Millennium Back Garden Fireworks
Mine and my readers' 31/12/99 firework exploits
It was worth the wait. Despite fears of a “damp squib”, and a very sour taste in the mouth from all the unpalatable hype, everything fell into place as Big Ben sounded in the new millennium. It was every pyromaniac’s dream come true, at the stroke of midnight enough gunpowder was ignited not just to blow up the houses of parliament but to send it into orbit! I’m sure even Guy Fawkes must have felt the shock waves on the “other side”. In this section, we take a retrospective look at what we did on New Year’s Eve, then take a look at your contributions and see how everyone else celebrated, what they thought of their fireworks, and try hard not to use the word “millennium” more than once in each sentence!
It was “business as usual” at mission control, here at the UK Firework Review. We had over £500 of fireworks to review, and only one evening to do it. That meant starting at 5pm as soon as it was dark, and continuing through to midnight, with suitable breaks for refreshments of course.
World Of Fireworks were our unofficial “Millennium Sponsor” for the evening, specially selecting a large number of superb fireworks for our impartial opinion. And impartial is the key, once a firework goes before the UKFR there’s no mercy, and no over-hyping a firework.
Any paranoid thoughts that we may be the only people letting off copious amounts of noise from early evening onwards were soon dispelled when every closet firework fanatic popped out and let off a few. Soon the whole of Norwich sounded more like the Somme, and our own fireworks were lost in a concert of reports and screeches. We got the distinct impression everyone was sitting on HUGE stockpiles of fireworks, to all be starting as early as us. What was more amazing was the number that still went up at midnight. Mind you for the first time I can remember, fireworks were going off on Christmas Day, now that’s a sure sign people have a house full of munitions they want to test!
Back to the reviews, we started with a “quiet” one to ease us into the firework mood and soothe our pre-millennium nerves. Only the label on Kimbolton’s “spinning banshee” was misread, and instead of the expected quiet wheel we were treated with an ear splitting screech – four times – and that was just the first wheel! No one seemed to mind though, so after that it was full steam ahead.
The camera was set up and we managed to take a few pictures before the drizzle started, then we had to pack it away. Still, that was one less hazard to trip over!
At about 8pm, disaster struck when fall out from “Happy Spring” remained glowing red hot on the lawn some five minutes after the firework – recalling vaguely my other-half mentioning something landed on the plastic conservatory roof, I rushed inside to realise our worst nightmare. A glowing shell case was eating its way into the roof! Five buckets of water slung keystone cop fashion towards the roof all spectacularly missed, so I had to get the ladder out and, with a long pole, swipe the thing off. It was too late to stop a molten dent appearing, but just in time to stop a hole starting. Phew!
Next, Mammoth Fountain decided to do an impression of a self-destructing warhead and explode in a non-dangerous but rather bizarre fashion, tipping itself on it’s side, and proceeding to go off in reverse. It was funny, but not the intended effect.
So we learned two good lessons that evening – stake EVERY firework no matter how stable, and don’t fire cakes near conservatory roofs!!
By 10pm, the whole world was starting to gear up for something special, so we had a break and I retired to fellow reviewer Pete B’s garden to indulge in a little selfish displaying for a while, letting off some great fireworks (thanks Mike at HFM!) and toasting both Mike and Guy Fawkes after every one.
Then the silo doors were opened and the launch tubes readied for our biggest rocket-fest of all time, a few dozen rockets varying in size from the tiny Comet garden rockets through to the massive Saturn (almost as big as the real Saturn V rocket that sent man to the moon, and just as loud when it took off!). We reviewed every single one of them and we have the scorch marks on the lawn to prove it!
Shortly before midnight, with all but our biggest cakes spent, we retired to our own gardens ready for our own Millennium assault, a sort of “beat thy neighbour” thing. Amusingly, the loud fireworks started at about 11.50, and just got louder and louder towards midnight, but there was a noticeable crescendo as the new millennium came in.
