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Electrically Driven

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★★★★½
(3 Reviews)

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  • In 1969 a long long time ago there was a very good rock `n’ roll band called `Spice’, going round in ever decreasing circles, well known on the London club and college scene but never being able to make that big leap to the big time. Along came Bron management who quickly assessed the situation, and decided that proper management was needed, plus the addition of another musician to fill out the sound and add an extra voice also helping out on the songwriting side.
    So it was decided that the keyboard player from `Toe Fat’, Ken Hensley, would join the other members of Spice. Mick Box, lead guitar, Paul Newton, bass guitar, and Alex Napier, drums, became `Uriah Heep’.
    Very quickly the band started gigging everywhere and anywhere that would have them, and released their first album `Very Eavy, Very Umble’ which, although now thirty seven years later is considered a very acceptable debut album, met with very mixed feelings from the music press at the time. One American journalist threatened to commit suicide if Uriah Heep were to ever make it big time, words of course she was later to sincerely regret.
    The band also quickly developed a reputation for a revolving door policy with its band members. Three drummers were required to finish the first album, whilst two more were required to finish the next two. Uriah Heep was the main inspiration for the role of the drummer in the marvelous comic rockumentary `Spinal Tap’ although it has to be said that present drummer Lee Kerslake has shown no signs of spontaneously combusting over the last thirty five years in the band, apart from when he declined to be part of the `Conquest’ album in 1980 when he went off to join Ozzy Osbourne for a couple of albums before returning for `Abominog’ in 1982.
    There have been six bass players and Trevor Bolder has come and gone once, six vocalists, four keyboard players, but to be fair only one lead guitarist. The rock on which Uriah Heep has been built, Mick Box, is one of the nicest people in Rock `n’ Roll whose catch phrase is almost as well known as his stunning guitar playing: Appy Days.
    At first, albums from Uriah Heep came thick and fast. After the debut album there was `Salisbury’ (1971) which was another good album but drew a lot of critical derision as the title track was almost one side long and contained a brass section and a full choir, perhaps a little ambitious for its day. This was a little unfair as the rest of the songs on the album were very good, in fact the acoustic sing-along `Lady In Black’ is still a staple of the live act and was number one in Germany for over two months. But this was rectified by the quickly recorded `Look At Yourself’ (1970) which contained the template for the Uriah Heep sound, a wall of keyboards, wailing wah wah guitar, harmonized vocals, and a rock solid rhythm section, almost like the `Beach Boys’ gone hard rock.
    This was a sound the band was to keep until the present day. `Look At Yourself’ also included such classic songs as the title song and their first truly great epic `July Morning’, which is on every `Soft Rock’ album you buy here in Thailand. Why it is always included on the `Soft Rock’ Albums has always been a mystery to this dog as it really reaches a rockin’ finale with keyboards and guitar battling for supremacy.
    With the lineup finally stabilized to Mick Box on lead guitar and vocals, Gary Thain (the thinnest man ever to be in a rock `n’ roll band) on bass and vocals, Lee Kerslake on drums and vocals, Ken Hensley on keyboards, slide guitar, and vocals, and David Byron on lead vocals. They released their breakthrough album `Demons and Wizards’, which was to go top thirty all over the world and give them their first international hit single `The Wizard’.
    This line up was to stay together for three years, and five chart topping albums. Filling concert halls wherever they went. Limousines at every airport, first class travel, and being lorded wherever they went.
    Gary Thain finally had to be let go through ill health caused by the rock `n’ roll lifestyle of the band. He was replaced by bass superstar John Wetton, which did not do much to quieten the unrest within the ranks, and although the band carried on for seventeen more months and two more albums, concert attendances were still good, but album sales began to plummet. Nadir was finally reached in the middle of an American tour when it was decided that Hensley and Byron could no longer share the same stage, and David Byron was kicked out of the band, John Wetton decided to jump ship too. Replacements were found in Singer John Lawton and ex David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars bassist Trevor Bolder (who was to turn out to be a very useful chap later on).
    The band soldiered on for three more albums but the magic had gone. Another low point was reached when Lawton was replaced by Robert Plant sound-alike John Sloman as vocalist; Lee Kerslake had enough and was replaced by Chris Slade, and then after recording `Conquest’ (1980) Ken Hensley left too. A replacement keyboard player Greg Dechart was found for the tour, but the results were not ideal and for a year Uriah Heep ceased to be.
    But it is a strange old world. Rock `n’ roll Mick Box still owned the name Uriah Heep, he just didn’t have a band. Knowing that Mick’s talents were far too great to waste, band agent and friend Neil Warnock coaxed Mick Box back out and got him to form a new band. Lee Kerslake had just been unceremoniously dumped out of Ozzy Osborne’s Blizzard of Oz, so was up for the drum seat, bringing along bassist and songwriter Bob Daisley whom Ozzy also found surplus to requirements. John Sinclair was persuaded to move his keyboards from the `Heavy Metal Kids’, and vocalist Peter Goalby came in from `Trapeze’. A new album was recorded `Abominog’ (1982) which met with great public and critical acclaim and what do you know, the Heep were back.
    After one more album, Trevor Bolder came home from `Wishbone Ash’ and the band carried on for one more album before it was again decided that things were not quite right. Peter Goalby was finding it tough keeping up with Heep’s rigorous touring schedule, and John Sinclair and Heep were never quite comfortable with each other’s styles.
    So two new replacements had to be found. The extremely talented and suitable keyboard player Phil Lanzon was looking for a home after stints in `Grand Prix’ and `Sad Cafe’, whist the problem position of vocalist was filled by Canadian Bernie Shaw after Mick Box spotted him singing with his band `Strauss’ at London’s Marquee Club. This was 1986 and the new Uriah Heep was ready
    Twenty years later they are still together, still rockin’ and amongst the top ten hard rock bands on the circuit, certainly the most hard working, and without doubt the best musical line up Uriah Heep has ever boasted. This line up has released four hard rockin’ studio albums: `Raging Silence’ (1989), `Different World’ (1991), `Sea Of Light’ (1995) and `Sonic Origami’ (1998), all classic examples of modern hard rock. They have also released a total of eight live albums, and almost yearly DVDs, plus recording a collection of former glories by the new band to reclaim royalty rights on some of their classic songs.
    Live, the band goes from strength to strength, mixing old classics with new classics and soon to be classics, whilst showing off their supreme musicianship. One has only to listen to the `Electrically Driven’ (2001) album to appreciate the power of the beast Uriah Heep has become live.
    Panting by Mott the Dog
    Unrestrained eagerness by Meow the Cat

    Posted on December 5, 2009