Uriah Heep was one of a handful of important pro gressive rock bands to emerge from Britain during the 1970s. They combined the hard, guitar-focused sound of traditional heavy metal bands like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin with extended jazz-like orchestrations and multi-part vocal harmonies which had great impact on later harmonic bands, such as Queen. During the 1970s, the band’s heyday, Uriah Heep sold some 30 million records and toured all over the world. The band’s line-up changed regularly, but the core group that produced much of the important work from the 1970s consisted of Mick Box, David Byron, Ken Hensley, Gary Thain and Lee Kerslake. Much of the music was composed by Hensley, Box, and Byron, in various combinations, and they are considered the core members of the group.
Uriah Heep took their name from a character in Charles Dickens’ novel David Copperfield (using Dickens ’ character names for bands would become something of a trend with Mott the Hoople and Jethro Tull). Their first album, released in 1970, Very ‘eavy, Very’ umbl. was,
Founding members include David Byron (born Jan uary 29, 1947, in Epping, England; died February 28, 1985), vocals; Mick Box (born June 8, 1947, in London, England), guitar, vocals; Ken Hensley (born August 24, 1945, in London, England), guitar, keyboards, vocals;
Paul Newton (born 1946, in Andover, England), bass; Gary Thain (born May 15, 1948, in Wellington, New Zealand; died March 19, 1976), bass.
Addresses: Fan Club —Official Uriah Heep Appreciation Society, P.O. Box 268, Telford, Shropshire, England TF2 6XA.
as dictated by the times, psychedelic and progressive. Most of the music coming out of Britian at the time was psychedelic and the heavy metal bands that dominated the popular music scene at the time—including Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and Vanilla Fudge—had been crossing psychedelia and heavy metal for a few years, creating a really quite unique sound. This type of music featured a wall of sound combination of keyboards and guitars highlighted by highly structured vocal harmonies. Lyrics often featured medieval and Renaissance themes—lost princesses, black magic, mythical creatures—which were highly romanticized by the disaffected youth culture of Britian.
In 1971, Uriah Heep released Salisbury, considered by many to a classic album of this genre. The title track, in fact, is a fifteen-minute, highly orchestrated piece featuring multi-part harmonies and the overdubbing of orchestral music. Also released that year was Look at Yourself, a less orchestrated work but still brimming with psychedelic romanticism and heavy guitar-keyboard work. Manfred Mann, who would later establish himself as an important figure in electronic-synthesized music, played keyboards on a couple of tracks and the band also used mem bers of an Africa percussion band on the album’s title track.
1972 sawthe release of the definitive Uriah Heep album, Demons and Wizards. The title itself indicates that the band was still romantically working medieval myth into their songs, but they were now doing so in a more straight-forward, hard-rocking way. The feel of the earlier albums of highly produced, orchestrated works was abandoned with this album and instead the band began playing a much more traditional heavy metal sound. They did, however, maintain their trademark vocal harmonies, they just did so with less emphasis and without the use of too much studio wizardry. Aficionados of the band consider Demons and Wizards to be the their crowning achievement and indeed, as far as popular and critical success, this era marks the band’s apex, reaching number 20 on the British charts and number 23 on the U.S. This was about as high as any album of theirs would ever go (1973’s Sweet Freedom would make 18 on the British charts but only 33 on the U.S.). The first single from the album, “Easy Livin’” became a popular song, although it did not exactly scream up the charts, and is one of two or three songs by the group that can still be heard on commercial radio in the United States—generally on stations dedicated to what iscalled “classic rock.”
In 1973, the band released Sweet Freedom which included one of the band’s most recognizable songs, “Stealin’.” The song, in fact, became something of a trademark in later years and can still be heard on classic rock stations. Also released in 1973 was Uriah Heep Live which featured a medley of early rock songs which was a staple of FM radio play at the time. In 1974, the band released Wonderworld, which, although it sold pretty well, was panned by the critics. One of the reasons the album was considered so lackluster was that some of the members of the group at this time started having troubles with drugs. It was also during this period that the band’s personnel began to change. In 1975, Gary Thain, the band’s bassist since 1969, was replaced with John Wetton (formerly of King Crimson) for the recording of Return to Fantasy, the band’s best-selling album in Britain. Also in 1975, the band released a greatest hits album titled, The Best of Uriah Heep.
The next year saw the beginning of the end for the band as David Byron, one of the core members and the lead vocalist, left to pursue a solo career. The band hired John Lawton to take his place and found their third bass player in Trevor Bolder, who had worked with David Bowie in his back-up band The Spiders from Mars. This newly reworked lineup released High & Mighty in 1976, a largely forgettable album by most accounts. By 1980, the band had essentially disappeared from public view, except for a group of hardcore fans who dubbed themselves Heepsters. They continued to release albums and tour, although they were reduced to very small venues. They have always been much more popular in Europe and Britain than in the United States and especially so in pop-culture-starved Eastern Europe, where they were cult heroes. In 1988, the band, or what was left of it, played a series of sellout concerts in Lenningrad (now St. Petersburg) and Moscow, just as the Soviet Union was beginning its thaw with the west.
Uriah Heep released Sea of Light in 1995 and Spellbinder in 1996. The band toured Europe after releasing Sea of Light, with the Mick Box as the last original band member. As children of the late 1970s and early 1980s matured, there came a renewed interest in many bands from that period. Though numerous bands regrouped and toured in the 1990s, the original members of Uriah Heep had no plans on attempting any kind of a reunion.
Very ’eavy Very ’umble, Bronze 1970.
Salisbury, Bronze 1971.
Look at Yourself, Bronze 1971.
Demons and Wizards, Bronze 1972.
The Magician’s Birthday, Bronze 1972.
Uriah Heep Live, Bronze 1973.
Sweet Freedom, Bronze 1973.
Wonderworld, Bronze 1974.
Return to Fantasy, Bronze 1975.
The Best of Uriah Heep, Bronze 1975.
High and Mighty, Bronze 1976.
Firefly, Bronze 1977.
Innocent Victim, Bronze 1977.
Fallen Angel, Bronze 1978.
Conquest, Bronze 1980.
Abominog, Bronze 1982.
Head First, Bronze 1983.
Equator, Bronze 1985.
Live in Europe 1979, Raw Power 1987.
Live in Moscow, Bronze 1988.
Raging Silence, Legacy 1989.
Still ’eavy, Still Proud, Legacy 1990.
Different World, Legacy 1991.
Rarities from the Bronze Age, Sequel 1992.
Sea of Light, Castle 1995.
Spellbinder, Castle 1996
Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Guinness Publishing, Ltd. Middlesex, England, 1994.