Tucked into the Easter weekend this year is St George’s Day, when thoughts naturally turn to what makes England great: rain, ale, hooliganism and insulting the French. And yeah, music.
England has been celebrated in song for centuries, from folk musicians in jester’s hats singing “hey nonny nonny” (yes, you, Fairport Convention) to The Sundays cheering us all up about the “miserable weather”; artists picking apart our national character to find we’re all “hanging on in quiet desperation”. Trust the Floyd to bring the LOLs.
It’s a land where boy meets girl (The Jam’s ‘English Rose’), boy loses girl (Billy Bragg’s ‘A New England’) and boy and girl Kings of Leon fans shag under the leering, sleazy gaze of Caleb Followill (‘Fans’).
Where we wrap up our national psyche in the football team, in the jingoistic (Baddiel/Skinner/Lightning Seeds’ ‘Three Lions’), the mildly hopeful (Englandneworder’s ‘World In Motion’), the deluded (Fat Les’s ‘Vindaloo’) and the batshit mental (Black Grape’s ‘England’s Irie’).
Where Morrissey can spend a decade listing our foibles before swanning off to LA and, um, listing our foibles. Get out and enjoy the sun, Moz.
So here’s a selection of songs commemorating England in all its filthy glory.
Laura Marling – ‘Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)’
“I never love England more,” trills Laura, “than when covered in snow,” which at least explains her fondness for Glastonbury. Proving that modern folk is as in love with this soil as its beardy ancestor, Marling looks forward to coming back again once she’s shaken off a Fink or a Mumford or some unfunny berk from Gavin & Stacey.
The Libertines – ‘Time For Heroes’
Like St George, Pete Doherty’s chased a few dragons in his time. Usually banging on about his ill-disguised, mythical Albion, here he cuts to the kernel of what makes an Englishman great: his headgear. “There are fewer more distressing sights than that of an Englishman in a baseball cap.” Far better a manky trilby you can smell from Pluto.
The JAMMs – ‘It’s Grim Up North’
To the strains of ‘Jerusalem’, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty get all anarcho-situationist on our asses (as per) with this hymn to the holiday destinations of the North – “Doncaster, Dewsbury, Hali… fax”.
Asian Dub Foundation – ‘Real Great Britain’
In which London’s premier bhangra-dub crew offer a paean to quaint bucolia – Rupert Murdoch, Thatcherism, “dead royalty”, you know the sort of thing – that claims to be about Britain as a whole but spits squarely on “Middle England”.
Blur – ‘Sunday Sunday’
Corblimey, luvaduck. Twenty-five years after The Kinks invented Britpop, Blur invented Britpop with this rundown of lazy-day tradition: “He sings Songs of Praise every week but always falls asleep…” We’ve all been there.
The Clash – ‘This Is England’
“This is England/We can kill you in a jail” – ah, are they the stirring chords of ‘Jerusalem’ we hear? Or cheap synths tacking the lid on The Clash’s career? Makes you proud anyway.
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But which other tracks say England/Englishness to you? Roger Miller’s ‘England Swings’? Sting’s ‘An Englishman In New York’? Or even something good? Let us know.