A singalong with the general: ‘Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans’

Perhaps it is because, in a few days’ time, I shall be sharing a stage with General Sir Richard Dannatt while singing the old music-hall song “I’m Not All There” that my brain has recently become somewhat scrambled as to what is acceptable to say, written and sing in public, and what is not.

We are not, officially, singing together, the general and I. The former Chief of the Defence Staff will be discussing his autobiography Leading fFrom the Front at the Aldeburgh Literary Festival on Friday evening and then signing copies of the book at the back of the stage while I, and my musical partner Derek, set up our gear. Our show*, which will follow his,  is an exploration of political incorrectness in song over the past century, and will form part of a two-part Radio 4 series this summer.

Will the general stay? I hope so. There will be one or two songs he might like to sing along to: “We’re Gonna Have to Slap That Dirty Little Jap” and “Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans” from 60 years ago and Lynrd Skynrd’s “God and Guns” from 2009.

Right now, as I make final preparations for the show, my aim is to keep up with the latest breaking news about musical incorrectness. A couple of weeks ago, U2’s Bono made headlines when he said in an interview that, under the right circumstances, it should be permissible to sing the banned African National Congress anthem “Kill the Boer”.

This week Brian McFadden, formerly of Westlife, offended the taste police with a song called “Just the Way You Are (Drunk at the Bar)”. Because the lyrics contain the words “I can’t wait to get you home so I can take advantage”,  it is said that the Irishman is promoting date-rape.

In vain, the Irishman has protested that it was about his girlfriend getting tipsy. “It’s a dumb song with a dumb beat,” he has said. “When did I ever claim to be John Lennon?”

Lennon, of course, would have been given the benefit of the doubt. A significant factor in whether a song is acceptable or not is the coolness quotient of the singer.

It’s a revealing, and sometimes rather funny, subject. I really hope the general stays.

 *  Lyrics May Offend – A Short History of Musical Taboo is on at 8pm in the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh, Suffolk. A few tickets are still available from the Aldeburgh Bookshop on 01728 452389.