About Uriah Heep
Uriah Heep has sold over 30 million records and have had five US Top 40 albums. A technically brilliant heavy rock band, Heep has a long and varied history, unsurprising given over 20 personnel changes since David Byron and Mick Box formed the group.
Heep formed part of the fabled ‘Big Four’ alongside Zeppelin, Sabbath and Purple, and their story still has a long way to go. With classic songs like ‘Lady In Black’, ‘Gypsy’, ‘Easy Livin’’and ‘Stealin’’ full of ambition, sophisticated writing, memorable tunes and, of course, the vocals – the 5 part harmonies were a clear influence on the operatics of Queen. Uriah Heep was the first Western rock band to perform in Russia, they have headlined at stadiums worldwide: truly they’ve ensured their place at Rock’s top table. Lady in Black has been number 1 in Germany on no less than 3 occasions. Uriah Heep are in demand globally and typically perform over a hundred shows a year.
David Byron and Mick Box teamed up in the Stalkers during the mid-60s, and after the group broke up they assembled Spice with bassist Paul Newton and Alex Napier (drums), recording a one-off single (“What About The Music”/”In Love’) for United Artists Records. Spice evolved into Uriah Heep (the name was taken from a character in Charles Dickens’ novel David Copperfield) when they were joined by keyboardist Ken Hensley who had also played guitar with Kit And The Saracens and the soul group Jimmy Brown Sound.
Before Uriah Heep was bonded under the experienced management of Gerry Bron, Hensley had played alongside Mick Taylor (later to become a member of the Rolling Stones) in the Gods. The rota of drummers started with former Spice man Alex Napier, followed by Nigel “Ollie’ Olsson (later with Elton John). Finding a permanent drummer was to remain one of the band’s problems throughout their early years. Their debut, Very ‘eavy … Very ‘umble, in 1970, was a simplistic, bass-driven passage from electric folk to a direct, harder sound. They auditioned numerous drummers before
offering the job to Keith Baker (ex-Bakerloo), who recorded Salisbury before deciding that the tour schedule was too rigorous for his liking and was replaced by Ian Clarke. Salisbury was a drastic development from the debut, with many lengthy, meandering solos and a 16-minute title track embellished by a 26-piece orchestra. The band was near the forefront of a richly embossed, fastidious style of music later to become dubbed “Progressive Rock”. During 1971 the line-up was altered again when Lee Kerslake, another former member of the Gods and Toe Fat, replaced Clarke following the recording of Look At Yourself.
Gerry Bron had formed Bronze Records by 1971 and Look At Yourself, their debut for the label, became the band’s first entry in the UK charts when it reached number 39 in November. Lady in Black topped the German charts at #1 for a staggering 13 weeks and became one the band’s biggest hits. An ex-member of the Downbeats and Colosseum, Mark Clarke, superseded Paul Newton on bass guitar but lasted just three months before his friend Gary Thain took over. The stability of the new line-up enabled the band to enter their most successful period during the early 70s when the fantastical, eccentric nature of their lyrics was supported by a grandiose musical approach. The quintet recorded five albums, beginning with Demons And Wizards, their first to enter the US charts and gave the band another hit with Easy Livin’.
The musical and lyrical themes continued on The Magician’s Birthday, the double set Uriah Heep Live, Sweet Freedom and Wonderworld (their last US Top 40 entry), as the band revealed a rare thirst for tough recording and performance schedules. Thain was asked to leave in February 1975 after becoming too unreliable, due to a drug habit. There had been a brooding row the previous September when the bass player suffered a near-fatal electric shock at a concert in Dallas and said he had not been shown enough regard for his injuries. He died of a heroin overdose in December.
John Wetton, formerly of King Crimson and Family took over the bass guitar in March 1975. The union, celebrated on Return To Fantasy, marked their first and last appearance in the UK Top 10. Wetton left after just over a year to back Bryan Ferry, although he featured on High And Mighty. Early in 1976, Uriah Heep was set to fold when internal arguments broke out and they found the previously winning formula had become archaic and undeniably staid. Hensley briefly walked out during a tour of the USA in the summer of 1976 and in a subsequent power-struggle, Byron was forced to leave. John Lawton, previously the singer with Lucifer’s Friend, debuted on Firefly and the new bass player was David Bowie’s former backing musician, Trevor Bolder.
The singer’s position underwent further changes during the late 70s and early 80s as the band found themselves playing to a cult following that was ever decreasing. Ex-Lone Star singer John Sloman performed on Conquest, which also featured new drummer Chris Slade. Hensley subsequently left the band, leaving original member Mick Box to pick up the pieces. A brief hiatus resulted and a new Uriah Heep that included Box, Kerslake, John Sinclair (keyboards), Bob Daisley (bass, ex-
Widowmaker) and Peter Goalby (vocals, ex-Trapeze) was formed. Daisley quit in 1983 following the release of Head First, and was replaced by the returning Bolder. Bronze Records collapsed in 1984 and the band signed with Portrait Records in the USA.
Inevitably, there were more personnel changes with the new additions of Bernie Shaw (vocals) and Phil Lanzon (keyboards), both formerly of Grand Prix, joining the band as it went on to have the distinction of becoming the western rock act to perform in Moscow.
Following the successful release of the studio albums Raging Silence and Different World, the quintet’s 1995 recording Sea Of Light offered another evocative slice of Uriah Heep’s trademark Melodic Rock, maintaining their high standards in fashioning superior AOR. Three years later they released Sonic Origami, which contained some of the band’s best work since the classic Byron days.
In June 2008, Uriah Heep released the first studio album in almost 10 years, Wake The Sleeper, heralded an exciting new phase for the band, taking their classic sound right into the future. Joining the band was new drummer Russell Gilbrook and the album sees Uriah Heep back to their very best and the band celebrated the 40th Anniversary with an aptly titled re-recordings album called Celebration. The extensive tour that followed saw the band playing up to 250 shows a year to nearly 150,000 people, opening new Eastern European, Australian, Japanese and American tour and playing 53 different countries in total.
Capitalising on the success of the tour, the band began a series of Official Bootlegs capturing some of their most enjoyable concerts around the world, in Sweden, Budapest and Japan. In January 2011, the band returned to the studio once again to record “Into The Wild” which began with a strong start in Germany at #32 and the band once again returned to the road for a worldwide tour.
2013 was truly a year of mixed fortunes for the band. Whilst their performance at Download Festival was hailed by all as a highlight of the weekend, sadly Bassist Trevor Bolder died on 21 May. He had been suffering from pancreatic cancer but had been aiming to recover in order to perform the Download show. Sadly that was not to be. He was 62 years old and his passing was marked by all of the major music titles and most national newspapers.
If the history of Heep proves anything though, it is that the band will endure. Dave Rimmer, who had been standing in for Trevor, will continue as bassist and with the band’s diary for the foreseeable future as full as ever, the whole band will be busy. Rehearsals have started for the recording sessions of a new album, to be released through Frontiers, and the material is sounding amazing.
Uriah Heep – still “Very ’eavy, very humble”. Still essential.