The best cricket song ever written
(with apologies to Neil Hannon and Egbert Moore aka Lord Beginner)
by Ted Terrace, 18/07/12
In June 1968, Roy Harper performed at the first ever Hyde Park free concert, along with Tyrannosaurus Rex, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd, and me. Not that I was performing, mind, just starstruck.
A year later, in September, he played a concert at the Purcell Rooms in the Royal Festival Hall and the programme notes read: “He verbally bruises any disinterested or aggressive audiences, because that is his way.” I can vouch for that having seen (along with the future Mrs T) several examples of this strange, yet beautiful, behaviour from the great man, no fools tolerated here and anyone being less than respectful in concert got a good earful. Brilliant.
You never knew quite what to expect at a Harper gig and that was just the way I liked it.
Live version, Wolverhampton 1991
Anyway, back to the fine song in question.
When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease was released on Roy’s eighth studio album, HQ, released in 1975 by Harvest Records. In the USA the album was titled When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease, which seems a trifle odd given the yanks less than passing interest in our summer game. The record, needless to say, stiffed over there.
And sadly, at that time in the UK, no-one gave it much more than a scant nod. This was the way of things with Roy’s excellent work and it would take many more years before his music was finally given the significance it so richly deserved.
Cricketer is an exceptional song, as well as being quite a departure from the Harper norm, and with the inclusion of The Grimethorpe Colliery Band it conjures up a rare old season of mellow fruitfulness, a bucolic afternoon on the village green, an elegy to a golden age.
On his website, Harper talks of the track as being one of the highlights on the HQ album;
“HQ is to date my most integral ‘rock’ record. The songs on the record are less acoustically oriented than on any of my other albums. However this is not to say that any of the songs couldn’t have been recorded playing just an acoustic guitar. The combination of Chris Spedding, Bill Bruford, Dave Cochrane and myself was a band I should have kept together, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. The highlights of the record are Chris Spedding’s guitar solo on ‘The Game’ … and two, the great lift that the Grimethorpe Colliery (brass) Band gave to the David Bedford arrangement of ‘When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease.’ It was recorded in the same studio and there were about 50 musicians in the studio that day.
“My childhood memories of the heroic stature of the footballers and cricketers of the day invoke the sounds that went along with them. Paramount among these was the traditional Northern English brass band, which was a functional social component through all four seasons, being seen and heard in many different contexts. My use of that style of music on ‘Old Cricketer’ is a tribute to those distant memories. I always look back on HQ as a great album made at one of the best times of my life.”
Go cricket. Go listen. Go download. Go England!
When the day is done, and the ball has spun, in the umpire’s pocket away
And all remains, in the groundsman’s pains for the rest of time and a day
There’ll be one mad dog and his master, pushing for four with the spin
On a dusty pitch, with two pounds six of willow wood in the sun
When an old cricketer leaves the crease, you never know whether he’s gone
If sometimes you’re catching a fleeting glimpse of a twelfth man at silly mid-on
And it could be Geoff, and it could be John, with a new ball sting in his tail
And it could be me, and it could be thee, and it could be the sting in the ale
The song is dedicated on the album’s sleevenotes to “John Snow and Geoff Boycott and to England my dear home.”
So, is it the best cricket song ever?
— David Bell (@billybadknees) July 25, 2012