When a cricket aficionado talks about England’s early exit from their home World Cup in 1999, it is a cliché to refer to the host nation being knocked out ‘the day before the official song came out’. But the song itself has been rather hard to track down – whilst a recycled version of the song (more on that later) has been widely available on YouTube for years, only yesterday did I finally stumble across the original music video.
The song is infamous for selling dreadfully – it failed to chart (whereas the unofficial Barmy Army single ‘Come on England’ did at least reach number 45) and it became part of the unsuccessful tournament’s legacy when nostalgic fans talk about organisational difficulties. Having said that, the music was used by Sky Sports as the theme tune for their tournament coverage (the BBC sticking with the traditional Soul Limbo) and Sky wheeled out the music again for World Cup campaigns in 2003 and 2007 and for the 2004 Champions Trophy (hosted in England). Cricket writers at the time sneered at the song for failing to mention cricket or the world cup tournament at all. In fairness, the song does echo the tournament’s stapline (the ‘Carnival of Cricket’) and it does have a catchy and rather jaunty feel to it (if you ignore the dreadful treatment of ‘Ode to Joy’ running underneath).
This article from the Independent’s Stephen Brenkley reveals the organisational naïvety of the ECB, allowing the song to launch after the tournament’s group stages and in failing to secure a live performance of the song as part of the opening ceremony. (To be fair, given the appalling PA system at said ceremony, had they booked Dave Stewart to perform he would have been inaudible anyway.)
The press conference in which the music video was revealed is discussed in Marcus Trescothick’s autobiography (as Trescothick was not an England cricketer at the time, this was presumably an anecdote that ghostwriter Peter Hayter was very keen to include in the book!). Apparently, the collected gathering of Her Majesty’s Press was stunned into silence by the utterly bizarre visuals that unfolded in front of them. And, having finally found this unusual piece of English cricket history last night, I can see why.
I do not know what on earth the tournament organisers were thinking allowing this piece of film to be the official music video of the ‘Carnival of Cricket’. Whilst it is supposed to be a parody of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the visuals are grotesque, horrible and (arguably) offensive. Carnival of cricket, indeed – let’s celebrate the great game by showing a group of caricature ‘patients’ from a psychiatric hospital invading a cricket pitch, running away from doctors and nurses and finally seeing the lead singer being led away in handcuffs as police sirens scream. I would love to have been a fly on the wall in the meeting in which this music video was revealed to the ECB. I wonder which hapless executive signed it off. They are lucky that it was not more widely aired – I think it is an utterly disgraceful music video for such a tournament, and it was certainly misguided, to say the least. (To think, Shaggy’s Game of Love and Unity release for the 2007 tournament was derided – at least it was innocent and naff!)
But that’s not the end of the story where this song is concerned. Apart from its continued airings on Sky Sports whenever a global cricket tournament came along, the song was rewritten to be part of the soundtrack to the 2004 Disney film Around the World in 80 Days.
A more conventional music video this time. And this is the version that has been available on YouTube for years. No more mention of life being a carnival, but the ‘all over the world’ hook is, of course, suitable for the storyline of the film. The film was a box-office flop and received very poor reviews from the critics, which seems somewhat fitting with the song’s origins at the 1999 Cricket World Cup.
Coincidentally, the theme music used by Sky (and the World Feed) for the 2011 World Cup sounds like it could be a development of this version of the song (although I am pretty sure it wasn’t a deliberate choice at all).
So, there you have it. One of English cricket’s more bizarre pieces of memorabilia. And the next time a cricket columnist discusses the 1999 World Cup song (I suspect it will come up once or twice in 2019, when the tournament returns to England), here is all the information you could ever wish to know about it.