Spice were offered time in a recording studio by Gerry Bron after he had seen the band play live in 'The Blues Loft', High Wycombe in late 1969. Bron wanted to see how the band would fare in a non-live environment. Once in the studio the band proved they had the ability to record and Gerry Bron signed the band. Bron felt the band required an added dimension (keyboards) and called in an old friend by the name of Colin Wood. Wood actually played on two tracks that eventually ended up on the first album. The band then decided they required a permanent keyboard player and upon the suggestion of Paul Newton, Ken Hensley (whom Paul knew from The Gods) was asked to join. Spice changed their name at the suggestion of Bron during the recording of their debut album. Uriah Heep Mk1 was born. It was this version of the band (drummers aside) that completed the Very 'Eavy Very 'Umble album featuring David Byron's cobwebbed the front cover (It was Gerry Bron's office boy's hands that graced the back!).
Several of the now notorious line-up changes occurred during the first three months of operation. Alex Napier left after recording several tracks for the debut album. Napier was replaced by Nigel Olssen who in turn left after an even shorter time (to fame and fortune with the Elton John Band). Olssen in turn was replaced by Keith Baker (ex-Bakerloo which also featured future BRONZE label colleague and Colosseum/Humble Pie member Dave 'Clem' Clempson). Baker remained in the band throughout the recording of the second album Salisbury but left shortly after as he couldn't cope with the increasing gig schedule.
Baker was replaced in October 1970 by ex-Cressida drummer Ian Clarke who stayed for the completion of the Look At Yourself album. Clarke and Newton left in November 1971. Neither surfaced into a high profile music environment again.
The band could have spiraled into a state of disarray at this stage, but with the Look At Yourself album starting to sell reasonably well in the States something had to be done to ensure stability to the situation. Enter Lee Kerslake on drums whom Ken had worked with in The Gods and Toe Fat. All the band had to do now was find a suitable bass player.
Ex-Colosseum bassist Mark Clarke was drafted in. Clarke proved unsuitable and left after only 3 months. He did however co-write one of the band's most popular songs with Ken Hensley. This song was to be titled The Wizard (Clarke did not however participate with the recording of this song) it is apparently the only legacy Clarke left with the band. Enter Gary Thain in February 1972 as replacement bass guitarist. Thain was a New Zealander who had already grafted a lot of experience touring and recording with the Keef Hartley Band. This line-up became Uriah Heep Mk6 after only 27 months together. Mk6 recorded a wealth of material that consisted of 5 albums and a number of the tracks featured in this release. The studio albums Demons And Wizards, The Magician's Birthday, Sweet Freedom and Wonderworld were all recorded by Mk6, as one of the best live albums Uriah Heep Live (January 1973), a double album that in the seventies was probably only ever rivaled by Deep Purple's Made In Japan.
In February 1975 the band decided to remove the brilliant but unreliable Gary Thain from the band. Gary had been plagued by ill health; drug problems and an unfortunate incident of being electrocuted while playing live in Dallas. Disaster followed in December the same year when Gary was found dead in his flat from a drug overdose. John Wetton (ex-Family, King Crimson and Roxy Music) was hired as a replacement during the recording of the Return To Fantasy sessions. Wetton went on to form UK and later the highly successful Asia in 1981. By 1976 Uriah Heep were displaying the signs of stress and unrest that all too often accompany an internationally successful band. The strain affected David Byron to such an extent that the rest of the band felt he was impossible to work with. After several embarrassing stage incidents, it became a choice between the continuing success of the band and Byron's position as singer. Byron lost out and was sacked in July 1976 after a concert in Spain. Although the band didn't realize it at the time the halcyon days had been and gone. For many fans this was the end of an era.
Maybe it was the heat of the summer of '76 that inspired the band to continue, whatever it was they hired in replacements for Byron and Wetton in September 1976. John Lawton (ex-Lucifer's Friend) was hired as lead vocalist and Trevor Bolder (ex-Bowie's Spiders From Mars) was brought in on bass. The arrival of these two rejuvenated the enthusiasm and optimism that the band had been searching for. The recording sessions that followed culminated in the release of the largely underrated album Firefly. Uriah Heep Mk8 had arrived. Mk8 was relatively stable for a time and recorded quite a soundbank of material. Innocent Victim was released in 1977 with Ken Hensley sharing production credits with Gerry Bron. It was off this album that an unpredictable hit single emerged in the form of Free Me. The enthusiasm for recording was maintained and in 1978 the band released the Fallen Angel album. The album was deemed too lightweight by many of the band, and the sales figures reflected the opinion of the fans. By 1979 the strain was once again taking its toll and cracks were appearing in the solidarity of the band. Mk8 returned to the studios to record some album demos (these still exist on the rare Five Miles acetate recordings) but Lawton departed during these sessions due to 'musical differences.' Some of the songs originally sung by Lawton during these sessions appeared on the Conquest album but the vocal tracks were now sung by the replacement singer John Sloman (ex-Lone Star). Lee Kerslake had departed prior to the recording of Conquest and was replaced by ex-Manfred Mann's Earthband drummer Chris Slade.
