I didn’t know there was a Coronation ‘playlist’ until The Proclaimers, Edinburgh born, fully paid up independence supporting republicans, were all over the media for getting themselves removed from a list that no one previously knew existed. Not that it bothered me, as a long time republican, I have no interest in the doings and screwings, sexual, political, or personal of the Royal family.
The Proclaimers being kicked off the list sparked my interest - in the list. Who was on this list, which genres and nations were represented there? Rather than start a debate about who should, should not, be on this list and why or whine about which artists should have said “No” and kept their integrity, I thought I’d take a broader sweep and ask, does ‘the list’ tell a tale about the monarchy, or about the UK today?
Are the tracks on the list King Charles’ personal choices? I don’t think so for a minute, he may have danced to the Three Degrees, but not Boney M. He may have contributed a few titles, maybe the last time he went down to the royal greenhouse to chew out the gardeners for not properly pulling the weeds with their teeth, he too might have been charmed by the romance of Waterloo Sunset through a transistor radio. Maybe HRH approved the final list - signing off the work of a trusted Palace ‘focus group/music committee’. Charles III’s role in the selections are not the issue, but the overall output is.
If it’s a celebration of the Commonwealth, and he will be Head of State in a whole range of nations, Australia, Canada, some of the less French influenced Caribbean Islands, I’d have thought those nations would have at least one tune. I am not suggesting music from each nation, nor music that reflects each country’s traditional music, though I’d love for musical adventurers to have their ears and souls opened to new sounds in the middle of all of old England’s dusted off pomp and ceremony.
If you look at the list, it’s predominantly British, or even more finely stated, English. Sure Canada’s got Micheal Bouble, but why a place for Grace Jones, an American? There’s Scotland and Wales. Emile Sande, and Tom Jones respectively, Tom by birth, Emilie by migration from Sunderland. There’s a place for Boney M, German/Caribbean roots, why? As far as I’m aware, Coldplay, David Bowie and Ed Sheeran are all UK born, and raised. That seems to be the dominant theme of the list. As for Queen’s inclusion, musical merit? Or a nod to Freddie Mercury ‘s Zanzibar birth?
Of course the inclusion of bands supported by the gay community is welcome, acknowledging a need for a commitment to diversity. The reliance on English mainstream popular artists is more a disappointment than a surprise. I’m not expecting tribal trance, nor Didgeridoo house mixed, drum and bass from Australia, but some representation should be anticipated? Did the committee approach The Bee Gees, (UK born but first fame in Australia), or Men at Work or Crowded House?
There are many Commonwealth countries where Charles will not be head of state. India, Pakistan, Kenya, and Nigeria primarily amongst them, but their diaspora are players here in the UK, in Charles’ backyard. Outside of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Charles III will also head a family of smaller nations; within the Caribbean, there’s Trinidad and Jamaica. The Islands that have been responsible for three of the world’s influential musical genres, Soca, Calypso and Reggae. There are burgeoning republican movements in these nations, and some artists may have chosen not to be associated with an institution close to rejection, but that leads to another question, the UK artists that are included.
I am just not convinced the UK Artists selected come close to reflecting the diversity of the UK, in the 21st Century. The faces selected on the whole look like a traditional 70’s football crowd, that’s white and male. Where’s the home grown reggae and multi-racial ska bands making music that celebrates a diverse UK? Where’s the UK Bhangra beats? Or the Afro-pop, r&b or jazz inflected sounds from our cities? The music has been developing over decades.
Just a taste of home grown, diverse music would hint that the UK is not trapped in some golden jade summer of swinging London.
Reflecting on the music, it’s sad, whoever advised Charles, failed to take the opportunity to celebrate the current Commonwealth’s musical diversity. I’d easily take Eddie Grant, 60’s pop icon, later UK reggae star, or Monsoon ‘Ever So Lonely’ - artists that tell a tale of change in the UK. The Coronation playlist is maddening because it so steadfastly refuses to celebrate the diversity that’s happening here now, because of long and supposedly cherished commonwealth connections and immigration.
We may well hear the cry “Where the hell is my nation’s music, and why have my nation’s stellar stars been omitted from this playlist, wtf?” Where indeed, where indeed.
In this context Kylie, surely, must have taken a pass and not been an omission.
It’s that homogenous sound the list implies, that disappoints in telling the story of the UK’s popular musical tradition and direction. Just one or two musicians from those nations, or even their diasporas, here in the UK, would have reminded me of what these communities have contributed to the UK.
Overall this is the sound of the UK wallowing in its past, not a nation about to embark on a new golden cultural age. Past glories mate, that’s what this is all about. The last moments before total global irrelevance when you are so scared of your constituency that you daren’t even acknowledge your own cultural riches.
That the Royal crowd can’t even properly acknowledge our culture - in the field of music, a veritable sideshow that that is, is astonishing. The UK’s strength is found in its diversity. Some listeners will realise, that without parents and grandparents leaving their homes to come and rebuild the UK, we wouldn’t have the vibrancy we have here in the UK in 2023. And without that we wouldn’t have the big musical beats that have over the recent decades had people dancing all over the globe. Dancing, remarkably the UK's one big remaining export.
Main Image: Wikipedia Coronation Chicken.