#SaturdaySongs No.12 – Songs for Bonfire Night

When I brought back this #SaturdaySongs series I said I would be doing it a little differently. So today, instead of a song with meaning from somewhere in my life I’m doing a themed set for Bonfire Night, aka Guy Fawkes Night.

Earlier this week we ‘celebrated’ Hallowe’en. As I said then, this is largely imported to these shores from the US, in its current form, although parts of the British Isles do have a tradition going back many hundreds of years – the whole thing derives from the pagan festival of Samhain, if you want to follow it up. Our real celebration for this week comes tomorrow, when we mark what is known as Guy Fawkes Night, or Bonfire Night, if you prefer. This is still a big night in the UK – understanding of it is perhaps declining, but it marks a momentous event in British history. Bonfires will be lit all over the country, and thousands will attend to watch them and the accompanying firework displays. Why?

As the majority of readers here are based outside the UK it would be presumptuous of me to assume that you would know why we do this. Briefly, on 5th November 1605 a man called Guy Fawkes was discovered in the vaults of the House of Lords guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder. He was there to blow the place up during the State Opening of the English Parliament, as part of a plot by Catholics to murder the King – James I of England and VI of Scotland – and install his 9 year old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, as a Catholic monarch. The details of this are well documented so I won’t bore you with them here, but if you want to know more there is a good article in Wikipedia which draws on a number of authoritative sources to give a full description of the plot and its aftermath, which resulted in trials for those who had not been killed as they tried to make their escape, and subsequent executions by the barbaric method of hanging, drawing and quartering. Perhaps ironically Guy Fawkes managed to escape this end – weakened by having been tortured during the investigation into the plot he jumped from the gallows and broke his neck. This all sounds very gory to me. To illustrate that, an admission: the BBC has been running a dramatisation of these events, which finishes tonight – I recorded the first episode but when I read how people were complaining about its graphic detail I went into full wuss mode and deleted it, unwatched!

In the following years the foiling of this plot was celebrated on its anniversary by the ringing of church bells, special sermons and the lighting of bonfires, and it became a part of traditional British culture as a result. This tradition included the burning of an effigy of Guy Fawkes on top of the bonfire, although in recent times there have been occasions when masks of modern political figures have been put on the guy – we may love our democracy but it doesn’t stop us hating the politicians! When I was growing up it was commonplace to see groups of children on the streets with their guys, quite often being transported in their dads’ wheelbarrow, asking for a ‘Penny for the guy, mister’ but this is seen much less nowadays. In our current Health and Safety conscious era I guess they are most likely to be arrested for begging!

I thought I’d mark the event with a few songs, none of which has anything to do with Guy Fawkes but all of which have the word ‘fire’ in their title. I’ve really thought this through, haven’t I! First up, and one which has a place in my life as being one of the earliest songs (and bands) that introduced me to American rock music, is this:

See what I mean about there being no influence from Guy Fawkes? It’s still a great song though.

The events we are remembering tomorrow took place 412 years ago. But there are, sadly, echoes in modern day life: religion as the basis for differences and even violence; a threat to democracy from those who want another form of government and are prepared to go to illegal and destructive ends to attain it. Sound familiar? We don’t learn as much from history as we would like to think, do we? For a potted history lesson, we could all do a lot worse than listen to my second choice for today:

And when I say ‘all’ I’m thinking in particular of a certain orange president who seems determined to ignore any lessons he might have learned from history, assuming he has ever read about it. Sadly, he is far from alone in that.

My final ‘fire’ song just has to be this. Utterly bonkers, the archetypal one hit wonder, from 1968:

They don’t really make them like that anymore, do they? Somehow, though, Arthur Brown best fits the theme for tomorrow: he’s a kind of walking bonfire, really.

I’m sorry if I haven’t included your favourite fire song, but I didn’t want to overburden you (and as it’s my blog I can choose what I want 😂). Two other obvious candidates are Great Balls of Fire and Ring of Fire (nothing to do with curries). No doubt you can think of many more, all of which will share one common denominator: they are not about Guy Fawkes. There are a number of traditional folk songs and ballads going right back to the early 17th century but sadly, for some reason, none of these appears to have found their way onto YouTube – what were they thinking! There are also a few modern day efforts which mostly share the characteristics of being loud, tuneless and not good enough to meet the high quality standards I apply to this blog (ahem). So I’ve decided to end with a little history lesson instead:

If you’re out tonight or tomorrow, stay warm, stay safe, and enjoy yourself. And please remember that pets (and ageing bloggers) need to be looked after during the fireworks and explosions.


31 thoughts on “#SaturdaySongs No.12 – Songs for Bonfire Night

  1. Reblogged this on Take It Easy and commented:

    I haven’t done any #SaturdaySongs posts for a while, but now seems as good time as any to re-share this one from this time last year, for those who won’t have seen it before. Music and a little bit of potted history: I’m spoiling you!


  2. Love The Doors. I remember Arthur Brown on Top of the Pops with flames all around, I’m sure that wouldn’t be allowed nowadays! Did you make treacle toffee for Bonfire Night, or was that a northern thing too?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Billy Joel, the Doors, all great musicians. I used to drive to my university for three hours each weekend, and remember how the hours went by more easily with these energetic songs. Love your selections, Clive…they bring back the years gone by.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you enjoyed them all. Horrible Histories is a BBC programme supposedly aimed at kids, but it appeals to adults as well, as it is brilliant. Plenty of clips on YouTube if you’d like to see more 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post, Clive. Some superb memories – ‘penny for the guy’, supposedly to fund fireworks. Not sure about the legal situation wrt fireworks in UK now. They’re banned from sale here except for supervised displays – but people travel to Northern Ireland to get them (for Halloween, not Guy Fawkes!), and that’s part of the UK (although with some legislation that is different from England and Wales.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Frank, glad you liked it. We used to buy sweets with ours, let our parents pay for the fireworks! Anyone over 18 can buy fireworks here apart from the top category, which are for use only in organised displays. That explains why we get them going off for days on end 😊


  5. A fantastic set of Fire songs .. I can bop forever to Billy Joel and The Doors is one of the most atmospheric of songs. Arthur Brown’s offering is one of my enduring delights – a song that I always turn the radio up for. Actually, come to think of it that applies to all of them. One word though …. Prodigy (*puts on hard hat in readiness for assualt from Pilcher*)

    Liked by 3 people

    • Glad you liked the choices. I wonder if you knew the other one – it did reach no.2 in the US, briefly. Thanks, but my health means I’ll have to stay in and watch other people’s fireworks through the trees. Have a lovely weekend 😊

      Liked by 2 people

Please leave a reply, I'd like to know what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.