Ahead of the Six Nations Championship, UK Music’s Policy and Campaigns Officer Matt Bold discusses how music plays a significant role in major sporting events.
The Guinness Six Nations rugby championship will begin with music. It always does. Before the first ball is kicked or a tackle made in anger, the Principality Stadium in Cardiff will almost shake as the defiance of Ireland’s Call is answered by the dragon’s roar of Wales’s Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau prior to kick off on February 5th.
Music and the Six Nations have always been linked. It was the then Five Nations that established Flower of Scotland, the most ancient sounding battle hymn to come out of the mid-60s, as the de facto Scottish national anthem. Written by Roy Williamson of the folk group The Corries, it was only first adopted as a pre-game anthem in the build-up to the finale of the 1990 Championship, where Scotland defeated England to claim the title and a Grand Slam (when one team beats all the others), making it the game that both gave Scotland an anthem and the answer to the pub quiz question “when did Scotland last win a Grand Slam” (as of January 2022).
Beyond the anthems are the songs that are passed on from fan to fan and trigger the deepest passions. Communal singing and attending live events are some of the things we have missed the most during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that loss of human connection has hurt peoples’ well-being. That time apart means the old songs will be sung with even greater gusto this year in houses, outside pubs and at stadiums across all six nations.
Some personal favourites include the rumble of the Fields of Athenry and the choral might of the Welsh rugby hymns Calon Lân (Pure of Heart) and Cwm Rhondda (Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer (Bread of Heaven)).
As a Welsh person I have to note it is a rare pub in Southwest London where your ears will go unmolested by an impromptu lads’ choir giving their best “swing” at Swing Low, Sweet Chariot over a match weekend. The traditional song to respond with is sadly unrepeatable, but makes up with gusto what it lacks in lyrical sophistication. *
These songs embody the friendly rivalry and tribalism the Six Nations thrives on. Nothing makes a tribe quite like the common ritual of music, there is a reason the revolutionaries of France and Italy decided to bring their nations together behind La Marseillaise and Il Canto Degli Italiani. Probably two of the best anthems in the Championship and welcome bloody and bombastic additions to the Six Nations carnival.
Recorded music will also entertain people pre and post-match or as half time entertainment highlighting how important music is to our culture (you couldn’t imagine a music gig with a 5-a-side football game between acts).
But in between the blaring music, the crowds, the songs and the scrums inside and outside the stadiums, the Championship will be decided with more than one team going homeward to think again. Next year the old crew will reassemble to do it all again. You can be sure it will begin with music. It always does.