How do you sing a song that stirs up so much feeling?

The New York Times Magazine’s annual music issue contains a piece by rapper/singer Dessa – of Doomtree – on what it’s like singing The Star-Spangled Banner in these odd times. It’s really good.

“When you sing the line ‘rocket’s red glare,’ fireworks are going to go off. Then, when you get to ‘O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,’ an eagle named Challenger is going to take off and soar over the stadium.” Becky, my tour manager, was talking me through the mechanics of my gig on April 5. That day I am scheduled to sing the national anthem at the Minnesota Twins’ season opener in Minneapolis. “He’s a professional sports eagle,” Becky explained. “He has a website.”

Read the rest over at the Times.

The end of the Vaterland?

Over the past week, there’s been a surprising political furore in Germany about its national anthem.

A civil servant sent out her spring newsletter, which included a suggestion that the Deutschlandlied should be changed to include women as well as men. “No more Vaterland!” was the basic message. It wasn’t meant for a wide readership, but some for some reason, it caused a storm, with everyone from Angela Merkel to the far-right having their say.

You can read about it all in this piece I did for The New York Times.

That article also includes all the national anthem news that’s happened so far this year – everywhere from Spain to Bosnia – so give it a read!

The women who fought for 40 years to change one word

Former Canadian Senators Nancy Ruth and Vivienne Poy – instrumental in making O Canada gender neutral. Credit: Neville Poy

This week, Canada changed the English version of its national anthem to include women as well as men.

“About bloody time!” is the correct response – people have been calling for this since 1980.

To get the full story of the women (and one man) who campaigned for the change for so long, head over to the BBC where I’ve written a *longggg* feature on it.

I’m especially pleased to have had a chance to write about Nancy Ruth (pictured above), a former senator who probably put more energy, money and effort into the campaign than anyone else.

Once on holiday I  met one of Nancy Ruth’s Conservative Party colleagues and mentioned her campaign. His reply? “She’s a lesbian, not a Conservative, and we’re never changing the anthem.”

I’ve never forgotten that, obviously, and it’s a shame I couldn’t put it in the piece (no recording) as it says everything about why it took so long.

Super articles by me you should read now!

As many of you know, I don’t just write about national anthems. Thank God, otherwise I’d be broke. So here’s a few recent articles I hope you’ll find as interesting to read as I did researching them:

  1. For The New York Times, a piece on a night I spent in one of the world’s first mental health helplines for musicians, and the music industry’s poor response to its mental health crisis.
  2. Also for The New York Times, a piece on the scientists searching for the universal characteristics of music and the controversy it’s causing. Also contains A QUIZ! Yes, A QUIZ!
  3. And for the BBC an article on the world of A.I. music and why the humans might be winning after all.

Hope you enjoy them, and if any editors stumble across this page, I am available for commissions!

The most important story you’ll ever read about national anthems

Arghhhh!!!! Please save Ron (above) from God Save the Queen! (This is copyright the Hull Daily News/MEN Media. Sorry for stealing)

I’ve been away a while as I’ve been writing articles like this (front page of The New York Times, baby!) and this and this, but it turns out in that time I missed telling you some vital anthem news.

“What could that be?”, I hear you ask. “China extending the jail term for anyone who disrespects its anthem to an insane three years?” Nope! “The Philippines starting to arrest people who don’t stand for its anthem?” Of course not! “More brouhaha in the US?”

Er, it’s actually the story of an 87-year-old from Hull, Ron Goldspink, who’s started aurally hallucinating a male-voice choir singing God Save the Queen 24/7. He hears it 1,700 times a week.

Yes, I did get this from The Daily Mail.

Apparently it’s a real medical condition called musical ear syndrome, although Ron initially mistook it for his patriotic neighbours turning their stereo up too loud.

“I complained about my next door neighbour who I thought was playing music and keeping me awake,” Ron said. “My son complained to the council and when they came down I told them I could hear this music coming through the wall every night.

“They went next door and…said they were not playing anything, and I realised it was just me that could hear it.”

He’d like to meet the Queen so he can tell her about it, he added.

No, I can’t believe I’m posting this either. Good luck, Ron!

Why I became a jihadist poetry critic

Elisabeth Kendall in Yemen. She owns this photo!

Er, not me, but the woman pictured!

Anyone who’s read my book on national anthems will know that I have a deep (i.e. worrying) fascination with jihadi culture, especially the songs that such groups put out and almost gain the status of ‘national’ anthems. You can read a little about that musical world here.

Well, this week I wrote a piece for the BBC extending that interested. It’s a profile of Elisabeth Kendall, an Oxford academic who’s not just interested in jihadists’ music, but their poetry too. You can read about her insane life and learn just why such work is important here (or if you’re Spanish, here).

The piece has been having very nice things said about it by everyone from Peter Frankopan – author of The Silk Roads – to Rukmini Callimachi, the NYT’s terrorism correspondent. Even Tom Holland, the historian, said he liked it.

All of which is very professionally pleasing, but I’m largely putting it below to try and make you read the piece as this stuff’s vital to how we understand the world. Thanks in advance!

“…says Marshall, who is not Jewish.”

Jewish immigrants to Israel after World War Two singing Hatikvah as their boat pulls in

The Jewish Chronicle – Britain’s leading Jewish newspaper – just interviewed me about Israel’s anthem Hatikvah, the song of hope that built a nation.

You can read the piece here. It’s actually a great read, and we talk about everything from the alcoholic poet behind the song, to how it was sung during the Holocaust; the rapper Tupac to what it says about Israel’s future.

The interview was done to promote a talk of mine at Milim, Leeds’ Jewish literary festival. It went great so if any other Jewish organisation or festival fancies having me along to redo it, get in touch!