Friday 14th December 2018
Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Uriah Heep are an English Rock band formed in London in 1969 by lead and rhythm guitarist Mick Box and vocalist David Byron. The band's origins go back to 1967 when guitarist Mick Box formed a band called Hogwash, vocalist David Byron joined soon after and they changed their name to Spice, by 1969 they decided to change the name to Uriah Heep after the fictional character created by Charles Dickens in his novel David Copperfield. In 1970, keyboardist Ken Hensley joined and the Uriah Heep sound began to take shape with prominent heavy Hammond organ from Hensley, searing guitar from Box and theatrical high vibrato vocals from Byron. Over the course of their forty nine year career, Uriah Heep have released twenty five studio albums, eighteen live albums, and have had twenty five band members passing through the ranks at one time or another.
Gerry Bron signed Uriah Heep to Vertigo records and their debut album, ‘…Very 'Eavy …Very 'Umble’ was released in 1970. The album's title references the signature phrase of the Dickens character Uriah Heep ("very 'umble"). Along with Box, Byron and Hensley were Paul Newton on bass and Nigel Olsson and Alex Napier on drums. The albums ‘Salisbury’ and ‘Look At Yourself’ quickly followed in 1971. Each album having a different drummer. By 1972 the band had found the classic line-up of Mick Box, Ken Hensley, David Byron, Gary Thain and Lee Kerslake and went on to record two of the bands best ever and most successful albums ‘Demons and Wizards’, which reached No. 20 in the UK album charts, and ‘The Magician's Birthday’, which reached number 28 in the UK album charts. Their live magic was captured in all its glory on their double album ‘Uriah Heep Live’, recorded at the Birmingham Town Hall in January 1973. A true testament of their power and strength as live act.
A further two albums were recorded by this line-up, ‘Sweet Freedom’ 1973 and ‘Wonderworld’ in 1974, with a slight change in direction, leaning more towards a mainstream sound. Tragically Gary Thain was found dead in his Norwood Green home in December 1975, having overdosed on heroin. John Wetton (ex-Family and King Crimson) joined the band in March 1975 and appeared on the albums ‘Return to Fantasy’ in 1975 and ‘High and Mighty’ in 1976. Byron was subsequently sacked for continuous drunken behaviour, with Wetton quitting not long after.
Uriah Heep then recruited bassist Trevor Bolder formerly of David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars and vocalist John Lawton, formerly of Lucifer's Friend and the Les Humphries Singers. With Lawton they reverted back towards a more straightforward Hard Rock sound. ‘Firefly’ was released in 1977, displaying renewed energy and vigour. ‘Innocent Victim’ and ‘Fallen Angel’ completed a hat-trick of studio albums to feature a consistent line-up. Lawton left to be replaced by John Sloman for the ‘Conquest’ album in 1980. Bolder left to be replaced by Bob Daisley on bass and Sloman was replaced by Peter Goalby of Trapeze fame on vocals, with John Sinclair replacing Ken Hensley on keyboards. This line-up recorded the 1982 album ‘Abominog’ and the 1983 album ‘Head First’. Goalby also provided vocals on the 1985 album ‘Equator’ before quitting due to exhaustion. Tragically David Byron died of a heart attack and liver disease in February 1985 at the age of 38.
1986 saw the arrival of ex-Grand Prix, Praying Mantis and Stratus vocalist Bernie Shaw, who would go on to be Uriah Heep’s longest standing vocalist, currently at thirty two years of service.
The line-up of Mick Box on guitar, Trevor Bolder on bass, Lee Kerslake on drums, Bernie Shaw on vocals and Phil Lanzon on keyboards remained unchanged from 1986 until 2007. Releasing four albums during this period, including ‘Raging Silence’ (1989), ‘Different World’ (1991), ‘Sea of Light’ (1995) and ‘Sonic Origami’ (1998). In December 1987 they were one of the first ever Western bands to play in Soviet Russia under Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of Glasnost. In early 2007, drummer Lee Kerslake had to leave the group due to ill health. The band recruited Russell Gilbrook as their new drummer and went on to record their first new album in ten years entitled ‘Wake the Sleeper’ in 2008. A good strong album and positive return to form.
Various reunion gigs with Ken Hensley and John Lawton took place in the 2000’s under the banner of the ‘Magicians Birthday Party’. The band have also performed their album ‘Demons and Wizards’ in its entirety live on the Progressive Rock stage at the inaugural High Voltage Festival in London's Victoria Park on 25th July 2010. On that occasion the band were joined by Micky Moody on slide guitar.
Uriah Heep released their twenty third studio album ‘Into the Wild’ in 2011 via Frontiers Records. This was the last album to feature Trevor Bolder who sadly passed away on 21st May 2013 after suffering from pancreatic cancer. He was 62 years old. John Jowitt (Ark, IQ, Arena) came in temporarily, followed by Davey Rimmer who features on the album ‘Outsider’ released in 2014 on Frontiers Records. On 14th September 2018 the band released their excellent new album ‘Living The Dream’.