We let rip with the Ammo Dump explosion followed by Battle of The Cyborgs, so to be honest we didn’t see a lot of what was happening around us, save for Pete B’s maroons and blockbusters which he admitted later he was firing “as quickly as I could, from the flower bed”. The amount of noise was unreal, and the drizzly mist added to the effect, making the sky flash white with all the fireworks going off.
For me, it was like a hundred Guy Fawkes nights all rolled into one, and set off together. I’ll never forget those few minutes although with some regret I realise it really was “once in a lifetime” – Pyro Pete.
Pete B, UK Firework Review
“As Norwich had been billed as ‘THE CITY OF LIGHT’ for the Millennium it seemed we would have some competition from the professionals on Dec 31 so to size up the opposition we walked into the city centre for the evening laser and light show – we knew in advance that there would be no fireworks but it seemed the majority of the crowd around including many children were fully expecting a professional display. Having found a spot where we could see both the Castle and City hall (from where the lasers would be projected) we waited through the countdown to be amazed and impressed and… frankly weren’t.
I won’t go into details of the show as it has been covered widely in the local press already and has nothing at all to do with fireworks but as we walked home I was already planning a more impressive show for later in the night.
Earlier in the day I had staked out launch tubes for rockets, and as rain had been forecast did the usual trick of using bin-bags which kept everything nice and dry. When we left to walk into the City to see the lasers I could see Pyro Pete was up to his usual tricks by the vivid green light illuminating the trees in his garden, not to mention the wailing noise which I believe was one of his Catherine wheel packs being reviewed. By the time we returned home he seemed well into the cakes!
By now it was around 9.00pm and time to join the fun. After starting with some small rockets it was time to move onto the cakes. After a few salvos I could hear someone banging on the back gates! Expecting the usual outraged red-faced resident complaining about the noise, I was relieved to find Pyro Pete with a big smile on his face, an armful of fireworks and an invitation to assist him in the millennium rocket review! What could I say! We fired off the rest of my fireworks and returned to his firing range where an array of launching tubes was already in place (all pointing back towards my garden I noticed!).
For the next two hours or so we fired off rocket after rocket, pausing just long enough to record the reviews for the website, and occasional breaks to fire off a cake or three. During the three hours up ’til midnight the noise level around had been steadily increasing as other pyronauts had joined in the fun and we had long passed the level normally reached on Nov 5th. At about 11.40pm I returned to my own garden for the finale piece which consisted of a rack of blockbuster candles and a simultaneous launch of six Spanish salute rockets. At midnight these were fired simultaneously and from directly below made a far more impressive show that the £25000 laser show earlier in the evening. I had some reservations about using salute rockets in a built up area this late at night but I need not have worried because from all around it seemed people were setting off large display fireworks to celebrate the millennium in style. In fact I was so impressed by the local effort that I had an emergency dash to the arsenal to get all the remaining salute rockets which were fired in a continuous stream from a hastily improvised ‘steel pipe stuffed in flower bed’ launcher which Pyro Pete has yet to review officially!
All in all it was a brilliant local show – it was easy to tell that people have realised that it is better to spend wisely on fireworks and go for the best quality that they can buy – to me it is logical that people will spend far more on fireworks as long as they know that they are getting value for money and that the fireworks will perform as expected. I think this is reflected also in the views of others contributing to this site. Good work Pete and keep the reviews coming!”
Thanks for your comments, Pete, and of course your help on the night. Nice to see your greenhouse is still standing! – Pete
Mike Bowerman, HFM Supplies: “As far as the big night was concerned it was one of the loudest I have ever fired, apart from the 600 x 3 inch titanium salutes shells, we also ignited 10 very large 36 shot titanium tailed Vulcan cakes all in the last 30 seconds, when we walked back to the party people were visibly shaken.” So that was you making all the bloody noise was it? Keep it down next year Mike! – Pete.
