Uriah Heep: ‘We’ve still got the same passion for our music that we’ve always had’

Uriah Heep. Photo by Richard Stow
Uriah Heep. Photo by Richard Stow

Hard rock and heavy metal icons Uriah Heep are heading to Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion this winter.

The gig, which features a support set from Diamond Head, is at the venue on Friday, December 6 (7pm).

Formed in 1969, Uriah Heep released their debut record ‘...Very ‘Eavy ...Very ‘Umble’ in 1970, and soon became one of the biggest bands of British rock’s golden age.

Now, they are rapidly approaching their 50th anniversary, having released 25 studio albums and sold more than 40 million records worldwide.

Speaking to lead guitarist Mick Box over the phone, I ask whether he realised when he co-founded the group that it would still be going five decades later.

“I don’t think anybody in their right mind would have thought it would last this long,” he laughs.

Joking aside though, Mick makes it clear that he’s glad the band has endured, explaining that he always wanted to be a musician for life: “I would have gone wherever that would have taken me, but it happens to have been nearly 50 years in Uriah Heep and I’m very happy about that.”

Fans and critics are happy too, with the group’s most recent album, Living The Dream, getting great reviews.

“It’s been received by the fans and media brilliantly,” says Mick. “To the point where many fans and people in the media are saying it’s one of the best albums of our career, which is quite something when you’re heading to your 50th anniversary.”

Take a quick look through the various reviews online and you’ll see praise for the band’s clever harmonies, fiery keyboards and hard-hitting guitar riffs. You’ll also see many commenters talking about how fresh and energetic it sounds.

So how do Uriah Heep keep that level of exuberance so high after all these years?

“It’s down to one word really,” says Mick, who turned 72 earlier this year. “It’s ‘passion’. We’ve still got the same passion for our music that we’ve always had, certainly I have, and the love of playing guitar. I think that gives you the energy to continue on through, because it can be a bit arduous on the road, you know?”

The routine of travelling and performing can be “quite exhausting”, Mick explains, which isn’t surprising when the band often play up to 125 shows a year.

“But I think once you’re up on stage all that just falls away. The adrenaline kicks in and you see the faces on the audience light up and we’re off.”

I ask about the writing on Living The Dream and what the veteran metallers wanted to achieve with this album.

The answer is reasonably simple: Mick says they set out to record a “typical Uriah Heep album”.

“We created a template back in the ‘70s on how we should sound with the ‘wah wah’ guitar solos and five-part harmony,” he says. “So we’ve got all those trademarks in.”

Keyboardist Phil Lanzon and Mick did most of the writing, with bassist Davey Rimmer (a member since 2013) creating the blistering album opener ‘Grazed By Heaven’ with Jeff Scott Soto from Sons of Apollo.

“There’s an element of progressive rock there with songs like ‘Rocks In The Road’ and ‘It’s All Been Said’”, Mick continues, explaining that the band kept to a format, but also let the songs breathe and take on a life of their own.

“It’s a bit of everything on this album and it sort of incorporates everything that Heep’s about. You’ve got the ballads, you’ve got the hard rock stuff, you’ve got the metal stuff, you’ve got the progressive rock stuff. You’ve even got the folky stuff in ‘Waters Flowin’.”

“We didn’t do one genre of music,” he adds. “And that’s probably born out of the fact that prior to being Uriah Heep we were a band called Spice. The reason we called ourselves that was there were a million spices.”

“We wanted to experiment with everything and that went into Uriah Heep. That sort of thinking has stayed with us ever since.”

The live show will certainly contain some of this new stuff, Mick says, but he’s also very aware that certain people will be there to hear certain songs – ‘Gypsy’ or ‘Lady In Black’, for example.

“I’d hate to go and see a major band where they didn’t play my favourite song,” he states. “We use that as a nucleus of a set list, if you like, and then we’ll revisit some even older stuff that we haven’t played in a long time and then, of course, intersperse that with the new tracks from Living the Dream. It’s a good journey through our career from basically the first album.”

And of course there will be support from another well-established heavy metal band, Diamond Head, who have a new album out as well, The Coffin Train, which Mick thinks is fantastic.

The Bexhill gig will be one of the last few shows that the band play before Christmas, but in January Uriah Heep will begin another huge year of rocking.

They’ll head to Germany for the Music and Stories tour with Nazareth and Wishbone Ash. Then it’s off to the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Ukraine and Belarus before the week-long Rock Legends Cruise 2020, which sets off from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. After that, it’s Russia’s turn for a Uriah Heep tour.

“The band is alive and kicking and firing on all five cylinders,” Mick enthuses. “We can’t wait to get out there and play these shows because that’s where we’re happiest. I’ve always said a happy band is a working band and that’s why when you come see us onstage we’re all smiling.”

This lifestyle certainly provides its fair share of memorable moments, but when Mick’s asked what stands out in his mind his answer has more depth to it than simple rock ’n’ roll thrills.

“I think the most special moment, if you want my honest truth, is when people come up to me and say ‘we saw you play whenever it was and you’ve really inspired me to pick up the guitar. I’m now playing the guitar and I’ve got my own band and I want to thank you for that’. I mean that’s the most inspiring thing you can have.”

“And all our lyrics always tend to be of a positive nature,” he adds. “I’ve quite often been told over the years, by fans that have come up to me, saying things like ‘I’ve had some really difficult times in my life and your music’s got me through it because of the positivity in your lyrics and the upbeat nature of the music’.”

“It’s just amazing because you don’t realise what impact you’re having when you sit in your room writing your song.”

Tickets for the concert cost £36. Call the box office on 01424 229111 or purchase tickets online at www.dlwp.com.

Find out more about Uriah Heep at www.uriah-heep.com.

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