July Morning is a 1971 song by English hard rock band Uriah Heep. Written by the band’s keyboard player, Ken Hensley, and vocalist David Byron with its distinctive organ sounds it has remained a significant highlight of the band’s live set. In most places the song is taken at face value for what it is – a classic slice of early 70s hard rock with lyrics celebrating the beauty of an early morning sunrise. In Bulgaria, however, the song has taken on a significance all of its own.
Every year on 1st July thousands flock to the Black Sea coast before dawn for their own ‘July Morning’ celebrations built around that 1971 song by Uriah Heep.
in 2012 some 12,000 people were said to have greeted the sunrise at Kamen Bryag where July Morning was performed live by former Uriah Heep singer John Lawton and his band.
Here is a July Morning celebration from 2015.
It is said that the song grew in popularity during the 1980s and became a feature of impromptu summer gatherings of young rock fans. Although formal protests were banned under the Communist regime, the gatherings and by extension the song, were seen as a subtle way of expressing one’s defiance towards the authoritarian regime and celebrating life and freedom.
Bulgarian communism may have collapsed in 1989 but there is no sign of a collapse in the popularity of the song – or indeed of the dawn gatherings which have remained an important part of the summer calendar each year.
Now the song has never enjoyed anything like this degree of significance in the country where it was actually created. It’s loved as a great rock song in Britain but that’s as far as it goes.
How appropriate, however, if this July 1st Uriah Heep where to actually play the song at a dawn gathering here Britain – celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the song and paying tribute to the life of of one of its creators, Ken Hensley, who sadly died last November.
Uriah Heep – let’s do it – we can even have the gig socially-distanced if need be!
Ken Hensley 1945-2020
Ken Hensley image by Paul Hasselblatt