Music interview: Writer Maconie chooses the best of British anthems

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What’s an anthem? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as a rousing or uplifting song identified with a particular group, body or cause.

Writer and broadcaster Stuart Maconie defines it slightly differently.

“An anthem has to have a very whistle-able tune, memorable and easy, with quite vague lyrics,” he says.

The long-time journalist, broadcaster and author has given the subject a lot of thought over the past few years, so it’s probably wise to take his word for it.

He was approached last year by a cruise ship company, Royal Caribbean International, who are launching a new ship next year called Anthem Of The Seas. To accompany the announcement, they asked him to carry out some research to find the country’s favourite anthemic songs.

The timing was good, with Maconie having just finished The People’s Songs, his series that told the social history of Britain through the medium of popular music, broadcast on Radio 2. There’s also an accompanying book, called The People’s Songs: The Story Of Modern Britain In 50 Records. “It’s a very easy read,” says the 52-year-old. “Well, I like to think so. I would say that, wouldn’t I?”

Ask any music critic to name the most culturally significant or important records of the past 50 years and chances are you’ll get a very different list than if you asked the majority of people on the street.

Maconie says he can’t abide musical snobbery, and approached the task with as open a mind as possible. He put together a longlist, and then asked the public to vote to produce the top five.

While One Day Like This by Elbow and Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run were on there, the final five consisted of The Beatles’ Hey Jude, Robbie Williams’ Angels, U2’s Beautiful Day, so beloved of football fans thanks to its tenure as the theme to ITV’s The Premiership highlights show, Nimrod by Edward Elgar and Jerusalem, which consists of William Blake’s short poem set to music by Sir Hubert Parry.

“In all honesty, I can see how each of the five songs on the list are brilliant, even if they’re not all my idea of fun, and most of all, I can appreciate that most people’s idea of an anthem isn’t the same as mine, which would basically be something by Gentle Giant or Sun Ra.”

Soon he will be heading back into research mode to get started on his next book, the sequel to the bestselling Pies And Prejudice, which is tentatively called The Pie At Night, detailing northern evening traditions and pastimes.

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