[Around Prog #11] Uriah Heep pt. I

[The Origins]

Uriah Heep/Spice Lineup 1967-69

It all began in 1967 when guitarist Mick Box, aged just 19, decided to form a band called ‘Hogwash‘ to play live in pubs and clubs in the Brentwood area, UK. After a while they find themselves without a singer, was then identified in the figure of David Garrick, cousin of drummer Roger Pellington. A great combination was immediately born and the aspirations of Box and Garrick of becoming professional musicians led them to abandon their daily work. This decision led them to form a new band called ‘Spice‘ and Garrick changed his surname to Byron. Also, added to the lineup were Alex Napier on drum and Paul Newton on bass, and since their foundation the Spice decided not to play covers but original pieces. The intentions were very serious and the band that was initially run by Newton‘s father, soon passed into the hands of Gerry Bron, the manager of Hit Record Productions. The potential of the youngsters is very much appreciated and is therefore proposed to enter the stable of Vertigo Records, the new Philips sub-label. Once the contract was signed, they decided to change their name to ‘Uriah Heep‘, the well-known character of David Copperfield, in 1969 as the centenary of the death of Charles Dickens, the name was everywhere.

Uriah Heep in 1970

According to Dave Long‘s 2001 biography of the band ‘Wizard and Demons, The Uriah Heep Story‘, the moniker Uriah Heep was chosen in 1969, but the band continued to work as ‘Spice‘ until Ken Henley enter in lineup on 1970. Box recalled: “We’d actually recorded half the first album when we decided that keyboards would be good for our sound. I was a big Vanilla Fudge fan, with their Hammond organ and searing guitar on top, and we had David’s high vibrato vocals anyway so that’s how we decided to shape it.” Gerry Bron has two new members in addition to the lineup, so that Colin Woods and Ken Hensley, who had already played with Newton in ‘The Gods‘, and who played guitar in Toe Fat. Ken Hensley said: “I saw a lot of potential in the group to do something very different.” The recording career therefore began in 1970 with the debut album “… very ‘eavy … very’ umble” released on Vertigo Records. This album highlights Hensley‘s Hammond performance and David Byron‘s theatrical vocals, with a massive guitar presence. The title also refers to the characteristic phrase of the character of Dickens, Uriah Heep (very humble). Most of the material was written by Box and Byron, as Box recalled in an interview in 1989: “The funny thing was we wrote at the Hanwell Community Center, and Deep Purple were rehearsing in the room next door to us. You can imagine the kind of racket we were both making between us.“ During the recording of the album, Alex Napier was replaced at the drum by Nigel Olsson, under the advice of Elton John. The critics of the time did not welcome the record debut of the band, it took time before the attitude towards them changed. Finished the recordings Olsson returns to the Elton John‘s band and the vacant place of drummer is covered by Keith Baker. With the lineup complete again, work begins on the second album “Salisbury,” which was published in February 1971. More Progressive than the previous, with the title-track of over 16 minutes played together with an orchestra of 24 elements. The album contained successful songs like “Lady in Black,” re-proposed over the years in various editions and always at the top of the ratings all over the world. The album is a shining example of Heavy Prog, the genre of which Uriah Heep are masters and pioneers, highlighting the position of Ken Hensley as main songwriter. With this production, the agreement with the label was completed, and the band thus created its own label, giving life to Bronze Records. “Look at Yourself” is therefore recorded and published in 1971, reinforcing the sound expressed in the previous one, also showing remarkable stylistic maturity. This album was also a success, with songs such as “Tears in my Eyes” and “July Morning,” one of their greatest masterpieces, often compared to “Child in Time” by colleagues Deep Purple. However, the album only reached the 39th position in the United Kingdom ranking, but it was still highly appreciated all over the world. “I think that ‘July Morning’ is one of the best examples of the band,” Ken Hensley said.

The great success [1972-1976]

