Interview: The Duckworth Lewis Method
Published on August 29th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
When this writer spoke to The Duckworth Lewis Method in 2009, it was as a fledgling inquisitor – a first band interview, it would prove to be the one that launched Rocksucker.
Their self-titled first album had only just arrived in the post – procured, as a fan, from Amazon rather than thrust towards us by any eager PR types – when yours truly was called upon by a sports-based website to go to the Oval and meet two of planet Earth’s greatest living songwriters: Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy and Thomas Walsh of Pugwash.
So, you know, it was fated. The ‘Little Bang’ that would bring Rocksucker to light. The glorious happenstance that would cement Hannon’s wryly uttered “you may discuss turnips if you desire” as the very first response to our very first question of our very first interview.
A collection of cricket-themed songs strung together by a mutual love of ELO and other such ‘perfect world’ pop music, that first Duckworth Lewis Method LP was a revelation: with only a passing knowledge of cricket to cling to, it was the music itself that would fasten itself on and refuse, much to Rocksucker’s delight, to let itself go.
Their recent follow-up Sticky Wickets has made it two summer soundtracks out of two. We could ramble on and on about what an absolute joy it is, but we’d just be repeating ourselves – which is to say, just read our four-and-a-half-quail review of the thing.
Let’s cease this besotted blathering and present to you our second interview with The Duckworth Lewis Method. This time around, Messrs Hannon and Walsh were passing a phone back and forth as they watched that day’s installment of the 2013 Ashes series…
When we spoke at the Oval around the time of the first album, you were enjoying all sorts of crickety perks. What would you say have been the highlights of this campaign?
NH: In the course of this campaign, we’ve met Stephen Fry, David Lloyd, Daniel Radcliffe, Michael Atherton, and become best mates with Henry Blofeld. Extra perks have been getting into Trent Bridge for three days to watch the First Test, we were at Lord’s for a day, and we’re going to the Oval tomorrow. So it’s all worked out spiffingly.
Oh dear…I think Haddin just got hit in the balls. (Laughs) He’s just checking that the box is still in the right place. Yes, it’s all fine. Okay, panic over.
Who sang the falsetto on “Sticky Wickets”, and who wrote the ’70s rock riff for it?
NH: We both did the falsetto and then we even added Neil Finn doing falsetto as well. I love the sound of the vocals because it’s a bit like My Bloody Valentine when Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher sang at the same time and it was a completely homogenous voice. We’ve got a bit of that going on, where you can’t really tell who’s who. But it’s both of us.
Nick Seymour from Crowded House played bass on the album, right?
NH: Yes. We recorded in his studio in Dublin and he kindly put his bass fingers upon the album. (Rocksucker says: we’re not sure that Neil actually said “bass fingers” – it just sounded a bit like that, and we like the phrase enough to include it regardless.) He’s a great player.
It would be remiss of us not to mention Tim Weller, who played drums on the album…
NH: Tim is a great, great drummer. He’s been my drummer since 2005, or something – maybe earlier, I can’t remember. He’s a very funny man as well. I enjoy his company.
Do you have any idea if ‘Boom Boom’ Affridi has heard your ode to him? And if so, has he given you any feedback?
NH: Hmm. Because I can’t answer that question, I’m going to give you Thomas. (Laughs) He won’t be able to answer it either but, you know, share and share alike.
TW: No, we haven’t heard back from specific people – but “Meeting Mr Miandad” from the first album had a lot of hits on YouTube, so we’ve had a lot of comments from that part of the world. “Boom Boom Affridi” is on YouTube and Spotify if he wants to hear it.
Were you the driving force behind “Sticky Wickets”? I only ask because you did lead vocals on “Sweet Spot”, which was the, er, ‘suggestive’ track on the first album.
TW: Funnily enough yeah, but not in terms of the suggestiveness of it – I definitely remember Neil coming up with a lot more of the saucier lyrics on that track. I floated out the idea, we said “the concept is…”, and then we worked out all those lovely things.
