Monday, October 29, 2012

Cricket Songs

Most songs are about love. This includes songs about the magnificence of love - both in giddy infancy as well as mature and sincere  exclamations of complicity - and laments about failure in the pursuit with resulting loneliness. Outside of the central amorous song canon there are many interesting topics that pop up. These include songs about partying and dancing, songs about politics, songs about cars and songs with vague lyrics which are, perhaps, about nothing in particular.

So far as I know, there are two great cricket songs.

Writing on Roy Harper’s ‘When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease’ in (the now defunct) The Word magazine, David Hepworth said that it,
summons the shade of every village cricket pitch we have ever gazed hungrily upon or glimpsed from a passing car… Both John Peel and John Walters wanted this song played after their deaths. There is scarcely an Englishman who wouldn't wish for the same honour. [1]
Like most reflections on cricket, the song is more than the mechanics and narrative of the game. From depicting everyman’s park cricket match in dear, gentle hues, the lyric strides to the elevated plain of existence and death. The game is not used merely as an allegory though. It would be a dull, unsporting soul who held so. Rather, cricket is recognised as the superb use of existence that it is, as delivered in the second verse,
… as those footsteps trace for the last time out of the act
Well this way of life's recollection, the hallowed strip in the haze
The fabled men and the noonday sun are much more than just yarns of their days.
The song forces introspection, arresting attention with its elegiac weight and space, the charged, double-tracked vocal and twelve-string guitar countered against the weight of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band. Mr Harper appears on the record’s cover hairy and shirtless with flannel trousers, pads, cap, and bat and gloves in hand. His head calmly down, he is captured mid-stride as if having been dismissed after a handy 20 or so. This same curious seventies aspect pervades the record. A phaser gnarls the guitars from the opening strum but, rather than being a distraction, this, along with the ancient reverb, presents a lost quality.

I SAW SOME CHAPS DOWN THE NETS IN REROS PARK OF THE YOUTHFUL WEST AUSTRALIAN TENDENCY TOWARD PSYCHEDELIA - THEY RESEMBLED MR. HARPER IN THIS PHOTO BUT WERE MORE SHAMBLED

The other, Paul Kelly’s ‘Bradman’, just sounds so good. A condensed epic, with a narrative punctuated and compelling , it is as lithe as the Go-Betweens in arrangement, brisk pace and all that sparkles of the summer.

The most celebrated of Australian batsmen, Sir Donald Bradman was also a triumphant captain and a man polite and winning on public occasion. He has been canonised in his country as patron saint of the summer sport, known even to those caring nothing for the game. Astoundingly, when ‘Bradman’ was released as a single, backed with the also iconic ‘Leaps and Bounds’, the song stalled on the charts. It is now woven into the Australian sporting psyche, wafting through address systems at Australian cricket grounds and purring from AM radio on Saturday nights in the summer.

I disappoint though, when friends expect me to gush in enthusiasm for the song. For the more absorbing of historical sources lead one to question whether some of its tenets are misplaced and its adulation might be better tempered.

THE GUARDIAN'S ANDY BULL SAID OF PAUL KELLY'S 'BRADMAN', "YOU'D HAVE TO BE HALF-CUT TO SING THIS STUFF AND MEAN IT"

