Uriah Heep
Uriah Heep - Official Web Site



March 1975 - August 1976.


Mick Box, Lee Kerslake, David Byron, John Wetton, Ken Hensley.

Promotional pictures here

Thain's departure from the band made major headlines, and so too did the news of his successor, none other than ex-Family, King Crimson and current Roxy Music guest player John Wetton. Wetton was rushed in and his presence had immediate impact,

released in mid '75, representing a much improved Uriah Heep. "It was a relief to have someone solid and reliable," says Box, "and he had a load of ideas too." The public voted with their pennies, making it the band's biggest selling album yet on its way to No.7 in the chart. Yet again, extensive touring ensued, with dates announced for Scandinavia (the band breaking the all-time attendance record for an indoor concert in Norway), Europe, Britain, the USA and Canada. "Year-Long World Tour" was the headline in NME, while Gerry Bron predicted that by the end of the year Heep will have played for one million people and travelled, 30,000 air miles. 

But the times were never free of incident; first Mick Box fell off stage in Louisville, Kentucky, breaking the radial bone in his right arm.

Joey Dee was on the rail that night, his report:

I remember the opening song was Stealin'.  Any respectable Uriah Heep fan knows the opening baseline.  I remember the spotlight was on the bass player and I remember saying to myself, "gee Gary must have gotten a different hair cut".  After the opening chords, to my shock it wasn't Gary after all.  It was in fact, John Wetton.  I remember saying to myself, "where's Gary, where's Gary"? 

But any one who attended the early to mid 70s Heep shows knows that the excitement on stage was frantic and I was quickly swept away by Ken Hensley, the dry ice, the white knee-high platform boots, him rocking back and forth on the organ bench and of course, the quintessential front man, David Byron. 

 After delivering yet another breathtaking Heep show, large helium filled balloons ("The End" written on them) began floating from behind the amplifiers and I had noticed that Mick had been drinking quite bit that night between songs. Always wanting to feel the connection with the fans, Mick then began to kick one of the balloons towards the crowd.  I noticed he was getting closer and closer to the end of the stage. 

As usual, I had gotten to the show early and I was on the rail (anyone who went to rock concerts in the 70s knows what I am talking about).  There is only about 4 feet of space between the stage and the rail.  Mick contined to kick the balloon towards the end of the stage and I remember thinking, "oh my God he's going to fall off the stage", and sure enough he did. 

At that point, all I remember was he fell on top of his black Les Paul and all that hair flying around.  I did my best to try to help him up, but the roadies pushed us back and got him back on stage.  He even lost one of his platform shoes.  I recall them performing one last song with Mick just in his stocking feet.  He was so drunk that they couldn't put his shoe back on. 

The next time I saw Mick he was in Circus Magazine wearing a wrist cast.  I was able to get backstage in 1979 in Dothan, Alabama and was actually able to talk to Mick about the night.  And with that grin, he then replied, "I had a little too much to drink that night, sorry". 

He then gave me a key to the Holiday Inn room he was supposed to be staying in because they were catching the next plane out to Germany.  He actually let me stay in the room while he was on the phone with his "wifey".  What a great guy! 
 

Cheers,
Joey Dee

 

The plucky Box persevered throughout the set ("luckily I spotted a bottle of Remy Martin close by to ease the pain") and indeed carried on in plaster for the rest of the tour (against doctor's orders), needing three injections a night and two casts every day to allow for the swelling. lt was halfway through this 45-date trek of the States that Heep found themselves on a Cleveland festival bill with Aerosmith, Blue Oyster Cult and The Faces, and Byron, along with Hensley getting ever-more extravagant, insisted that each individual member have their own limousine to take them across to the gig in a bid to upstage the headliners backstage, when the distance between hotel and arena can't have been more than a few hundred yards!