In a way the song is a pastiche of The Rolling Stones – in a nice way, because we didn’t start listening to Stones tracks and try to figure out bits. We just said, “Okay, what’s our version of the Stones?” and for Neil it was (imitating the riff) BAAA-DA-DOW!
We could have gone for a weirder, Their Satanic Majesties Request kind of Stones and put tablas on everything. “We Love You”, that kind of thing…
What are ‘sticky wickets’, anyway? Presumably your album now dominates the Google results for it…
TW: It’s used in a lot of ways and in different areas of life, that term, so it’s not a strict cricket term in that respect. If you want me to say that it means “the moistness before sexual intercourse”…you know, as in “you’ve got a set of sticky wickets on you”…
Ah. And what are you chanting over that creepy section towards the end of “The Umpire”?
TW: Basically, it’s “who would aspire to be an umpire?” in Latin. That’s an exclusive for you! I thought there should be on that part of the song a kind of SMiLE-era Brian Wilson chant going on. It seemed to suit the chords really well, the darkness of it, the atmosphere and so on.
I just googled “who would aspire to be an umpire” in Latin and it came up with “qui aspirant ad arbitrum?”. I just rounded it off, and that was that. Sometimes these things work, sometimes they don’t, and this one seemed to work. There’s a little 10CC pastiche in there too, just for fun.
One of my favourite parts of “The Umpire” is your early-’70s-Beach-Boys-style overlapping backing vocal of “referee”, sung really sweetly. Is it hard to avoid (pardon the pun) ‘creasing’ up at times? I’m not sure I could sing ‘referee’ with tenderness and keep a straight face.
TW: That’s a good spot on your behalf. Sometimes it is, because it is funny that you’re singing ‘referee’ in a tender way – but the worse one from that song is “-nology”, as in the end of ‘technology’. Like The Beatles on “Help” when they sing “my indepen”.
Even though it’s a little bit silly, it works. I think that sums up The Duckworth Lewis Method: there’s a serious aspect to that song, but also a bit of frivolity. You know, we take what we do very seriously, but in this project there’s a good dose of fun that goes on as well.
This brings us very nicely onto “The Laughing Cavaliers”…
TW: Well then it’s the perfect time to throw you back to Neil. That’s his cricket team.
NH: Yes, the Theatrical Cavaliers are a team of actors from Dublin and they kindly asked me to play for them. They asked both of us, but Duckworth declined. I’ve only played a couple of games because I never seem to be free at the same time – and also they’ve stopped asking me because I’m so bad, and they’re all great. (Laughs).
That may be, but how many albums have they released?
The group singing is arranged into a rather fetching harmony. Is this something you got the Cavaliers to do, or did you add it yourselves later?
NH: The funny thing is – and we should have known – when they came in, they were just really good, because they’re all actors and most actors have variously been taught to hold a tune. And yeah, we even managed to get them to harmonise, it was extraordinary.
They were sort of too good, in fact, and we were trying to make them sound like more of a rabble because we wanted the sound of a drunken cricket team after the match. We tried our best to rough them up a bit, but they were happy enough because we fed them cucumber sandwiches and Pimm’s.
Do you think you’ve ever written a sillier lyric than “We are free from misery, as far as we can tell-o / Do we have a darkside? Do we hell-o!”
NH: I don’t think I have, actually. It’s definitely one of the silliest lyrics that we’ve ever written, in any context (laughs). Even with my stuff, I can’t think of a sillier one than some of the stuff in that song.
Was the trumpet on the album done by Billy from the Barmy Army?
NH: Yeah, the wonderful Billy Cooper. We tried to get Barmy Army participation but he was the only one who seemed particularly interested! We didn’t realise that he actually plays for the English National Opera – he’s a really good trumpeter, as well as being a top bloke, very sound.
We hung out with him a good deal over the summer, and we helped him to…you know he was banned from Trent Bridge and there was a big hoo-ha about it, well we smuggled him with his trumpet into Test Match Special. So he did play at Trent Bridge in the end!
