national dirges

Is it just me or are most national anthems just awful and uninspiring? I think that’s been the problem in the RWC for some of the teams. They get all pumped up in the dressing room, hearts pounding, full of Churchillian words from the coach and they burst out onto the pitch and …..then have to line up to sing the obscure words to some bloody dreary dirge with a roving camera stuck in their faces. It’s got to be deflating, embarrassing and bloody annoying unless you’re a true patriot and can sing reasonably well.

The worst anthem of them all? It’s got to be the British, or in rugby terms, the English one. Now I’m proud to be an Englishman, love watching the team play (even at the moment) but that tune is awful. It’s mournful, slow and funereal. Plus it’s also about the Queen rather than the people or the country. It’s enough that we have to pay for the bloody family let alone sing eulogies to them. Actually I respect the Queen but she’s the only one I’ve any time for. The point is I wouldn’t sing a song about my daughters, who I love unconditionally, so I’m not going to do it for ER. Sorry Maj.

Have you studied the words to it? What about the line ‘send her victorious’. Don’t you mean ‘send our armed forces on her behalf to be victorious (against apparent WMD in the Middle East)? And I don’t want to sound picky but ought not the next line be ‘and please make sure we have a reasonable exit plan, when we fail to find any WMD but have toppled the mad despot’. Granted it doesn’t scan like ‘happy and glorious’ but it’s more honest. Plus there used to be a verse which we don’t often use now which contained a reference to ‘crushing the rebellious Scots’. Not beating them 17-12 note but CRUSHING them. It’s hard to admire a song with such sentiments don’t you think?

Well what about the Scots? These days they tend to sing Flower of Scotland a song written in 1967 by Roy Williamson of the Corries. It’s about the glorious victory of Robert the Bruce over Edward II of England at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, when Proud Edward and his army were sent home ‘Tae think again’. It’s a great line but I make that 653 years of hurt/joy. I mean come on fellahs, that’s a long time to gloat. Can’t we just move on – we have dropped our anti-Scottish verse now. That’s one of the problems with a lot of national anthems, they’re mostly based on a hatred for the English.

Take the Welsh one, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, Land of My Fathers (or as some English folks call it, my Hen laid a Haddock -sorry Welsh readers). It’s stirring stuff but it is in Welsh and not all those lads seem to know the words. Famously the Sec of State for Wales, John Redwood, was videoed la la-ing to it and was subsequently considered unsuitable for the role. Anyway the words. Written by Evan James, the song talks about the Welsh being a nation of poets and singers. You can tell he was an imaginative wordsmith because he christened his son James. Yes James James and it was he who wrote the tune tune. But the words also talk about proud Welsh warriors who lost their blood in the cause of freedom…from the awful, treacherous hand of… the fierce foe. At least that’s what I understand the words to mean. Now I know a little bit of history and the only foe I think they must be referring to are …the English because as far as I know neither Portugal nor the Netherlands nor any other country has ever subjugated the Welsh nation since Roman times other than… er England. But it was a very long time ago and we did give you the Prince of Wales in recompense. And for some reason you didn’t embrace the offer.

What about Ireland. Well the traditional anthem ‘The Soldiers Song’ follows a familiar pattern. There are references to the ‘Saxon foe.’ Now either Irish fighting memories stem back to battles fought 15 centuries ago or it’s a reference to a more contemporary foe – maybe the English? We really did not get on with our neighbours in the past. Anyway for rugby purposes, where the team is drawn from the whole of the island of Ireland, the usually-sung anthem is Ireland’s Call. It’s alright I think. Quite a rousing chorus though the words to the verses are necessarily slightly anodine. But it’s better than our drivel. Though it didn’t seem to inspire the lads this RWC.

America. Ah yes the Star Spangled Banner. Surely the oddest first line in music history; ‘O, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light…’ It’s like us starting a song ‘Scuse me mate, ‘ave you got a light boy?’ Anyway it goes on a bit and we get to the inevitable references to more blood being spilled. Surely this time the foe is the Red Indian or the Mexicans or Japanese or the Vietnamese perhaps? Nope it was written by some guy inspired by the brave defence of Fort McHenry by the American forces against the…you’ve guessed the frigging English. At least this time we were supported by the Welsh, Scots and maybe some Irish as it is collectively anti-British in sentiment. But we all know who it’s really targetted at don’t we? Not that I’m getting a complex about this. In this case I think the US team perhaps do find it an inspiring anthem. If it’s got an odd first line, its final phrase is an absolute belter. If Carlsberg wrote anthems, they’d probably write end-lines like this:

‘and the star spangled banner in triumph shall wave, over the land of the free and the home of the brave!’

