INBOX May 25, 2017

Music to watch cricket by

Nick Brown
Selecting a soundtrack for a long day at the cricket requires a ear for the rhythm of the game

Cricket's version of Mark E Smith? © Getty Images

The "pop" of leather on willow and the garbled cries of those in the field. Low conversations and light ripples of applause. The murmur of passing traffic from the outside world and, occasionally, the jarring crash as a great number of glass bottles are disposed of behind the scenes. This is the soundtrack to county cricket - for Test matches, turn the above up to ten and mix in a gentleman with a trumpet. For T20, crank it one louder to 11, add a 5th of November firework display and a mobile disco.

If you are in possession of a digital radio, and the game you're attending has been chosen for broadcast, your ears may be filled with one of the BBC's excellent commentaries. However, much in the same way that the Championship is the more relaxed, less fashionable counterpart of international cricket, so too is its coverage. While the better part of a day is given over to Test Match Special, analysis of a county game can be cut short at a moment's notice. The visit of Surrey to Old Trafford last May was one such occasion.

I can't quite recall which came first, the catch or the drop. The dismissal of Kumar Sangakkara, caught for just 8 - albeit eight runs in the shape of two beautifully driven boundaries - or the hastily ditched broadcast as attention was diverted, instead, to an afternoon of tennis. Rather than turn my radio off, I switched over to Classic FM.

My knowledge and appreciation of classical music was, and still is, as limited as that of cricket a year ago. The only real exposure being to pieces featured in films or on TV - once again, much like cricket. Any thought of combining the two had never occurred to me, but it had occurred to a friend of mine. Despite a musical taste similar to my own - a taste on the louder, faster, darker end of the spectrum - he would choose classical music to accompany him on long walks and suggested I might try the same for long days watching cricket.

The reading of books or newspapers is a common sight around the grounds - last year, I even saw a man compile his racing picks for the day on scraps of used envelopes - so why not listen to music? An activity which, unlike the above, doesn't require you to constantly avert your eyes from the action.

Almost instantaneously, the most mundane of acts on the field were injected with a sense of high drama. A batsman stepping away from the wicket to adjust his box and stare wistfully into the distance was transformed into Lawrence of Arabia, standing tall and surveying the vast desert expanse before him. After a while, I began to feel it was, if anything, too much drama.

Cricket is a slow sport moving at its own, almost funereal, pace - "sehr langsam" in the words of Gustav Mahler - and so requires a score with a similarly unhurried tempo

The gentle opening of Tchaikovsky's "Rose Adagio" from The Sleeping Beauty might suit the ballet of spinner and batsman - the short quick steps of the former answered by the latter dancing forward to execute a graceful, long-limbed sweep - however, as it became more and more theatrical it no longer matched that which took place before me. For a piece that builds and builds into a resounding climax, you don't want the most energetic movement in view to be that of a fielder, hunched over, furiously shining the ball on the front of his flannels.

A similar fate befell the "Adagio Moderato" from Elgar's Cello Concerto. Twice rising to grand crescendos, only for neither to coincide with either of the wickets falling during its eight minutes. Aram Khachaturian's rousing "Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia" proved altogether too rousing, although not enough to inspire Gareth Batty to rise up and lead his men to freedom - Kyle Jarvis breached the Surrey captain's defences and routed his stumps.

The exercise wasn't a complete failure, Gustav Mahler's instruction of "sehr langsam" - "very slowly" - for the Adagietto from his Symphony No. 5 and the repeating central motif of Handel's "Sarabande" did at least give some clues as to what might be needed for a suitable musical accompaniment.

Had the Pretoria-born Neil Wagner removed Tom Curran - place of birth, Cape Town - a few minutes earlier than he did so, he would have brought an end to the contest to the strains of the entirely fitting "Out of Africa" by John Barry, rather than merely the headlines of the hourly news.

Perhaps because it had proven such a hit-and-miss experience, it wasn't an experiment that I chose to repeat and it was only brought to mind again when leafing through last season's notebook. With the season upon us, I decided to utilise what little knowledge my first attempt had afforded me and try again, only this time I would use music from my own collection, that which I know and love.

