Uriah Heep
Uriah Heep - Official Web Site



September 1976 - October 1979

 

Mick Box, Trevor Bolder, Lee Kerslake, John Lawton, Ken Hensley.

Promotional pictures here

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 recruited.

"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. 

"Image-wise he 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 battering.

 "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 Europe." 

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 ever album. 

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 up!"

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 any different". 

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 though.

 "I think 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.

 "I 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."

 Nevertheless it 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. 


 


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