Back in old blighty though the time was considered right to put out the traditional compilation album, THE BEST OF URIAH HEEP marking Heep's tenth LP release in November 1975, and the year was also notable for Byron's debut solo, TAKE NO PRISONERS, which featured guest appearances from Mick and Lee, and Hensley's second, EAGER TO PLEASE. "We then did

and I think that just about sums up the kind of state we were all in (literally!)," remembers Box. "And we were still a bit shell-shocked at Gary's death too." HIGH AND MIGHTY has some really nice songs on it, particularly 'Weep In Silence' and 'Misty Eyes', but as Box says, "It was getting a bit liqhtweiqht. It was less of the 'eavy and more of the 'umble." The most contentious point came with the matter of production. With Bron committed to other projects (including his Executive Express air-taxi service) the band decided to produce the album themselves, with engineers Ashley Howe and Peter Gallen, though Hensley still feels that the album was deliberately neglected by Bron(ze) in order to prove a point. Its less than spectacular sales might suggest Hensley has a point though Bron still maintains that "it was Heep's worse album". Ultimately it's a nice record, but not very Uriah Heep.

The launch for HIGH AND MIGHTY was typical of Heep's approach to press and promotion in the mid-Seventies, with a whole plane load of journalists and biz-people being flown off to the top of a Swiss mountain for a reception that no-one would forget. lt was typically excessive but Heep personified excess. That excess affected people in different ways though, and if Hensley was the one whose ego ballooned (insisting on his own dressing room and even his own personal tour manager!) then Byron was the one whose problems were causing most concern. Mick remembers a major incident in Philadelphia. "We were playing this 20, 000 seater and David, having been drinking heavily, rushes out onto the stage, steps onto one of the legs of the mike-stand and of course, it smacks him in the mouth. 

The whole crowd roared, oblivious to what had happened but David, thinking they're having a go at him, turns round and says, 'You can go and fuck off if you don't like it.' I'm standing there at the side of the stage thinking 'Oh, no, he's just told 20,000 of our fans to fuck off!' We couldn't catch a cold there after that." Hensley was so disgusted with the way Byron was going that he flew back to England and it was only Bron, who'd been in the middle of a holiday in Barbados, who managed to persuade him not to leave there and then. "That was where the problem started with David," says Hensley.

 "He'd always got drunk after the show but it had never got to the point where it would jeopardize the show itself. The performance had always been first and foremost with David. It was when the show started to come second that the problems began." The distance between David and the rest had grown to unworkable proportions. 'David was pissing away his career and ours with it," continues Hensley, "and it's a tragedy to say it but David was one of those classic people who could not face up to the fact that things were wrong and he looked for solace in a bottle." Bron remembers David's decline.

 "He created impossible situations. By comparison with Ken, who was certainly no angel, he was a total pain in the arse. He was making himself more and more unpopular." David's problem was that he was always in search of the eternal rainbow, and disillusioned with the levelling off of Heep's popularity while allowing his hedonistic tendencies full rein, it was inevitable, though no less shocking for the world at large, when he was sacked in July of 1976, after the final night of a Spanish tour. Coincidentally, support band, the Heavy Metal Kids, fired their vocalist, Gary Holton, the same night.

Ultimately, there was to be no 'Easy Road' for David Byron. His first project, Rough Diamond, failed to ignite, while a subsequent solo career that spawned the BABY FACED KILLER and ON THE ROCKS albums, the latter with guitarist Robin George, also failed to bring Byron back to the big time. Sadly, it all came to an end in February 1985, when aged 38 and still a victim of alcohol abuse, he died of a heart attack. It was clearly a watershed time in Heep's career, and before the shockwaves had died down from Byron's departure, bassist John Wetton announced he was quitting, electing to pursue a solo career as well as teaming up with Bryan Ferry. (Wetton has since gone on to enjoy major success with the formation of Asia, with Geoff Downes, Steve Howe and Carl Palmer.) 

For the band it was more the timing that came as a shock, but Wetton had obviously not been entirely comfortable during his stay and, it seems, nor had the others. "When he joined we thought that we could replace a great bass player (Thain) with another great bass player," Hensley says, "but we ignored the personality factor, which is crucial. It was like grafting on a new piece of skin but it just didn't work - the body rejected it." 

 


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