God save our ears!

At the end of August, you might have seen the below clip of a Libyan military band butchering God Save the Queen when playing it for British foreign secretary/buffoon Boris Johnson:

It is very funny.

But I did feel slightly sorry for the Libyans when that clip emerged as few people pointed out that they’re far from alone in butchering anthems, even in the Middle East. So, please, let me jog your memories of the wonders of the Egyptian military band – and especially the time they played Russia’s national anthem to Vladimir Putin:

A-hahahahahahahaha!

What should London’s anthem be?

If it goes independent, obviously. And who knows post-Brexit?!?

London Calling?

West End Girls?

Dizzee Rascal’s Fix Up, Look Sharp?

“Er… What?” I hear you say. Yes, Dizzee would be a strange choice. But he’s mine, and for a good reason, which you can learn by listening to Adrian Lacey’s great London Podcast at his site, via iTunes or here if you’re using Android.

I’ve never been asked the question before, which is surprising given so many cities, at least in the US, have anthems.

Adrian gave me one of the best podcast experiences I’ve had, taking me back to my childhood school in the London suburbs to stand in pouring rain (that wasn’t his fault) and explain where my love of music came from, doing a full, fascinating interview about the book, and even getting me to do a reading.

In the episode, he also goes out on London’s streets to ask people what their anthem would be. And he tells a brilliant story about his (white, lower-middle class, British) parents trying to write Nigeria’s anthem when it became independent.

It’s a real fun and interesting listen. And few podcast presenters go to such efforts, so, seriously, head here to hear it.

Adrian’s done some amazing other podcasts on everything from the Fire of London to Bob Marley’s London home, so check out other episodes if you can. Huge thanks to him if he’s reading.

Why every dance musician owes a debt to God Save the Queen

The console of Alan Turing's Mark II computer. God knows where the sound came out. Turing's the one standing. Copyright the University of Manchester School of Computer Science

The console of Alan Turing’s Mark II computer. God knows where the sound came out. Turing’s the one on the right. Copyright the University of Manchester School of Computer Science

If someone asked me to guess what the first piece of computer music sounded like, I’d probably go for a four-to-the-floor piece of pounding techno – more out of hope than expectation.

But it turns out it was, er, God Save the Queen.

In 1951, a British computer scientist played the British anthem on Alan Turing’s Mark II computer – one of the world’s first and the unwieldy thing in the picture at the top of this post.

The computer could make clicking sounds to show it had completed tasks and the scientist worked out that these could be turned into notes. Eat that Kraftwerk!

The recording’s just been restored, hence putting it up here. For the full story, go to the British Library’s Sound and Vision blog, because it’s a hell of a lot more complicated than I’ve made it sound!

Labour desperation and the migrant crisis: the real reasons parliament’s debating an English anthem?

I'm not entirely sure Wayne would sing an English anthem with any more gusto

England’s Brave John Terry and less brave Wayne not singing an English anthem

Yesterday in the UK parliament, MPs debated that most important of issues: whether England should get its own national anthem so people stop singing God Save the Queen at sporting events.

Well, I say they debated it. What actually happened was Toby Perkins, the Labour MP for Chesterfield, introduced the bill and then Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg gave a surprisingly funny 10-minute speech against, in which he warned that an English anthem would destroy the United Kingdom and likely upset Jesus. That sentence will make more sense if you watch the speeches!

A full debate featuring God knows now many MPs will now happen on 3 March.

I spent much of yesterday talking to various TV and radio stations about it – and wrote some quick things for the Telegraph and Guardian too – but about lunchtime a question suddenly hit me: why is this issue getting so much attention now?

The idea of an English anthem has been floated repeatedly since 2006, with most people calling for William Blake’s great Jerusalem, others weirdly for Land of Hope and Glory despite it asking for Britain to re-colonise the world. But those calls have never got as much traction as Perkins’ effort is. Is that simply because we now have Twitter which means even something as bizarre as this gets attention? Is it because people are fed up discussing it and want a solution?

