Many bands would have
called it a day, but there was never any question of giving up. A period
of speculation followed, during which time bassist Trevor Bolder
(ex-David Bowie, Mick Ronson and a reformed Spiders From Mars) was
"I knew Heep were
the right band for me - we hit it off immediately," he said on his
enlisting. "I'd always been into heavy rock before joining Bowie
anyway." So who would the new vocalist be? David Coverdale? (he
auditioned but no decision was made), lan Hunter or Gary Holton? (out of
Mott The Hoople and the aforementioned Heavy Metal Kids respectively).
Nope, the new singer
was to be John Lawton, who'd previously established his rock and roll
credentials in German based band Lucifer's Friend, but had also appeared
with the Les Humphries Singers and featured in Roger Glover's 'The
Butterfly Ball' at the Royal Albert Hall. The band got to hear a tape of
Lawton and tracked him down in Germany, before hauling him over to
England for auditions.
wasn't quite what we were looking for," says Box, "but his
pipes were perfect and so we went for the music end of it." If any
batch of albums in Uriah Heep's career invite group consideration then
they must surely be the three recorded with Lawton.
quickly emerged in the
early part of 1977, openly displaying a renewed effervescence and energy
in unveiling what was clearly a new beginning for Heep. Lawton may have
lacked the obvious physical attributes that Byron had had (not having
the funest head of hair!), but his bluesy and powerful vocal style not
only gave Heep hope for the future but a new slant on which to work.
"He had a
voice that I thought would give a new dimension," recalls Hensley.
Sounds gave the album three stars while Record Mirror's David Brown went
one better, proclaiming that it "shows a new vigour and
confidence". The recent events had also allowed the band to
reappraise their standing, and with a recent history including
electrocutions, drugs, death, changes in personnel and declining album
and ticket sales it was hardly surprising that their image had taken a
"We knew we
were faced with an uphill task and that's the main reason we're doing
this tour with Kiss." said Hensley of their US support slots with
the face-pack-fury men. "We chose them to support us," says
Kiss's Paul Stanley, "and it was great having them with us. They
were incredibly professional, and so consistent that their worst nights
were excellent and their best were tremendous."
In England there was
speculation as to how the punters would respond to the new look Heep but
the shows went well and even the press seemed to be enjoying themselves.
All of this was in the middle of the New Wave explosion in Britain of
course, the advent of which might have surprised the band and in many
people's eyes made heavy rock dated and outmoded, but as far as Box was
conecrned it certainly didn't pose a threat.
"At first we
thought, 'What's going on 'ere?', but as far as affecting us it never
really interfered with our part of the music world." And then came
the Reading Festival, when they topped the bill on the opening night,
setting things up nicely for the release of
at the end of 1978.
"INNOCENT VICTIM had a slight edge on FIREFLY," reckons Box.
"It was like another building situation, particularly in Europe
again. We did a lot of festivals over there at the time. We were doing
moderately well in England but there was a remarkable resurgence in
The album, heavier than
some of its predecessors, spawned 'Free Me'- a big single in several
countries - and was especially notable for the fact that it included two
non-Hensley compositions: the over ambitious 'The Dance', with its
slightly confused reggae feel, and the much superior 'Choices', which
closes the album in climactic fashion; both written by American writer
and mate of Hensley, Jack Williams. In Germany, particularly, it was a
huge success, selling over a million copies and becoming Heep's biggest
The period also saw
three Uriah Heep singles sitting pretty together in the German Top
Twenty, these being 'Wise Man' (from FIREFLY), the award winning 'Lady
In Black' and ‘Free Me'. In January Heep played in Basel, Switzerland,
with German act Scorpions in support. "Uriah Heep have always been
one of my favourite English bands," says Scorps' guitarist Rudolph
Schenker. "I always liked 'Gypsy' and 'Lady In Black' and I used to
go and see them a lot when I was
younger. One of my
funniest memories thoughis of that support we played with themwhen
because we played another encore their singer (the multilingual John
Lawton) came on stage to get us off I thought he was going to beat us
released in the Autumn,
made it a hat-trick of studio albums to feature a consistent line-up,
only the second time in their career that they had done so. The band has
also settled into a comfortable recording pattern again, this being
their fourth on the trot to be made at the Roundhouse in London.
Once again the press,
ironically when considering the nature of their reviews, rallied to
their cause by giving it their support - four stars in Sounds no less,
though, "it was a little too poppy for my liking," says Box.
After Bron has made his point with HIGH AND MIGHTY he was now back in
the producer's chair (the last couple of albums had seen him share his
credit with Hensley), though Bron feels that "nothing was really
There's been plenty of
debate about the role of Bron, the Svengali who had masterminded Heep's
success in the capacity of manager, producer and record company boss,
with the suggestion that nobody could possibly share all these
responsibilities without at some point having a conflict of interest.
Bron is adamant that his control of the group was all to their advantage
what they say about you not being able to do all these things is quite
ridiculous. It was only because we were doing all those things together
that they became successfull. I think it worked extremely well."
The relative stability during the Lawton period disguised the unrest
behind the scenes though.
Gerry Bron: "The
whole problem stemmed from the songwriting and the fact that Ken ended
up earning more because he wrote the songs. It allowed Ken to do so much
more; he had his (motor) racing team interests, a big home with built-in
studios and his collection of cars." "It didn't help the
situation because I never made any secret of the fact that I'd just
bought a Ferrari or a Rolls Royce," says Hensley.
could’ve been a little more low key about it." Financially
Hensley was on a different plane, and this was leading to substantial
resentment from the rest of the band, who felt that too much of his
material was making it onto the albums. "Everything he wrote, he
had to use," says Box, "and that's not right.
And if you insist in
using everything you end up with substandard albums." "We were
always on deadlines," responds Hensley, "and I hated deadlines
because there was always a call for another twelve songs, and they all
needed to be like Easy Livin' and I could never respond to that but
maybe I wasn't writing as hard as I used to because I was as guilty as
everybody else of enjoying the trappings of success."
was Hensley's songs making it onto the albums, thanks largely to Bron -
in his capacity of Executive Producer (not to mention record company
boss and manager) - who had the final say as to the ultimate shape of
each album. "The others all felt they weren't given a chance to
write songs and I got the blame for that because as the producer I
picked the songs.
But I only ever picked
the songs that I felt should see light of day." The major rift,
however, developed between John Lawton and Ken Hensley, and the
combination of constant friction between the two (resulting in the
nearest thing to violence the group had seen) and the constant presence
of Lawton's wife on the road finally led to the vocalist getting the
chop, shortly after playing the Bilzen Festival in Belgium. Mick Box
remembers Lawton for his valuable contribution to the band but also for
the laughs he caused.