Interview: The Duckworth Lewis Method
Published on July 10th, 2009 | Jonny Abrams
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The twin musical geniuses of Neil Hannon from The Divine Comedy and Thomas Walsh from Pugwash have come up with The Duckworth Lewis Method, an album that has taken the world of cricket by storm with its thematic devotion to the gentleman’s game. Rocksucker caught up with them in The Brit Oval’s England Suite, no less, before they went on to perform the album in its splendid entirety in front of a rapturous audience…
So, shall we discuss cricket first?
NH: You can discuss turnips if you desire.
Well, we’ll start with Brett Lee for now. Is this another Glenn McGrath moment?
NH: It really is, you know. We were at 5Live yesterday and the Brett Lee news came in and we went, “Yes!” Everyone else was being terribly coy, saying, “Oh well, it wasn’t really Brett Lee I was afraid of”. But that’s nonsense – he’s by far their most dangerous bowler, and it’s fantastic news that he’s out!
TW: I’d say he’s going to be back for the second Test. Looking at him being interviewed, he was very relaxed. It’s always a worry because he thinks, if he has three Tests to do it, then he’ll do it. He has that kind of glint in his eye. But I think it’s not gonna be a one-man team this time around. They’re gonna need everyone to play well, and [Ricky] Ponting’s not playing well, which is a big plus. So we’re as confident as two Irishmen can be about England!
NH: [Michaels] Clarke and Hussey get rather…(Thought is interrupted by some loud banging emanating from the stage being set up behind us)…and it’s really their bowling attack that’s rather weak. They have a serious lack of depth, and no experience for a lot of them. So England have a great opportunity if they don’t bottle it like they usually do.
TW: “You’ll never win anything with kids”, Neil. That’s it, isn’t it? You being a [Manchester] United fan.
But bottling it is what we English do best! We take a lot of pride in our bottling ability.
NH: Well, that’s not for us to say.
TW: As long as there’s no middle-order collapse.
NH: Or top-order!
TW: Freddie [Flintoff] is a worry, ’cause I thought he was quite fit. I don’t think he’s gonna be fit.
NH: He never is fit.
TW: He’ll last a day, that’s what’ll happen. It’s the Harmison effect. (Mischievous chuckles permeate round our corner of the suite). Anyway, I went to a Lord’s dinner with Michael Atherton and Tim Rice – just dropping the names in! – and Michael Atherton predicted 2-1.
Is Atherton here? You seemed to be pointing vaguely somewhere behind us when you said that…
TW: Nah, it’s just that Neil looks like Jack Russell!
NH: When I’ve got my gear on…
Anyway, by a similar token, how can England fare without a fully-fit Kevin Pietersen?
NH: He doesn’t have to be terribly fit. He just needs to clobber it out of the ground and he doesn’t have to run. But maybe that’s a bit glib.
TW: It’s very important that Pietersen plays, for me.
NH: Yeah, he’s massively important. He’s the sort of player that people get annoyed with ’cause he gets out on 99. But he still got 99 runs – who cares whether you get 2 figures or 3 figures as long as it’s a big score?
TW: It’s like people saying George Best never fulfilled his potential. Of course he did. I can’t go with that half-glass-empty thing.
Should England rethink their plan of pairing Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar?
TW: I’m not the biggest Panesar fan. I don’t think he spins the ball – which, as a spin bowler, is essential.
NH: He does spin it – it’s just always the same angle of spin. There’s no variety in his delivery. My problem with him is that he hasn’t developed since he got in the Test side. He hasn’t got any better, whereas Graeme Swann came in and immediately made a huge impact.
TW: I think Graeme Swann will be the unsung hero.
NH: We met him the other night and he was jolly nice.
There’s my headline story – ‘Graham Swann – Lovely Chap’!
NH: Lovely chap. Actually, I think [Jimmy] Anderson is the pivotal bowler. It’s essential to have a top-notch fast bowler and sometimes he just doesn’t cut it, but he’s been in good form recently.
TW: I think England’s pace bowling is fine. I don’t think that’s a worry. They’re gonna have to have a good spinner there and Graeme Swann is doing that…
NH: (Interrupting with mock squealing delight) Oh, I’m so excited!
TW: …and he might come in and get a few wickets…
NH: The irony being that we’ll be doing lots of promo while they’re playing. It’s always the way.
