was more to be sung about cricket?
Neil: Apparently we did. I think the way we write about cricket, it's kind of limitless. Because we don't necessarily write about cricket per se, it's just the jumping-off point. So we kind of take these quite small ideas and elaborate upon them in various strange tangents.

Thomas: I think it's the fact that it's endless in its stories and in its history. Something like football or snooker, you get fun anecdotes. But with cricket you have entire books and volumes about certain stories and incidents that happened.

Neil: And its phraseology and terms - it's got so many cool words attached to it: nudging, nurdling, line and length, mystery man - all the names of the songs on our new album!

The commentators help us an awful lot. We took the inspiration for "Boom Boom Afridi" entirely from David Lloyd; he has fantastic nicknames for everybody and then we managed to get him to do his little bit on the actual song.

You've got a few famous names featuring this time around. Did they approach you or did you have to ask?
Thomas: Oh, they were keen but we had to ask them because they're very busy people. Someone like Stephen Fry is never not working and never not being asked. It was very exciting for us but there was no way we thought we'd get him."

Neil: It was quite scary, because I'm such a fan. He read it through once, it was brilliant, but I had the temerity to say, "Would you mind reading it again, slower?" He said, "Of course, not a problem." But then he had to rush off.

Thomas: Daniel Radcliffe did talk a lot. He was far more relaxed...

Neil: I would almost class Daniel Radcliffe as verbose, he loves to chat."

Radcliffe is on the track "Third Man", which references the fielding position, as well as the Orson Welles film of the same name.
Neil: That's correct, Harry Lime and so on. We have written various songs where it's kind of about the ability to daydream while cricket it happening. But they're always good dreams and it's perfectly reasonable. And this was actually daydreaming while playing the game.

Thomas: You'd probably put a lesser fielder - Monty Panesar, say - down at third man, because the ball wouldn't be going down there a lot. So we thought, you know, you spend an hour down there, not really involved in the game, why not get involved in a spy movie.

Neil: Or just fantasise about murdering all the other people on the pitch, really…

Do either of you get the chance to play much? Have you stood at third man, daydreaming the game away? Neil: That's the only fielding position I'm ever put in actually. I sometimes turn out for the Cavaliers, who are a bunch of actors in Dublin, and I'm very, very bad.

 
 
"I identified that the natural length would be about 20 years between both albums but because it rains a lot in Ireland we were faced with using the Duckworth-Lewis method and it became four years " Thomas Walsh
 

I think my batting is slightly preferable to my bowling but they're both terrible. I sometimes take wickets when I'm bowling just because I've finally managed to get the ball to the other end of the crease, roughly in the right direction.

Was there much demand for a second album?
Neil: From the people we know who loved it, yeah, they were saying, "When are you going to make another one?" We always said, "Are you crazy?" And it turned out that we were crazy.

Thomas: I identified that the natural length would be about 20 years between both albums but because it rains a lot in Ireland we were faced with using the Duckworth-Lewis method and it became four years.

So you're not going to be releasing one every time the Ashes are played in England?
Neil: We're not planning anything - we do not plan. People don't believe us when we say it is kind of an accident [the albums] have appeared at the Ashes. Basically we did the first one, it accidentally came out at just the right time, and then we both went off to do albums of our own, and by the time we've come back to make another one, it was four years later. A happy accident.

Do you know if any of the England players are fans? Graeme Swann is known as a bit of a musician.
Neil: Yeah, he's a fan, which is very nice. I don't know about any of the others. We're doing Swanny and Anderson's podcast, so that will be fun. I can't wait to meet Jimmy Anderson.

Did you try and get any of them to appear on the album?
Thomas: It would be a lot more difficult than the people we did get.

Neil: In the entertainment world it's not too hard and people are always ready and willing. With sports people they're always hither and thither in the world, it's very hard to pin them down. This has been the celebrity fest, this album, maybe if we do another it will be the cricketer fest. But really, we do not have plans for another one, just like we did not have plans for this one.

You seem to have reinvented the cricket song genre but there have been one or two previous attempts. Do you have any favourites?
Neil: I'm not sure I can pinpoint one that was really, really great...

Thomas: People would say something like "Dreadlock Holiday", because it mentions cricket, or "Soul Limbo" by Booker T and the MGs - but they weren't cricket songs.

Neil: The 10CC one is definitely a good piece of West Indian music. "Soul Limbo" was used as the BBC cricket theme all those years - well, it's a magnificent piece of music but Booker T was none the wiser. There are some lovely old calypso tunes from the fifties when West Indies started beating England.

Thomas: And Roy Harper did "When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease."

Neil: I think we've doubled the output.

What are your favourites on the new album?
Thomas: I think "Judd's Paradox", because of the way it came together, and it sounds so strong. It's quite beautiful in parts.

