Interview with MICK BOX

(URIAH HEEP)

October 1999

It’s become difficult to interview the HEEP Cheshire cat-like leader later on, when he and this scribe have become friends, but in the beginning there was a lot to talk about and a great chance to delve into Mck’s bands history.

mick– The “Wizards Of Rock” ’97 tour had its start in Minsk. How do you remember the only day spent in Belarus?

The people were really friendly and we enjoyed our time there. It is a shame they felt that we needed to be so over protected.

– Everybody knows you as a great guitar player but who was your hero guitar-wise?

I loved Jazz players like…Barney Kassell, Django Rheindhardt, Tal Farlow, Les Paul and Mary Ford…but present day guitarists I guess Jeff Beck would be my all time favourite.

– David Byron was your friend from teen age. I think you can tell why he changed his last name from Garrick to Byron? Sure, Byron was the great poet but Garrick was the great actor…

David just one day decided to change his name and sure enough he just went and did it. The change was somewhat influenced by the wife of our manager at the time Paul Newton’s (bass player) father.

– It seems now that SPICE had the original material enough to make an album and not all of it was incorporated in URIAH HEEP’s first album. Why?

I guess we were being quite selective and in hindsight it was the right thing to do as HEEP emerged out of the SPICE thing…

– You and David started the band and later Ken Hensley came in. Since then URIAH HEEP was often referred to as his band. How did it come about? Didn’t this embarrass you?

Embarrass me… NO!!! URIAH HEEP has always been seen to be my band but along life’s way we have had many talented and charismatic figures come in and out of the band. Ken was one of them and his contribution was very strong at one point. Therefore he attracted a lot of attention with his songs. Similarly David being the front man got a lot of attention too. I came into this business to be a musician for life and that has always been the most important thing to me. The rest of it just comes and goes….

– When URIAH HEEP recorded their debut “Very ‘Eavy, Very ‘Umble” in the adjacent studio there were DEEP PURPLE working on their “In Rock”…

This was not the case…We only ever rehearsed in the same building as DP. We never recorded in any adjacent studio.

– But you met that band earlier opening for them as SPICE. Your memories of time spent together? Were you in touch with the guys all these years?

They were good times…. We have kept in touch mostly by meeting each other on the road. For instance I went to the DP shows at the Entertainment Centre and Selinas in Sydney Australia and had a great time with them. I then saw them at the Albert Hall with the Orchestra (celebrating 30 years) recently which was also a good night. Of course we have performed European Tours and played in South Africa with them too. Ian Gillan when he was with the Gillan Band came to our German festivals and hung out with us… So I guess you get the picture….

– Except for PURPLE you appeared to play clubs with. What they were like in 1970?

It was all pretty heady stuff then… There was so much good music going on and it was such a vibrant time… All the bands were great and creating there own identity, which is sadly lacking today if I may say so….

– HEEP’s vocal harmonies – were they influenced by THE BEACH BOYS?

Not really…We just happened to have 5 vocalists in the band so we used all of our resources which eventually became our trademark. The only reference to the Beach Boys was a DJ in the USA called us the Beach Boys of Heavy Metal….

onthebus– There are four classic hard rockers titled “Gypsy” – by HEEP, PURPLE, SABBATH and DIO. Are you proud to have recorded the earliest one?

Absolutely…I would not change a thing. Very proud indeed.

– Byron was the lead singer but Ken Hensley sang some songs as well. Did they suit him better? And why you never sang anything as a main singer?

Ken took on a few songs, which gave us a broader dimension at times. I am more of a harmony singer than a lead singer. I take all the high end stuff that nobody else wants to do as it is so high….

– How did you share guitar parts with Ken? Didn’t you feel that it was too much for Ken not only to play keyboards and sing but to play guitar as well?

Once again it gave us a broader dimension. This was never a problem as our two styles were totally different.

– “July Morning” became the band’s masterpiece and you had Manfred Mann playing on the recording. How did you involve him in?

He was a label mate on Bronze Records. We need a mini-moog part on the end and he had mastered that instrument very well. Ken was only just getting to grips with it at the time.

– As SPICE you shared a bill with KEEF HARTLEY BAND. It was then that you met your future bass player Gary Thain?

I did not meet him but the band were good….

– Was it due to your fantasy-based songs that in 1972 you played with T.REX? What’s your opinion on that infamous incident?

We only played with them once and that was in Chicago. It was nothing to do with fantasy-based songs. In those days music was music and it was not pigeon holed. We did shows with EARTH, WIND AND FIRE, Ike and Tina Turner, Little Richard, THREE DOG NIGHT and on and on and on. That night we blew them away as Chicago is very rock based and we went down a storm. This was not a reflection on who was better it was just a case that the audience came to rock. T REX had a very hard time following with the audience continually chanting our name. It made the news papers and people were talking about it everywhere.