Craig, NLMACADONE: “Wow it was absolutely brilliant!!! I’ve never seen so many fireworks in just about half an hour. I had a great time and had 11 rockets altogether. I had the Venus probe pack and the mars meteor pack. These were not that good because they didn’t really eject stars and bangs together. But the triple bang rockets and double thunder rockets were fairly loud but didn’t do anything else. The other rocket I had was the WHOPPA and it was very good. It filled up the sky with colour and had a cool bang. Finally I had the BIG BEN BOMB which was definitely worth £20. It had 28 shots and every bombette star that went up exploded loads of times with lots of stars and colour (very noisy). This was obviously a roman candle and the biggest I’ve seen ever. I still have the firework as a souvenir! Wasn’t London awesome?”
Graham Elliot: “Had a great millennium night thanks to your site. Got some great fireworks from WOF the only disappointment being a Kimbolton box display which when opened was a dud!! It had already been fired! Norman from WOF promised me a refund though. I had 40+ rockets from them and fired them all off quickly using special launchers. We had zinc (ok but pricey), voyager blazer (good value), and the millennium 2000, 3000 and 4000 rockets which were expensive but fantastic. Stay away from the so called “sky writers” what a waste of money they were!! Four zeros instead of “2000”! We had our display in a field high above the valley of Weardale, so it looked fantastic. As our stuff was going off we could see the other fireworks from the villages below exploding below us, as ours exploded right over the valley! I’m told by a few of the locals it was a great sight, two tiers of fireworks, one at 300 feet one at 1000 feet!! Regards and thanks for the help” Thanks for the comments Graham, sorry to hear about the dud display box but I’m assured it was a one off. I understand the item was heavily oversubscribed for the millennium so a spent one must have crept in by mistake. We recommend all readers check their fireworks carefully well before any display and if any appear faulty get on the phone to the supplier immediately – all our top recommended companies will go out of their way to put right any problems because if they don’t we’ll get on the case! – Pete.
Gary Parr: “It was quite a pain going to the suppliers and buying small garden fizzy things, but I was under intense pressure from the other half to keep it tame. We ended up with three garden boxes which I lit in front of a small crowd of kids , this was very successful until without realising, one of these little things was a mine, it made me jump and one of the kids started crying. Our piece for midnight consisted of three packs of cheap candles, going to a couple of the vicars cakes (red crackle, green comet tail to silver fish) this was followed by four happy dragons eggs, running with another Kimbolton cake (big dancer) this one is nice, each shot leaves the cake spinning very quickly, and then goes bang, this was followed by a Happy monk, I love these, then a rack of six blockbusters, and to finish three showstoppers.” And you call that TAME? Crumbs I’d love to come to one of your “big” displays! Then again, I’ve seen you all on video, you’re all mad! If we ever go to war, I’m sending you to the front line with a rack of Blockbusters! – Pete
Anthony Griffin: “Many thanks for keeping me informed by e-mails as I have now got the pyro bug after a successful millennium night firework display. Having taken your advice on safety, planning and firing order, my fellow firer and myself send our thanks for all the information direct from yourself and the Firework Review website. We were fortunate to have the use of a seven acre field on the night and set up all the posts and rocket tubes during the daylight hours which as you say makes the job a doddle.
The fireworks were installed in darkness in the early part of the evening – a big mistake as this made life more difficult working from torchlight. Even though I numbered the posts and the fireworks next time I will work in daylight, and fix everything to coincide with the onset of darkness!
The bin-bags covering the fireworks were needed almost immediately, as heavy rain came in from 10pm to just before midnight. Although everything was well covered and the bags were secured at the bottom with an elastic band I began to wonder if it was all going to fire! Well the bags did their job and every firework was bone dry and in perfect condition, even after two hours of solid rain.
The use of portfires was so easy and for extra safety I taped them all to half metre long canes so there was no standing near the fireworks. Also, about three centimetres from the end of each one an added piece of red tape indicated the time to light the next portfire, this was useful to us “beginners”!
It has been a long time since I received a crowd giving me real applause but they did both when we walked back from the field and into my friend’s back garden overlooking the farmers field.
As for remembering what was the best of my selection, well I wish I could tell you… but we were so busy firing them and having mega-fun I did not get much opportunity to review. All I can say is the selection of cakes, candles, mines and rockets all fired thanks to you!