Australia is not always overly probing as to the foundation of her cultural pillars. Typically, the more friendly, colourful and selfless of her citizenry are cherished over the successful. These were not the distinguishing qualities of Bradman. He was an upstanding individual, private and sure of self. ‘A complex, highly driven man, not given to personal relationships’ according to EW Swanton [2]Telling remark is made by Jack Fingleton, Bradman’s most intriguing portraitist and and persistent critic, in his telling attempt at praise,
Together with all other cricketers of our generation, I salute him as the greatest player of his age, the greatest attraction the game of cricket has known. Probably he did not make the friends in the game which others did but, possibly he reasoned, he would not have been the player he was had he allowed his concentration to be upset in the slightest manner. He brilliantly and decisively achieved the objective he set himself when he found his feet in first-class cricket – and that was to be, by far, the greatest run getter and the greatest holder of records the game has known. And in achieving this, be it noted, he gave the cricketing man-in-the-street the greatest value he had ever received for his admittance money and he gained the game the greatest publicity it had known. [4]
For, indeed, dislike of Bradman is recorded among many of his peers, including teammates from successive generations such as Bill O’Reilly and Keith Miller, his chief nemesis Harold Larwood, and those who later dealt with the man as an administrator, including Ian Chappell. Bradman was revered by the public for his achievements in the game and, such was the zeal felt, detraction was not countenanced in the popular consciousness. Describing this, Ray Robinson takes opportunity to dispel notions of Bradman's sanctity,
As in other walks of life, especially business and politics, swift ascent of the ladder of success is apt to have perils. Fingers on the rungs have a way of getting in the path of ambitious boots...
Criticism tended to make the bulk of Australians close ranks behind their national hero. In allowing no shadow to settle on Bradman's image, a couple of his most devoted admirers showed less concern about casting shadows elsewhere. They disposed of fault-finding by simply blaming other players' jealousy. With a few exceptions that was a slur on a bunch of team-men of oft-proved sportsmanship. Arrows from the untiring bows of a couple of ex-player writers caused defenders to lean far the other way, as if all Don's attributes were akin to those of a saint. Did Bradman have faults? You bet he did! [3]
Through his pre-eminence, Bradman became a man of the establishment. Through his persuasion he dictated terms to them and, in time, their own policy. Establishment figures are generally remembered in their best aspect and Bradman is by no means unique in this. Fellow knights Pelham Warner and Gubby Allen were notable players and influential administrators who are generally recalled with fondness, rather than for the fact that they were great snobs who arbitrarily handled the careers of many. A decisive class above Warner and Allen, though, Bradman was a champion, supreme in ability and concentration.

His brilliance and consistency as an accumulator of runs will surely never be eclipsed. His career was one of immaculate standards scrupulously achieved. It was also marked by drama but, in keeping with his character, this was generally quiet and modest rather than self-seeking, and imposed upon by external events. An outstanding example is Bradman’s peritonitis following the Ashes tour of 1934 – stricken in hospital and struggling for his life, the English and Australian nations willing his survival, and his wife travelling at a furious pace across the globe to his bedside. The same tenacity of personality with which he made a full recovery saw him alone successful among the triumvirate of batting greats following the war. While Hammond and Headley’s careers ended shabbily, Bradman secured his reputation with a distinguished performance through his final two Ashes series, made all the more stately by his austerity of shot selection in contrast to the flair of his youth.


SIR DONALD AND LADY JESSIE BRADMAN

To be a cricketer worthy to be followed, with all that entails of veneration and honour, is exacting. One need not only hold skill and the mental rigour required of the game. To be truly great, one must also possess a generosity of spirit that exhibits itself through character. Presumably, a great many people saw this in Bradman. Speaking for not a few journalists, ever shunned by the aloof Bradman who kept his own commercial commitments, John Arlott makes potent remark to imply the contrary,
Not since W. G. Grace has cricket produced such a man who so combined technical skill, concentration, determination or who did so on such a carefully planned course. I doubt that cricket will ever see another for cricket has a way of getting under a man’s skin. I do not think cricket is under Bradman’s skin but I believe that it is under his skull – in close control. Therefore he has missed something of cricket that less gifted and less memorable men have gained. How, I wonder, would Don Bradman define happiness? [6]
Kelly, a shrewd writer, acknowledges at least part of this in the song’s most ambiguous lines,


The critics could not comprehend this nonchalant phenomenon
"Why this man is a machine," they said. "Even his friends say he isn't human"
Even friends have to cut something

For the most part, though, the sentiment in Kelly’s song is, as the writer himself attests, that of Irving Rosenwater – Bradman as resplendent hero, the English XI sharp-toothed and short-sighted as pantomime villains. Central to the piece is the quotation of Bill Woodfull’s famous angered summation of Bodyline, ‘There's two teams out there today and only one of them's playing cricket.’ This attitude is the one generally held by any Australian who cares to think of the series. Such assessment scorns the achievement of the 1932 – 33 Ashes, and Jardine and Larwood become malevolents rather than cricketers. Sadly this cultural attitude has prevailed with resultant muck such as the 1980s television drama that stars Gary Sweet as Bradman. Australian cricket would be the richer for an informed reconsideration of the series.


