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.

How not to write a travel book

1) Don’t try and go to war zones!

If you didn’t know already, I’m writing a book about national anthems, which involves travelling to countries to learn their stories. When I first came up with this bizarre idea, I planned a chapter on Iraq because it was getting a multi-lingual anthem aimed at bringing the country together.

That was back in 2013 when the country was relatively peaceful. Yes, I perhaps should have seen what was coming. Iraq still hasn’t got the anthem.

2) Don’t swap a war zone for Iran!

After a chapter on Iraq was ruled out, I applied for an Iranian visa. I’m still waiting. Dear Iranian government, I promise I’m not a spy. Unless that’s what a spy would say in which case… I am one, right?

3) Er…

Actually there isn’t a three because I recently came up with a solution. This weekend, I’ll be heading to Egypt to research their anthems. I probably should have planned to go there all along because Egypt is the Middle East’s anthem factory – its musicians being responsible for the anthems of Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Palestine, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia among others.

The stories behind Egypt’s own anthems are fascinating too. I can’t write them on this blog unfortunately, but here for your listening pleasure is the anthem the country adopted in the ’50s. It’s called “Oh my weapon, it’s been a long time” and is sung by Umm Kulthum, the great diva of Egyptian music (she doesn’t come in until 1:12).

If you don’t speak Arabic, it includes lines like this: “The people are mountains, seas, a volcano of anger ready to erupt, an earthquake that will cleanse the earth to make their enemies graves.” Yes, it was directed at Israel!

I’ll try to write something about my trip when I’m back but I may not have time. Here’s another tip for any aspiring travel writers: don’t leave things to the last bloody minute!

Update: A few hours after posting this, I got a phone call from Iran saying I can have a visa, which is somewhat amazing given they’ve refused the BBC one for about six months. The magic of the Internet, perhaps. God knows what this means for the book!

And the winner of the anthem World Cup is…

I really wanted to pick an underdog – someone who is going to get knocked out next week with just a point to their name (Hello, Iran!).

Failing that, I wanted to pick Bosnia, this being the first time the country’s anthem has been heard at a World Cup – a landmark moment and one the team’s coach, Safet Sušić, found so emotional, he was still crying five minutes into the Argentina game.

But instead I’ve got to go with Brazilllllllllllllll! Yes, the favourites. Yes, the hosts.

I know it’s a cop out. But anyone who has seen the anthem being sung at Brazil’s games will agree. When the crowd carry on singing after the music’s stopped, finishing off the song’s first verse, it’s literally amazing.

It doesn’t matter that they’re singing some of the most appalling love poetry you’ve ever come across – “You are beautiful, strong, an intrepid colossus” – it’s enough to make you want to be Brazilian. The two times I’ve heard it now, I’ve had to stop myself from grabbing a Molotov cocktail and going out to protest about bus prices.

It’s even made me warm to David Luiz. That’s it’s power!

Here, have an MP3 of it ripped off a dodgy Korean TV station. Yes, it is worth downloading.

Here’s hoping it starts a trend. Except here in England. No one needs two verses of God Save the Queen.

Anthem of the day: Iran!

The music: You’d hope Iran’s anthem would match the stereotype of the place and be the darkest, most threatening possible. It’d be written by a death metal band or at least a Wagner-obsessed composer. Instead it’s this: a military march with hardly any bite.

Far better is Ey Iran, the anthem of the country immediately after the revolution of ‘79.

It’s a simple Arabic melody – the sort of thing you’ve heard in every dodgy Middle Eastern restaurant you’ve set foot in – but once in a while it seems to suddenly remember it’s meant to be patriotic and leaps into a fierce chorus. It sounds especially good when backed by out-of-time drumming and a drunk pianist.

The lyrics: The anthem’s words at least live up to one stereotype; they are incredibly religious. “Upwards on the horizon, the eastern sun rises, the lights in the eyes of the believers,” it starts. “Your message, O Iman…is imprinted on our souls.”

But, again, who would want that when Ey Iran’s available? That’s line after line of desperate longing, like a country singer phoning an ex-wife. “Bright is my destiny because of you,” it says, “Even if fire rains on my body, your love will flourish in my heart.”

What’s it say about the country? That it had a better music scene in Ayatollah Khomeini’s day. Which is odd, since he banned most music (until he realised that radio stations desperately needed something to fill airtime).

Will you hear it at the Games? Definitely. Just head to the weightlifting and wait for the super heavyweights. Behdad Salimi Kordasiabi won last year’s world championships, breaking a world record in the process (that’s him at the top of this post). And the only person who looks like beating him is also Iranian.