And everything went safely too; we were lucky to have so much room for our millennium display. Later the next day when clearing up the farmer’s field we found some of the larger spent rockets over two hundred metres away and four of these had buried themselves into the soft ground where they required a “good pull out”. Bearing in mind there was hardly any wind that evening (except from the beer after the display!!) I could just imagine what could have happened to the bonnet of a car or my neighbour’s conservatory roof!
Anyway, I have now got the bug for this pyro thing and will sometime be doing it even better. I thank you, also World Of Fireworks for all the help with my selection and sensible advice – today I received a happy New Year letter from WOF and promise of the next catalogue – thanks Norman and the staff at WOF! Best wishes to you and the family Mr Pete.”
Thanks for the very kind comments. We’re glad you followed the safety tips and as you found, these are a bonus in helping any display, not a hindrance. Well done on a great evening! – Pete.
Peggy Bauwens: “Dear Pete, Hope all went well with your mother’s birthday display. Many thanks for your help and advice. We kept our display short and it was a great success. Mike from HFM was most helpful . We had 3 Vulcan candles, a £75 cake and a big Kimbolton jumbo display rocket (£17.99). We followed your advice and it all went very well. The cake was a real eye opener and the kids and neighbours were very impressed. I have also got some fireworks from Fabulous Fireworks – two mega showcases – and delivery was very good. We are letting them off later in the year, very good offer on that. Yours, Peggy Bauwens.” My “mother’s” display went very well thanks despite difficult constraints and will be a “case study” in our new display advice sections. I must say your firing list evolved from a “quiet” one – with a small budget – when you left the UK Firework Review to a “mother of all displays” by the time you finished ordering from Mike, you little devil! Still, it sounds like it worked really really well – good show! – Pete.
Julian Burnell: “I purchased a small amount of products namely “Strike Midnight Celebration” which is a single ignition Combination Roman Candle, a Standard roman candle named “Splinter” and 2 packs of Fireworks Factory “Thunder Bolts” which are twin colour burst air bombs.
After these purchases I wanted to find good quality literature/information pertaining to home firework displays in an attempt to improve upon the quality of the display. This is when I “stumbled” upon your web site. I was extremely impressed with the layout and found no difficulties in finding my way around the site. I was amazed to find features like “Head to Head” comparing products, and product reviews etc, this is exactly what I wanted just at the right time!
I printed out the safety section and every page contained at least one tip/safety measure that I adopted for our display. The first tip was to set up the fireworks prior to the display which I have never done before but in the event made our display a complete success especially in the sense of continuity and duration. No messing about trying to dig holes and holding torches at the same time. The other massively helpful tip was Portfires which improved our safety regime no end and made lighting the products twenty times easier than all of our previous displays in which we have used the tapers supplied. We prepared all of the fireworks in the afternoon spending some time cutting bin liners to wrap around smaller Roman candles and the chunkier air bombs. We used cable ties and also heavy duty water resistant single sided cloth tape wrapped around the products and the support steaks. We finished with silver foil moulded to shape of the upper part of the firework and finally bin bars cut to a square shape draped over the top and tied with string in a bow. It all looked very professional and without the advice I found on your web site our display would have definitely suffered.
A few days later I called in at a local Homebase store and decided to buy Standard’s “Big Ben Bomb” and Black Cat’s No1 SIB. All my family thought the display was fantastic. We started with Black Cat’s No 1 Single ignition firework which was absolutely FANTASTIC as far as I can remember emitted brilliant star bursts and bangs and appeared to last at least one minute. The Big Ben bomb was also very good and in fact and I thought also great value although it was reduced in price. We had several Cosmic Mega Bombs (left over from our Nov 5th box) which were LOUD and Thunder Bolts which were not as loud but were twin bursts. We ended with the “Strike Midnight Celebration” which was also very good but everyone thought the Black Cat/Standard No1 was superbly better.
We did not have many rockets, mainly left over from the cosmic box which added to our display but we found the low cloud cover did not do them justice.