The last remaining original member, founder and mainstay, Mick Box continues to fly the Uriah Heep flag with undepleted enthusiasm and unwavering vigor. Box is a proper diamond geezer, a salt of the earth gentleman, and a damn fine guitar player too! As he says with an ever present wide grin on his face, 'Appy Days', a Mick Box catchphrase and his mantra for life.
This gig at the Shepherds Bush Empire, was part of a five date UK tour to promote their new album 'Living The Dream', with support from Gun and the Von Hertzen Brothers. The current line-up of Uriah Heep consists of Mick Box on guitar, Bernie Shaw on vocals, Phil Lanzon on keyboards, Davey Rimmer on bass and Russell Gilbrook on drums. They delivered a ninety minute, thirteen song set that included five songs from the new album. A brave move some might say! But the new songs are actually very good and definitely a return to form. I would say that the new tracks are some of their best work in years and are a worthy addition to the set.
To kick-start proceedings the band launched into 'Grazed By Heaven' from the new 'Living The Dream' album. An energetic rocker with a cool deep groove, lashings of Hammond organ and expressive and dramatic vocals from Shaw, who proceeded to whip the crowd into a rocking frenzy! The band were on fine form and smashed it! 'Too Scared To Run' from the 1982 'Abominog' album followed. An odd choice considering the extensive back catalogue they have to dip into, but despite that it has a catchy chorus and galloped along nicely. Onto the title track of the new album 'Living The Dream', a strong song with its infectious groove and rhythm changes keeping us all hooked. Then it was on to 'Take Away My Soul', also from the new album, a good solid stomper with some fine shredding from Box.
The time had come for an oldy and a sure fire crowd pleaser, welcome the thumping heavy and dramatic 'Rainbow Demon' from the monumental 1972 'Demons and Wizards' album. Absolutely fantastic stuff, a highlight of the set for sure! 'Waters Flowin'', from the 'Living The Dream' album slowed things down a bit and gave our heads a rest from repeated headbanging! Maybe not the best song from the new album and could have been left out the set to make room for another oldy! The tempo escalated and the quality sharpened with 'Rocks In The Road', also from the 'Living The Dream' album. A new classic is born! They certainly raised the bar with this one, with great songwriting and musicianship from the Heep.
The moment we were all anticipating had finally arrived. It was time for the big one, the epic, the grand, 'Gypsy' from the 1970 '...Very 'Eavy…Very 'Umble' album, and it didn't disappoint! Going on to mesmerize our senses and smack us in the ears like a ton of lead! A mind-blowing and intoxicating experience! Box got to stretch out and stun us all with his dexterous shredding, hypnotizing us mere mortals with utter brilliance, casting his magic spells over us with his expressive hand twirls and gestures whilst soloing as though his life depended on it! Next we were treated to the invigorating 'Look at Yourself' from the 1971 album of the same name, before the majestic and sublime 'July Morning', also from the 1971 'Look At Yourself' album, transported us into the stratosphere and carried us away to a different time and space. A powerful, uplifting and dazzling performance!
Time for a surprise guest in the form of ex-member, drummer Lee Kerslake. Unfortunately Kerslake was forced to step down from the band in 2007 after thirty six years service due to illness. Tragically Lee has prostate cancer and bone cancer that has spread throughout his body and doctors have given him as little as eight months to live! One of Lee's dreams before he dies is to receive a platinum album certification for 'Blizzard of Ozz' and 'Diary of a Madman' to hang on his wall, “I've written to Sharon and Ozzy recently, a personal letter basically asking them to kindly send me a platinum album certification for ‘Blizzard of Ozz’ and or ‘Diary of a Madman’ to hang on my wall before I die, it’s on my bucket list. I really wrote a nice letter to them and I hope they will come to terms with it and say yes. I went belly-up bankrupt when I lost the case to Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne in the courts, it costs me hundreds of thousands and I had to sell the house and then starting to get ill.” Lets hope and pray that Lee gets his wish. At this gig Kerslake helped out Shaw with the vocals and also played some percussion on the stirring and celestial 'Lady in Black' from the 1971 'Salisbury' album. A beautiful laid back Folk Rock hippie song with much chanting! Keslake gave it his all and seemed to relish the experience, a touching moment for all the fans in the room.
The main set came to a triumphant conclusion with the stellar and potent 'Sunrise' from 1972 masterpiece 'The Magician's Birthday' album, a totally invigorating and stellar performance. After much hollering and enthusiastic hand clapping from the devoted followers, it was time for an encore with the exhilarating and spiritous 'Easy Livin' from the 1972 'Demons and Wizards' album. A rousing performance that had everyone bopping and singing along. A very enjoyable gig, and safe to say the mighty Heep nailed it!
Steven C. Gilbert