Still swinging

Cover of <i>Sticky Wickets</i>, the second album by the Duckworth Lewis Method the Duckworth Lewis Method, 2013

©
  • Forget T20, this is cricketainment. Neil Hannon and Thomas Walsh, two Irishmen with an affinity for the English summer game and an ear for a jaunty tune, have returned with the Duckworth Lewis Method's second album, after a four-year break - during which time, it is probably fair to say, the world in general has been largely oblivious to the relative absence of cricket pop.
  • Sometimes the most delightful gifts are the unexpected ones. Their eponymous debut offering oozed into the consciousness during the 2009 Ashes, delivering beguiling classics off a short run-up, and Sticky Wickets nimbly picks up the same thread. Divine Comedy frontman Hannon, and Walsh, of Pugwash, insist that the release ten days before the start of the 2013 Ashes is purely coincidental but few would begrudge them the association. Their mellifluous melodies seem destined to infuse a hotly anticipated cricketing summer.
  • Duckworth (Walsh) and Lewis (Hannon) may be friends of the Two Chucks but this time around they are joined by a few actual celebrities. "If you're gonna flash, flash hard," avers David Lloyd on "Boom Boom Afridi", a paean to the mercurial Pakistan allrounder, while Henry Blofeld's unmistakable tones adorn "It's Just Not Cricket". Elsewhere, the presence of the actor, writer and comedian Stephen Fry and Daniel Radcliffe (aka Harry Potter) provides further evidence of the game's enduring pull in entertainment circles.
  • Billed as a "cricket fantasia", there is plenty for both fans of the game and lovers of music to pick through. The songs are intricately layered, with playful lyrics and catchy hooks straight off the middle of the bat. The steampunk bombast of "Boom Boom Afridi" gives way to subtler ruminations on the lot of the umpire, and the spoken-word poetry of "Judd's Paradox". You might think "Chin Music" would go heavy on the drums but instead it floats along like a Victorian fairground instrumental. "Line and Length", meanwhile, transports you back to the '80s (though sadly without any references to Eddie Hemmings), sounding like a cross between Huey Lewis and the News and Yello.
  • In following up their original cricket-themed concept album, there might have been a danger that the Duckworth Lewis Method's unique charms would lose some of their shine. However, such is the strength of their songwriting that the conceit still seems to have plenty of life in it. The ball may be a little older but DLM are still swinging.

Neil: I basically paraphrased a conversation in the film Another Country, about the spy ring at Cambridge. This exact metaphor was brought up in that and I thought that was kind of cool and I wrote the lyrics around that.

Thomas: Most of the stuff came together from very disparate positions but it sounds so cohesive.

Neil: You know what my favourite is - "Line and Length", just because I've always wanted to do a song like that, an '80s bish-bash, crazy, funky samples. I love all of that and I got a chance to really go for it.

You're both Irish but you support England. Does that create any conflict, especially as Ireland continue to make impressive progress at international level?
Neil: I think we'd say we follow England. They're very follow-able, their games are always on the telly, and you get to know all the players so intimately. I've kind of been willing them to win for years because they were so bad for so long.

Thomas: The old patriotism kicks in, obviously, but I'm a big England fan, I have been for a long time, so it doesn't really change.

It's good when you have a team of some characters as well, because that's what I remember about England, having a lot of different characters. Sometimes the England side looks like a boyband, really, it's a bit worrying. If you think of Tim Bresnan, I'd rather he was in the team than not, because you don't quite know what you're going to get. He's one of those players that could get you a five-for or whatever - players like that are essential, as well as the ones you can rely on.

Mike Gatting probably gets a lot of ribbing, for pointing at the umpire, and when the ball hit him in the nose, and of course the Shane Warne ball - but he was a great cricketer, a really solid player. I think he was a character as well, and sometimes you need them.

Perhaps Australia have more characters in their side now, after David Warner's recent scrapes and the appointment of Darren Lehmann as coach?
Thomas: I think it's brilliant, in a way, because they're not good enough to beat England on paper, I don't think, but they could get inside their heads. I remember Steve Collins, the Irish boxer, psyching out Chris Eubank, and that was a sure case of someone using their mind over their talent. So I think the Australians could start trying to get at England. That's the only chance they have.

What are your predictions for the Ashes then?
Neil: Thomas' is 3-1 to England, with one draw, and mine is 3-0.

What about over the back-to-back series? Ian Botham is predicting 10-0.
Thomas: Is he!

Neil: I think we'll hold fire on the return…

Thomas: I'll go two-all Down Under.

Neil: They've never had an easy series Down Under, regardless of the sides, so it would seem likely that it would be tight. I'll go 2-2 as well.

Cricket has gone through a lot of changes in the last decade - do you think it will still move people to write songs in 20 years time?
Neil: It's impossible to know how these things will inspire creativity in the future. I think there will always be books written about cricket, because it's that kind of a sport, it has such depth. Songs I don't know…

Thomas: I think it will continue to inspire.

Your first album contained a song called "The Age of Revolution", about some of those changes in cricket. What do you think about the rise of T20?
Neil: Thomas likes it a lot more than I do. I find it slightly like eating a bar of chocolate compared to a three-course meal.

Thomas: It sounds like it's been to the detriment of the Test game but I love Test match cricket above anything else. But I do love to sit down and watch a T20 because, let's face it, you do like to sit down now and again and eat a chocolate bar. I just do it all: three-course meal, chocolate, Quavers.

Neil: That's the answer to the question, "Can they all exist?" Of course they can, because all of those foodstuffs exist.

Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by CricketingStargazer on (July 1, 2013, 20:31 GMT)

I will admit that I have ordered the album out of a sense of curiosity. It's on the way to me now. It sounds like it will be a lot of fun.

Sensible thoughts on the Ashes. The return series will be very tough.

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