HUGO WEAVING AS DOUGLAS JARDINE IS FAIRLY INSPIRED CASTING THOUGH (NICE FAILURE TO OBTAIN A HARLEQUIN CAP AUSTRALIAN TV)

It is an ever forceful argument that personal concerns and failings are one’s own business and should not come into reckoning on a career. Even so, Bradman's are not so heinous as to  proscribe him. For, as related in The Age by Phillip Derriman, (reviewing Christine Wallace's The Private Don,  a collection of Bradman's letters),
Whatever his personal faults, the Don isn't such a bad national hero, Wallace concludes. "If Australians are to have a secular god," she writes, "there could be worse choices than one who was upright, loyal, sceptical, loved his wife, stuck by his problematic son, delighted in his daughter despite her special difficulties and looked out for his friends - as well as being a sporting legend who put the good of the game before jingoistic interests." [5]
Bradman is a great Australian figure, but one with a complex legacy like Robert Menzies and Kerry Packer – coincidentally men who also dominated Australian cricket. Their deeds were monumental and their contribution to the nation has been great. However, their legacy is not secure from criticism. Kelly’s ‘Bradman’ is a magnificent song, but I feel it perpetuates misconceptions and lacks that which could be of edification. This is all put succinctly by the Queensland left-arm seamer, Tony Dell, who said of Bradman, 
Stories point to him being a selfish, divisive person who fought advancement. To me that does not constitute greatness. [7]
Watching the song’s video clip, though, Bradman’s batsmanship is such as to inspire grand tribute, so graceful and complete as he moves back into the crease and across to pull through midwicket.


PETER BULL, THE PIANIST, IS A BIT OF AN ARPEGGIATING, INTERSPERSING HERO

* * *

There are cricket songs beside and Sidharth Monga has written an enlightened survey of the genre on CricInfo. There are those already known to the cricket fan – pop songs that only allude to cricket but prove useful for television grabs like 10cc’s ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ and Sherbert’s ‘Howzat’; odd cricket-specific songs, ‘C’mon Aussie C’mon’ being one of few to abide, tuneful enough to gain existence beyond World Series Cricket; and then there are songs by cricketers such as the 1972 Australian touring side's, 'Here Come the Aussies', the World Series Cricket West Indian's, 'La la la la la West Indies' or Brett Lee and his outfit Six and Out.

There are also the less known. In 1981 the cricket song enthusiast David Allen compiled the lyric book A Song for Cricket, comprised of generally antique, pre-war fare – club songs and otherwise. It’s a curious relic but, as a book of words without music or context, it lacks anything of stirring beauty or profundity on the game.

More appealingly there are cricket calypsos, of which Lord Beginner’s ‘Victory Test’ and David Rudder’s ‘Rally Around the West Indies’ are the most often recalled. Each chronicles a pivotal moment in West Indies cricket – the former heralding the island federation as it came of age as a cricketing power, the latter a vain call of hope as the side slumped into what has been the most aching depression of any international cricketing side.

My favourite cricket calypso is The Mighty Sparrow’s ‘Sir Garfield Sobers’, a celebration of the West Indies’ victory over Australia in 1964 – 1965. As ever, Sparrow is raw and fervid, dancing about the beat in his delivery. His glee as he exults in the West Indies’ success and details each point of strength in the team’s false dawn is a joy to share. Other songs of West Indian success include Baldhead Growler’s marvellous ‘V for Victory’ and the mellifluous Lord Kitchener’s ‘Cricket Champions’. Besides Sparrow’s paean to Sobers, many other great cricketers from the islands have been cherished through song. King Short Shirt’s ‘Vivian Richards’ is a very fine tune and Wilmouth Houdini’s ‘Constantine’ a chilling minor-key celebration of the early hero. Beyond calypso, I Roy’s ‘Tribute to Michael Holding’ is a fittingly Jamaican work for the singer’s compatriot, and De Alberto’s ‘Chanderpaul’ is a particularly charming record. Neither do the singers of the West Indies begrudge the success of other sides. Equal reverence is given to opposition sides in Kitchener’s ‘Alec Bedser Calypso’ and Lord Relator’s ‘Gavaskar’. Also, if to your taste, there are socas with songs from such large names as Shaggy and Sean Paul.


