O say can you shut the hell up: Sir Twittwaddle on The Gist!

A few weeks ago, a friend recommended I listen to Slate’s daily podcast, The Gist – one of the most American podcasts you could come across, but funny and opinionated and topical in a similar way to The Daily Show.

I did as told, but about two episodes in had the shock of hearing myself being introduced as Sir Twittwaddle, and then being torn apart for some comments I made about the Star-Spangled Banner to the BBC.

All credit to Mike Pesca, the man in charge, though. I tweeted him and he decided to get me on to explain myself and talk about the US anthem. You can listen below (or here) from the incredibly specific time of 6:47! It’s a fun interview and somehow I come out in one piece!

Listen before for some bizarre talk about Starbucks sandwiches, and afterwards for some very interesting chat about US gun laws!

World premiere: Benjamin Britten’s Malaysian national anthem!

Britten, smoldering!

Most blogs premiere tracks by second-rate indie bands no one’s heard of. And I would be more than happy to do that if any second-rate indie bands are reading!

But today it’s my pleasure to instead premiere a national anthem – and one written by one of the most famous composers of the 20th century at that: Benjamin Britten.

Yes, the man smoldering in the photo above and the man who wrote the opera Peter Grimes and the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra also once wrote a national anthem for Malaysia, a country he only ever spent a day in and couldn’t have been further from his Aldeburgh home. Listen below or here.

Yes, it’s a minor work. And, yes, it is too pensive for a national anthem. But it’s got something and it’s BENJAMIN BLOODY BRITTEN, so stop complaining!

It was written in the 1950s, never adopted and hasn’t been heard since. Malaysia instead plumped for this song, Negaraku.

I just wrote a piece about the bizarre story around this for the BBC so head there now. I barely touch on it in my book on the world’s anthems (largely as it’s a travelogue at heart and I went to Egypt to explore issues around anthems and fame), so imagine what amazing things I write about instead! Go and buy it now!

The above video was made for me by the great young composer Josephine Stephenson, whose music you should check out immediately, and her brother, Robin, whose playing you should also delve into now. Huge thanks to them both.

Finally, for any Malaysians reading, please do not call up your radio stations and talk about this. Apparently by law it’s illegal to discuss the national anthem in your country, or anything else going by the photo below. Bloody hell!

Malaysian press rules

Malaysian press rules, as stolen from Nazeem Hussain’s twitter account @nazeem_hussain

Come and hear me talk!

There will be laughter, there will be tears (in a good way), there will be music, and there will be fantastic food and drink! What more could you ask for?

I’m giving my first proper book talk on Tuesday 27 October at the brilliant, atmospheric Wanstead Tap.

It’s just a few minutes walk from either Forest Gate or Wanstead Park stations on London’s overground. For those who don’t know, Forest Gate’s only 11 minutes from Liverpool Street, so, Londoners, you have no excuse for not attending! Here’s a map. Yes, you can even park in the roads nearby.

You can buy advanced tickets for a bargain £5 here.

I saw the fantastic Dr Matthew Green talk there recently about his great new book on the history of London. The audience was packed so come along and make it just as good! The venue’s also hosted the likes of Michael Rosen and other amazing people, so I’m very honoured to do it.

I might ask you to sing. Apologies in advance.

The day afterwards, I’ll be doing a 15-minute turn on Radio 4’s brilliant Four Thought programme talking about nationalism more generally. So if you can’t make the Tap talk, listen out for that!

The Rugby World Cup’s anthems: from porn to tragedy, and everything in between!

Sergio Parisse, Martin Castrogiovanni and Matias Aguero screaming Italy's national anthem before the playing Wales (stolen from Stu Forster/Getty Images!)

Sergio Parisse, Martin Castrogiovanni and Matias Aguero screaming Italy’s national anthem before playing Wales (stolen from Stu Forster/Getty Images!)

The Rugby World Cup’s been introducing people to some fantastic national anthems. Not least my favourite, Uruguay’s. Wait until the end of this clip to see a huge, 6-foot, 20-odd stone man being brought to tears by singing it.

