OPINION: Other countries happily sing non-PC anthems, so why shouldn’t England?
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EDP reader Peter King argues that we’re putting too much emphasis on not offending people when it comes to the Last Night of the Proms debacle
A country racked with doubts about choosing a national song that fires the blood and speaks to all runs the risk of being branded a land of losers.
Amidst all the brouhaha sparked by calls to drop Rule, Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory from the Last Night of the Proms has come an unsettling reminder that we do not all sing from the same hymn sheet when pondering a replacement and that the enemy – like the devil – lays claim to all the best tunes.
At rugby internationals England has to make do with a plodding, shared anthem, while the Welsh raise the roof of Cardiff’s Principality Stadium with Land of our Fathers and Flower of Scotland becomes turbocharged in the hands of Amy MacDonald.
Across the water our historic sparring partners prepare to unleash La Marseillaise. The Frenchmen’s unashamed call to drench their fields with the impure blood of ferocious foreign invaders bent on slitting their sons’ throats makes few concessions to political correctness.
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In contrast New Britain, stung by the impact of dated boasts in Rule, Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory, appears nervous of the claims of each to the celebratory crown. Jerusalem, however, gains by obscurity and is perhaps less open to the assaults of the literal-minded.
If we are determined to find scapegoats for the sins of the past, we should not blame the giants whose works have been repurposed. Elgar never planned to become a mouthpiece for the Women’s Institute – and William Blake, walking the streets of London in 1792 in the ‘bonnet rouge’, the pointed red cap of the French Revolution, was hardly an establishment man.
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One current suggestion for a so-called innocuous alternative to today’s contentious contenders has come from Wasfi Kani, founder and chief executive officer of Pimlico Opera and Grange Park Opera. She proposed I Vow to Thee, My Country and The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love.
However, a hymn that urges a “love that asks no questions”, much favoured by public school headmasters, is perhaps more dangerous than La Marseillaise. The classless Beatles’ song, with its vacuous repetition rising to the anti-climactic inverting of “All you need is love” to “Love is all you need”, proposes a world view so empty that it could just as easily be snapped up by the worst as well as the best of regimes.
Popular culture, whatever its lyrics, is easy prey for the oppressor.
A concert staged at a ceremony to mark the opening of the road section of a bridge built to integrate the illegally annexed Ukrainian territory of Crimea into Russia featured stars culled from that country’s musical firmament, who presumably found it difficult to say no.
The more harmless collusion between knights and dames from the pop world and the establishment on our own home soil at events such as the queen’s diamond jubilee concert is a subtler way of sealing public support.
A literal-minded onslaught against offensive lyrics can miss the point – and the use that words are put to is the acid test. Watching the Last Night of the Proms is like switching on an old episode of the The Good Old Days – and anyone watching the Peruvian tenor, Juan Diego Florez, belting out Rule, Britannia! decked out as an Inca king could hardly fail to recognise that this is patriotism with a raised eyebrow.
Meanwhile, the search for a song that stirs the soul without treading on any toes is set to drag on – and for now we are likely to remain a few notes shy of a new national anthem