Boris Johnson’s Proms comments ‘irresponsible’, says Last Night composer

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s criticism of plans to perform traditional songs at the BBC Proms without lyrics was “irresponsible”, according to a composer who has worked on the Last Night.

The live music leg of the BBC Proms kicked off on Friday following days of controversy over the singing of Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory.

Errollyn Wallen told Times Radio that every year there is a “hullabaloo” over the Last Night.

The Ivor Novello Awards – London
The Ivor Novello Awards – London

“Some of that was whipped up, to be honest,” she added.

The traditional songs, which some find controversial because of their perceived ties to imperialism, will be played without lyrics at this year’s Last Night, although the BBC has confirmed they will be sung again in 2021.

There will be no live audience to sing along because of coronavirus restrictions.

Earlier this week, Mr Johnson said he found the decision to remove the lyrics difficult to believe.

“I think it’s time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history, about our traditions, and about our culture, and we stopped this general bout of self-recrimination and wetness,” he added.

Appledore Shipyard to reopen
Appledore Shipyard to reopen

Responding to his comments, Wallen said: “I think that is the first step, certainly cringe with embarrassment, and then go further and let’s open up the history that we are all part of.

“So that is the first step.”

She added: “I think he was being irresponsible at a time when the arts gets so little support.

“It has been hung out to dry, especially with all that’s happened with Covid-19.

“His remarks weren’t at all helpful.”

Last Night of the Proms
Last Night of the Proms

She added she was “dismayed” that so many politicians waded into the row.

The composer has written a new arrangement of Jerusalem which will be played during the Last Night, which she said features a soprano singing the lyrics rather than a choir.

Earlier this week, the BBC’s outgoing director-general Lord Tony Hall insisted the decision to remove the lyrics from some songs was a “creative” one, but confirmed the issue of dropping songs because of their association with Britain’s imperial past had been discussed.

The festival began on Friday with a performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

At the beginning of the BBC Two coverage, Stephen Fry, who was presenting, said it was “extraordinary” to be at the performance.

“It is exciting, as a Prom always is, except without the audience it’s exciting for other reasons because this is such a great moment in the cultural history of our nation, that the grass is growing back up through the concrete and finally there’s live music.”

The Last Night will be performed on September 12.

During the classical musical festival there will also be performances held in locations including Salford Quays and Cardiff’s Hoddinott Hall.