I read that, even before the first album, you both sat down and brainstormed ideas into a notepad. How many Duckworth Lewis Method songs began life as a title? Are there any good ones that remain as-yet-unused?
NH: I think the majority of the songs began with a title or a crickety thing (laughs), and we just kind of elaborated on them.
With “Line and Length”, I was watching Stuart Broad bowling badly at the Rose Bowl – I can’t remember who they were playing at the time – and Geoffrey Boycott, who was commentating, kept saying (emphatically, and in an attempted Yorkshire accent) “line and length!” and “you’ve got to get it in the corridor of uncertainty”. I can’t do the accent.
I just wrote all of that down immediately because it was too cool, and it almost immediately emerged as what it should be in the studio. We went back through the notes from the first one, to be honest, and got things that we hadn’t used. I think “Third Man” might have been written down in the notebook the first time.
The verse lyrics to “Judd’s Paradox” I’ve had floating about for about twelve years, long before I ever imagined being part of a cricket-pop duo. It was written after watching Another Country, about Philby, Burgess and Maclean in their early years. There was an interesting sentiment about the paradox of how the game seems to represent everything they hate about the empire, colonialism and the capitalist hierarchy.
I put that into words, then put that on top of the other words that Thomas had come up with – he pretty much did the chorus, if I remember right – and…gosh, it’s very hard sometimes to remember how these things evolve. It can get a bit blurry and you end up claiming things that you didn’t write in the first place!
In the end I was speaking the words because we couldn’t really come up with a tune, and Thomas said, “Why don’t we get Stephen Fry to do it? He liked the first album.” I went, “Yeah right, like he’s going to do that.” (Laughs) We asked him via Phill Jupitus and he said yes, which was quite remarkable.
Are there any nudges and/or nurdles from cricketing history that stand out for you?
NH: Well I think the main thing about nudging and nurdling is that they don’t stand out. The idea behind the song is that an inning where you’re nudging and nurdling the ball around, getting quick singles and suchlike, staying at the crease for hours and hours on end…
…it’s not the most fantastically exciting part of cricket, but we like it – you know, it’s part of the game. So we tried to have a musical description of that, which was basically to have the same tune repeating endlessly for five minutes with people saying the same thing over and over and over again, until you’re really sick of it.
We blew it – it’s too interesting!
There’s a guy towards the end of the track who sounds like he’s really trying to wrap his accent around the words…
NH: Oh, that was David O’Doherty pretending to be Russian, because he was in Russia when he recorded it.
Finally, I must ask the obligatory “will you do a third Duckworth Lewis Method album?” question, as well as inquire about the next Divine Comedy and Pugwash LPs…
NH: Okay, I’m pretty sure we can do this in about thirty seconds. Another Duckworth Lewis Method album is unlikely to say the least, but another Divine Comedy album is absolutely certain because I can’t do anything else.
Another Pugwash album is…
TW: …all ukulele songs! I bought my first ukulele in London yesterday, so that might be an inspiration. There might be something Pugwashy next year, I don’t know. I think we’re in between labels now – we’re still with Lojinx but it’s kind of a distribution deal.
We might do something and try to get it out ourselves, maybe one of those funded campaigns where people send us twenty quid each so we can do our album (laughs). We’d basically have to go to America and England to tour, but that would be a pleasure.
So, yeah – Divine Comedy obviously yes…Pugwash yes, but later, because I’m lazy…we might come over and do some shows with Matt Berry in October…and I wrote “Judd’s Paradox” by the way, fuck what Neil said.
The Duckworth Lewis Method, thank you.
Sticky Wickets is out now on Divine Comedy Records.
The Duckworth Lewis Method play the following UK dates in September…
20th – St George’s Church, Brighton
21st – O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
22nd – Norwich Arts Centre, Norwich
24th – Organ Mor, Glasgow
25th – The Sage Gateshead, Gateshead
26th – Manchester Academy, Manchester
27th – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
28th – St George’s Bristol, Bristol
29th – The Glee Club @ The Arcadian, Birmingham