Cricket is a slow sport moving at its own, almost funereal, pace - "sehr langsam" in the words of Gustav Mahler - and so requires a score with a similarly unhurried tempo. A song such as Bad Brains' "Pay to Cum", hammering along as it does at one hundred and sixty-odd beats per minute might lend itself to highlight reels of bashing sixes and crashing wickets, but not to the sedate unfolding of a full day's play. Clocking in at a minute and a half, it would barely see you through a couple of deliveries. Anything remotely fast is to be ruled out, which might make a track by The Stooges something of a surprise choice.

Can you hear the music? © Getty Images

As an influence to countless purveyors of loud, aggressive music with attitude and led by the self-proclaimed "streetwalking cheetah with a heart full of napalm", Iggy Pop, Ann Arbor's finest are not an outfit you'd readily associated with a leisurely pace. Which makes "We Will Fall" a complete outlier on their self-titled debut album. Four times the length of "Real Cool Time". Almost twice as long as "No Fun". There is no sign of the "Raw Power" on the bulk of their future output. Back in 1969, Rolling Stone magazine derided it as "a ten-minute exercise in boredom". I suspect the reviewer may have been similarly disparaging if asked to sit through 96 overs of cricket.

A melodic chant of meditation backed by the constant buzz of producer John Cale's viola - a musical approximation of the Lord's "hum" - punctuated by sparse hand-claps and with a bass that stumbles around like a fielder struggling to position himself for a catch in the deep. Iggy's voice floating through the haze like snatches of nearby chatter. Ron Asheton's wah-wah guitar, the vague whiff of a contraband cigarette. It's long, it's slow and it's repetitive, much like a day at a county game.

Repetition is important in music. The catchy melody of a chorus. The groove of the rhythm section. The iconic verse riff that compels the listener to break out their air guitar. It's the very repetition of these parts that makes them so memorable. However, for the compiling of a cricket-watching soundtrack, your common or garden verse-chorus-verse structure is not fit for purpose.

The bowler walks to his mark, turns and starts his run up. Within a few seconds the ball is dead. The bowler walks to his mark, turns and starts his run up. Nearly 600 balls in a day. The majority delivered in the same manner. A great many eliciting the same outcome. To quote the Lower Broughton bard, Mark E Smith, "this is the three Rs… repetition, repetition, repetition" - no prizes for guessing the title of this early effort by The Fall. Their 1983 album Perverted by Language contains several examples of this slavish devotion to a set pattern - a policy Smith happily extends to the turnover of band members.

Having recently read The Wars of the White Rose by Stuart Rayner, the telling of the uncivil war that raged throughout Geoff Boycott's later years at Yorkshire, I like to think of Boycott as cricket's version of The Fall frontman. Mark E Smith famously stated, "if it's me and yer granny on bongos, it's The Fall". I wonder if, during the comings and goings of that long and bitter saga, Boycs ever proclaimed, "if it's me and my mother behind the stumps, it's Yorkshire". Regular listeners of Test Match Special will be aware that the late Mrs Boycott was said to be a safe pair of hands.

Coming in at The Fall of the first wicket on Perverted by Language is "Garden". A circular riff of six jangling notes, each as bright as the sun, repeating like the half-dozen balls of an over and stopping only for lunch, tea or what might loosely be termed a chorus. Ideal for a summer's day in the "Garden" or at a cricket ground.

The senior man Iggy Pop captains the side - a move Mark E Smith would, no doubt, disagree with - while The Fall figurehead will slouch in the slips, his hands never leaving his pockets

Alternatively, for days of foreboding grey skies and forgettable batting displays, several places down the order is "Tempo House" with a dour, ponderous bass line that can rumble along uninterrupted for up to two minutes at a time.

As well as being both slow and repetitive, the above-mentioned tracks all have another thing in common. They contain vocals. Not, in any way, traditional singing; the phrasing of Mark E Smith's lyrics being more akin to the reading of classified football results - a role Smith actually performed in 2005 - but vocals nonetheless.