WERE THERE ONE THING TO TAKE FROM YOUR READING I HOPE IT WOULD BE AN APPRECIATION FOR THIS  MAGNIFICENT SONG

Presumably there are a great many tunes from the subcontinent which have failed to come West. Given that the Pussycat Dolls had to spruik ‘Jai Ho’ to create an unlikely and somewhat bizarre hit, it is sadly doubtful any Asian songs of cricket will soon grace the  international charts.

In 2009 The Duckworth Lewis Method produced the most concerted effort in the field of the cricket song with a full-length album of them. Like cricket, their record is not particularly trendy. It is pop music and, as with the rest of Mr Hannon and Walsh's oeuvre, of the gentler Anglo (or strictly Hibernian) style, the natural successor of XTC. In places, cricket and cricketing terms are used with ambiguity and euphemisms in ‘The Sweet Spot’ and ‘The Nightwatchman’ attempt at humour and brave steadfastness respectively. This is in keeping with what might be thought of as an antecedent work to the record, The Kinks’ funny old song ‘Cricket’. At times, as with ‘Meeting Mr Miandad’, cricket is a launching pad to the surreal. Elsewhere on the album those whimsical and wistful attitudes that often creep into the sport are embraced, as with ‘Gentlemen and Players’ and ‘Test Match Special’. The album is at its best in the music hall romp of ‘Jiggery Pokery’, rapping upon the Warne dismissal of Gatting, and the charming ‘Flatten the Hay’, a vignette of an enthused cricket child in the south-east of Ireland. It is an odd album with bristling MIDI ensembles, enthusiastic chorus lines and silly asides. One might find the textures at times so ebullient it is a tad jarring but it is a fine thing that has been attempted and a joy of cricket that it exists.


IRISH CRICKET RULES

* * *

Outside of the song, cricket has been celebrated throughout the arts. Though limited in this discussion, I feel the need to make mention of examples in each field for the uninitiated.

If you have made it this far through an article about cricket songs it is likely you are aware that the most significant reflections upon the sport have been made in journalism and literature. Cricket writing had its early notables in authors such as John Nyren, Nicholas Felix and Tom Horan. Its first master was Neville Cardus. Cardus brought a smartness, warmth and significance to writing on the sport, which has stayed with it as a benchmark since. For many he reconceptualised the game. Some cross fellows wish had never blighted the sport with his fanciful works and the fostering of romanticism in cricket writing. In his stead, the lofty canon of cricket literature has been formed by many good writers. To make brief roll call, with deference to the most complete work written on the game, CLR James’ Beyond a Boundary, some of these include RC Robertson-Glasgow, Jack Fingleton, JM Kilburn, Ray Robinson, David Frith, and Gideon Haigh. With a new generation including Duncan Hamilton, Christian Ryan, Ed Smith, the erudite Boria Majumdar and, it is to be hoped, Ed Cowan, cricket literature abides as a vital form.

There is also a significant body of cricket poetry. This includes, as occurs in these matters, a deal of chaff – celebratory in spirit and dull in expression, rhyme and metre. Much of this is represented in Lesley Frewin’s 1964 anthology The Poetry of Cricket among others. Among the game’s better poets, which include champion fast bowler John Augustus Snow, particularly endearing is John Arlott. Some of Arlott’s works drown under platitudes – lovely ones – but occasionally he reaches a neat depth as in his celebration of Jack Hobbs,

There was a wisdom so informed your bat
To understanding of the bowlers trade
That each resource of strength or skill he used 
Seemed but the context of the stroke you played. [8] 

JOHN ARLOTT - "SO CLEAR YOU SEE THOSE TIMELESS THINGS, THAT, LIKE A BIRD, THE VISION SINGS"

