Uriah Heep
Uriah Heep - Official Web Site



February 1972 - February 1975.

Lee Kerslake, Mick Box, Gary Thain, Ken Hensley, David Byron.

Promotional pictures here

Drummer Iain Clarke then left, by mutual consent, allowing Heep the opportunity to approach Lee Kerslake, once of The Gods (that band again) and currently in a disintegrating National Head Band (his own project). Kerslake has already declined one offer to join the band after Keith Baker had left but this time he was not going to let another opportunity slip.

Lee joined on November 23rd 1971 (after a session at Jubilee Studios, London), only to be followed into the fold by bassist Gary Thain, a New Zealander who had been playing with Keef Hartley and had crossed paths with Heep on more than one occasion. Mick, in particular, had been impressed with him. 

"Gary just had a style about him, it was incredible because every bass player in the world that I've ever known has always loved his style, with those melodic bass lines." Thain replaced Clark halfway through an American tour, and with just 'The Wizard' laid down for the next album.

When Kerslake and Thain joined Uriah Heep everything just clicked into place, the proof of the pudding being the following

album. The sleeve notes (once again formulated by Hensley, as had all the liner notes before) announced their recruitment as having "completed" Uriah Heep, while claiming the band's "excitement with the kind of re-energisation taking place". And there's no doubting DEMONS AND WIZARDS as a great album. 

From the outside it looked as if the band had consciously entered the mystical world of surrealist fantasy, with the sleeve design one of the first to feature Roger Dean's individualistic style of imagery. In many ways it was a false illusion. 

Sure, 'Rainbow Demon', 'The Wizard' (co-written with Hensley by Mark Clark, during his short stay), 'Traveller In Time' and 'Poets Justice' are all thematically linked by their tales of fantasy, evidence that perhaps Heep did test the water momentarily, but conversely DEMONS AND WIZARDS stands on its own two feet as a mighty strong collection of good solid rock songs, a view prompted by Hensley on the sleeve by declaring the album as "just a collection of our songs that we had a good time recording". 

"The band was really focused at that time," recalls Hensley. "We all wanted the same thing, were all willing to make the same sacrifices to achieve it and we were all very committed. It was the first album to feature that line-up and there was a magic in that combination of people that created so much energy and enthusiasm." 

The album throws up several classics, notably the two singles, 'The Wizard' and 'Easy Livin'", the former representing the lighter side of the band but foresaking none of their character (listen carefully, special effects buffs, and you might even detect the sound of a whistling kettle), while the latter is a hedonist's dream, all pace and vigour, and tailor-made for Byron's extrovert showmanship. 'Easy Livin'" went into the charts all over the place, save for England, and "helped the album to become the band's first truly international success", according to Bron. 

In Britain the album enjoyed an 11-week stay in the charts, peaking at No.20, and today is still deservedly regarded as one of Heep's finest moments, especially by both Hensley and Bron. "The important thing with DEMONS AND WIZARDS," says Hensley, "was that up until that point we'd really concentrated on the European market and it was 'Easy Livin'" that first got us into the American charts,opening up a new phase in our career."If D&W saw Heep establish a comfortable niche for themselves then

If D&W saw Heep establish a comfortable niche for themselves then THE MAGICIAN'S BIRTHDAY, released in November '72 just six months afterwards, represents a natural extension, continuing as it does the same themes. 'Sweet Lorraine' (a Stateside single) and 'Sunrise' are undoubtedly the most instant songs, with the lengthy title track perhaps the highlight. Some regard it as slightly superior to DEMONS.... the various components coming together in an even more cohesive way. 

With the chemistry that Hensley has mentioned working in ever more creative ways the man was spot-on when stating in the sleeve notes that this incarnation of Heep was in "full flight". Uriah Heep were indeed building the perfect beast. And if their lifestyle at that time, one of luxury, ladies and limos, had some affect on the characters offstage it was offset by the continuing development of the personalities on it. 'Uriah Heep used to have an image, now they have personality.' wrote Melody Maker in 1973. 

'A new image has developed, but now it is more than an image, it is character.' And Heep undoubtedly had that in abundance. But it wasn't just a collective personality, more the sum of its individual personalities. A lot stemmed from the flamboyant Byron. "David was the communication point, the focal point of the whole group's stage presentation," said Hensley many years later. 

"He had so much charisma, so much ability. He didn't have the world's greatest voice but he was one of the first real showmen." Whatever he was he certainly wasn't your typical heavy rock vocalist, but then Heep were never a typical heavy rock band. It was only Mick Box and Kerslake that fitted into that category. 

Box was the man who cranked up and let blast, while offstage he was the eternal happy-go-lucky optimist. Kerslake was the powerhouse force on stage, providing momentum when others would have flagged. 'He doesn't play from the wrist or forearms,' wrote MM's Geoff Brown, 'he puts the whole weight of his torso behind each crushing beat.' Gary Thain, meanwhile, was a contrast within himself. He was thin, almost frail, his body resting on spindly legs and he was the most obviously serious of the band. But his imaginative bass runs spoke for themselves. 

