Bonfire Night Tunes

Over the years I have posted several times for Bonfire Night, using ‘fire’ as the excuse for some terrific tunes. Last year I updated and expanded the selection but as there are so many songs with ‘fire’ in their title I thought this year I would do this with an entirely new set. About time, I hear you murmur. But first, for the uninitiated, unwary or just plain unwilling, here is a re-run of my potted history lesson. If you’ve seen this in previous years please feel free to skip to the music 😉

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. In ‘normal’ years bonfires are lit all over the country, and thousands attend to watch them and the accompanying firework displays. This year, those of us in England have just gone back into a national lockdown, which must have tempted a few to think about blowing up Parliament. But it means that big public bonfires are off this year – so why not stay in and enjoy some great music instead?

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 have our Bonfire Night. 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 – a Protestant – 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.

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! We have also occasionally expanded to include other countries – guess whose image has been created with pumpkins left over from last week?

When I was growing up it was commonplace to see groups of children (including me) on the streets transporting their guys 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, even without the requirements for social distancing which have interfered with things this year.

To round off my little history lesson there is one video which I’ve retained from previous years, as it gives a far better explanation than I could ever give:

‘Gutted,’ indeed.

So, where am I starting my new selection of songs which have absolutely nothing to do with Guy Fawkes, but do mention ‘fire?’ Having given this nanoseconds of thought I went for someone who featured in my monthly review post – October Road – last Sunday:

I’ve loved that ever since I first heard it, probably some fifty plus years ago – I was nearly 10 when it was released. Nothing says ‘fire’ quite like an invisible mariachi band, does it? And the song is nothing to do with curry either, in case you were wondering. 

My next ‘fire’ song for this year is only a couple of years younger:

That is a fairly recent video for the song, which actually dates back to early 1965. It was the B-side of The Last Time single (UK #1, US #9), and was also included on the US version of their album from later in 1965, Out Of Our Heads, though not on the UK version – we were expected to buy the single too! It subsequently appeared on several compilation albums in the US, but we had to wait until 1971 before we got an album version here.

I thought I would balance things out with a couple of tunes from female vocalists. They don’t come much better for me than Stevie Nicks:

That was on Stevie’s fourth solo album, The Other Side Of The Mirror, from 1989, and was her first UK Top Twenty single, reaching #16, as it also did in the US. The album was a UK #3 and US #10, but I think her first solo album – Bella Donna – is still my favourite: they were all good, though. The fact that she was gorgeous has nothing to do with my choosing this song, of course.

My other female vocalist is much less well-known. A solo artist and actress, she had a number of musical collaborations, including this one:

Some strange editing going on there! The rather bemused guy at the beginning was Simon Dee, a DJ and TV host from that time. As for the guy at the end, I have absolutely no idea who he is and why he was there – he looks as though he was in the process of failing the audition for Monty Python! You may well know that the song was written by Bob Dylan, with Rick Danko of The Band. The Band’s version is on their 1968 debut album, Music From Big Pink, a great record. Dylan released a version on The Basement Tapes, in 1975. This cover was a UK #5 in 1968 – a classic one hit wonder.

I don’t know why I haven’t featured this next singer more on my blog, as he has long been one of my favourites. His albums are all superb, and this is typically great:

If you don’t know John Mellencamp’s music, you really are missing out. He began as Johnny Cougar, then John Cougar, via John Cougar Mellencamp into just using his real name. That was the opening track from his 1987 album The Lonesome Jubilee, which reached #6 in the US and #31 here. It was released as a single, peaking at #9 in the US but only staggering to #86 here. We can, as a nation, sometimes be remiss with our musical taste!

My last bonfire song for today – and this year – is one of the obvious choices I have somehow managed to omit from previous selections:

As you can see, I went for a later version of the song rather than an original. I did so deliberately, to show how well he had survived over thirty years in the business by then – this was 1989 – and how respected he must have been to have assembled a backing band like that! I’m sure you don’t need reminding that this one goes all the way back to 1957, when it was #1 in the UK and #2 in the US, a few short months before his UK tour was cancelled after just three shows when it came out that his third wife (at the age of just 22!) was only 13, and was a first cousin once removed (don’t ask, I’ve never understood that either). I suspect that even after all these years, that might happen nowadays too. It doesn’t seem to have done any long term damage to his career, though!

I’m sorry if I haven’t included your favourite fire song, but felt I should restrain myself and stick to just six songs out of the many possibilities. I did actually mention two of these (the first and the last) in last year’s post as being obvious candidates, so it’s probably as well that I’ve selected them today. 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 – I just don’t understand it! 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 – yes, such standards do exist.

If you are doing something for this evening I hope it goes well, and safely. Sadly, as I said, the current restrictions and lockdown will have put an end to public gatherings, but I’m fully expecting some of the locals to be blasting off in their gardens. I just hope that they remember to think of pets, for whom this is a horrible night.

Be safe, enjoy yourself within the rules, and take care. Or just stay in and listen to music: that’s always good advice!