TW: We’ll catch it, we’ll catch it.
NH: This is a fantastic record for getting good blags but we’ve already missed a lot of cricket because of the amount of work involved.
What other perks have you had so far?
NH: Well, being here. We were on the outfields before a recent Twenty20 match playing a little song.
TW: We got invited to the Lord’s dinner.
NH: We did lots of photos round Lord’s and met some great people. Er…isn’t that enough? (Chuckles)
TW: We were told the meaning of life by Shane Warne.
Has Warne heard the song (‘Jiggery Pokery’)?
TW: We haven’t quite met the Warney yet. We haven’t met Mike Gatting yet. But he’s been close because Jiggery Pokery is a love song for Mike, really.
Do you think he might take umbrage with the section of the song where you chant about him being an “accident-prone baboon”?
NH: Hard to know. It’s a bit of pantomime. I would like to think he’s got a sense of humour about it. “Like an accident-prone baboon”? Yeah, it did cross my mind…
TW: I was just thinking of an accident-prone baboon, I wasn’t thinking of Mike! We only made the record, you know.
It’s just a simile.
NH: Yeah. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and all of that.
We’ve got a really inane question for you here. The Ashes are being held in Wales this year – could they ever be held in Ireland?
TW: That’s completely inane.
TW: Well, Wales is England.
NH: Oh my god, don’t put that in.
TW: Canada’s like America, it’s the same thing. Japan and China. Australia and New Zealand. (Thomas was definitely joking here, so no angry messages please.)
NH: I think it’s a little odd it being in Wales, especially starting in Wales. But I guess it is the England & Wales Cricket Board.
TW: Yeah, I’ve no problem with it. As long as it’s a good pitch. And I think it is a good pitch.
NH: I think going further afield than Wales would be a no-no. It being England vs Australia, and all.
TW: If you think of Northern Ireland, Stormont could be a great venue. If they all got together and built a stand.
NH: It’s bad enough that they rob all our best players…
TW: Well, if you’re gonna take Ireland’s best players, then play them in the big games. Or give them back to us!
It doesn’t seem that cricket is that big where you each respectively come from. Or it it?
So how did you come about to be fans?
TW: TV. I mean, that’s iconic (points to a picture on the wall of Ian Botham at Edgbaston) – I was watching that when it was on, in 1981. Loved it – I thought, “What a game!” He changed the face of cricket, did Beefy. I was a big Bob Willis fan – if I meet him, I’ll be very happy. I used to play it on the street in Dublin – draw stumps on the wall and hit the ball, very simple. Didn’t like hoarding and GAA so much because it wasn’t really for me. It was a home-grown game. I liked it, so I did it. That’s good for democracy, isn’t it?
NH: In my wilderness years hanging around the house after I left school, I had nothing better to do than read long novels and Test cricket was a perfect way to eat up the time. I hadn’t been a sportsman at school – I’d just been obsessed by music – so I’d ignored it all until then.
Have any cricketers, or great cricketing events, influenced any of your previous musical works? A sense of elation, perhaps, or a crushing defeat?
NH: No. (Laughs)
TW: We never touched it…well, in my writing, I never touched it. I don’t think Neil did either.
NH: The 2005 Ashes was a wonderful moment for everybody. It was like – this is how good it can be. That sparked this record. I’m sure that’s where the germ of excitement came from.
TW: It was the greatest Test series ever. Looking back on it, it’s hard to believe it actually happened as Test matches.
NH: It’s like it was written.
TW: Every one of them, you know. It really rejuvenated the whole thing. I suppose it led to the upsurge in cricket being on everywhere.
NH: That, and Ireland doing so well in the World Cup in 2007. We must have been talking about doing this album – or something like it – back then, because we did a piece for Hotpress – the local music paper in Ireland – where we went out to where the Ireland team were practising for the World Cup…because it was very exciting to everybody that they were even in the World Cup…
TW: And they were excited that there were musicians interested in them.
NH: Exactly. So that was kind of our first taste of the crossover.
TW: Eoin Morgan, William Porterfield and Dave Langford-Smith…he did the chicken dance, didn’t he?
NH: I wish he’d concentrated on the bowling! (Laughs) But, you know, to get into the last eight of that was a major boost for Irish cricket, and then to get into the last eight of the Twenty20 was astonishing. We did as well as England. I’m just saying!
