Uriah Heep with great expectations

Author — Tony Stewart | NME (1972)

Uriah Heep with great expectations |

CHARLES DICKENS WOULD probably have allowed a slight smile to sneak across his lips if he’d known that a hundred years after his death, one of his literary characters, Uriah Heep, would be resurrected and used as the name of a rock band.

Mr. Dickens would certainly have been surprised to learn that the same band were to become the darlings of America during 1972. Lord, David Copperfield never knew that such a musical wizard hid in Heep.

Do you doubt the band’s success? Certainly many English acts return from the States and insist that they happened there, when half of them bombed. So when Heep came into London last week, evidence of their U.S. achievements had to be given.

We were upstairs in the Star Steak House, Soho Street, London. A journalist was bent double scribbling notes as Heep’s Lee Kerslake shouted a few answers. Mick Box was laughing as he filled the wine glasses. While vocalist David Byron and I found some escape from the hullabaloo in a far corner.

Byron was willing to give undistorted facts. How “Demons and Wizards” made gold, certified by the RIAA at over half a million sales. How their last tour sold out 60 per cent of the gigs, but the largest was only a comparatively small 12,000 seater. How advance orders for their new album, “The Magician’s Birthday” have topped a quarter million.

The band were only in Britain for a few days before returning to America for another tour. They’d sold out New York, Chicago, Toronto… the list is endless. Just on their own name though?

“Yeah,” Byron replies, concerned in case I doubled his sincerity. “Because as yet the promoters don’t really know who the other acts on the bill are. That’s still being established. So the only act being advertised is Uriah Heep. And it’s selling on that.”

It seems that our Stateside brothers and sisters dig it ‘eavy. Heep are that, as well as being showy. Lights, clothes, impact. Americans seem to have an insatiable curiosity about such outfits, as though they’re finding replacements for Grand Funk and Sabbath.

Byron, with gold and silver rings on his fingers, adjusts a thick gold watch and argues that Grand Funk Railroad are on the way back.

“They do like heavy rock bands,” he agrees. “In America it’s down to two things. Either a softer country sound like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young or the Eagles. Or it’s down to rock — Heavy exciting. FUN music.”

People who don’t dig riff-rock and the Purple’s and Sabbaths still dig Heep. Byron finds an explanation difficult, and tells of young chicks filling the front rows. But later he just about summed it up:

“We’re a lot more melodic than Purple and Sabbath, after all. We play more variety of songs.”

American music journals have described part of the band’s material and appearance as psychedelic.

“I don’t really know what they meant by that,” Byron replies vaguely, “because I thought those days were over.”

Perhaps. The reason could be down to the colours and effect of the last two album sleeves. And an instrumental passage in “The Spell”, reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s “Atom Heart Mother.”

“Maybe. Yeah, we dig the Floyd,” says Byron.

“They say,” he elaborates, “that listening and watching us is overwhelming. You feel as though you’re going to hit the ceiling any minute, because it’s so colourful, visual and dramatic — we’re called arrogant and we’re called dramatic. And we’re also loud, but there’s a lot of dynamics in the music.

“We take it from right down here,” he continues lowering his head to beneath the table level, to busting the walls apart.

“We aim to make everybody go out of that hall saying, ‘Christ. What was that?’ So your ears are still ringing a day later. That way, people don’t just remember the band — they remember the experience. We want to make it a total experience.”

So going to see Uriah Heep can be a frightening thing. He says: “People describe us as frightening to watch because they think somebody is going to drop dead.

“It’s like organised chaos on stage. It looks chaotic, then all of a sudden it’s very organised. They say, ‘wait a minute, they do know what they’re doing.’ It falls apart again, and then you bring it together. We’ve always got their attention.

“I look around and see how many cigarettes are being lit. Because if people light up they’re not watching us. I’ve never seen many cigarettes being lit.”

Audience acclaim aside, the band have at last made it with the music on “The Magician’s Birthday.” “Look At Yourself” and “Demons” in part were blatantly conceived with the influence of Zepp, Floyd, Vanilla Fudge and pop-rock. But their latest is more a re-examination of their own originality.

“Now, all those bands you mentioned are bands we all like,” says Byron.

“Everybody’s influenced by hearing the things they like. If I hear another singer, from Ray Charles to Robert Plant, and there’s a certain line to make me stop and listen, it goes in the back of my mind. Somewhere along the line it’s going to come out.”

Of Heep as a unit, he says: “If we split and formed different bands, we’d probably fail. The fact is it works in this band. You never question why it works. Once you do, it might lose the very thing which makes it work. So don’t question it, just dig it, and carry on.”

Undoubtedly. Part of which is the British, Japanese and German tours, resulting, we hope, in a live double set. Great Expectations.

Tony Stewart

Author: Elena Stepanova

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