July Morning – how a British hard rock song became an annual celebration of summer in Bulgaria

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.

Introducing the song on Uriah Heep’s 2019 UK tour, Mick Box recalled the time the band were in the studio working on the Look At Yourself album but he had to take a few days out due to contracting some sort of bug. When he returned the remaining musicians had worked up three separate pieces. Box, however, observed that all three were in the same key and suggested joining them together and adding a dramatic introduction to create something really special. ‘July Morning’ was born.

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 2019, prior to John Lawton’s untimely death.

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, therefore, if Uriah Heep were to actually play the song at a dawn gathering on July 1st here Britain one day – celebrating the anniversary of the song and paying tribute to the life of of one of its creators, Ken Hensley, who sadly died in November 2020.

Uriah Heep – let’s do it!

Ken Hensley 1945-2020

Ken Hensley image by Paul Hasselblatt

Related posts:

Album reviews: four recent solo releases from the extended Uriah Heep family

Uriah Heep’s 50th anniversary – interview with Mick Box

Uriah Heep, London 2014

Uriah Heep at Giants of Rock 2018

Uriah Heep, Bexhill 2019


6 thoughts on “July Morning – how a British hard rock song became an annual celebration of summer in Bulgaria

  1. I saw the current incarnation of the band play this gem live in St. Charles IL in early 2018, and it was a true treat, a highlight in a fine set, beginning to end. I second your motion of celebrating it in July 2021, if it can be done safely!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I got fascinated by it all when I was browsing youtube about 5 years ago and stumbled across film of the dawn ritual on the beach. I never thought to blog about it until listening to UH recently and thinking it would make a lovely tribute to Ken H this July.

      Liked by 1 person

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