Neil, you said you spent a lot of time watching cricket and reading long novels. Could you ever come full circle and write a sort of mini-opera about a hypothetical cricket romance? (Promenade, Neil’s 1994 album with The Divine Comedy, is a magnificent concept record about two lovers who spend a day at the seaside.) And who would you cast as the lovers?
TW: It’s gotta be Chris Gayle as the porn star. (Neil mimicks ‘bum-chicka-wah-wah’-style funk guitar.) I’m not stereotyping the man at all – he’s just got that lazy look about him.
NH: He has that air about him, doesn’t he?
TW: Geoff Boycott, obviously, as a staring headmaster.
NH: When I heard about Shane Warne: The Musical opening in Australia…
TW: There’s a picture of it going on, you know? There should be an ‘Up The Arse’ corner in Viz…
NH: …that sounded dreadful to me…(shrugs off Thomas trying to describe the “horrific” details of the picture)…erm. No, I think musicals, or that kind of thing…we didn’t even overly-conceptualise this one, to be honest – it’s just a bunch of songs with a beginning, a middle and an end.
TW: I’m certainly getting very defensive of the record, the more Neil says! You know, we subconsciously did. We didn’t plan it, but it runs pretty smooth. We couldn’t have done it by accident, could we?
NH: I think it was destiny.
TW: See. It was destiny. That’s the answer. It was our phantasmagorical destiny
So what happens with The Duckworth Lewis method after this? Do you split up in some way?
TW: (Laughs) Split up! Shall we split up?
NH: People have a funny idea about bands and projects and things. I think people visualise bands as all living in the same house, and one day they’ll all turn round and say, “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!” and leave. We just go to the pub. That’s where we came up with this idea, and where we did this idea. If we come up with another idea in the future, we’ll probably do that. But there is no great world domination plan.
TW: The thing is, there’s so many years left of us talking shit together (Neil bursts out laughing) – that’s what we do, we basically just talk shit, a lot. Which means we can hang out a lot. There’s no awkward sort of moments.
NH: The album would have been finished an awful lot sooner had Thomas not felt the need to do twenty rude variations of every lyric we came up with. (Laughs)
TW: I have got some mini-Tourette’s going on. It’s the only thing that’s small about me. But I was going to say, if someone buys the record and it’s raining outside, we should bring the price down. To like £9.99. But it has to be raining outside when you’re buying it.
NH: A mathematical equation depending on how long the rain is. That’s genius.(Chuckles) But we’d get less money, so I’m not going for it!
Sales of the record could redouble every time an Ashes or somesuch rolls around. You could roll it out all over again, like ‘Three Lions ’98’.
TW: I live in an apartment one half the size of this block here, so I’m happy to repress and redo anything. I’ll be a whore for this record. Neil will be sat back in the Bahamas. With a bigger beard.
NH: I’ll get a doppelganger. “Isn’t that right, Lewis?” “Sorry, what?” (Laughs)
So who’s Duckworth and who’s Lewis again?
NH: I’m Lewis.
TW: I’m Duckworth. ‘Duck’. It just seemed to fit.
NH: And I look like Morse’s sidekick, so…
Do you support club sides?
TW: I’ve got a penchant for Middlesex ’cause my dad always kept an eye out for their results.
NH: Well I feel I should support Surrey now, ’cause of being here so often. And they’ve been so good to us here.
TW: May Middlesex are arch rivals of Surrey, I wouldn’t quite know. They probably are, so shouldn’t say them both in the same breath.
NH: I like Middlesex and Surrey. I just feel it perfectly easy to support England when they’re playing – or follow them, at least – but it doesn’t make any sense for me [to support a club side]. When I look at the county cricket, I’m interested by who’s playing well and that sort of thing, but I have no affiliation for any of them, really.
TW: There’s not that rivalry in cricket, though. Like, if I said Middlesex and Surrey, there wouldn’t be people going (imitates angry rabbling).
NH: It’s nice, it’s a more polite sport.
TW: Dare I say there’s a lot more class in cricket than in football. As if we could ever write an album about football. It would be just ridiculous. It would be (imitates inebriated laddish chanting) every song. People hating you, and probably following you around to kill you, if you wrote a song about a particular team. But with cricket, everyone’s coming up and going “thank you”, which we’re very proud of as well.
