Thursday, 21 December 2006

Land of Hope and Glory

Many years ago now, in 1991 to be exact, the conductor Mark Elder got the high profile classical gig of the year, conducting the Last Night of the Proms. Being a man of principle at the time, Mark considered it inappropriate to whip up jingoistic sentiment when the first Gulf War was about to kick off, so he baulked at the idea of playing the ritualistic tub-thumpers for the braying hordes of little Englanders who frequent this anachronistic event.

Mark publicly announced that he thought it best not to have Jerusalem, Rule Britannia and especially not Land of Hope and Glory in the set, and this moral position quickly led him into conflict with John Drummond, then the controller of the Proms. Needless to say, the Tory shires rose in indignation, stirred into a patriotic frenzy by the Telegraph and the Daily Mail.

Presented with this splendid opportunity, I hurried to Mark’s defence by offering a disarmingly simple compromise. He would agree to play Land of Hope and Glory after all, but I would rewrite Arthur Benson’s bombastic lyrics to make the song more humanistic in spirit. This seemed particularly appropriate since Edward Elgar, who penned the tune, supposedly recanted the lyrics before his death in 1934.

Now, the Royal Albert Hall on the Last Night of the Proms is one time and place where I’d dearly love to set off bombs (purely in the figurative sense you understand, I wouldn’t actually want to hurt anyone, not even Andrew Lloyd Webber.) Here, I smirked to myself, was a chance to stick one on Margaret Thatcher, then recently deposed as Prime Minister, and on the English middle classes generally. (You don’t remember the Iron Lady? Once upon a time there was a wicked old witch who dismissed compassion, social responsibility and human kindness as weaknesses. She promised sweeties to those who embraced her philosophies of greed and selfishness...)

So, I was hoping to provoke a riot when I wrote the words of the following ‘humanist’ anthem:

Land of hope and glory,
That’s what this could be.
Greed is not the answer,
It cannot make us free.
Subscribe to truth, to love of life,
On other’s toil don’t bet,
There’s glory in compassion,
And hope for all of us yet.

I must admit that the opening four lines are a bit wooden. To be fair though, I had to spin the whole plot out of the title, otherwise it wouldn’t have made much sense. I’m still quite happy with the last four lines.

My personal ‘Gunpowder Plot’ came to nothing, of course. Mark Elder was summarily fired before my heretical ‘dirty bomb’ could be detonated. The status quo held steady. A sympathetic soprano recorded the lyrics a cappella for me and, for all I know, the Decca Record Company may still have the tape in its vaults somewhere. I have the master of a video we made to support a record that was never released, but these things are scant consolation.

In an ironic twist, Mark Elder finally did conduct the Last Night of the Proms earlier this year, with all the traditional pomposity left intact, 15 years after being sacked for having the integrity to stand up for what he believed to be true. Evidently he doesn’t have the same sensibilities any longer for, if I’m not mistaken, there’s a war going on in the Gulf. By the way, which edition of the Gulf War are we up to now; is it still the second or have we moved on to the third?

I’m open to discussing an assignment of copyright if Rhodri Morgan really intends to return the Labour Party in Wales to its pre-New Labour values once the elections are out of the way. The Gulf War, which may ultimately become known as the second 100 Years War, obviously isn’t a ‘Welsh issue’ as far as Rhodri is concerned.

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