Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Published: Irish Times, June 27 2009

“I really admire any game that can go on for five days and not produce a winner”

EOIN BUTLER talks to Neil Hannon about cricket, Britpop and “Father Ted”.

What are you listening to these days?
I listen to far too much music that is not considered cool. I’m a lifelong fan of Cole Porter and Noel Coward. I also love Maurice Ravel. As far as pop music is concerned, it tends to be strangely commercial stuff. I’ll find I’m just mad about a Sugababes song or something. The new Jarvis Cocker album is brilliant too, much better than his first album. I was always a massive Pulp fan.

Do I recall that you and Jarvis once had an argument about an anorak?
That has a basis in truth. Jarvis and I once did a joint cover shoot for a French magazine. I turned up wearing an anorak, basically, because I had no clue. It got back to me afterwards that Jarvis had been outraged. The phrase he used was “You’ve got to live it” [referring to being a pop star, presumably]. Afterwards, I thought “Hmm . . . He was probably right.” But we never had a face-to-face argument.

The period of your greatest commercial success coincided roughly with the Britpop era. Did you feel a part of that whole thing?
Not at the time, no. I remember Damon Albarn once drunkenly putting his arm around me and telling me I was. I was saying “No, I’m Irish, actually.” He said, “But Northern Ireland’s part of Britain, isn’t it?” I said “Well, it’s the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.” But I think I lost him there. In retrospect, he was right. I was in part of that Britpop movement, whether I liked it or not. Because my music was very much of that era.

You quoted Wordsworth on one of those early albums: “I travelled among unknown men, to lands beyond the sea/Nor England did I know till then, the love I bore to thee . . . ” Not exactly Liam Gallagher territory.
Well no, I certainly sprang from a more leftfield background. It was pure luck really. I was listening to a lot of John Barry and Ennio Morricone at the time. It all sort of coalesced on the Casanova album, which seemed to suit the mood of the time. Ever since then it has really just been a wonderful battle to keep making records and relocate myself to a degree to a more long-term proposition.

How did you become involved with ‘Father Ted’?
I got a phone call from Graham [Linehan] in 1995. I knew he liked my records, because he’d reviewed a couple of them for various magazines. I didn’t hold out much hope for [the series]. Their previous effort, Paris, with Alexei Sayle, had bombed. I really treasure it now, it’s fantastic. It is something that will be written on my CV forever more and that’s not a bad thing.

My father used to say cricket is the only sport where you can hear the result and still not know who won. Is a knowledge of cricket essential to appreciate your latest album, ‘The Duckworth Lewis Method’?
Hopefully not. We kind of did bear that in mind when we were making it. We’re not exactly experts ourselves. I know how it’s played, but I have a very limited knowledge of players and results beyond the past 10 years. So a lot of the cricketing terminology, we used as the starting point for songs, rather than the entire basis.

You and ‘Duckworth Lewis’ collaborator Thomas Walsh are both big cricket fans. What are we cricket agnostics missing?
Well, people complain about how complicated and archaic a sport cricket is. To me, that’s kind of half the joy of it: the convoluted rules, the strange names for field positions and deliveries. Test cricket is the absolute zenith as far as I’m concerned. I really admire any game that can go on for five days and not produce a winner.

Any great, outlandish unrealised ambitions?
I’ve been trying to create a musical for the National Theatre in London for the past three years. It’s an adaptation of Swallows and Amazons , the Arthur Ransome children’s novel from the 1920s. It’s all about kids in boats. The music is done, it’s just a matter of getting it produced. It’s a slow process, but it will see the light of day eventually. I also want to be All-Ireland croquet champion. I love croquet.

That could be the next album?
Indeed. Beyond that . . . unrealised ambitions? I’m running out of them, I think. My main ambition is to knuckle down and write proper masterpiece songs, songs that fly into the public consciousness without people even knowing who wrote them. Like Happy Birthday . Or White Christmas . Or My Lovely Horse .

The Duckworth Lewis Method is out on July 3rd on 1969 Records