Perhaps, but I think it’s actually got more to do with the recent Scottish independence referendum, discussions over UK membership of the EU and even the migrant crisis – all issues that make many people in England wonder about their national identity and fear it’s being lost.

It’s also, probably, got a teeny bit to do with the disastrous state of the Labour Party under the leadership of the supposedly unpatriotic Jeremy Corbyn (that man who refused to sing God Save the Queen last year). Of the MPs sponsoring the English National Anthem Bill, seven are Labour, four are Conservatives and one’s a Lib Dem.

Is the Labour bias a sign that this is actually a desperate bid by the party to win back some working class support? Toby Perkins would scoff at the idea, of course!

Five ways Jeremy Corbyn could ‘sing’ God Save the Queen this weekend and still wreck his career

Corbyn not singing the national anthem

AKA let’s go Buzzfeed!

1 Miming

Corbyn’s press team have repeatedly said he’ll “take full part” in God Save the Queen on Remembrance Sunday ensuring there’ll be no repeat of the furore caused by his silence at September’s Battle of Britain memorial.

The problem is “take full part” is such a vague wording you have to assume he’s considering miming his way through it.

Don’t, Jeremy! Even Beyonce gets caught when she mimes anthems. And you’re not Beyonce. You’re not even Milli Vanilli!

2 Trying interpretative dance

If miming’s a risk…

3 Singing the second verse

Despite countless anthems being bloodthirsty and anachronistic, a lot of people still take issue with the violence underlying God Save the Queen’s second verse. “O Lord our God arise, scatter her enemies and make them fall,” it goes. “Confound their politics, frustrate their knavish tricks, on thee our hopes we fix, God save us all.”

It was so controversial in Victorian times people held competitions to replace it. Today the royal family pretends it doesn’t exist when handing out lyric sheets.

Jeremy, though, might decide to make a point by singing it; to show everyone just what a horrific anthem Britain has and how outdated the monarchy is too. Don’t, Jezza. No one else will join in. You’d look like an old man haranguing children at a bus stop.

4 Singing the anti-Scots verse

Yes, Jeremy, everyone knows someone once wrote a verse about crushing “rebellious Scots”. But as much as you must hate the SNP right now, don’t sing it!

5 Singing it as it was originally intended

God Save the Queen was written in the 1600s as a galliard, a style of music that requires people to do a little jump in the air once a phrase. People also originally sung it with more trills than Mariah Carey in her prime.

Jeremy, you are not Mariah Carey. And God knows how bad things would get for you if you started doing little jumps into the air. Just do what everyone else does when they have to sing it: have a few drinks, then grin and bear it. It only lasts a minute, after all!

(For more on God Save the Queen’s story without any rubbish Corbyn jokes, read my book!)

Controversy in Liechtenstein!

Alex Marshall, author of Republic of Death!, in the Vaterland newspaper

Mein Gott, today I’m in Liechtenstein’s biggest newspaper, Vaterland, talking about my book and looking sweaty while sitting with Baron Eduard von Falz-Fein, a 103-year-old multi-millionaire.

You can read a bit of the interview here and you can read the Baron’s story – involving everything from Tsars to bobsleighing, and an awful lot of women – in my book. I really would like to write his biography; he’s lived enough for a hundred people.

Liechtensteiners – danke für besuch! Kaufen mein Buch an Amazon.de. Es tut mir leid es ist in Englisch! Auch, es gibt einige große versionen der Hymne in diesem Audio-Guide!

Liechtenstein gets a chapter in the book principally because it’s the only country outside the UK’s influence that still has God Save the Queen for its anthem and I wanted to know why on earth they hadn’t changed it. Going there also allowed me to tell God Save the Queen’s story without having to boringly focus on England’s far-right (the British way: avoid one controversy, go abroad and create another!).

But another reason it gets a chapter is more simple: it’s a fantastic place. I highly recommend it to you all. Just don’t go there and tell everyone you hate their anthem!

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!