By Paul Southwell
When hard rock Uriah Heep formed in London England back in 1970, their similarity in blues based hard rock styles to say Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple effectively gave them a solid fan base that stuck with them one way or another for decades to come. As a result of their initial success, numerous albums have been released with international success and global tours in the golden age of hard rock that helped bring upcoming bands who are massive today to a wider audience. Uriah Heep have weathered band member deaths, major label support upheavals due to the unknown world of the digital medium and draining worldwide tours that would tax many young bands today. As Uriah Heep are soon returning to Australia for another tour, Heavy Mag spoke with the legendary and friendly co-founding guitarist, Mick Box via phone from his home in London.
To hear what the bands sounds like today, their most recent live recording ‘Live at Koko, London 2014’ is a perfect example that reinforces their hard earned status, which is also impressive given their vintage. Asked if he would have imagined, back in 1970, that he’d still be playing live today, Box’s response is simply honest.
“Well, I’d still be playing guitar,” says Box. “I left school and got a job for a year to pay off the payments on my guitar. When I paid the last payment, I handed in my notice to be a musician for life. So I knew that would always happen but in all truth, to be in the same band for forty five years, nobody could ever foresee that, no. It’s just that those early days with Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Heep, you just had a lot of passion and energy for what you did but you didn’t know at the time that you’d write the book. It’s stood the test of time.”
Once success really came into effect, the band toured constantly, even touring with KISS who have stated that Uriah Heep were very professional and had no egos about it. A comment which raises a loud burst of laughter from Box in reaction to a statement about egos from KISS.
“We broke KISS in America,” says Box. “They toured with us coast to coast and then when they were huge we went and toured with them. It was one of those things. We broke a number of bands. We broke Foreigner, KISS, Zz Top outside of Texas and even Rush. They all got on our tours and then went onto great success from there because of our audiences. We were playing to ten or fifteen thousand people a night. So for KISS to say that is quite something. I love them, mate.”
The seventies was an era of continuing experimentation with the evils of drugs and personnel changes impacting on the band. It also is when the progressive rock scene became prominent with bands like Yes. Given Uriah Heep’s album artwork lends itself to that scene, Box is forthright on where he fit into it.
“We dabbled with it a bit’” admits Box. “The song ‘Magician’s Birthday’ is about as progressive rock as you can get and so is ‘Salisbury’. We were always in there but we never saw it as our calling. We only saw it as a part of what we did. I loved the progressive rock music scene and had some great musicianship.
One notable previous Uriah Heep band member is Australian bassist Bob Daisley of Ozzy Osbourne and Gary Moore fame, who discusses his period with the band during the early eighties in his informative autobiographical book ‘For Facts Sake’. Bob joined the band following a tumultuous period with Ozzy’s inner circle and prior to the horrendous plane crash death of posthumously influential guitar legend Randy Rhoads. But life goes on, as best it can and eventually the good times came to the fore again, as Box confirms.
“Oh, we had a great time mate, we had a real buzz going,” reminisces Box. “It was a great band and we had great success when ‘Abominog’ came out. We had top forty success in America. At that time in America, Def Leppard were the biggest thing since sliced bread and we were on that tour. It was an amazing time and I look back on it as a bunch of great musicians having a great time. We wrote some great music and had a good sense of humour bar none. We never stopped laughing.”
When advised that Bob states in his book that Randy Rhoads really liked the album ‘Demons and Wizards’, he is both flattered and honestly reflective. “It doesn’t surprise me because that album was a worldwide hit,” reveals Box. “It seemed to capture everyone’s imagination. I think people connected with it more for its lyrical content than anything because we found a source of lyrics that captured everyone’s imagination that many bands copied and still do today. So I can see where Randy would have liked that.”
Arguably at the height of their commercial success, Uriah Heep played Castle Donnington with Status Quo and toured massively with other hugely influential bands such as Cheap Trick and Judas Priest. Sadly, industry machinations soon put a dampener on things. “It was huge, mate, yeah and we were on a real roll there,” enthuses Box. “Everything was going along nicely but by the time we got to the next album ‘Head First’, our contact at the record company started up another record label but we were tied to the one that he left. So it didn’t end too well because of that.”
Similarly, the digital age created a lot of problems for many established bands including Uriah Heep. In that context, there was a ten year gap between ‘Sonic Origami’ in 1998 and ‘Wake the Sleeper’ in 2008. Essentially, the band wisely elected to keep touring instead of chasing a new record deal. “A lot of record companies folded or amalgamated and it was a very messy period for about ten years while things settled down and people integrated with the Internet correctly,” says Box.
“We had just left our previous record company so while all that mess was happening, nobody quite knew where to go or how to make a record, get it produced and put it out into the world in the fifty eight countries that we play in. We just did what we do best, we toured and released live DVDs. We found a home with Universal years later but it took a long time because the business was in complete upheaval. It was nothing to do with us, we wanted to make an album but we couldn’t find anywhere where we could do it the right way at that time. The rules were not in place.”
Having survived industry issues and simply soldiering on, Uriah Heep’s 2014 release ‘The Outsider’ is their 24th studio album. Completing it also shows their resilience following the death of long serving bassist Trevor Bolder in 2013, replaced by Davey Rimmer. As far as the band’s musical legacy is concerned, Box remains level headed yet confident about the band’s latest material. “I think it stands shoulder to shoulder with everything we’ve recorded,” confirms Box.
“It is a really good, straight ahead rock album and that is all that we tried to achieve,” continues Box. “We didn’t want to go progressive rock or too fancy. We just wanted to get in the studio and rock out. That’s what we did and I think it came out very well, certainly for the media and the fans alike, they’ve all loved it. If anything, I try for the simplistic route as opposed to the complicated route. It speaks more quickly and is better for you as a song writer. You can over complicate things more than they need to be. If it can communicate at a basic level then it will always communicate at that level.”
Thursday 19 March – Sydney – Rooty Hill RSL
Friday 20 March – Sydney – Metro Theatre cap.
Saturday 21 March – Melbourne – Shoppingtown Hotel
Sunday 22 March – Melbourne – Chelsea Heights
Tuesday 24 March – Perth – Astor Theatre
Wednesday 25 March – Adelaide – The Gov
Thursday 26 March – Brisbane – Eatons Hill