Yep not bad that. Probably just as well they’re sunday league at rugby.

What about the Japanese then? Well their anthem’s called Kimi Ga Yo, which sounds a little like Yippy Yi Yo but I know there are no references to ghost riders in this tune. Nor are there any anti-English sentiments in it at all. That is a bit unusual given what’s gone before and England’s historical ability seemingly to get up every nation’s nose. I think the answer is because the anthem was written by an Englishman, J.W.Fenton in 1869. At long last we were learning how to avoid negative PR. Their anthem is all about their Emperor and wishes him a long reign over his subjects. I wonder where JWF got the idea for those lyrics?

New Zealand and Australia have two very bland and newly-PC penned anthems. ‘God defend NZ’ is not quite land of the free is it? Anyway the All Blacks have the Haka to get them fired up. ‘Advance Australia Fair’ is just a rubbish title and the tune hardly breaks sweat. The words are dire too.

S Africa’s anthem is an amalgam of words in the 4 main languages in the country; Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans and English. It’s delightfully reflective of the rainbow nation but it sounds like a dog’s dinner.

The Oceania nations have anthems mostly sung in their Polynesian tongues so they are meaningless to most of the watching world but they are all jolly and fun as you’d expect. My favourite, the Fijian talks about shores of golden sand and sunshine and mentions Fiji 15 times in 16 lines. Now that’s a frigging anthem. The Tongan anthem asks God to save Tupou our King (where did they get that lyric I wonder?) and the Samoan is all about Samoa arising and Samoa holding fast. Sounds like it was written aboard a yacht moored off the beach so I like it.

Canada has ‘O Canada’ which is almost as good an opener as ‘O the Deadwood Stage’. They still have the Queen as head of State and Portugal is our oldest ally going back 600 years so I’m guessing, without looking, that neither of their anthems has a line referring to ‘those scummy b*stards from East Cheam whose blood we wish to spill’. Which is refreshing.

I’m not sure about the anthems of some of the remaining nations taking part; Namibia, Georgia and Roumania. But I’m guessing again that Namibia’s also talks about bloodshed and freedom but for once the oppressor target is likely to be closer to home than a tiny little island off NW Europe. Georgia should just adopt the Ray Charles classic On my Mind – why change perfection? And Roumania’s anthem? Well all I can think is that it doesn’t ask God for a long reign by the Ceaucescu’s.

So we come to what I believe are the best, most inspiring anthems which are unquestionably of the people and for the people; the Marseillaise and Il Canto degli Italini, better known as Fratelli D’Italia. The lyrics to both songs are completely non-PC and both have been regarded as too controversial in their content in recent times. But trying telling this to the French whose anthem was the rallying cry of the French revolution or the Italians whose song symbolises the creation or unification of a single nation. The music is so stirring it is hard not to be moved even as a foreigner. I love them both but as someone who lives part-time in Italy I favour Fratelli d’Italia of course. How can the azzuri not be inspired by it?

Is there a better national anthem out there than either of these two? If you’re going to suggest DD uber alles we might just come and invade where you live.


ps what would you replace our national anthem with? Favoured options tend to be:

-Rule Brittania. Basically it’s a song about primacy; when we had the mightiest naval force the world had ever seen. A bit like a pissing competition and we were the highest up-the-wallers. Now we have a smaller navy than Switzerland, which is going some. So I think it’s a song that’s past it’s sell-by-date methinks. Rule Take That would be more in tune with our world power standing.

– Land of Hope and Glory. My wife’s favourite alternate NA. Contains the great lines ‘God who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet’. It’s also a celebration of our successes in the Boer War and the anticipated windfall from Rhodes’ incursions into the rest of southern Africa. There we go building that bloody Empire again.

– Jerusalem. My particular favourite. It’s short – just 18 lines in all and contains some sensational references; ‘chariots of fire’ and the glorious ‘those dark satanic mills’ (which I believe to be a specific reference to lovely Lancashire). But most famously it poses the question ‘did Jesus ever visit this country?’ and specifically history points to Glastonbury. Well if he did I just hope he caught the Kaiser Chiefs. Now that’s an anthem to be proud of.


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