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DOMINIC LAWSON: Britain’s National Anthem is such a dirge. Why can’t we have a new one? 


By Dominic Lawson for the Daily Mail

Published: 01:08, 2 March 2015 | Updated: 10:06, 2 March 2015

As if it’s not enough to have England cricket fans on his back after a series of dismal results, Eoin Morgan has found another way to annoy supporters.

The new captain of the England one-day side is being roundly criticised for not joining in the singing of the National Anthem before matches at the cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Many have questioned Morgan’s sense of pride in wearing the three lions on the national cricket team shirt, given that he was Dublin born and bred and played for the Republic of Ireland before he transferred his allegiance to England.


England captain Eoin Morgan talks to the media during a press conference at Basin Reserve on Friday

Piers Morgan, an obsessive cricket fan, tweeted that since the ex-Irishman wanted to captain England, he should ‘sing the damn National Anthem, too’.

There was even a whiff of sectarianism in the headline of the Belfast Telegraph: ‘Irish-born cricketer Eoin Morgan: I won’t sing National Anthem for England.’

But it emerged that Morgan’s firmly shut mouth at the World Cup as the National Anthem was being played was not a political statement: it was simply shyness on his part. He is a very quiet and reserved man, finding it embarrassing to sing in public — as people of that nature invariably do.

England football manager Roy Hodgson would have no patience with that argument. Before the last football World Cup, he demanded his players ‘sing the National Anthem with pride . . . you very rarely play against opponents and they haven’t got their hands on their hearts and singing their anthem as loud as they can’.

Perhaps there is a good reason other national sides belt out theirs with more verve and passion than ours. We have a lousy National Anthem — one of the world’s worst, in fact. I am far from alone in holding this opinion — even if it’s not done to express it openly.


Piers Morgan, an obsessive cricket fan, tweeted that since the ex-Irishman wanted to captain England, he should ‘sing the damn National Anthem, too’

At the peak of celebrations during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, the polling organisation YouGov asked participants in its surveys to ‘declare your views on the National Anthem’.

Despite the fact that roughly 70 per cent said that they were in favour of the monarchy, YouGov also reported that ‘an overwhelming number of you told us you didn’t like the National Anthem’.

For the minority who were not in favour of the continuation of a Royal Family, the words themselves would doubtless have been the reason for their dislike — ‘Long to reign over us’ and all that. But for the rest, the reason would have been more musical than political.

It is a dreary tune, more funereal than inspirational. Or, as YouGov put it: ‘Participants not in favour of the anthem used a slew of “d” words to describe how they felt about it: “dull”, “depressing”, “dour”, “downbeat” and (most popular) “dirge”. ’

This, perhaps, is why many English rugby fans feel what might be described as anthem envy when their side is playing Wales.

Whatever the result of the game, the Welsh invariably win in the battle of anthems. This may be right and proper, given the Welsh tradition of the male voice choir. But surely England should not be at or near the bottom of the national anthem league, given our own great traditions in music.

Yet near the bottom we are, according to musicologists, who three years ago produced a ranking of ‘singability’ for national anthems. The order was established by finding out which anthems made non- affiliated listeners most likely to join in spontaneously.

First prize went to the French national anthem, La Marseillaise. Silver was taken by the Welsh anthem, Land Of My Fathers. God Save The Queen limped in next to last.

As the woman behind the research, Dr Alison Pawley, explained: ‘The tune of the British anthem is written in a way that doesn’t invite high chest voice singing and it lacks a real hook or climax where people feel compelled to join in or belt it out.’

Perhaps it is not surprising that no one composer is given credit for the original tune, though several wrote variations in an effort to improve it — including Beethoven. But even that musical giant did not succeed.

The good news is it is not necessary for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to commission a brand new anthem in order to give crowds at sporting fixtures involving English national sides something truly inspirational to sing.

We already have Hubert Parry’s setting of Blake’s poem And Did Those Feet In Ancient Time, commonly known as Jerusalem.

In fact, a while back a cross-party group of MPs had suggested that as an improvement — and it is already widely used in this country’s cricket grounds to whip up the crowd’s patriotic fervour at Test matches involving England.

The problem, however, is that while it might serve well as an English anthem, its reference to only one of the United Kingdom’s four nations rules it out as an anthem at events where all participate in one British team, such as during the Olympics.

England football manager Roy Hodgson demanded his players ‘sing the National Anthem with pride before the last World Cup

And though Rule Britannia is the favourite of those attending the Last Night of the Proms, all waving their Union Flags, the ever-shrinking size of the Royal Navy would make the lyrics – ‘Britannia rules the waves’ — closer to pathos than is desirable.

My suggestion would be to replace the existing National Anthem with the sublime musical setting by the Cheltenham-born Gustav Holst (one of Britain’s most wonderful composers) of I Vow To Thee, My Country, the hymn by Cecil Spring-Rice. It is already associated with Remembrance Day services throughout the Commonwealth and, therefore, has stood the test of time.

Some of an especially royalist disposition might resent the absence of any mention of the monarchy; and, in fact, Holst, though not especially political, had belonged to a socialist club. But patriotism or love of country is not defined by adoration or even respect for the Royal Family and, despite being profoundly short-sighted and asthmatic, Holst had tried (unavailingly) to enlist during World War I.

Perhaps a suitable time to replace the national dirge with Holst’s great patriotic anthem would be when Prince Charles succeeds his mother, so as to avoid any direct slight to the immensely popular Queen, who scarcely deserves demotion.

Obviously, this might not encourage the taciturn England cricket captain to break his silence, but as Gary Lineker correctly retorted to Piers Morgan, sportsmen show their pride in their performance on the field for their country, not in their singing.


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