“We're not doing a cheese album,” quips Neil Hannon, sporting a Carry On Up the Jungle pith helmet to his fellow satirist, Thomas Walsh, who appears to be channelling WG Grace with his weighty beard.
The comic duo are performing on a small stage (pictures of Michael Atherton and Alec Stewart, a reminder of English cricket's dark days, adorn the wall behind them) in a carpeted function room at the home of cricket, two days before the Ashes commence. They're accompanied by the Barmy Army's Billy “The Trumpet” Cooper, who is banned from blowing his instrument at Lord's matches. Not here, though, where absurdity rules.
“If you’re going to flash, flash hard,” intones Hannon on The Duckworth Lewis Method’s deliciously daft “Boom Boom Afridi”, from the pair’s second cricket-themed record, Sticky Wickets. Commentator David “Bumble” Lloyd, who appears on the album along with Daniel Radcliffe, is sadly absent from this determinedly jaunty affair.
DLM's “concept”, conceived by Hannon (The Divine Comedy) and Walsh (Pugwash), isn’t quite as droll as the first time around on The Duckworth-Lewis Method. There isn’t anything, for instance, that quite matches “Jiggery Pokery” about the fiendish spin delivery Shane Warne propelled down to a befuddled Mike Gatting in the 1993 Ashes: “Robbery, muggery, Aussie skullduggery/ What in the buggery/ Was his delivery?”
There have been gently mocking songs about cricket before – most notably Half Man Half Biscuit’s unprintable ode to Fred Titmus and Roy Harper’s “When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease”– but nothing as erudite as this. I doubt the Pakistani middle-order firebrand Javed Miandad ever imagined he would get his own lovely pop anthem, and “Meeting Mr Miandad” is a highlight here.
As is their new track “Out in the Middle”, which even slyly mocks Lord's: “You can have an Oxbridge PHD/ You can have a box at the MCC/ But have you got what it takes to be out in the middle.”
Their plinky-plonky pastiches, which are interspersed with spoken word discourses, variously recall Gilbert & Sullivan, ELO, glam-rock, Ben Folds Five and Flanders and Swann. These deft lyricists wryly herald the underdog (“The Umpire), eccentricity and old-fashioned values (“The Laughing Cavaliers”), and even deliver the odd googly. The caustic “It's Just Not Cricket” spins rather viciously out of the rough with the lyric “Bend over bank-man and take one for the team/ A billion dollar bonus and a handshake from the queen/ It’s not right, it’s just no cricket.”
It's a rare moment of seriousness in this supremely silly [mid-off] experience.