2001 was the successful year for the British rock veterans URIAH HEEP. There were miracles but, partly, the miracles the band built – it was all due to their brilliant work. Seems, for the first time since 1977 the group not only did bite the charts but also draw the mass media attention.
That was the starting point for a little chat with one of the band’s founders Mick Box, on the verge of the HEEP festival which took place in London from December 6th to 8th.
– Do you feel HEEP now are where the band belong, back in the spotlight, or there can be more?
There can always be more but I think that this band, this line up deserves to be in the spotlight. I do not wish that to sound egotistical but I really do believe we are a good band.
It should be noticed that one of the reason for the press attention to rock dinosaurus was the sold-out March show in London’s Astoria, which resulted in “Electrically Driven“.
– Was success of the Astoria show somewhat predictable?
It was something that we have built up to and it just shows you what a good job Classic Rock Legends did on advertising. You can be the best band in the world but if nobody hears about you they will not come to your concerts or buy your CDs. You end up being the best kept secret in the world.
Classic Rock Legends is the label founded by fans of, sure, classic rock in order to support HEEP projects – and not only. But at that point, the other question, of interest to many a concert-goer, sprung to mind – of Michael’s strange passes, that is.
– You once cited Tai Chi as your hobby. Does your on-stage gesticulation come from it?
No. The hand movements came about when I play a left hand trill in the old days and we were only playing clubs etcetera, and everybody could see it to be clever. When we first went to the USA and supported THREE DOG NIGHT playing 10.000-20.000 seaters I waved my arm in the air so that all and sundry could see.
A year ago the band made the fans dream come true and played a performance called “Acoustically Driven“…
– “Acoustically Driven”, as magnificient experience as it was, saw Bernie Shaw rather nervous, it seems, and you quite relaxed. Why such a different attitude?
I tried to remain calm and just relax into the experience.
– There were guitar parts that you, no doubt, were capable to deliver yourself. Why did you hand them over to guest guitarists?
There were no guest guitarists. The only other guitarist on stage was a pedal steel guitarist, and we thought that the sound was what we are looking for. When you get a copy of the “Anthology” you will get your answer as I play all of those parts you are suggesting.
– Continuing the guitar thing: for me, the funky element in your style is becoming more and more evident. Where does this come from? In the early Seventies, of all the British bands only TRAPEZE pursued this direction but in their music it was the main point…
I guess it is a part of me when I dig deep. I go for a rhythmic feel or should I say rhythMick feel.
– Talking about classic HEEP material, which of the songs – first album apart – were mainly masterminded by you, your guitar, not any other band member?
If I am credited then usually the riff will be mine for starters.
First album apart – because almost all of its songs were written by Mick Box and singer David Byron, while from the second up to the end of ’70s in charge of songs was mainly Ken Hensley. About Hensley – a bit later, but today alongside Mick and Bernie Shaw the band are drummer Lee Kerslake, keyboardist Phil Lanzon and bassist Trevor Bolder. Everybody sings – or sang.
– One more thing I miss much when listen to “Acoustically Driven” is HEEP’s trademark vocal harmonies, now given to female singers. Again, why so? What’s becoming with voices, spare for Lee. You and Trev sing less nowadays?
We felt that this would be a good blend, and I think it works well. We will and can sing all the parts but in that intimate atmosphere we felt the girls did a good job. Incidentally, they are blended with our voices.
On both “Acoustically Driven” and “Electrically Driven” present is the magic flute of JETHRO TULL legendary captain, Ian Anderson.
– How did it come to Ian Anderson coming into picture? Last November, a month before “Acoustically” evening, I was talking to Ian and incidentally mentioned HEEP. Anderson nodded but said no word of being invited to play with you.
Bob Carruthers from Classic Rock Legends suggested it and then on my approval approached Ian who was delighted to be asked.
– Were there any songs chosen for “Acoustically” that didn’t make it to the show in the end?
For the acoustic show URIAH HEEP resurrected some songs previously not played live. Among them was the one from the period present line-up not covered yet – from 1977-1979, when at the microphone was John Lawton.
– “Come Back To Me” was the first song from the Lawton era played by this line-up (and turned to gospel). Will there be more?
We will do “Free And Easy” and “Sympathy” with John and Bernie sharing vocals at “Magician’s Birthday”.
Since the ’80s HEEP did a couple of covers – in order to gain more attention.
– HEEP recorded several cover versions – “Hold Your Head Up”, say, “Tin Soldier” or “Across The Miles” – for understandable reasons. But what were the criteria for picking the songs?
“Tin Soldier” was just for fun as John Sinclair and myself are big SMALL FACES fans. The other two were stabs at radio play. I think we will steer away from that in the future.
John Sinclair was the group’s keyaboards player in 1982-1985 but an arguable one, unlike many of former HEEP musicians, he wasn’t. Yet the band’s today’s producer is the one.
– HEEP are still ‘eavy band, and there’s an opinion exists of Pip Williams ruining STATUS QUO grinding. What made you opt for Pip as a producer for HEEP?
Pip is a good producer and good all rounder in fact. A good guitarist, a good string arranger and writer. He became a sixth member of the band. I would like to point out that Pip produced some of QUO’s most succesful albums and singles.
Many a warm word towards Williams the band said in “Sailing The Sea Of Light” documentary released on DVD and accompanied by the book.
– Is “Sailing The Sea Of Light” book and film of any importance for the band?
Sure, it documents us in a very honest way. No frills.
– Why John Lawton stepping in for Bernie in 1996 fell out of the story?
Good spotting!!! Bernie’s throat needed an operation and John helped us out. It was a blast working with him again in South Africa. I have registered the complaint as this is a serious oversight. That is what happens when they do not give it to me to proofread.
– Early on, you used to present new material before it had been recorded, which you don’t do at the moment. Does that mean there’s no fresh songs at the moment and, therefore, the next album is not planned as of now?
We only ever did this once with “Wonderworld” and at no other time.
– But the same was with “Sea Of Light”, wasn’t it?
We only ever showcased “Words In The Distance”, I think. And yes, we have fresh songs and ideas, and we hope to have a new CD next year – providing all the business side of things can be sorted out.
– Then, you’ve chosen Roger Dean’s “City Spring” painting to grace the new product cover. How does this painting appeal to you? What album it will go to? Live one that, I suppose, you’ll record this December?
We have his artwork on “Acoustically Driven” and “The Anthology”. It looks good. His work is always interesting. That painting, I hope, will be a new one.
At “The Magician’s Birthday Party” the band played together with Ken Hensley, whose songs lead HEEP through the ’70s.
– How do you look forward to Ken Hensley’s December performance with HEEP?
It will be an experience and fun. It is a chance to put a cap on everything whereby Ken then can get on with his solo career and we can get on being HEEP.
– HEEP seem to have the most faithful following in the world. Is it only them – er, us – who you permanently keep some rabbit in the hat for? I mean, acoustic show, Ian Anderson’s appearance, and now Hensley’s – you look like enjoying all this yourselves as well, aren’t you?
Yes, I do enjoy it all. I have never lost the buzz and I never will. I am sure there will be other surprises to come in the future.
Why not play on the title of the band’s previous live album “Future Echoes Of The Past“, the best live one in the HEEP’s long history?
– So the future surely holds some echoes of the past, but what about echoes of the future itself? What is there, in the near future?
More music more live shows more HEEP HEEP HEEP and more HEEP. We have a lot to look forward to creativly in so many areas.
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