My British soundtrack...
Let's start with classical first. I'll return to rock, pop and folk later... I'm not exactly breaking any barriers with my selections here. They are all rather safe and well known. But, that doesn't stop them from being damn fine tunes and each in their own way, evocative of Britain.
Elgar - Nimrod, from the Enigma Variations
Majestic and stately, respectful and slow to anger but shaking the earth with its wrath when roused, Nimrod is England in musical form. Or at least, my England. A lot of people go with Pomp and Circumstance as the patriotic high point of Elgar and I agree that Land of Hope and Glory is a perfect, end of the proms, flag waving, ditty. But Nimrod... Swelling is the description I would go with. Building and building until it's power dominates the room but then, fading just as swiftly as it has come. Along with Vivaldi's Winter (Largo) this is one of two essential classical pieces for me. And to me - it is England - not boastful nor proud but solid, right and beautiful.
Parry / Blake - Jerusalem
There's a recording of me and my mate Stephen singing this in 1986 accompanied by my drunken Casio keyboard playing (with clap-clap drumbeat). Not my greatest recording ever. I only say this as an illustration that it's always been a favourite of mine. Based on a poem by William Blake (written whilst in West Sussex - green and pleasant land, indeed), the musical setting was provided by Hubert Parry in 1916. Rightly Jerusalem has come back recently as an anthem for everyone (the Suffragettes used to use it with Parry's permission) and not just the Tory Party. If England needs a national anthem, this is it.
And did those feet in ancient time, walk upon England's mountains green
Anonymous (but let's go with the Vaughn Williams setting) - Greensleeves
One from Tim's Desert Island Discs circa 1975. Who could not like this medieval song from the 16th century? Probably not written by Henry VIII, it is nethertheless a window into Tudor times when so much of our national story was forged (Church of England, the break with Rome, religious tolerance, Shakespeare, the first colonies, a powerful queen, the successful defence of the realm by the nascent royal navy). I particularly like the interpretation of the lyrics that suggests that the Lady Greensleeves was a whore because whores' dresses were green from lying in the grass so much! No, let's give the lady a little more class than that, shall we? I like the Vaughn Williams orchestral fantasia version because it seemed to summarise Merrie Olde England as characterised by, say, the Carry On Films. There's something very English about the tune and something very post-war about the WIlliams' setting (even if he did write it in the 30's).
Yeah, I know. All three are very English. Sorry about that Celtic fringes. Occasionally England needs to be heard too!