Birthday Celebrations

I ran my most recent piece last Wednesday, to mark my birthday. In it,  I referenced a previous post which described the grand day out my two lovely daughters gave me to celebrate my 60th birthday. I thought it might be good to share again an edited version of that piece, as it was a lovely day and I doubt many of you will have seen it before. I’ve also updated it to this year.

I first posted the piece on my birthday in 2016. On that day I awoke – or more precisely, was awoken by,  a thunderstorm and torrential rain – to the thought that I was then 63. I’d never been that old before! But we are told that ‘age is just a number’ so who’s counting? Just as well, really, as I’ve now added another four to the score! Seven years ago I retired from a lifetime of work, on my 60th birthday, and to celebrate that milestone my two wonderful daughters arranged a special day out for me in London. I had commuted into the capital to work for more than 35 years, and this marked the beginning of my re-acquaintance with London as a place to enjoy, rather than somewhere I was happy to escape from on a daily basis. During a comments ‘chat’ with a fellow blogger a few weeks prior to the original I realised that I had never written about that day out. I would have laid odds that I had, but when I checked I found several photographs in my Facebook and Instagram feeds, but no blog posts. I decided that I would write something about it, and as it is one of my favourite posts I thought I’d give it another airing.

Due to their work commitments the girls arranged the day out for the weekend, Saturday 14th to be precise. This had the bonus of there being lighter usage of public transport than on a weekday, which made it easier to get into London and get around while we were there. They knew that I had a longstanding desire to take a ride – or ‘flight’, as it is officially known – on the London Eye, so to be honest I wasn’t surprised to be taken to the Southbank Centre, adjacent to the Eye. And yes, that was where my grand day out was beginning, with a flight in one of these:


img_2696And in case you haven’t seen it before, that pod is part of a much bigger structure (see left). I don’t have a head for heights, but didn’t at any time have a problem. The Eye moves very slowly, and the only real sense of movement that you have is the changing scenery around you, as the ground disappears further into the distance!

London has centuries of history and many famous landmarks, most of which are visible from the Eye. Here as an example is the Shard, one of the more modern buildings:


And this is Elizabeth Tower, previously known as St Stephen’s Tower, until it was renamed in 2012 to mark QE2’s Diamond Jubilee:img_2691

Before anyone corrects me, Big Ben is the name by which the clock goes, not the tower itself. A common misconception, which the pedant in me (I am, after all, a Virgo) takes delight in correcting! The ‘guide book’ to your flight is an iPad, suitably encased in a stand to prevent theft, which is programmed to show you where all the landmarks are as the flight progresses. I thought that was a nice touch. After the flight we also took in the exhibition attached to the Eye, which by total coincidence led us into the gift shop…

Having had a wonderful time, we then went into a nearby bar for a light lunch, before the next part of my treat. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting any more but shortly afterwards we were climbing onto one of these:


Spot the operative word: ‘amphibious.’ Believe it or not, this little bus worked both on land and water. Apparently they were originally designed and built in the Second World War for troop movements, and the actual bus that we travelled in was 70 years old. After a trip around some of the landmarks by road, with a knowledgeable guide covering quite a lot of London’s history, we were driven to the side of the headquarters of MI6 – appropriate, I thought, for an air  of mystery – and down a ramp. Moments later, we were in the Thames:

We've fallen in the water!

We’ve fallen in the water!

We then went for a ‘boat trip’ along part of the Thames, which was quite an experience. To prove it, here’s a shot of the Parliament buildings – the Palace of Westminster – as seen from the river. As it was a weekend nothing was happening inside, but I’m reliably informed that on a working day you can see the hot air rising from here:

We all bowed in reverence, of course :-)

We all bowed in reverence, of course 🙂

Until that day I’d not been aware of this service, and it really was an unusual experience, which I felt very lucky to have enjoyed. Doubly so a few weeks later when one of the vehicles caught fire while on the river, causing a suspension of the rides until thorough safety checks had been undertaken on the entire fleet! There but for the Grace of God…

After all of that excitement, we ended the day in a lovely restaurant tucked out of the way in Camden, where to my further surprise I was treated after our meal to a cake, and a candlelit rendition of Happy Birthday To You from staff and customers. Truly, a lovely day and a perfect celebration I’ll always remember, made special for me by these two beautiful young women:



Seven years on from that milestone we are, as you may have noticed, in strange times. Celebrations like this, or some of the others the girls have arranged for me, were definitely out this year, even if my health would have allowed it. Their work commitments – and busy lives in general – also militate against it, but we still found time for a partial get together. Yesterday my elder daughter came for a socially distanced visit, along with a little person who wasn’t around when I retired. Presents were given, and we had a lovely time. This is my favourite present:

And this was my favourite birthday card:


Both presented by our family’s little star:

You can see from that how we managed it: guests in the garden area outside my flat, while I took a chair out onto the balcony. Strange times indeed, but at least we still have ways to keep in touch – until the next lockdown, that is. Thinking back to seven years ago and to yesterday, I realise what is important in our lives. Without the love of our family, what do we have? I know I’m much luckier than some, and I’m grateful for it every day, even when we’re apart. Every time I drink from that mug I will treasure my thoughts of my granddaughter and my daughters – that’s a nice warm feeling to have, isn’t it?