I am sure I am not alone in having, on occasion, found a peaceful spot in the stands and settled in for the morning only for some great Falstaffian figure, plus retinue, to enter stage right and proceed to hold court, long and loud, until the sun went down or I retired elsewhere. There may be times when, in respect to the sounds of conversation, you prefer instead the sound of silence and I don't mean the Simon and Garfunkel tune. For these instances, I have selected a suitable instrumental. Albeit, perhaps, not suitable for everyone.

If the viola buzz of The Stooges' "We Will Fall" is reminiscent of the sound of a Test match crowd at the home of cricket, then the drone of Seattle duo Sunn O))) is the sonic equivalent of that Lord's "hum" gripped roughly by the lapels of it's red-and-gold streaked blazer and forcibly bundled through a particularly harsh distortion pedal.

The opening track from their debut album ØØ Void, "Richard" - perhaps a paean to the late Mr Benaud, a man who knew the power of holding one's tongue - is, for the most part, two contrasting notes stretched to their very limits, in direct conflict with one another. The bowler's delivery and the batsman's riposte. A deep breath in and a long, slow exhalation out. The retreat of the tide before the subsequent wave crashes upon the rocks like a ball clattering the stumps to a low-tuned distorted feedback recalling birds overhead or sirens speeding by, but not a single spoken word.

With the above ramblings in mind, I have selected an XI to tour with me this summer. What it may lack in pace and swing it makes up for in patience and spin. The senior man Iggy Pop captains the side - a move Mark E Smith would, no doubt, disagree with - while The Fall figurehead will slouch in the slips, his hands never leaving his pockets, sledging opposition batsmen and his own team-mates probably more so.

Music to Watch Cricket By XI
- "We Will Fall" by The Stooges
- "Garden" by The Fall
- "Tempo House" by The Fall
- "Richard" by SUNN O)))
- "Why Can't I Touch It" by Buzzcocks
- "Poptones" by Public Image Ltd.
- "I Dreamed I Dream" by Sonic Youth
- "Undenied" by Portishead
- "Hell Is Round The Corner" by Tricky
- "Well of Misery" by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
- "The Eternal" by Joy Division

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After twenty years out in the cold, Nick Brown is basking once more in the glow of the summer game

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jim on June 1, 2017, 7:32 GMT

    How about "When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease" by Roy Harper?

  • tofugo1737357 on May 31, 2017, 13:28 GMT

    I always thought of "We Will Fall" as the Stooges trying to do "The End." I grew up watching cricket at St George's, so don't mind the sound of a brass band at all as a soundtrack. My choice would be dub reggae (ala Lee Scratch Perry and King Tubby) - so I should probably go watch cricket in Jamaica. Fits in loosely with the trip-hop of Tricky and Portishead, both great acts. Portishead perhaps a bit too morose for even cricket, as much as I think Dummy is one of the greatest albums ever. I once saw a picture of Mitchell Johnson wearing a Slayer T-shirt. Always thought that would be perfect for his bowling spells in the 2013 Ashes. Or any of the punk you like.

  • N on May 31, 2017, 4:43 GMT

    You have missed out on the magic of papare band :)

  • j38m1v1003638 on May 30, 2017, 11:45 GMT

    I love music, thats why I always watch cricket with the sound off nowadays. I don't see the point of 5 second bursts of music. It's pretty much like a poor comedian saying "boom boom" after a joke to make sure his audience didn't miss it. Apart from that the choice always seems abysmal to me. Even so, I'd still not appreciate 5 seconds of the "Ride of the Valkyries" or the "!812" let alone anything truly magnificent. For that very reason I have stopped attending live cricket events. I love cricket, played and watched it all my life. It does not need over-hyping, and it does not need muzak. Those in power that think it does are just showing little confidence in their product, which is let us not forget, the greatest sport in the world

  • Daniel on May 30, 2017, 4:33 GMT

    I love the concept of the article, just not the music. 70s Brit punk may well speak to an alienated generation, but it also alienates pretty much everyone else.

  • Mark on May 29, 2017, 21:56 GMT

    Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen.

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