Out of touch and out of tune

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The Independent Culture
We have been saving the King and Queen for 250 years. Slung together, mocked, re-written, the national anthem has survived for a quarter of a millennium, but some of its most devout fans would like to see it abdicate in favour of another royal ditty.

The first recorded performance was at Drury Lane and Covent Garden Theatres on 28 September 1745, put on as a note of defiance to the news that Bonnie Prince Charlie had just defeated the English army at the Battle of Prestonpans. Written and composed by Anon in the key of G Major and 3/4 time, it was described merely as "A Song for Two Voices".

Often no more than a couple of voices join in these days when the band strikes up "God Save the Queen". It has passed its sing-by date. You can't even buy HM's verses as a single, hit or otherwise, in the HMV Oxford Street store.

"There isn't a recording of just the British National Anthem," said a spokes-man. "Instead, it is tucked away on compilations with the anthems of other nations, such as 'Hymnes Nationaux' - a French production. It's in the 'Military' section. One or two are sold a week, mainly to tourists."

"There's not a lot of respect for it," says Graham Wanstall of the Campaign for the Restoration of the National Anthem. "One cinema group said pe- ople used to rush out when it was played. The tune's quite rousing but the words can be seen as out-of-date and open to ridicule."

Although no republican, he would like to see a competition to replace it with a different anthem which focuses not on the monarchy, but on the whole nation. "Jerusalem" is certainly a contender, but to him "Land of Hope and Glory" is really a better bet: "a rousing tune and not monarchy-centred".

Unfortunately, this has been tried before. In 1935 a "National Anthem Amendment Competition" produced 1,000 entries, none of them an improvement. The original published lyrics had begun with "God save our Lord, the King". In the first 1745 performance, they were re-written as "Lord save great George our King". But the second verse, now sung even less than the first, did not have to spell out the references. "Scatter his enemies" referred to the Jacobite Army of the Young Pretender, as did "Confound their politicks/ Frustrate their knavish tricks".

A fourth verse was bolted on as a musical stop-press when, a week later, an English army set off to repel the invader, in the hopes that it would "Like a torrent rush/ Rebellious Scots to crush".

"It is so much better if you play three verses," asserts Don Foreman of the Monarchist League. "The second verse is more contemplative and the third is terrific - you can really get some leverage behind it. But of course it is not very fashionable."

The identity of the composer and lyricist remain contentious. Henry Carey, composer of "Sally in Our Alley", was responsible - but only according to his son, George Carey, who was hoping to inherit the royalties, despite the fact that his father died before the complete anthem was written. A Dr John Bull was also credited.

As long ago as 1545, the navy used a password of "God Save the King" to which the countersign was "Long to Reign over us". The truth: the national anthem was the work of many hands. The words and music were put together in a process resembling the electronic art of "sampling" the best bits from several different pop hits. There was no point in complaining about this musical theft. As they say, anthem is as anthem does.