NH: The most I’m worried about is a bit of a clip on the ear from Mike Gatting. Just a cuff.
It’s fine, he’ll miss.
TW: Cheese roll over there?
Do you follow other sports?
NH: Yes, we’re sports fanatics. I’ve had to cut mine down ’cause I was watching far too much of it altogether. I’ve just got four, which is cricket – which is the main one really – and football, rugby and Formula 1.
TW: I’m definitely football, golf, tennis. I love snooker. We’ve talked about doing Billiards: The Musical.
NH: Alex Higgins did that terrible (sings “147, that’s my idea of heaven!”). Jesus.
TW: Yeah, 147 gin and tonics in one night. (Pause) You have to edit this.
NH: But, when we talked about doing a cricket album, everybody said, “Pfff…what are you on about? Have you gone stark staring mad?” But it seemed to come so naturally and we knew it would be good.
TW: We’re not comparing – at all – but when The Beatles hadn’t released anything for four…(bats off laughter)…no, let me finish, it’s a good comparison! They hadn’t released anything for four months. God forbid them not releasing anything for four months. Back in ’66, ’67. People were saying, are they going to split up? They can’t write again, they’ve stopped writing. And McCartney said, you know, just wait. That’s all he said. ‘Cause they were all recording Sgt Pepper’s. The thing is, he knew they were doing something very good. We knew we were doing something good. It was everyone else who was worried.
NH: That’s true.
But you could never do an album about football?
NH: Cricket has a much nice flow about it. There are more nuances to the game – all the field placings, the different deliveries, there’s endless terminology and arcane references and history. Amazing history. It’s so much cooler than football. So there’s no comparison. I couldn’t write about football, and I love football. (Thomas starts singing “One, two, three, four, five, Packie Bonner’s got…” to the tune of XTC’s Senses Working Overtime) Football’s a one-dimensional game. It’s like, go up the other end and kick it in the goal, you know? Cricket is so much more than that. Don’t you think?
TW: On the musical end of things, it [football] doesn’t give you the inspiration to follow it through. There’s lots of things you could write about, but it wouldn’t give you any kind of satisfaction.
NH: You can talk about an event in football and everybody will say, oh yeah, I remember that. But so what?
TW: We didn’t do this to do something that hasn’t been done before, we just did it because we liked the idea and we love cricket. Making an album about football would have been no fun whatsoever.
NH: That’s because football is so tribal and everybody’s got their team, and if we wrote about any other team then they’d just want to kill us.
TW: And if you think about it, you are trying to outdo ‘Three Lions’ all the time. That whole end of the spectrum of musical ideas is shut off. No one’s ever done a cricket album – as I said, we didn’t think of that when we were doing it but we found out since that they hadn’t. We thought there’d be something like Bish & Bailey’s 12 Jazz Classics About Cricket.
Well, Rocksucker has done some sleuth work and there has been another album about cricket – Howzat! The Unofficial England Cricket Album, a compilation featuring the likes of The Killers, Jet and The Ordinary Boys…
NH: Not the same!
So what do The Killers represent about cricket to you?
NH: Well, the drummer of The Killers is a massive Divine Comedy fan! He’s a lovely bloke.
TW: Didn’t they all come to your gig?
NH: That was the most bizarre thing. I was supporting Ben Folds in 2003 all the way round the States, and we did a gig in Vegas – there were very few people there, to be honest! – but, a few years later, I met The Killers backstage at Oxygen and they said, “Great gig in Vegas!” So they’d all been in that audience, and it was actually before they’d even formed the band. So that’s weird.
The influence doesn’t really show up in their music.
NH: Not a great deal, no. But they’re one of the less awful ones. They’ve got some tunes, and he can sing.
TW: For me personally, they’re f***ing Pink Floyd compared to Kings of Leon. (All laugh)
So what’s next on the agenda for both of your main musical projects?
TW: (Over the deafening music that’s just been turned on in the room) Er, we’re doing a gig with Mick Jagger! He’s rehearsing at the moment.
NH: I’m doing an album at the moment. Almost finished, out after Christmas probably.
TW: I’ve signed to Andy Parson from XTC’s APE label. I’m bringing out a retrospective of my career, which is four albums in Ireland. It’s called Giddy and it’s out maybe this year but probably early next year.