So much for Bonfire Night! It seems it was pretty much cancelled due to the lockdown. I remember as a kid we had a bonfire in our garden. We lived in the countryside between Marple Bridge and Glossop, east of Manchester and on the way to the Pennines. We had the classic accoutrements, the guy, the parkin, the treacle toffee, the fireworks, the sparklers, and the bonfire itself. It might take some time to explain what these things are and if you’re not from the British Isles you might not even know what Bonfire Night is. I’ll start with the cake (priorities). I love this cake, it’s hard to find down south or outside of England.
Parkin: “A traditional sponge cake from Northern England flavoured with syrupy molasses, oatmeal and ginger”. I love parkin.
Treacle Toffee: “A hard, brittle toffee that tastes very strongly of black treacle (molasses)”. This is probably why some of my teeth are missing.
The Guy: “A guy was made out of old rags, filled either with paper or straw and placed in a pushchair or a wheelbarrow, you would either place him in front of a shop or knock on neighbours’ doors, chanting ‘Penny For The Guy’. This was to help to fund buying fireworks for the annual family or local community bonfire show. The guy would then be put on the bonfire for the crowd to watch him burn”. Brutal!
Fireworks: “To mark the anniversary of the discovery of a plot organised by Catholic conspirators to blow up the Houses Of Parliament in London in 1605, fireworks are set off to symbolise the gun powder plot that was foiled. The leader was called Guy Fawkes.”
Sparklers: I think we all know what sparklers are, what I remember is the smell after they burned out, that, and making patterns in the air.
The Bonfire: “Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators placed 36 barrels of gunpowder in the cellars of the Houses Of Parliament in an attempt to blow up the protestant King James I and his ministers and have the country revert back to Catholicism. One of their members wrote a letter to a friend who worked in the building, telling him to stay away on November 5th. The letter found its way into the hands of the authorities and the plot was foiled. The plotters were all captured and executed. The bonfire symbolises all the aspects of the plot, the flames that never were and the burning of the guy”.
I’m not sure if those of you that have been reading this for a while are going to be able to cope with the next thing I tell you. I’d been up to Dare’s house and on the way down to the studio I walked down Causeway Head to pick up a cauliflower from the greengrocer’s and make my daily visit to pasty land (except Sundays!). As I was walking down, my head nearly spun off my shoulders, the belt shop was open! Inside, an old man was sitting fixing something on his bench. I couldn’t believe it, I went in and asked him if he could fix my belt and when he was closing? He said, of course, he could fix it and I had time to get back there with my belt that has been broken for 6 months! So I went and fetched it from the studio and he fixed it in 4 minutes and he charged me 4 pounds. So now all my troubles in the world are gone! I can die happy!
Music today is inspired by the shock news that Ken Hensley from Uriah Heep has died aged 75. It’s just a couple of months after the death of drummer Lee Kerslake. This was the first band that I saw. I was 15, it was at Liverpool Stadium in 1973 (I think). Only one member, guitarist Mick Box, of that lineup survives. Gary Thain – bassist, Dave Byron – lead singer, Lee Kerslake – drums, Ken Hensley – organ and guitar, have all gone. Byron was dead of liver disease at 38, Thain died of a heroin overdose aged 27. Kerslake died of cancer aged 73. They were one of the most hated bands outside their fans (along with ELP). I’ve seen them a couple of times since, once in Sydney a few years ago where I got to meet Mick Box who was super nice and once in Stockholm relatively recently where The Zombies supported them (believe it or not). So tonight I thought I’d play their most famous album, Demons and Wizards, and relive one of the great Rock albums that only the fans will ever love. It was the first album with the new rhythm section of Thain and Kerslake replacing original bassist Paul Newton and ex Cressida drummer Iain Clark and featured one of their most celebrated songs, Easy Livin’ (Colosseum’s bassist Mark Clarke was briefly in the band and was also on this album). I just wish people would stop dying this year.