“One of the most musically brave – or stupid – things I’ve ever heard in my life”

Before I had the meltdown

Mid-way through the meltdown

That quote’s from Tom Service, one of the UK’s best music journalists, and is worryingly about me.

Tom’s, right now, behind a great BBC radio show and podcast called The Listening Service where he explores how music works.

Here’s an amazing episode on repetition; here’s another on musical beginnings; and here’s one on noise. You should listen to them all.

But this week’s is all about national anthems – pieces, as he says, that have “been made to carry more bloodshed, hope, victory, despair, arrogance, humility and even cynicism than any other melodies before or since.” See, it’s not just me who’s obsessed with these songs.

I’m on the episode quite a bit and you can listen to the whole thing here, but I thought I’d put up a couple of excerpts up in case you haven’t got half-an-hour to waste.

Firstly, here’s Tom on Stockhausen’s Hymnen – the great German composer’s attempt at a world anthem – since I don’t actually mention it in the book.

But secondly, here’s that brave/stupid thing.

When we were recording the show, Tom asked me to tell a story about the time I sung the Star-Spangled Banner at a song contest in Nashville. And he found it so funny, he then begged me for the recording.

The story’s in my book, but if you want to hear the sound of a man basically having a nervous breakdown in a baseball stadium, listen below. Dear God!

Any Listening Service fans who stumble across this, read this from BBC Music Magazine for a lot of information on famous composers and anthems. It has everyone from Verdi to Haydn – your every classical need met!

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 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!

Malaysian press rules

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