Proms row: Andrew Lloyd Webber says Tim Rice could ‘fix’ Rule, Britannia!

Andrew Lloyd Webber says Rule, Britannia! will sound “ordinary” without lyrics and has volunteered his long-time collaborator Sir Tim Rice to “fix” them.

The billionaire composer is the latest person to wade into the Proms row, after it was announced an orchestral version the anthem will be played at the Last Night Of The Proms this year.

Land Of Hope And Glory will also lose its lyrics at the Royal Albert Hall event, which will take place without its 6,000-strong audience due to coronavirus.

Both songs are favourites for Prom fans, who often enthusiastically wave flags and sing along.

The Proms is watched live by an audience of over 6000
Image: Normally watched by 6,000, this year there will be no audience in the Royal Albert Hall

Early reports had suggested the traditional songs were being dropped in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, due to their perceived association with colonialism and slavery.

The outgoing director-general of the BBC, Lord Tony Hall, later confirmed there had been discussions over removing the lyrics because of their association with Britain’s imperial history, but said the decision was a “creative” one.

Andrew Lloyd Webber attends the world premiere of Cats
Image: Andrew Lloyd Webber believes lyricist Sir Tim Rice could help in the row

One of the most problematic lyrics in Rule, Britannia! is the line: “Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.”

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In an open letter to The Times, Lord Lloyd-Webber wrote: “Sir, Rule, Britannia! is one of those melodies that is made by a lyric.

“Played by an orchestra on its own the chorus will sound ordinary at best.

“There are some great British lyricists around who could fix the offending couplet.

“In the 50th anniversary year of Jesus Christ Superstar, the BBC should send for Tim Rice.”

Boris Johnson is not happy about suggestions that the BBC might cut lyrics from songs at Last Night Of The Proms
Boris Johnson calls for an end to ‘self-recrimination and wetness’

News that Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory would not be performed as normal was met with outrage from traditionalists.

More than 100 singers normally perform Rule, Britannia!, however social distancing measures would make this impossible this year.

The orchestra – which is normally made up of about 80 musicians – will also be dramatically reduced, and restrictions are likely to allow just 15 on the stage at once.

The BBC says both songs will be sung at next year’s Last Night of the Proms.

When asked about the controversy earlier this week, Boris Johnson told reporters: “If it is correct… I think it’s time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history, about our traditions and about our culture, and we stop this general bout of self-recrimination and wetness.”

He admitted he’d been advised against speaking out on the matter but said: “I wanted to get that off my chest.”

South-African soprano Golda Schultz will be part of the big finale
Image: South-African soprano Golda Schultz will be part of the big finale

The BBC said Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska, who will lead the orchestra on the final night, has faced “unjustified personal attacks” on social media following the backlash against the removal of the words.

They said decisions about the event were made “in consultation with all artists involved,” and said the reinvention of the evening was a way of “adapting to very different circumstances at this moment in time”.

A BBC spokesperson confirmed that: “With much reduced musical forces and no live audience, the Proms will curate a concert that includes familiar, patriotic elements such as Jerusalem and the national anthem, and bring in new moments capturing the mood of this unique time, including You’ll Never Walk Alone, presenting a poignant and inclusive event for 2020.”

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Live performances over the two weeks of concerts include violinists Nicola Benedetti and Alina Ibragimova; the cellist who played at Prince Harry and Meghan’s wedding Sheku Kanneh-Mason and his pianist sister Isata Kanneh-Mason; and sitar player Anoushka Shankar with electronic artist Gold Panda.

South African soprano Golda Schultz will join the BBC Symphony Orchestra for the final night.

The Last Night of the Proms is on Saturday 12 September.

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