Among contemporary cricket poets, a favourite is Nick Whittock. His work is abstruse but does not prohibit the reader from deriving a great deal from it. In example,

ross taylors a good fucking batsmen 
if ginger beer didnt exist itd be hilarious 
not as hilarious as if ginger beer didnt exist 
n enid blytons works remained exact 
ly as theyre fuck I love cricket [9]


In the visual arts cricket has also had worthy contributions. The National Gallery of Victoria hangs a fine painting in Fred Williams’ 'Cricketer'. Further up the road, a stroll around the Melbourne Cricket Ground will prove an ever thoughtful and stirring experience. Towering in bronze are the guardians of the sacred ground, Louis Laumen’s pantheon of (for the most part) Victoria’s favourite sons. Funded by the gambling body Tattersalls and erected over the past decade, these sculptures endow neoclassical propriety to the perimeter of this beloved place. Finest among the cricketing statues is Dennis Lillee. In his final stride before delivery with beautifully arched body, Lillee bespeaks power, elegance, and athleticism. Like the footballer Leigh Matthews, muscling on the other side of the ground, the bowler is an imposing work of awe singing forth his art in Hellenic glory. Further along perches Bill Ponsford with bat vertically raised. Having driven the ball through the covers his eyes scan the run like a grim watchman. In counterpoint to Lillee’s grace, Keith Miller in delivery stride is a display of aggression. This is not the dapper Miller of romance but a belligerent fast bowler, the spikes in his right boot looming above the viewer’s head with the terror of an iron maiden. The titles of AM and MBE, which decorate his nameplate, lay aligned to the left expectant of some late greater honour soon to come. Bradman is an affable valedictorian, the pose celebratory rather than in action with bat raised and hat doffed. In voluptuous contrast to these deified figures of sporting prowess trots Warne. Unprepossessing and with unconvincing resemblance to the man in the face, the maligned statue more often suffers the name Fat Warnie. Some halfway through his run Warne prances like an inebriated bestial satyr. This, though, is assuredly not the intention of the sculptor and I hope that my views are instead the result of cultural conditioning. It is regrettable that in the immediate aftermath of his career Warne is remembered as much for his jocular character as for leg spin. Undoubtedly during the Boxing Day Test this year some wag will again stick a lit cigarette between the sculpture’s lips. It is to be hoped that Warne does not take too great an offence at this irreverence. It is nice to feel familiarity with one’s champions.
FRED WILLIAMS' 'CRICKETER'

Cricket also has its moments in film and television. Some of these are fond and British, such as the 1953 feature, The Final Test, as well as most BBC murder mystery television series which drop into the stately homes of pre-World War 2 England and are worth their blue blood.  It is good for cricket in Australia that Channel 9 brought their Underbelly treatment to the sport in the recent Howzat! Kerry Packer's War mini-series (but please, instead read Gideon Haigh's book). I suppose that it is also good Brendan Cowell and Stephen Curry have worked their enthusiasm for the game into the currently screening Save Your Legs!  In the hope of a picture more profound I think upon the grand passion of Sam Mendes and dream that perhaps there will be greater gifts in the not too distant future. In recent years there has been a spate of excellent documentaries. Fire in Babylon is the most popular of these, both for its colour and handling of a perennially favourite topic. Out of the Ashes, which details the Afghan cricket team’s qualification for the 2010 Twenty 20 World Cup, is the most life affirming and fantastic. Classically rounded and complete is From the Ashes, which manages to revel in English cricket’s equivalent of the 1966 World Cup while still being a magnificent picture.

* * *

To return to the cricket song, in a moment of reflection one might speculate on what perhaps the most qualified man, Neville Cardus, the adept successor of Samuel Langford and Ernest Newman in musical criticism and arch-stylist of the sport, would pronounce upon the genre for he kept the two subjects apart. He dwelt upon what was fine in each to raise it to the sublime and saw no need to mince the great twin passions as related in the second of his autobiographical works,
But - I am asked this question by nearly everybody who meets me for the first time - cricket and music? "How could you mix them?" 
It is a silly question. As well might a man be asked how he can mix breathing with walking, or wine with song, or George Meredith with gardening, or mountaineering with Wagner. [10]
When I think on this I gravely question whether one may dare to do so, and whether beauty is not best kept discrete.

