New lyrics could preserve ‘that patriotic feeling’ at Proms, says opera star

Opera singer Camilla Kerslake has suggested that lyrics to songs such as Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory should be rewritten “incredibly sensitively” so they do not lose “that patriotic feeling”.

New, orchestral versions of the songs will be performed at the Last Night Of The Proms this year, amid heated debate over their perceived links with colonialism and slavery.

Some, including Andrew Lloyd Webber, have said the offending lyrics could be partially cut or adapted to suit modern tastes.

GQ Men of the Year Awards 2019 – London
GQ Men of the Year Awards 2019 – London

Brit-nominated vocalist Kerslake, from London, said much of the music she performed regularly was a “product of its time” and featured subject matters that were “really problematic in this day and age”.

However, she argued the lyrics could change while the songs retained their significance.

Kerslake told the PA news agency: “When these songs are played, everybody sits up a bit straighter and everybody sings loudly. It can be quite wonderful.

“So for me the best case scenario would be to potentially rewrite the lyrics, if that is the consensus and the best course of action, because I do feel it would be a great shame for them to be removed completely.

“I just feel they need to be representative of the nation as it is now, so that everyone can sing together and everyone can feel pride without people feeling marginalised and without disrespecting past things that have happened.”

She added: “There is the means and the creativity to do it but it just needs to be done incredibly sensitively so we don’t lose that patriotic feeling, but we are not alienating people with the lyrics or disrespecting people.”

In light of the recent speculation about the Last Night of The Proms, here is a full statement: https://t.co/WCfXlbntdkpic.twitter.com/WszwwR8xx7

— BBC Proms (@bbcproms) August 25, 2020

The outgoing director-general of the BBC, Lord Tony Hall, has said the decision to remove the lyrics was a “creative” one, but confirmed that the issue of dropping songs because of their association with Britain’s imperial history had been discussed.

The BBC has also confirmed that the traditional anthems will be sung at next year’s Last Night of the Proms.

Kerslake, who is married to former England rugby captain Chris Robshaw, added: “There has to be a way to preserve the music because no one would deny those songs are masterpieces.

“But at the same time, this country is very diverse. We have all different religions, all different genders and different kinds of people here and it should make everyone feel proud.

“The most important thing for me is finding a way to make these songs represent everybody and not just who they represented when they were written 200 years ago.”

Last Night of the Proms
Last Night of the Proms

Some of the lyrics deemed controversial in the songs include the Rule, Britannia! lines: “Britons never, never, never shall be slaves”, and: “The nations, not so blest as thee / Must, in their turns, to tyrants fall / While thou shalt flourish great and free: The dread and envy of them all.”

Land Of Hope And Glory, which was composed by Edward Elgar, also has colonialist lyrics, including: “By freedom gained, by truth maintained / Thine Empire shall be strong”, and: “God, who made thee mighty / Make thee mightier yet!”

The debate over the inclusion of the songs became a political one after Prime Minister Boris Johnson made an intervention on the issue and called for an end to “self-recrimination and wetness”.

Two recordings of Land Of Hope And Glory by Dame Vera Lynn reached number one and number two respectively in the iTunes singles chart on Wednesday, following a campaign by Laurence Fox.

On Tuesday, the actor wrote on Twitter: “Wouldn’t it be great if we could all come together to get Dame Vera Lynn’s version of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ number one in the charts?

“Would the BBC then have to play it? What a beautiful day that would be. Please share widely.”

– The BBC Proms begin on Friday August 28 and run until September 12.