Basketball, Baseball & Boxing – A Mixtape by Tandem Felix

In Living With Ailments, from the new Kiran Leonard release Derevaun Seraun, he sings, “I accept the open-minded play sports”, the latest example of a somewhat counter intuitive link between music and sport. While the two seem unlikely bed-fellows, there’s actually a surprising number of good songs written about the natural spirit of competition that is at the heart of all sporting contests.

Some sports certainly lend themselves better to song than others, football for all it’s popularity is simply not poetic enough to inspire much decent musical content, with all due respect to Half Man Half Biscuits excellent All I Want for Christmas Is a Dukla Prague Away Kit. Like most songwriting, the best writing about sports tends to focus more on the human condition, certain sports that come down to a pure, person on person contest lend themselves to a more lyrical interpretation. Boxing, a sport that requires a perfect blend of brutality, psychology and technique, is perfectly suited to capturing in song, just ask Mark Kozelek who seems to mention a boxer in pretty much every song he wrote. Equally Bill Callahan, Bob Dylan and even DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince have written songs about the sport.

From Belle & Sebastian’s The Stars of Track and Field to The Mountain Goats’ Cubs In Five, a song which deserves special credit for being about baseball but also referencing Geoffrey Chaucer, Bill Gates and Heaven 17, the best songs about sport are of course about human beings. Our hopes, our dreams, our achievements, our doubts and our failures, all of them are present in sport, and all of them can, sometimes, be recorded stunningly in song.

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It’s been a few years since the world has heard anything from Dublin quintet, Tandem Felix. They burst onto the scene back in 2015, with their critically lauded debut EP, Comma, but have been conspicuous by their absence ever since. Absent that is until last week when they returned with their brand new single, Were You There (When They Crucified the Birthday Boy)? 

The track tells the tale of, “a birthday party in a deity’s back garden”, the narrator, a distant onlooker, tells of crowds gathering expecting to witness a miracle; it’s part biblical epic, part alcohol-fueled soirée. Musically, Tandem Felix have never sounded more ambitious, the hazy lo-fi melancholy of Sparklehorse and the alt-country twang of Wilco remain, yet in the picture painting lyricism and rich production there’s equally nods to the likes of Andy Shauff or a less gravel-voiced Bill Callahan.

The band, who apparently take residence in an industrial estate located between a ketchup factory and a mustard factory, are set to release their debut album early next year. It’s a record that has seen songwriter, David Tapley, rediscover his love of making music and finds Tandem Felix sounding more mature, more ambitious and more exciting than ever before.

Today Tandem Felix have put us together a mixtape inspired by a trio of particularly lyrical sports; Basketball, Baseball & Boxing. Check out the tape featuring the likes of Sun Kil Moon, Songs:Ohia and Steely Dan below.

1. Steely Dan – Glamour Profession 

6:05, outside the stadium/Special delivery for Hoops McCann

Steely Dan on message as usual with a 7 and a half minute song about selling coke to a basketball up-and-comer in 1970’s Los Angeles. This kitsch masterpiece features an amazing lyric where narrator brags about having a telephone in his Chrysler – it was the 70’s, I guess.

2. Songs: Ohia – The Big Game Is Every Night

Now light the field for the big game tonight/Mark Twain to Thomas Jefferson, strike/Luke the Drifter to Zimmerman/Line drive to keep the team alive

There is such a feeling of death about this 10-minute epic. Three of the aforementioned baseball players are dead men. A line drive is a shot that is hit low, almost in a straight line, parallel to the ground – like the motion of the grim reaper’s, scythe cutting through the wheat in the field.

3. Billy Bragg & Wilco – Joe DiMaggio’s Done It Again

Grandma’s home by the radio/On the television watching Joe/She jerks the beard off of Grandpa’s chin/Joe DiMaggio’s done it again

This cut comes from the second volume of Mermaid Avenue, a series of records released by Wilco and Billy Bragg of old Woody Guthrie songs that were never recorded. This track speaks of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Love the banjo!

4. Bruce Springsteen – Glory Days

I had a friend was a big baseball player/Back in high school/He could throw that speedball by you/Make you look like a fool boy

There are actually so few lyrics in this song about baseball, but I have to include it because of the music video. In between working down at the yard and jamming with his band at the local bar, The Boss enjoys nothing more than to spend his time tossing the old rock.

5. Bob Dylan – Catfish

Catfish, million-dollar-man/Nobody can throw the ball like Catfish can

In this tune, Dylan sings about Baseball Hall-Of-Famer, Jim “Catfish” Hunter. Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize last year for creating “new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition” and for singing about a 70’s Kansas City pitcher, I think that’s only fair.

6. Sun Kil Moon – Pancho Villa

Pancho Villa/Would never rest/’Til 1925, he closed his eyes/Two Manila stars would rise

Mark Kozelek a.k.a. Sun Kil Moon loves singing about boxing – in one of his more recent albums even states that he spent $17k to get to the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight. Pancho Villa is an acoustic version of the song Salvador Sanchez which appears earlier on his debut album, Ghosts of the Great Highway.

7. Bill Callahan – Sycamore

You won’t get hurt if you just keep your hands up/And stand tall like sycamores

Another musician who is no stranger to writing about boxing is Bill Callahan – in his book Letters to Emma Bowlcut, the main character is a failed boxer who is writing to a woman trying to impress her. In Sycamore, one of my favourite of Callahan’s output, the narrator is talking to a younger man, counselling him on life using what he has learned through boxing, “to love in the wild and fight in the gym”.

Were You There (When They Crucified the Birthday Boy) is out now. Click HERE for more information on Tandem Felix.

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