Very ‘eavy, ‘umble and touring Heep
[private]Formed in 1969, Uriah Heep was one of the Premier League of Prog rock bands of the seventies, but never quite won the championship. But they managed to sell more than 30 million albums – and they still tour and record more than 40 years later.
Fronted by guitarist Mick Box, throughout the bands’ career, the band – named after a character in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield – make a short tour of the UK this year.
Heep’s last album, ‘Into The Wild’, was released in 2011, but they have no new product at the moment to promote. According to lead vocalist Bernie Shaw, this tour is just for the fans. Speaking at his Cambridgeshire home Bernie told me why the band have decided to play these dates.
“Bands are having to go out on tour these days, more venues are opening up and staying open, so we are taking the opportunity to keep the fans happy knowing that we are still out there.”
From their debut album – Very ‘Eavy… Very ‘Umble – in 1970, the Heeps slowly built up a following. Led originally by Box, with Ken Hensley on keyboards and David Byron on lead vocals, they brought in Lee Kerslake on drums in 1971 and later Trevor Bolder on bass.
Many changes have taken place within the ranks and today’s line-up is the 15th, with only Box and Bolder remaining from the seventies. In fact, the line-up touring could be classed as the 16th as Bolder is recovering from surgery and for the time being is replaced by John Jowitt.
“Trevor’s doing fine,” said Bernie, who took over lead vocal in January 1987. “We aren’t sure exactly when he’ll be back, but John is an excellent bassist and has won the Classic Rock Society’s Bassist award on 10 occasions.”
Despite their following, the band’s albums never really set the charts on fire. Their ‘classic’ albums, such as Look At Yourself (their third album and first chart entry), Demons and Wizards and The Magician’s Birthday, all resolutely stayed outside the Top 20, although Demons and Wizards reached No.20.
Their sole Top 10 album was the 1975 Return to Fantasy, which reached No.7 helped by a TV advertising campaign with a voice over by Arthur Mullard.
“I don’t really know why the band never had great chart success. We have always had something to say and, like some of the top bands at that time, had our own originality.”
“Maybe because the band was one of the last of the genre to be signed, people might have thought: ‘Haven’t we had enough?’
The sound of Uriah Heep is unique as the band places heavy emphasis on Hammond Organ and some amazing three, four and sometimes five-part vocal harmonies. “Those have always been the major trademark of the band, and it’s kept strong in the writing. The recipe works and it comes naturally to us.”
Bernie enjoys singing the band’s songs and has special fondness for some of the old standards.
“I love The Magician’s Birthday and Demons and Wizards. I like the fantasy aspect and they were telling a good story.
“It’s good versus evil and always positive, not like a lot of songs about soul-searching that other bands record.”
“And I like songs that have strong energy like July Morning, The Wizard and Easy Livin’.”
One thing Bernie has noticed is the age of the fans. “Yeah, the fan base seems to be getting younger, older fans are bringing their kids to the shows, and the kids are really getting into the music, and that’s a good sign for the future.”
As for the show itself, Bernie is promising something special.
“We’ll do a good cross-section of the band’s career; maybe four or five songs from Into The Wild and all the classic tracks.”
And the future looks bright.
“Mick and Phil (Lanzon, the present keyboard player) are still turning out songs. They are continually writing, an artist carries on. And, although we keep recording, the days of living off record sales are gone; our favourite pastime is touring.”
Uriah Heep has a full year planned.
“We’ll be doing some festivals and playing in Israel, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, America, Scandinavia, Australia and hopefully Japan this year. We toured in 28 countries in 2011 alone,” he said – and laughed: “I hope we can beat that.
“Of course we love playing on our home turf and although this tour is small, we hope to be back very soon.”
And more good news.
“We’re hoping to record a new album later this year and hopefully it’ll be out this time next year. We’re like a bad penny – we don’t go away,” he said, smiling.
Uriah Heep is playing selected dates in February and March.
21. Buckley, Tivoli
22. Wolverhampton, Robin
23. Manchester, RNCM – Box Office 0844 478 0898
24. Tavistock, The Wharf
26. Norwich, Waterfront
27. London, Islington Town Hall
28. Stockton, ARC – Box Office 0844 478 0898
01. Workington, Carnegie theatre
02. Frome, Cheese and Grain
03. Milton Keynes, The Stables
By Martin Hutchinson[/private]