thrive on drama! That was what one particular scribe said of Heep some
time back when reflecting on the history of a band who've not just
survived twenty years of rock and roll history but have been
instrumental in writing part of that very history. Since the band's
inception back in 1970, through the blizzardous, hazy but not so lazy
Seventies, and on throughout the adventurous, globe-trotting Eighties
Uriah Heep have played their part, climbing new mountains, scaling new
peaks and exploring unknown territories, not just literally (though
they've done that as well) but metaphorically, as every successive year
has opened up another chapter of events that makes the group's biography
more than just a story of a rock 'n' roll band; ultimately it's a tale
of triumph and tragedy, success and failure, challenge and achievement
(not to mention a few laughs) over the course of twenty years.
a long journey, that's for sure, but it's a road that's now taking Heep
into a third decade. Thrive on drama? They literally breathe the stuff.
The story of Heep commences back in the mists of time with the not
unusual tale of a nucleus gradually being formed against a backdrop of
musical experimentation, a trial and error approach to personnel and the
cementing of relationships.
case the seed was sown back in 1967, when most were still recovering
from their post-World Cup victory celebrations and Jimi Hendrix was
about to show the world exactly what the guitar was made for. Mick Box,
a young lad of twenty who liked his soccer but loved his music more,
clutched his guitar along with his ambitions and dreams, and formed a
local Walthamstow band by the name of The Stalkers, a semi-pro outfit
playing on the local circuit. When their singer left, drummer Roger
Penlington suggested that his cousin David come down to the auditions.
had been coming down to our gigs," recalls Mick, "and he’d
have a few pints and get up and sing a few old rockers with us (songs
that would later form the basis of a rock 'n'roll medley that would
become a staple of Heep's early Seventies set). David came down and was
a bit reluctant so I said to him, 'You get up after a few pints, have a
go now.' We knocked out a few songs and that was it, he was in!"
The Box/Byron relationship flourished from that moment, and having
slightly higher musical aspirations than their fellow members, decided
to vault the psychological hurdle of giving up their day jobs and go
professional, setting up a new band by the name of Spice (Byron changing
his surname in the process from the original Garrick). Drummer Alex
Napier was recruited via the time honoured tradition of a music paper
ad, dodging the stipulated rule that there were to be no
girlfriend/marital ties by claiming that his wife was his sister!
Paul Newton came in via The Gods and Spice was complete. Spice
deliberately avoided playing the covers of the time ('Knock On Wood',
'The Midnight Hour' etc.), concentrating on more obscure material while
slipping in the odd original. "We were always striving to do
something original," remembers Box, "and though at first that
made it difficult getting gigs, eventually we built a little cult
following because of that." Spice gradually climbed their way up to
Marquee level, under the guidance of Paul Newton's father, but by late
'69 it was time to take a giant step upwards. The man to provide that
step was Gerry Bron.
was a management/production magnate, who upon being contacted went down
to see the band at the Blues Loft in High Wycombe and was sufficiently
impressed to sign the four piece to his Hit Record Productions Ltd (who
had a deal with Philips Records), for the purposes of recording. "I
thought they were a band I could develop and I took them on that
basis," says Bron. It soon became apparent that Bron should take
over their management too, and there began a relationship that would
shape both partie’s futures far more than anyone could have then
anticipated. And so the band found themselves booked into Lansdowne
Studios in London, still under the name of Spice and still as a four
piece, but with Bron's Hit Records/Philips deal securing the release of
their product on new Phillips label, Vertigo.
couple of months witnessed several significant changes; firstly a change
of name to Uriah Heep (suggested by Bron and based on the 'orrible
little character from Charles Dickens' David Copperfield - Dicken's name
being everywhere around Christmas '69 due to it being the hundredth
anniversary of his death) and then the introduction of keyboards to the
actually recorded half the first album when we decided that keyboards
would be good for our sound." recalls Box. "I was a big
Vanilla Fudge fan, with their Hammond organ and searing guitar on top,
and we had David's high vibrato vocals anyway so that's how we decided
to shape it.
Session player Colin Wood was brought in by Gerry but it was only when
the search began for a permanent member that Ken Hensley, who had played
keyboards with Paul Newton in The Gods and who was currently playing
guitar in Toe Fat, was lined up. "I saw a lot of potential in the
group to do something very different," remembers Hensley, and hence
he joined. Hensley's talents lay not just in producing innovative
keyboard and mellotron sounds, he could write as well, though his
contribution to the first album, suitably titled ...