British prog rockers 25th album captures the band’s classic sound
UK prog rockers Uriah Heep just don’t know when to quit. After 50 years, the powerhouse quintet are still producing fantastic material in the same vein as their classic, unmistakable early-era sound. Formed in 1969, Heep has adapted, progressed, endured and morphed into one of the most quintessential prog rock bands around today.
On their 25th full-length affair, Living the Dream, original guitarist Mick Box, keyboardist Phil Lanzon, vocalist Bernie Shaw, drummer Russell Gilbrook and bassist Davey Rimmer, easily capture the musical spirit that Heep are known for. The band’s rich musical history stretches back to its 1970 debut album, …Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble, up to its current release, Living The Dream. With so many accolades achieved over their five-decade career, Box claims that the band truly are living the dream.
“Of course we are,” Box recently told Rock and Roll Globe. “We’re doing something that we love and it starts to become your career and you’re still doing it 50 years later, of course you’re living a dream. It’s a title I had in my notebook for a long while. I wrote it there once from a discussion with fans we were having after a show in Japan. There was one person who said, ‘You really are living the dream.’ I thought, what a great title and wrote that down. And when I thought about it, the levels that it could be aimed at, all seemed to fit everything we did.”
On its current tour opening for Judas Priest’s third U.S. leg of their latest masterpiece, Firepower, the two British rock institutions go way back. This tour captures a half-century of rock from two bands at the top of their game on one bill. Box compares this trek to a reconnection, or a rekindling of their friendship with Priest.
“The funny thing is, the only time we really crossed paths, or worked together, was in the early eighties,” Box remembers. “However, earlier in the year we did a show with them in Dortmund, Germany and it went really well. When they were putting this tour together, they decided they wanted an English rock band, and we kind of fit the bill in every respect. Because Judas Priest has a new album called Firepower, which people are calling one of the best in their career. We’ve got an album out called Living the Dream, which people are calling the best album of our career.”
The album’s 10 tracks are enhanced with a warm and organic production, courtesy of producer Jay Ruston (Anthrax, Steel Panther, Amon Amarth). The album’s rich tones are strengthened by Heep’s musical template, which consists of Box’s trademark wah-wah guitar sound, Lanzon’s howling Hammond organ and Shaw’s impeccable David Byron-esque vocal range. Plus, the band’s five-part vocal harmonies is an instrument all its own.
Since joining Heep in 1986, Shaw has come aboard and owned the vocal spot, sadly vacated by the late David Byron. Although no one can essentially fill the shoes of Byron, Shaw has been a vital piece to the Heep puzzle for 30-plus years. While capturing the spirit of Byron’s vocal range, Shaw also puts his own stamp on the band’s overall sound.
“I think on this particular album he’s sung as best as he’s ever sounded,” Box said of Shaw. “The reason Bernie got the job in the first place, to be honest, is he had the vocal range that covered all the previous vocalists, including David. And sometimes when we revisit some of the old songs and Bernie’s singing them, I get a tingle up my spine because he sounds just like David. He can do all that, but he’s got his own stamp and his own sound. So, it’s the best of both worlds, really.”
The band reached its pinnacle in the early ’70s with Byron at the head of the vocal helm. Heep tunes have stood the test of time, especially the ones within such classic albums as Demons and Wizards, The Magician’s Birthday and Sweet Freedom. What the band were creating during this time period was magical.
“I think the best way to explain it is that all the music that was recorded then has stood the test of time, hasn’t it?” Box said. “The songs still hold up today and thank goodness they do. David was one of those special people that he never actually sang a song as a vehicle, he was always inside the song, is the only way I can explain it. And that delivery connected with so many people, it was wonderful.”
With the addition of the energetic rhythm section of drummer Russell Gilbrook in 2007, taking over from the now retired drummer Lee Kerslake, and Davey Rimmer in 2013, after former bassist Trevor Bolder passed away from pancreatic cancer. The duo captures that distinctive Heep swagger and gives the rest of the band an added jolt of energy.
As a headlining band, Heep has the ability to play on stage for at least an hour and a half. On the Priest tour, they have about an hour to perform each night. Picking the setlist will be difficult, Box admitted, but you can always count on the classic Heep concert staples, plus a few new songs off the Living the Dream album.
“We’ve had to look at it in the light of lets go out there and rock everything as hard as we can,” Box said. “So, we start with ‘Grazed By Heaven,’ which is the first track off the new album Living the Dream, and we end up with ‘Easy Livin’.’ And in between that, you won’t be able to catch your breath.”