Bonfire Night In Song

For the past couple of years I’ve shared a few songs loosely related to the theme of Bonfire Night. I thought it worth doing again, but with an updated and expanded choice of songs. There are so many with the word ‘fire’ in their title that I’m really spoilt for choice!

Last 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 time of year comes today, 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!

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!

To round off my little history lesson here’s a better explanation than I could ever give:

As I said, I’m marking 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! A couple of these were included when I first posted for Bonfire Night, but I’ve added in several new ones for your delectation and listening pleasure.

First up is a typical 60s (January 1968) English pop song, from a band which eventually morphed into two parts – Jeff Lynne (who joined after this song) turned his bit into the ELO, and Roy Wood turned into Wizzard. This is nutty but I love it still – and bought the single when first released:

See what I mean about there being no influence from Guy Fawkes? It’s still a great song though. In case you were wondering, the clip is from the UK’s Top Of The Pops programme, and the presenter was Dave Cash.

The events we are remembering today took place 414 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, and we now have his Mini Me allegedly running our country, although hopefully for not much longer.

Of similar vintage, how about this one?

That was the title track of Free’s third album. They were only together for a short time but made a series of great records, and I was lucky enough to see them play live once – at an age when I probably shouldn’t have been allowed into the club!

That last one was from 1970, and so is my next ‘fire’ song. This is from James Taylor’s second album, Sweet Baby James. This intimate ‘in concert’ performance is beautiful, and made all the more poignant when you know that the song was written to help him work through his thoughts and feelings after the suicide of a friend:

I couldn’t do this selection of ‘fire’ songs without this one. From the Boss’ superb album Born In The USA, released in 1984 – so it’s much more recent than some of these! One of seven singles released from the album:

Next up is Bob Seger. He never really enjoyed commercial success here in the UK, which I think is criminal! He has written some of the best rock song lyrics ever, as typified in this song, which was the title track of his fourteenth studio album, The Fire Inside, released in 1991:

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, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown best fits the theme for today: 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). 

If you’re out tonight 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.

18 thoughts on “Bonfire Night In Song

  1. Thanks Clive for the memories! I love fire and and was a big Bob Seger fan when I worked in a supermarket and was put in charge of the music playing! Everyone knew of my favourites 🙂 We don’t celebrate Guy Fawkes down here but I remember doing so when we lived in England and having near misses with the neighbour’s fireworks!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Clive, thank you for providing me with my morning’s playlist … all perfect for the day! Although I’ve grown up with Guy Fawkes night I never knew the names of the other conspirators… and how they were betrayed. Horrible Histories are the best! So informative and great lines, chuckling at the ‘gutted’ at the end. Love the post! Have a brilliant evening!

    Liked by 1 person

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