Review by Paul H Birch, photos by Rich Ward – revisited
Virgil and The Accelerators walk on and it’s soon apparent that they’ve not only got youth and looks on their side, they’ve also got a little something called talent.
‘Take Me Higher’ retraces the blues as if played by Traffic in between tearing it up with a couple of wailing guitar solos, ‘Refuse to Believe’ follows in an altogether rockier vein from the get-go and the two-part thrust of ‘Bad Girl’ and ‘Backstabber’ keeps an appreciative audience on their toes. Finishing their all too brief set with Hendrix’s ‘Are You Experienced?’ you can be sure there’ll be a good few here tonight who’ll make a note to see them next time they’re passing this way again.
As I look towards my left I see a group of young girls and presume them to be this much-bandied female-quota said to be attending blues gigs to glare at hot young lads stroking their guitars wildly. But I could be wrong. An already fairly busy audience is now beginning to pack out, and there are more people in their early 20s, quite a few who – judging by the facial resemblances – are obviously with their parents. Later, I will realise that Uriah Heep aren’t just another old legacy band, but seemingly a band the kids are beginning to cotton onto themselves. Who’d’ve guessed? Not me.
But that’s for later: a local radio DJ walks on stage to introduce the main act, lights dance about, the opening music echoes through the PA and the passage of time becomes near meaningless: From The Laughing Cavalier to a grinning Gandalf in 40 years, Mick Box is still standing stage right, six string in hand.
‘Against the Odds’ the opening track is tight as hell; its intricate time changes reminding you that once upon a time when a vinyl album wore the label “Progressive” down its spine it didn’t just mean Yes or Genesis. Bernie Shaw’s pitch-perfect vocals intonate clearly, soaring and hollering like a banshee one minute, crooning harmonically the next and it all rocks out from start to finish. The exact same can be said for the next number, ‘Overload’.
In contrast ‘Traveller in Time’ comes out distinctly funky. Whether this is down to the relatively new rhythm section of Russell Gilbrook (who replaced Lee Kerslake around five years back) and stand-in bassist John Jowitt or just a new arrangement, it gives an added dimension to a song I’ve always considered a weaker number off the classic Demons and Wizards album.
With ‘Sunrise’ the infamous five part harmonies of Uriah Heep take flight, and they hang around for ‘All my Life’ wherein over the closing melody Shaw syncopates aggressively. It’s fairly impossible to believe that The Sweet and Queen weren’t influenced by the originators of these vocal stylisations. The added audience participation may not always be as in tune but it’s done with passion.
By now it’s slowly sunk into my near-senile head that it’s not just a bunch of balding men and their old ladies who’ve come to watch these wrinkly rockers on stage. There really has been an influx of new Heepsters over the last few years, and not just because they’ve come across the band scouring old videos on Youtube for the roar received as they announce they’re going to play ‘I’m Ready’ next is possibly the loudest yet it means the kids are buying the new stuff too. An up-tempo hard rocker, the two red-hennaed young darlings to my immediate right are shaking their booties and singing along for all they’re worth.
‘Between Two Worlds’ is next. Musically it erupts like thunder until the calm in the storm that are the verses’ lyrics put the evening in context: a song whereby the band references its own past, comes to terms with it, invokes its spirit and dedicate themselves to go on with respect, empowered and stronger. For many years its felt like Uriah Heep have been stuck with market forces ensuring they’ve had to rest on their laurels and strum out old tunes too often. Slowly, maybe things are changing. Yes, the long-time fans outnumber the young gathered here, but there’s a genuine contingent of them and that’s got to be good.
Returning to the present, ‘Nail on the Head’ has a hefty back beat again edging us towards some heavy funked-up territory. Gilbrook’s a cracking drummer, that’s become apparent during the night, but the song doesn’t really go anywhere until it speeds up near the end.
There’s been some heavy duty audience interplay from both Shaw and Box during the night and an apparent request for the title track off ‘Into the Wild’ is agreed. Whether by chance or not it’s a good choice, coming on like a modern hybrid of ‘Bird of Prey’ and the earlier played ‘All My Life’, the whole band digging in and playing for all they’re worth, the audience reacting positively as they sing along.
The organ stirs, the guitar chops down on those familiar chords and we’re heading for the home patch as ‘Gypsy’ ensues. Lanzon extemporises and keys into another familiar melody and we’re straight into ‘July Morning’ – An epic progressive rock ballad, Bolder’s bass solos throughout this number live have become the kind of thing four-stringers will happily bore you endlessly about, the fact that Jowitt has held his own all night long and his own gentler melodic take here is applauded says it all. Egotistic soloing has never been Uriah Heep’s thing, where their instruments fit into a song’s arrangement more so. That stated, as the song nears its end, Box trills his guitar one-handed, pulls out a few flash moments and ends on an elongated sustain. It’s a polite gentle reminder that he’s been leader of this band for many a year now.
Box straps on an acoustic for the two chord folk hit that is ‘Lady in Black’ to finish the main set, with Jowitt’s bass almost popping off into disco territory. As the band return for encores they invite some of the females in the audience to join them up on stage. “We got 43 up in Venezuela” is but one of Box’s double entendres as he and Shaw ensure the night’s party feel continues right up until the end; charging into the heavy metal of ‘Free & Easy’, pretty much the only rocker on their Innocent Victim album, the ladies boogie and headbang in the background before having photos taken.
With only the five members of the band left on stage they announce their final number and the middle-aged lady just behind on my right nearly deafens me as she screams out excitedly. From the classic Look at Yourself album it’s that old US hit single and Planet Rock evergreen ‘Easy Living’ – a quite gothic version actually, slightly slowed with its harmonies coming across quite mournfully. Not something that can be said about tonight’s atmosphere. Uriah Heep bid their farewells as the sounds of ‘Land of Hope & Glory’ issue over the PA and a crowd of all ages is left smiling.
Postscript: Long time bass player Trevor Bolder was absent from the tour after undergoing surgery for pancreatic surgery, he sadly passed away the following month, on 21st May. Bolder had played with David Bowie in The Spiders from Mars before joining Uriah Heep for their Firefly album, as a schoolboy I saw them on that first tour and returned to Birmingham each year up until the Conquest album, watching how he developed to become an integral part of the band’s sound. I also saw him play there with Wishbone Ash. After a lengthy gap I again caught Bolder with Uriah Heep, at assorted venues, and was always impressed by the versatility, power and emotion he could put his bass through. I was one of the lucky ones. Fortunately the various records he played on are still available for others to seek out and enjoy.
Uriah Heep recently played the Download Festival, where Midlands Rocks’ Peter Keevil got a chance to catch up with some of the band backstage, specifically Bernie Shaw who discussed Trevor Bolder’s passing and his own recent health concerns: www.mixcloud.com/midlandsrocks/interview-with-uriah-heep-download-2013/
See more of Rich’s photos here;