Thank you once again for all the helpful advice contained within your site that made our display go so well.” Thanks for the comments, Julian, and also for the video of the Black Cat No.1 and your display – I see you even wore a hard hat, attention to safety like this may seem over the top when planning a display but on the night you soon appreciate it. We’ve reviewed the No.1 in the “other” section thanks to your video and well done on a great display – your Nan’s happy face said it all – Pete.
Karl: “Millennium night was brilliant!!! We had a large selection of fireworks which included some big and little ones; as the clock struck 12 midnight we were already outside waiting to let off our opening rocket which was a Blazer rocket which lit the sky up. Then we had cakes and candles ranging from £2.00 to £39.00. The smaller cakes and candles were not that brilliant but some were good. As time went on we threw in a couple of rockets in between and all through we were letting off the air bombs just to annoy the neighbours and as they are a personal favourite.
As we came to the end of our display we had a BLACKCAT 152 Shot cake which lasted nearly 5 mins which consisted of Bang! after Bang! after Bang!! It was the best firework I have ever had, and it certainly woke the neighbours up. For our finale we had the Black Cat WHOPPA rocket which launched into the sky and exploded filling the sky with little orange balls of fire it was amazing. I can’t wait until NOV 5 this year and then it’ll happen all over again, and our village will experience the whole thing again and hopefully I will have some louder and more powerful fireworks to light up the skies.”
Simon Colgrave: “Our finale comprised of: Vulcan Tropicana (80x25mm) cake, Vulcan Great Western (80x25mm) cake, Maverick Volcanic Eruption (16x60mm) mine, Raja Giant Atomic Bomb (1000 shot airbomb).
The Vulcan cake and the Maverick mine had been previously buried prior to firing and after seeing what came out of them with I can agree with why you should. To say these are powerful is an understatement!!! If you ever wanted to out-do your neighbours in a fireworks equivalent of ‘one-upmanship’ then these are the ones. Both Vulcan’s produced very large starbursts at a good height and the saturation almost made you feel you were at a professional display. Both cakes fired for 40 seconds (roughly) which explained the saturation of effects. Volcanic Eruption, having only previously dealt with mines on a small scale, I was totally unprepared for anything like this. I have never seem so much launched from a tube in my life!!! Only a few minutes beforehand I’d been in awe of the Vulcan cakes, now this! Timing of the launches was perfect, as each effect began to fade in the next came to replace it. Comets, stars, reports, crosses, spinners they were all there (and more).
Final cake of the night was the Giant Atomic Bomb. A small (!) 1000 shot airbomb which, according to the catalogue, will run for up to 2 minutes. There must have been something wrong with mine, it lasted 30 seconds but what a 30 seconds. They weren’t the loudest airbomb I’ve every heard, it was the sheer speed. I thought Splendid Sound burnt fast. At the end of it, I went to survey what was left. Smouldering nicely, each tube was only 10mm in diameter explaining the lack of volume on the airbombs themselves. If you plan on using one of these in your garden at the end of the evening, a piece of advice: Don’t leave it smouldering, you’ll have a job picking up the cake in the morning because it will be all ash.
With each Vulcan cake coming in at £65, the Maverick at £90 and the Raja at £110 these are not cheap and only people with very large budgets should entertain them. Saying that, it was the millennium. All said and done, a stunning night.” Certainly sounds like it! Many thanks for the info about some of those fireworks. Vulcan are a class-act and everyone who’s tried their larger items has been pleased. Interesting point about the atomic bomb, just goes to show catalogue descriptions and real-life don’t always match! – Pete
Editor’s note August 2021: The reason for a lot of nerves then relief in some of these reports (including mine) was more down to the run-up to the millennium. As if people claiming the year 2000 would see the end of the world wasn’t bad enough, the press was widely scaremongering about the “millennium bug” which would see computer systems around the world put out of action. So when 01/01/0000 00:00 finally came into being and – other than a lot of pyro and smoke – nothing whatsoever happened, the world was relieved! 🙂 To see a screen grab of this feature as it originally appeared in 2000, click here (open it in a new tab or window to see in full resolution).