2003 is the thirtieth year since the release of “Uriah Heep Live”, one of the best concert recordings in rock history. After it, there’ve been ups and downs, but in 1986 the band crystallized into something special – a cutting diamond out of coal, perhaps? The flow in the ranks stopped, hopefully forever, and what emerged appears to be an amazing live entity, more solid than that old combination. There’s not much sense now to wade through the ensemble history, yet the perspective, a brief glance around will do nicely. And who can do exactly this better than Mick Box, a man who started the band, and Bernie Shaw, the last to join URIAH HEEP? Over to them, now.
– Mick, looking back down the decades, could you, please, remember 1963, 1973, 1983 and 1993? What each of these years did bring in your life?
Mick: 1963 was a very exciting time and London was buzzing with live music. We were playing clubs and anywhere they would have us, sleeping in vans, learning our craft and just generally having a good time.
In 1973 HEEP was starting to get recognition all over the world and tours where coming in from everywhere. Once again an exciting time as things here moving very fast indeed. If we were not on the road we were in the rehearsal room or recording studio. Our feet never touched the ground.
By 1983 we were on the road constantly but, unfortunately, we did not receive the backing from the record company, and everywhere we toured the album was not in the shops, which was most disheartening. Eventually, Peter Goalby and John Sinclair left for this reason. We had some great times though, and I look back on this time fondly.
1993 saw the band as it stands today. We are the best of friends and enjoy making music together, touring together and there is a comaraderie bar none. We have a very strong foundation. 1993 was just part of the growing process having achieved so much already from 1987 and being the first rock band to play the Soviet Union – that was in Moscow.
– 1973 must be a very significant year – was it difficult to get over all the successes of 1972 and move on?
Mick: We were on a roll then, so we never viewed it like that.
– How would you explain the chart success URIAH HEEP have now?
Mick: Belief. Sanctuary Records saw first hand the response we had at our concerts and realised that our audience is made up of all age groups and a large portion of that were young. They decided to do some TV advertising and it paid off. This sort of advertising gets out to everyone. Even those that have had children and they have grown up, they then start getting their record collections out again, they see the TV advert and it wakes the sleeping giant up in them, and they see they can get a lot of their favourite HEEP tracks on one CD, “The Ultimate Collection”. We constantly tour and are always in the marketplace. The record company can see we have a very good fanbase and they can capitalise on this with good sensible advertising and it pays off. It is quite simple, really: if people know about the HEEP product, they can then decide if they want it or not, but if no one knows about it, it is dead in the water before it even gets started.
– Does The Magician Birthday Party annual event with the former band members joining current line-up on stage intensify ‘the family’ feeling in the HEEP camp?
Mick: I guess it does!
– Bernie, do you feel even more integrated into the HEEP family now, with the past members coming along for the Magician’s Birthday Party?
Bernie: Well since I’ve been with the band now for longer then any of them put together… Yes, I feel very comfortable in our “family”.
– On the first Party, when it was “Acoustically Driven“, you sounded a bit too nervous. Have you embraced that unplugged vibe since?
Bernie: You are right. I think all of us were a bit nervous, as it was something that we had never ventured into before. Since then, Mick and I have done the odd acoustic thing together, and it has sounded great. As with anything in life, the more practice you have, the more confidence you build up within yourself.
– The long-awaited acoustic show has been played several times now. But while most of the songs seem natural for such a re-shaping, what about the heavy stuff like “The Way That It Is” and “The Other Side Of Midnight” – was it challenging to get to those?
Mick: Yes, it was, but we feel it was worth it, though I usually manage to break a string or two playing them.
– Do you feel dusting off of the more obscure songs – like, say, “More Fool You” – bring back interest to the albums they originally appeared on?
Mick: I am sure it does, but they are fun to revisit.
– Bernie, now that you’ve sung songs from almost every era of HEEP history, which period you find the most interesting, vocally? Well, save for the songs you were the first to sing…
Bernie: I love to sing the older stuff from the Byron era, as he had such control and passion in his delivery, but I enjoy singing HEEP stuff in general, as the harmonies are so well put together and the vocal lines get to soar over the music. It really is a singer’s delight to be able to explore the passion and power that is within the dynamics of HEEP’s music.
– Don’t you find the changes in the band’s trademark harmonies difficult for you as a singer? I mean, now Lee seems to be singing more than before while Mick does it less.
Bernie: Not at all. One of the reasons Mick asked me to join HEEP was he was confident that my voice would fit the vocal rage required. Lee has always been the second lead voice to me, with Mick, Trev and Phil filling in the final “color”, which makes up our harmonies. I don’t feel that Mick sings any less than he used to.
– What’s the secret – how do you manage to make those old songs your own?
Bernie: There is no special secret, just being allowed to put my own interpretation into the song.
– Are there plans to dent into the John Sloman era stuff?
Bernie: That’s probably the least known era of HEEP for me, even though it was that line-up that I saw for the first time in London many years ago, before I joined the band.
– By the way, how’s the project that you do with John Lawton progressing?
Bernie: We’ve had a few calls, e-mails, meetings, etcetera, and are looking for a label to do the project with. It’s not something that is going to happen overnight, but we will get there in the end, when we both have the time to put into the project properly.
– How much of the new album material is ready at the moment? Is there already a working title?
Mick: We have enough for a CD, though I never stop writing and keep going until the last minute. Titles usually surface in the recording process.
– This line-up has been working together for seventeen years now. What keeps you together this long? And can the guys still surprise you after all these years, Michael?
Mick: There’s a strong foundation and all the reasons I named while talking about 1993. There is always a surprise of sorts around the corner of life, as we have a good chemistry together and this keeps it exciting. One thing is for sure: we are never ever bored with each other, our music, our touring, our recording, or with our fans. This is every reason to continue and to enjoy.
Discuss the interview