Uriah Heep, Still ‘…Very ‘Eavy…Very ‘Umble”
It might be a cliché, but “Living the Dream”, the title of Uriah Heep’s 26th studio album, is a testimony to the mainstay of British progressive metal giants, who’ve topped radio playlists with a catalogue of live and recordings from thousands of concerts performed all across the globe for more than four decades. After 14 years, the mighty Heep returns to Canada in support of this upcoming record scheduled for release in September.
Opening at the London Music Hall recently, Uriah Heep is playing medium-sized, intimate venues in Canada, including Toronto, Ottawa and parts of Quebec. But the dates continue to snowball, as they roll across the country and into the U.S.
Prior to the performance, Mick Box, the band’s lead guitarist and only original member in Uriah Heep, took the time to answer a few questions.
Contrary to the fatigue and that hits most bands on the long and winding road, Mick Box, said:
“We’ve toured over 61 countries, and as we say a touring band is a happy band and being in Heep is a great place to be.”
Canada is particularly significant to Uriah Heep at this point as its lead vocalist for more than a decade has been Bernie Shaw, born and bred in Vancouver, and formerly the front man for Praying Mantis, Grand Prix, and Stratus. Box happened to be sitting in an audience of the London Marquee Club for one of Shaw’s performances, and asked him to audition as Heep’s lead singer, Steff Fontaine was leaving. Bearing a slight resemblance to David Lee Roth, Shaw has remained a dedicated frontman for more than a decade. Shaw really wanted to start this tour in Canada, noted Box.
A Musical Template
This upcoming album is also being produced by Canadian producer and mixer, Jay Ruston, known for collaborating with: Stone Sour, The Winery Dogs, and Black Star Riders. According to Box, Ruston has, “embraced what Heep sounds like, and is known for.” “We created a template for Heep back in 1970, and there is no reason to change a successful formula that has stood the test of time.”
Many record companies are reluctant to fund older artists and continue to strive for that next new sound or trend. Knowing this, Heep decided to crowdfund this album, which allowed fans to play along to online recording sessions and receive behind-the-scenes videos, and swag signed by the band in exchange for dollars. This helped fund the advance for “Living the Dream,” and they were signed to Frontiers Records in Italy, once again.
Box said the new songs have not received a final mix yet, so it’s too early to know what his personal favourites will be. The writing process usually begins with him writing a few riffs on guitar or a chord sequence that excites him, and Phil Lanzon responds similarly. “We get together and mould these into songs,” he said.
Much like Deep Purple’s keyboard player, Jon Lord, the rousing keyboards, previously composed by original member, Ken Hensley, still remain a part of Heep’s signature sound. In fact, in the British press, Uriah Heep was often coined as, “the poor man’s Deep Purple.” Hensley left Heep after a decade because of personality conflicts. Uriah Heep was in a different and incongruent space, especially after the tragic deaths of both former bassist, Gary Thain and lead singer, David Byron due to drugs and alcohol.
New Era for Heep
The history of Heep is lengthy as it is profound, marked by magical highlights and dark demons, but it has survived a flurry of members and even management changes. Squashing any rumours, Box said Uriah Heep never really broke up. “The closest we came was when I disbanded the band after the “Conquest” album (1980), but this was only for two days, before I rebuilt it again,” kudos to Box’s perseverance.
Die-hard fans hope this is a new era for Uriah Heep. Likewise, Box said:
“I think we have hit a stream of creativity with this present line-up that is very exciting, and we are all committed and passionate about our music.”
Rockin’ The Music Hall
Uriah Heep took everyone back to the time of paisley, incense and platform shoes, opening with “Gypsy” from its 1970 debut album, “Very ’Eavy, Very ‘Umble” that put them on the charts. Opening strains of the Hammond organ by keyboardist, Phil Lanzon immediately had the crowd cheering in recognition of this folkloric song that tells of a daunting, messy love affair with a gypsy woman and the sacrifices made in an inter-racial/minority relationship.
Similarly, “Sunrise,” another of the band’s hit ballads from “The Magician’s Birthday” CD, is another song about a lost, tortured soul searching for love. While this may sound sappy, Heep’s lyrics and melodies communicate a sense of inner strength and transformation, a part of life that’s significant and universal to all of us.
While Bernie Shaw, the lead vocalist, doesn’t have the purity and operatic-sounding vibrato that Byron had, he does add grittiness to his songs that heavy metal fans crave. He manages to re-arrange passages to suit his style, and hopefully less likely to damage his vocal chords during a grueling international tour, like this one.
The vocals are both dynamic and demanding on “The Magician’s Birthday,” the title track of one of the band’s highest selling records that’s amusing and child-like. The band’s penchant for fantasy and whimsical themes is also evident on “The Demons and Wizards” CD, which was also a favourite to many listeners on this side of the globe. The song is capriciously mystical and could’ve been a film score for Marvel Comics.
Uriah Heep does its best and timeless compositions when it’s focused on storytelling, as they are excellent in crafting corresponding melodies that are underscored by driving rhythms that rock listeners’ core. “Lady in Black” is a folk song reminiscent of a minstrel strumming in an Irish pub, but it’s the kind of song that illustrates that Uriah Heep is much more than a medal band. After another dozen or more gems that had everyone singing along, “Easy Livin’,” was the encore hit that brought the house down, and the audience still clamored for more. So many hits, so little time.
Despite the fact, the band is promoting a new album with a few new offerings performed. A couple of songs released on more recent records include “Between Two Worlds” and “Outlaw.” “What Kind of God” and “Tears of the World” are later offerings that are personal, meaningful favourites.
Uriah Heep’s music was often underrated, so it is at least gratifying to see such a stalwart and talented band of musicians still on the road, spinning musical tales of different worlds in a new age.