– In 1973 there was a word “HEEPsteria” standing in line with “Beatlemania” and “TRextasy”. How did you react to such popularity?

Cool….

– Was it something different from the URIAH HEEP’s sessions to work in 1975 on David Byron’s solo effort “Take No Prisoners”?

It was different of course but great fun…. We had many laughs making that album…. We may have drunk too much but we had many laughs.

– Didn’t you feel like betraying when the band decided to get David out?

Not really. It was an unavoidable situation at the time. Something had to happen. I wished that it did not have to happen but that’s life….

– Is it true that after Byron was fired you auditioned David Coverdale but decided he was too bluesy for HEEP?

Yes we had a great time and jam with DC but at the same time he was given the chance to form WHITESNAKE which he decided to do. It was nothing to do with too bluesy…

– How did you remember John Wetton playing for HEEP? Whose idea it was for two of you to swap guitar and bass on stage?

I guess we were looking for ways to spice up the live show and that was one of the ideas. It was cool for a while. John is a very strong individual. I always had the feeling he was never going to be around very long. He was very ambitious

– Do you know that about 15 years ago in Soviet Union the “Innocent Victim” album was released with no original ‘snake’ cover and the cover with the band’s picture was deleted as teenagers were prohibited to have long hair?

That’s very sad eh!!!

– Please, solve the problem: who sang the lead in “It Ain’t Easy” off “Conquest” – Trevor Bolder as stated the cover or John Sloman?

There are a few versions knocking around but I think it was Trevor’s voice.

– Do you still think John Sloman was bad choice for URIAH HEEP and you should have preferred Peter Goalby?

Yes…John had all of the potential but he did not reach that potential with the band in the long run. He made no attempt to fit in and every attempt to try and change it. Wrong move… HEEP is HEEP and forever will be.

– In eighties HEEP went “heavy metal” – was it some kind of revenge for a “poppy” sound of the band in late seventies?

No we were just up there with the times I guess. We still made sure it was fundamentally HEEP using all of our trademarks. It may have been a bit of whiplash against the poppy side on reflection.

– Choosing “That’s The Way That It Is” for the “Abominog” album in 1982 had you heard the version recorded by Graham Bonnet a year earlier, which is quite similar to HEEP’s?

No we had not. We heard the demo version by Paul Bliss the writer and thought that it was a good song. It sounds dated now as a song but it did very well for us in the USA as we went top 40 and had high rotation on MTV with a video for the song.

– I saw a picturof you with Glenn Hughes having a drink. Are you good friends with the man knowing him since his TRAPEZE days?

Yes we are. He comes to a few HEEP shows when we are in Germany. He is one hell of a talent.

– What’s a story about you playing football with Robert Plant?

That was just a thing we did for Charity. It was Elton John’s football charity tournament.

– Did you ever think of making a solo album?

Sometimes and then I am sidetracked to play on other things or do other things like manage the band… Everything will come in time but I am in no hurry.

– “Sea Of Light” album gave me hope that the band would get back to “fairy tales” programs. But I’m sad to say that with “Sonic Origami” I was disappointed a little. Why, on your opinion, there wasn’t so long expected breakthrough in the charts with this recording?

The fairy tales side of HEEP can only be taken so far before you are repeating yourself. So a little bit of a good thing can go a long way. Sonic Origami we tried to widen our audience a little and it was very effective in that regard. The charts has never really been a place for HEEP for some reason. We seem to set out our own pace. That’s not to say I would not love to be in the charts.

– What do you think of the “Time Of Revelation” boxed set? I don’t mean rather weird package but track listing – too many songs for a beginner and only 90 minutes of unreleased gems for a fan.

Only 90 minutes unreleased material and you want more. What do you want… Blood I thought it worked very well and I have only ever received good comments about it. The point here is you cannot please all of the people all of the time.

– Obvious question: Are the plans for a new album?

Yes…

– There were rumours that quite soon we eventually will have an opportunity to listen to the legendary “10 Miles” sessions recorded in 1979 with John Lawton on vocals…

I am reviewing them now for Castle Communications… They are called “5 Miles”.

– Why these tapes were not released before?

Because they are unfinished tracks, some with just guide vocals etcetera.

– And when remastered “Live In Europe ’79” will be out?

I have no idea. Sorry.

– There are HEEP’s live albums with David Byron, John Lawton and Bernie Shaw singing. But can we hope that the concerts with Peter Goalby and John Sloman will ever see the light of day?

I doubt that very much…. but you never know….

– As I know in some days the “URIAH HEEP Tribute” is going to be out. The interesting point is that the band didn’t officially release some songs played by your followers. So what do you think about it?

It is a great fun idea. I am a little worried about some of the content. There are some very loose links to UH on there…

– Living in different countries, are you still “England’s own URIAH HEEP”?

Always have always will be…..

– And in the end, can you name your favourite HEEP’s album and song?

Impossible….

Photos by DME

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