The cricket song is magnificent though, great in its prospects if still somewhat ill-defined in scope and disunified as a field. With what brilliance exists, I cannot but believe that there are great wonders yet to follow. Thinking on the fellows hanging about test cricket grounds – Lily Allen blowing kisses to Graham Onions; Coldplay doffing out for Midlands village cricket teams; Elton John taking Steven Davies on a world tour; and then the noble Welshmen of cricket, Nicky Wire from the Manic Street Preachers wearing whites in performance and Andrew Falkous from Mclusky and Future of the Left touring the Australian cricket summer – I am so hopeful, even if it is for some great prophet to come beyond our lifetime.




[1] Hepworth, David. ‘Ten Shades of Summer’ from The Word. July, 2010. Ed. Mark Ellen. P. 71
[2] Swanton, W.W. A Personal Recollection. Wisden, London (2003). P. 92
[3] Robinson, Ray. On Top Down Under - Australia's Cricket Captains. Cassell Australia, Sydney (1975). P. 179 - 180
[4] Fingleton, Jack. Brightly Fades the Don. Arcadia, Melbourne (2002). P. 180
[5] Derriman, Phillips. Letters reveal the real Don in The Age, 30 October 2004. http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/10/29/1099028214125.html?from=storylhs
[6] Fingleton, Jack. Brightly Fades the Don. Arcadia, Melbourne (2002). P. 189 190
[7] Tony Dell quoted in Australia: Story of a Cricket County. Ed. Christian Ryan. Hardie Grant Books (2011). http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/541158.html
[8] Arlott, John. To John Berry Hobbs on his Seventieth Birthday 16 December 1952. From:, Arlott, John.  Jack Hobbs Profile of ‘The Master’. John Murray and Davis-Poynter, London (1981). Frontispiece
[9] Whittock, Nick. don bradman. From: Whittock, Nick. The Doon. Vanguard Press, Sydney (2012). P. 7
[10] Cardus, Neville. Second Innings. (Collins, London, 1950). P. 246

3 comments:

  1. For your consideration dear Golby: http://www.discogs.com/Chris-Corsano-The-Young-Cricketer/release/1130247

    ReplyDelete
  2. Gosh, well that is interesting isn't it? However, I am not sure that the chap's heart is quite in the subject so I don't believe he qualifies for this discussion. Here is an extract from an interview with Chris Corsano:

    On your 2006 solo album, The Young Cricketer, the song titles created this narrative of advice to a young, aspiring cricketer. Where did that story come from?

    I found this book in a thrift shop in the UK and it fit really well with a couple of metaphors — maybe no one else picked up on them — and I used an image for the cover art. I was living in Manchester at the time, and noticed that with all the other countries where I could move, England is really not that much different — same language, and so on. But doing the Cricketer record was like me joking around to myself, and being in this new spot and feeling alienated from the city. Cricket seemed ultra-English and the book was written by this old-timer — the guy on the cover is actually the writer’s father. It was filled with all of this kinda old-fogey advice, like “We need to keep the spirit of cricket alive,” and when you take that out of the context, it all seemed ridiculous and funny.

    Cricketer was something like a concept record, except there’s no concept other than the music.

    http://www.tinymixtapes.com/features/chris-corsano

    Thanks for the tip!
    Benjamin

    ReplyDelete
  3. I found this book in a thrift shop in the UK and it fit really well with a couple of metaphors — maybe no one else picked up on them — and I used an image for the cover art. I was living in Manchester at the time, and noticed that with all the other countries where I could move, England is really not that much different — same language, and so on. But doing the Cricketer record was like me joking around to myself, and being in this new spot and feeling alienated from the city. Cricket seemed ultra-English and the book was written by this old-timer — the guy on the cover is actually the writer’s father. It was filled with all of this kinda old-fogey advice, like “We need to keep the spirit of cricket alive,” and when you take that out of the context, it all seemed ridiculous and funnyCricket

    ReplyDelete