Covid may have delayed Uriah Heep‘s 50th Anniversary tour by a couple of years but UK fans have had a fair few opportunities to catch them recently with them stepping up at the last minute to replace headliners at both Steelhouse and Stonedead Festival in 2021 and part of Saxon’s shows earlier this year. Tonight however promises to be something special taking us on a 2 hour plus romp that touches on all parts of Heep’s glorious 52 years.
Dispensing with a support band, things get underway at 8.00 with a short screening of video messages from a multitude of rock legends from the likes of Judas Priest, Biff Byford, Brian Tatler and Nazareth to Ian Anderson all sending anniversary wishes. What follows is a 40 minute stripped back acoustic set that begins with Sweet Freedom‘s ‘Circus’ followed swiftly by ‘Tales’. What is immediately apparent is how Phil Lanzon’s keys are brought to the fore with Mick Box happy to be contributing more in a rhythm role. Laid back it may be, but you can’t keep Bernie Shaw contained in his seat for long and by ‘Free Me’ he’s up on his feet encouraging the crowd to get up to sing and clap along. The stage is then given over to just Shaw and Lanzon to perform a medley of two lesser played live tracks; ‘Confession’ and ‘Rain’. In the acoustics of the Symphony Hall it sounds incredible with the audience quiet and attentive. The acoustic set is rounded off with another medley of of tracks from the Demons & Wizards album and ‘Lady in Black’.
Half an hour gives time for a set change over and a brief refreshment before the band are back on with all guns blazing. ‘Against The Odds’ is an absolute belter with a monstrous riff to get things underway, powered along by the rhythm section of Russell Gilbrook and Davey Rimmer. Pyros, dry ice and dynamic lighting leave you in no doubt that the reservedness of the earlier acoustic set has been firmly left behind and remaining seated is not an option. A standing crowd transforms the atmosphere in the Symphony Hall for the better and the band dial the clock further back with ‘Hanging Tree’ and a funky ‘Traveller In Time’.
The vocal harmonies are out in force for ‘Stealin” which still sounds magnificent no matter how many times you hear it. Bernie Shaw then spots someone at the front wearing a distinctive Abominog t-shirt which serves as a perfect way to introduce ‘Too Scared To Run’ which gallops along at breakneck pace. Mick Box reminds us that their seminal live album from 1973 was recorded a short distance away at Birmingham Town Hall. Some may also have picked up on the obscure reference made later to chewing gum sticking to his boot from said live album. In fact there are video cameras and mics throughout the venue tonight so we may well see another live in Birmingham album.
While there have been plenty of line up changes over the years, unlike many of the bands celebrating significant landmarks, Heep have never really been away with lengthy retirements, hiatuses or reformations. So with that history and 25 studio albums behind them it must be difficult to pick a set to cover all eras to curate both an interesting and fan pleasing set. There’s plenty of classics that are omitted, but you’d be hard pressed to choose anything from the 24 song set that you justify replacing. The fact that something like the relatively more recent ‘What Kind Of God’ can sit alongside ‘Sunrise’; recorded more than 35 year apart, is not only a testament to Heep’s songwriting quality but also goes some way to explain their longevity.
Clocking in at over 10 minutes the epic ‘July Morning’ is the perfect vehicle for Mick Box to demonstrate his sonic alchemy with extended soloing between Lanzon’s haunting organ sections. It also serves as a natural end to the main set and the band leave the stage while the screens display a series of photos of all the musicians that have passed through the band, with David Byron and Trevor Bolder receiving the loudest cheers. Coming back for the encore they take us right back to the very start as Phil Lanzon starts the familiar punctuated organ introduction to ‘Gypsy’. As they hurtle into the final straight with ‘Easy Livin’ special mention must go to Bernie Shaw whose vocals have been impeccable over the last 2 hours or so, and as the song reaches its inevitable conclusion it leaves both the band and crowd equally elated. It may now be 52 years now since the release of Very Eavy, Very ‘Umble, but Heep still have plenty of gas in the tank and thankfully show no sign of slowing down.
Come Away Melinda
Confession / Rain
The Wizard / Paradise / Circle Of Hands
Lady In Black
Against The Odds
The Hanging Tree
Traveller In Time
Between Two Worlds
Too Scared To Run
What Kind Of God
Free ‘n’ Easy