Or go here to see a man from Fiji showing equal emotion.

The fascinating, politically significant and often hilarious stories behind many of the anthems are all in my book, Republic or Death!, which features chapters on South Africa’s five-language anthem, Japan’s haunting Kimigayo, France’s rousing Marseillaise, Uruguay’s rambunctious anthem, the US’s Star-Spangled Banner and even my very own God Save the Queen.

But for those who’re yet to pick up a copy and just want a quick guide to interesting things they can say in the pub while watching matches, here are some fact’s for you:

Uruguay’s: the man behind this genuinely great song is more famous in his home country for writing a poem called Apology for the Penis that tries to prove the male appendage is better than its female equivalent. As his biographer told me, “His life is a bad example for schoolchildren, but respectability is not a requirement for literary appreciation!” He also used to black-up so he could write “in the jargon of slaves”. Bloody hell!

France’s: to keep with the smut theme, the author of la Marseillaise found his life so upended after writing that song that he had to write pornographic ditties to make a living. One’s about a couple having sex in a stream. Unsurprisingly, it’s not as widely known today as his anthem!

Japan’s: the country’s anthem was first written by a British soldier, but he got the music so wrong – it went up when a Japanese singer would naturally go down, and vice versa – the Japanese had to overhaul it. The song, Kimigayo, is also easily the most controversial anthem of all time – the chapter about it in my book is filled with so much tragedy and sadness, it’s a real turning point – which explains why the Japanese team have been ignoring it and singing a rap called Japanese Warrior instead!

South Africa’s: Immediately after apartheid South Africa played three songs one after the other as its anthem. It took Nelson Mandela a year to realise he’d made a huge mistake by requiring that – even he was bored by having to stand there for 6 minutes to listen to it all – and order a change. Today’s five-language anthem is the beautiful result.

Wales: We wouldn’t sing national anthems before sports event it wasn’t for the Welsh. In 1905, their rugby team sang Land of My Fathers (Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau) in response to a visiting New Zealand team’s haka and soon the world was copying their example. So the next time you find yourself having to bellow one, blame Wales!

What happens when you appear on BBC1

Last weekend, I went on a BBC1 programme called Sunday Morning Live to talk about national anthems, why Britain needs a new one and the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. You can watch the full episode here (I appear, looming over the studio like a strange God, from 8 minutes in).

And what feedback did I get from the public, several hundred thousand of whom were watching? Er, this:

photo 2

Yes, I am quite proud!

An utterly essential interview in The Atlantic you must read now!

The Atlantic feature cover

Yes, it’s with me, and it is about my book on national anthems! But it’s easily the best I’ve done to promote it.

It covers everything from the importance of these songs, to the similarities between the composer of la Marseillaise and Kanye West, to why theories of banal nationalism have got it wrong on anthems (yes, that’s one for the academics among you). I really think it gets across the importance and excitement of these songs.

Head here and read it now!

Massive thanks to The Atlantic’s foreign desk for liking my book so much they wanted to write about it even though it’s not actually out in the States, and for such intelligent, thought-provoking questions.

And if you’re a US book publisher who saw it and liked the sound of the book, feel free to get in touch!

In other US news: to any Americans who heard me on the BBC earlier. Yes, the impeachment comment was silly, my apologies. When I said it I wondered what the hell had just come out of my mouth. I stand by the assassination one though!

Jeremy Corbyn! Bloody hell!

As you’ve probably seen from today’s newspapers, Jeremy Corbyn didn’t sing God Save the Queen yesterday. OMG!

You could argue he should have sung it given his position – the Guardian takes that view today – but personally I think there are many reasons why everyone in the UK should stop singing the song. If you want to learn them, either read this piece I just wrote for the Telegraph or read my book, specifically the chapter picture below, which looks like it’s about Liechtenstein, but isn’t!

For any casual visitor to this site, no, I’m not a republican like Corbyn, my book’s just named after Paraguay’s national anthem! Stop ordering me to emigrate!