Uriah Heep in Munich, 1972

The Hensley-Byron-Box trio, in addition to being the backbone of the group, had strengthened their harmony, which led Newton to feel marginalized. In 1971, following a car accident in Germany, he left the band, replaced by Mark Clarke. Years later, Newton comments: “Well, you know, my father managed the band in the early days, with the Gods and Spice. He bought a lot of gear and so on. When we became Uriah Heep and Ken joined the band – and Ken is the first to admit it – he had very definite ideas about what he wanted to do in a band. “And there is nothing wrong with that as such. I mean, let ‘s face it, the fact that what was successful was great for me too. But after a while you’re bound to get in – fighting in a situation like that.” There were other problems too, because Gerry Bron was now the manager and father of all the money. There was a lot of money on the equipment and so on. levels and everybody was unhappy in a lot of ways ly left but I didn’t. Anyway, with the heavy work schedule and pressures and so on, I ended up collapsing on stage one night and the other members of the band decided I should go.” In the same year another rotation sees Ian Clark replaced by Lee Kerslake and in 1972 Gary Thain (ex-Keef Hartley Band) joins as a full member, replacing Clarke. Box later comments: “Gary just had a style about him, it was incredible because every bass player in the world that I’ve ever known has always loved his style, with those melodic bass lines.” With this Lineup they publish “Demons and Wizards,” reaching the No. 20 position in the UK and 23 in the USA, again in 1972. The album is characterized by a more Hard Rock approach and from fantasy themes, as the title suggests, for the avoidance of doubt Hensley stated in a cover sheet: ‘… just a collection of our recordings, which we enjoyed recording.‘ The album is very well regarded by critics and fans, making it pioneering on Heavy Metal, which will also be born thanks to records like this. From this album two singles are extracted “The Wizard” and “Easy Livin,” which they obtained a remarkable success, demonstrating the compositional vein and form of the band, six months later they published “The Magician’s Birthday,” the fifth studio album since 1970. Another success, with “Sweet Loraine” and the title-track that climb the heights of the charts all over the world. Ken Hensley said: “David was the communication point, the focal point of the whole group stage presentation. He had so much charisma, so much ability.” In addition to intense studio activity, live performances consecrated the band, which recorded a double live LP during the 1973 Birmingham Town Hall concert. In the same year, as proof of the global success achieved, they also performed in Japan, before devoting themselves to writing the new album. “Sweet Freedom,” published in 1973, shows a sound that is always solid, but more mainstream, leaving the fantasy themes and adding funk and acoustic influences to the sounds. Ken Hensley in parallel with the activities with the band, began to follow solo projects, publishing “Proud words on a dusty shelf.”

Uriah Heep in 1973

The following year it was the turn of “Wonderworld,” which however turns out to be an unconvincing work. Ken Hensley said about it: “Recording abroad disrupted the band’s normal operation and that had a big negative effect on the group. Our communication was falling apart, we were arguing over stuff like royalties and we were getting involved in matters beyond music .’ The group enters a phase of crisis, due to the problems linked to the bassist’s and not only drug abuse. During the American tour, in the Dallas cap, received a serious electric discharge that forced the band to cancel the remaining dates. After a period of treatment, Thain returned to full strength in the group, and accused the manager Bron of speculating about the band, having only turned it into a “financial thing“, he was fired. Unfortunately Gary Thain was found dead at his home in Norwood Green, following an overdose of heroin in 1975. John Wetton entered the band and recorded “Return to Fantasy,” demonstrating the rebirth of the group. Wetton brought reliability and lots of ideas to the band, but this time another incident involves Mick Box. He fell from the stage during a live, but the artist decided to continue the tour anyway, even when Wetton received an electric discharge, on a date in Minnesota. Came out the first compilation of “The Best of Uriah Heep,” the solo Byron‘s album “Take no Prisoner” and “Eager to Please” by Hensley. The following year “High and Mighty,” is not very successful as it is labeled as “light”. Thus, a dispute arises between manager Bron and the band, who accused him of little interest in their work, mainly dealing with his extra-musical affairs. Even the live performances suffered a loss of consistency, due to the lack of incisiveness of the musicians on stage, Byron above all. At the end of a Spanish tour Byron is fired and Newton announces that he wants to leave the band, not being more at ease with his colleagues.

The second part is is available here: [Around Prog #12] Uriah Heep pt. II

Discography [1967-1976]

(1970) …Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble [Vertigo Records]
(1971) Salisbury [Vertigo Records]
(1971) Look at Yourself [Bronze Records]
(1972) Demons and Wizards [Bronze Records]
(1972) The Magician’s Birthday [Bronze Records]
(1973) Sweet Freedom [Bronze Records]
(1974) Wonderworld [Bronze Records]
(1975) Return to Fantasy [Bronze Records]
(1976) High and Mighty [Bronze Records]

Members

Mike Box / Guitar, Vocals (1969-Present)
Ken Hensley / Keyboards, Synthesisers, Guitars, Vocals (1969-1980)
David Byron / Vocals (1969-1976) Died in 1985
Paul Newton / Bass, Backing Vocals (1969-1971)
Alex Napier / Drums (1969-1970)
Nigel Olsson / Drums, Percussions (1970)
Ian Clarke / Drums (1970-1971)
Lee Kerslake / Drums, Percussion, Vocals (1971-1979; 1981-2007)
Mark Clarke / Bass, Vocals (1971-1972)
Gary Thain / Bass (1972-1975) Died in 1975
John Wetton / Bass, Vocals, Piano (1975-1976) Died in 2017
Trevor Bolder / Bass, Vocals (1976–1981; 1983–2013) Until his death
John Lawton / Vocals (1976–1979; (Live Substitute in 1995 and 2013)

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Author: Jacopo Vigezzi

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