Top composer analyses ‘patriotic’ One Britain song the government wants all schoolchildren to sing

23 June 2021, 18:47 | Updated: 23 June 2021, 19:48

‘We are Britain’ song analysis
‘We are Britain’ song analysis. Picture: OBON / YouTube

By Kyle Macdonald

We asked a leading British composer to give his view on “Strong Britain, Great Nation,” the new song the government wants flag-waving children to sing with pride...

Schoolchildren around the UK are being urged by the government to sing a patriotic song to celebrate One Britain One Nation Day on 25 June 2021.

The song is by schoolchildren from Bradford in Yorkshire, which is awesome. However, we note that the song is formally registered to two songwriters, which suggests the songwriters worked to develop the piece with the school pupils, and presumably shaped some of the musical elements we will get to later.

The anthem begins with the words, “We are Britain, and we have one dream: to unite all people in one great team,” followed by a chant-like refrain that then repeats the line, “Strong Britain, great nation”.

Read more: 13 primary school hymns that were 100% certified belters

Many on social media have criticised the song as jingoistic, and suggested that the overall production and campaign feels like government propaganda.

Anyway, why don’t we have a listen to it before taking an analytical dive into the music?

A leading composer reacts

Thomas Hewitt Jones is a British composer, organist and cellist, often heard on Classic FM. He begins his assessment in fulsome praise for the idea of getting kids singing. “We all know music and the arts should be accessible to everyone. In a time when music education is continually neglected across the board, I am totally in support of anything that uses songs and music in an education setting,” he says.

“However, I would argue that the reason that music participation is seen as elitist is that there is so much that is dumbed down. Because the popular music industry can be flighty, algorithmic-driven and earworm-heavy, primary students need that opportunity to experience a wide variety of music’s most important aspects – those of great, soaring melody and emotional narrative.

“If we look at the musical canon and what we all call great music, across all genres, has one of two things: clarity of emotion, or soaring melody. From Fauré and the Fugees, through to Frozen, children do not need to be patronised.”

Thomas Hewitt Jones plays at St John's Smith Square in London
Thomas Hewitt Jones plays at St John's Smith Square in London. Picture: Classic FM

Musical analysis of ‘One Britain, One Nation’

The song is in C major, 4/4. Possibly, no surprises here, though the official recording sounds much closer to D-flat major.

Hewitt Jones notes a “functional” 4-bar intro leads straight into the 8-bar chorus which begins the song. The 4/4 drum beat continues throughout, and the harmonic rhythm of the song is a 4-chord, chord-change-per-bar structure.

“This harmonic and rhythmic structure is all well and good, but it’s down to the melody to hook the listener into the song, and provide interest and direction. In this case, the melody of the chorus meanders up and down over the I-IV-II-V progression,” remarks our composer.

“The word-setting of the verse just comes across as a bit insincere. It sounds as if the words have just been ‘bolted on’ to the tune. For example, the verse ends with a low C (on the word ‘shores’) over a chord of E minor, which just sounds heinous to me in this harmonic context.

“The ‘Strong Britain, Great Nation’ coda is possibly the most musically appealing part, because of the addition of some sampled strings which add variation to the musical arrangement. In their delivery, the kids sing with great enthusiasm.”

"Music and the arts should be accessible to everyone," says the composer
"Music and the arts should be accessible to everyone," says the composer. Picture: Getty

Hewitt Jones says he feels the songwriters probably navigated a challenging and restrictive brief as best they could.

Our composer ended his assessment by coming back to the point about how important it is to have music and singing in schools.

“The government may cut music from school budgets with a minimum amount of fuss. Yet it is vital, irreplaceable, and one of the most important aspects of our culture and humanity. This song, irrespective of any political association, feels like a flawed and incomplete way forward, especially if we want to urge singing, expression and coming together in a creative moment.

“There is so much great music already out there for primary kids to listen to, participate in, play and sing, if they are only given the chance.”

What are the lyrics to ‘Strong Britain Great Nation’?

Chorus:

We are Britain
And we have one dream
To unite all people In one great team (repeat)

Verse 1:

Our nation survived through many storms and many wars
We’ve opened our doors, and widened our island’s shores
We celebrate our differences with love in our hearts
United forever, never apart

Chorus

Verse 2:

So many different races, standing in the same place
So many different faces, moving at the same pace
We all stand together with pride in our hearts
United forever, never apart

Chorus

Outro:

Strong Britain, Great Nation
Strong Britain, Great Nation
Strong Britain, Great Nation
Strong Britain, Great Na-a-tion.