Hensley had opposed the choice of Sloman (He had in fact wanted to hire Pete Goalby who had auditioned at the same time as Sloman. Ironically Goalby was hired when the band resurfaced in 1982). Uriah Heep Mk9 released the Conquest album in 1980 and it displayed an even further departure from what most fans identified the band with. The band were also unhappy with the musical direction and identity they were now taking. Because this had largely been created over the years with many of Ken Hensley's songs and the fact that the rest of the band were unhappy with this, the inevitable had to happen. Another band member departed, this time however it was keyboardist Ken Hensley.
Other problems were also arising: Sloman clearly had a great voice in the studio, even if it was belatedly becoming apparent it was not right for Uriah Heep. Also Sloman's interpretation of the songs was one hundred and eighty degrees away from what the rest of the band had wanted. The band struggled on with replacement Greg Dechert on keyboards. Only two songs were ever released by this version of the band, the original single version of Think It Over and its corresponding B-side. Shortly after the 1980 tour, the band decided to call it a day.
The ever resilient Mick Box wanted to form the Mick Box Band but by the time it got around to recording anything Lee Kerslake was tempted back from Ozzy Osbourne's band and the fans had convinced Mick and Co. that the name Uriah Heep should be kept. Uriah Heep Mk11 was born. Mk11 also consisted of vocalist Pete Goalby (ex-Trapeze), keyboardist John Sinclair (ex-Lion and Heavy Metal Kids) and bassist Bob Daisley (ex-Widowmaker, Rainbow and Ozzy Osbourne). A new album called Abominog was recorded and released along with the Abominog Jr. EP in 1982. Head First was released in 1983 at the same time serious problems in Uriah Heep's label BRONZE were starting to rear their ugly heads while Uriah Heep Mk11 became Mk12 in 1983 with the replacement of Daisley with ex-Heep member Trevor Bolder returning to the fold. Bronze collapsed in disarray in 1984 and it was only a matter of time before this had a financially devastating blow to the band and all its ex-members who still received payments from Bronze. The band did release one album as Mk12 in 1985. The album was called Equator and was released by CBS subsidiary Portrait. The band went into semi-retirement once again in late 1985, only to resurface in July 1986 with yet another line-up. This time consisting of Mick Box, Lee Kerslake and Trevor Bolder accompanied by keyboardist Phil Lanzon (ex re-formed Sweet) and, for two months, singer Steff Fontaine. Fontaine it was unanimously decided was from 'another planet' and after an instance where the band turned up at the correct venue for a gig and Fontaine went elsewhere it was decided he should leave. Fontaine was replaced by Bernie Shaw (ex-Stratus and Grand Prix) in September 1985 and this remains the longest stable line-up to date. (Uriah Heep Mk14!) have recorded a number of albums to date: Live In Moscow, Raging Silence, Different World, Sea Of Light, Spellbinder, and their latest, Sonic Origami.
This present line-up spans more than a third of their history and is the longest lasting of all. Mick Box may be the only ever present member but Lee Kerslake has been around for all but a couple of years, Trevor Bolder has played bass in Uriah Heep for almost three quarters of the band's career, Bernie Shaw has served twice as long as David Byron as vocalist and in 1997 Phil Lanzon's time on keyboards surpassed that of Ken Hensley. They work better together today than any of the previous line-ups and their latest studio albums, Sea Of Light and Sonic Origami, have been hailed as their best since the days of Demons & Wizards and The Magician's Birthday.
Uriah Heep have indeed had an eventful history, with both successes and set backs. There can be no doubt, however, on the impact and influence they have had in the development of Rock Music. They are a band that are very 'eavy, very 'umble and very very good.
© 1991, 1996 Robert M. Corich
The above history comes primarily from the CD Rarities From The Bronze Age with supplemental material from the Time Of Revelation box set.
Content Copyright © 1997 Jay Pearson
Content Copyright © 1997 Jay Pearson
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