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.

#SaturdaySongs No.15 – #SongOfTheDay Catch Up

As some of you may be aware, I started a Facebook page last year to share my posts, and also a few other bits and pieces which I hope will interest, amuse and entertain. One of the main features in this is my #SongOfTheDay, in which I share – yes, you guessed it – a song I like. These are a mixture of rock, folk, Americana and even occasionally some pop, reflecting my musical tastes. Some are classics, some are very new, but they all have one thing in common: I like them and hope others will too.

On looking back, I was a little surprised to see that it is nine months since I last did a #SaturdaySongs post, and it struck me that it would be a good idea to combine my two musical hashtags. So, here is the first weekly catch up of my #SongOfTheDay, with all of this week’s posts.

On Sunday, I shared a song by a French band of whom most won’t have heard, Cats On Trees. This is what I said:

I’ve been a little erratic since I restarted my #SongOfTheDay – sorry! To make sure I don’t forget today I’m doing this much earlier than I usually do, and it’s something a little different for you. Most of us this side of the channel would be hard pressed to name many French musicians. Here is a reason that we should take more notice: these two are seriously good 😊

On Monday I was a man of few words. It’s a classic – what else should I have said?:

For #SongOfTheDay here’s a classic.

Tuesday also saw me going down the classic rock route:

Another classic #SongOfTheDay – with one of the most recognisable guitar riffs of all time 😊

On Wednesday I got ever so slightly political – but it’s still a great song:

A #SongOfTheDay to welcome the UK’s new Prime Minister

Thursday saw something new. The band is a long time favourite of mine and, whilst their latest album has been out a couple of months, this video was only released on Tuesday:

Something brand new for today’s #SongOfTheDay. The Waterboys have a newish album – always a good day for me when that happens – and this is a track from it. Great video, and I recognise quite a few of the locations from my NHS days 😊

My choice for Friday was from a band who will have gone under most people’s radar, which I think is criminal! This is what I said:

As it’s almost dark outside and has been persisting down heavily, something made me think of this as my #SongOfTheDay. This band should be huge! Very much a Free/Bad Company feel to this, and Keith sounds so like the best rock vocalist this country has ever produced – Paul Rodgers. I can think of no higher praise.

And finally, for this week, my Saturday (i.e. today) post was this:

In yesterday’s #SongOfTheDay I referenced Paul Rodgers. I had to follow up on that today, didn’t I!

That was this week, then. I hope there were some songs in there that you enjoyed – though I accept that my musical tastes may not be the same as everyone else’s. It would be a boring world if we all liked the same music, though. If this generates enough interest I will make it a regular feature, so please add a comment and let me know what you think – and what you did or didn’t like! And if you don’t already follow my Facebook page, you can find it by clicking the link to the right: that way, you won’t have to wait for the catch up to find out what I’m inflicting on your ears each day! Have a great weekend, and do drop in again for some more good music.

Still All Right?

With this post I’m completing the resharing of my 2016 ‘trilogy’ about when I was 16 years old, back in 1969/70. This was originally posted in my now largely defunct series of #SaturdaySongs – though perhaps it will get the occasional reprise when the mood takes me. As usual, I’ll share the post again and come back at the end to the present day. The post was based around the song ‘All Right Now,’ by Free:

I didn’t know it at the time but when I wrote Summer of ’69 back in February I was, in a way, starting what has become this new series of #SaturdaySongs. I followed it up with a companion piece – Born to Be Wild(ish) – in August, and with today’s song I am in effect completing a trilogy about the days when I was a mere 16 years old.

In those previous posts I described how I worked for the first time through the long school summer holiday in 1969, saving up to buy a motor scooter, and how this opened up a time of freedom and enjoyment for me. I described joining the local scooter club and going on long weekend rides – this took me through the winter of 69-70 and right through the summer of 1970. I also joined the local youth centre in Dover, which was based at a place called Centre 365. As well as running youth nights the Centre also provided support for the needy and the homeless. It was a great place to be at that time and, as one of the managers was a friend of my father it felt like home for me. If you’ve read Summer of ’69 you’ll know that Dad left home at the end of the week in which I bought my scooter, and I think my younger self was looking for somewhere welcoming where I could just enjoy myself, away from the new responsibilities I had taken on as the ‘man of the house’ supporting Mum.

Today’s song is this:

This was released in May 1970. It spent 16 weeks in the UK charts but never actually made it to the top: it reached as far as no.2, where it stayed for 6 weeks. Five of these were behind Mungo Bloody Jerry, the other behind Elvis in his latterday bloated crooner days. Even back then the British public couldn’t be trusted to make the right choices! But the song was the soundtrack to my summer that year, and whenever I hear it – I play it often – I’m taken back to those days. For me, 1970 was the only year in a five year spell in which I had no public exams at school, so the pressure was off a lot. The school’s own exams were much better! It was the year when England failed to defend the World Cup, but I stayed up late on many nights watching the matches being broadcast live from Mexico – it was the year of Gordon Banks’ wonder save against the great Pele, and of the amazing semi-final between Italy and West Germany that seemed to go on forever, and finished 4-3 to Italy, with Franz Beckenbauer playing with one arm in a sling. To this day, that stands as the best game I’ve ever seen, for drama. Well, so my increasingly hazy memory tells me, anyway.

You’ll see that the performance I chose to share was from Free’s appearance at the Isle of Wight Festival. This was arranged as a British answer to the legendary Woodstock, which had taken place the previous year and had helped change the face of live rock music performance in a way that had hitherto been unknown. The IoW Festival was promoted well in advance, and a mate and I hatched a plan to go to it. Like most plans dreamed up in our youth, however, it fell apart in spectacular fashion, along with the friendship. Thinking about it, I’ve long preferred indoor events anyway – the acoustics are better and I don’t like huge crowds!

The success of All Right Now is credited with getting the band their spot in the Festival, at which they played to over 600,000 people. Astonishing numbers, and you only get a small sense of that from the video. It was the song that gave them their chart breakthrough too and the album from which it came – Fire and Water – which was their third of six studio albums in their four years together, was their most successful. Forget the sales figures: it is one of the few albums which has enjoyed the ultimate accolade of having been bought by me on vinyl, cassette and CD! I still play it regularly – it is a brilliant blues-rock album, and has stood the test of time well over the 46 years since its release. Wow! Where did that time go?

The joys of that summer were, sadly, never to be repeated for me. Later that year Mum sold the family home and moved us back to where she had spent her childhood, and the geography just didn’t work any more in respect of the scooter club or Centre 365. Still, it was one of the best summers I’ve ever had – it was all right then and it’s still All Right Now 😊

I hope you’ve enjoyed joining me on my three-part journey down memory lane. That post was written in Autumn 2016 and I’m not sure that I’d still use the song title to describe how I’m feeling about life just now. I am about to face one of those life changes that are always rated high on the list of stress factors and, without attempting to be melodramatic or pathetic, I really do feel more than at any time since I went back to work in 2012 that my mental health is under pressure. To be totally honest, it doesn’t feel good, but I know I have to get through it and will need help to do so. I have a feeling that you may be hearing more about this from me in the coming months! But for now, the jury is deliberating on the question of whether I’m ‘Still All Right.’ Keep your fingers crossed for me, please.