And then there was Hensley, Mr. Articulate, whose writing and keyboard flair ignited the rest of the band. And so it was more than apt that the next release should be a live album. While on record the band were ever more complex, their stage performances were taking on monolithic proportions, with the likes of 'Gypsy', 'Look At Yourself’ and 'July Morning' establishing the stage as their true home.

URIAH HEEP LIVE is a double album, recorded at the Birmingham Townhall in January 1973, and is a living testimony to the band's character (and personality) at the time. 

Lavishly packaged in a gatefold sleeve that houses an eight-page booklet, the album is memorable not just for its music, which included the rock and roll medley that had become a staple of their show, but for its inner sleeves adorned with press cuttings, good and bad, simultaneously sticking two fingers up to those responsible for the latter while emphasising how Heep had now become a global commodity. 

A return to Japan was followed by the live album's release, before embarking on the recording of a studio follow up to THE MAGICIAN'S BIRTHDAY.

This was where, primarily for tax purposes, Bron and the band decided to break from established routine and record abroad, choosing to retire to Chateau d'Heronville in France. In retrospect, SWEET FREEDOM is a good, solid album, throwin' up 'Stealin'" as both a highpoint of that LP and as a classic that still lives on today. 

Overall, it's the kind of album you would expect from a band who had the world in their back pocket and were still striving to move on while consolidating their musical identity at the same time. The press, who had never given the band a comfortable ride, had by now split into two factions; those who rituafly slated them ("Harsh Heep lacking style" said one) while acknowledging that the albums would "sell another million or two", and those who fully appreciated what the band were doing - a classic case of love 'em or hate 'em! 

Melody Maker gave SWEET FREEDOM the thumbs up, saying "Uriah are now ensconsed at the top of their heap and the six good tracks (out of eight) will keep them there for another millenium." The album did well, peaking at No.18 in the UK, while 'Stealin'", though not a hit here, wrapped itself in concrete and hit hard all over the world. Hensley had meanwhile been gradually recording his own material, in a mellower mood, and a solo album, titled PROUD WORDS ON A DUSTY SHELF, was also released that year. 

Recording SWEET FREEDOM abroad though had been a new experience and was certainly not without its difficulties; a lesson painfully learnt in triplicate when Heep packed their bags and entrenched themselves within Munich's Musicland studios in January in 1974.

If any album in the Heep catalogue disappoints in a major way then that must surely be WONDERWORLD, which comes across as underproduced, hurried, lacklustre and directionless, though in fairness the critics at the time did give it credit for attempting something slightly different. 

"Recording abroad disrupted the band's normal method of operation," says Hensley, "and that had a big negative effect on the group. Our communication was falling apart, we were arguing over stuff like royalties and we were getting involved in matters beyond music." "That was the most dramatic album I’ve ever worked on," reckons Box. "David was drunk for most of the time, Kenny was having an emotional time of it and I was constantly trying to help them so it was difficult for me too. 

There was also a little bit of friction because (artistic) Kenny didn't like all the attention that (flamboyant) David was getting." One saving grace on the album comes with the close of side one, a ballad entitled 'The Easy Road', which rates as one of Hensley's best songs and which is brilliantly conveyed by Byron. "I love that song," says Hensley. 

"It represented an area musically where the band, particularly David, was very comfortable in. I guess it was borne out of a frustration that was developing as a result of the fact that we were muting over so many unimportant things, and that we weren't communicating on things that were crucially important." 

One of the group's concerns had been the health of Gary Thain. A strenuous touring schedule, compounded by the bassist's heavy drug dependency (inherent even before joining Heep) was taking its toll, though matters came to a head while on tour during September. 

hain was electrocuted while on stage in Dallas - "all I remember is going to the amplifier to adjust the equalisers, the next thing that happened was I blacked out" - resulting in hospitalisation, cancelled dates in America and the postponement of three in England too. Bron was not too sympathetic, thinking of the group's interest, resulting in a war of words that finally spilled out into the pages of Sounds, with the musician complaining that "the music's been forgotten, it's now a financial thing." Bron explained Thain's outburst as "a misunderstanding" in a bid to diffuse the situation but from that moment on Thain's days were surely numbered. 

Three months later, he was out of the band, with all parties in agreement that he was in no physical condition to continue. On December 12 1975, Gary Thain, aged 27, was found dead in his Norwood Green home, having overdosed on heroin. 

Hensley remembers Thain with great affection. "I always loved Gary as a person he had a quality of irresponsibility that I always liked. I think he died because he misjudged what he was doing and it got the better of him." "You couldn't help loving Gary." says Box. 

"It was just a shame that he had that weakness that he couldn't control." Perhaps his death should not have been too surprising. "I used to spend a lot of time trying to persuade Gary to find another reason to live apart from music." says Bron. Without music, it would seem, Thain obviously had nothing... 


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