When it comes to assessing the history of British rock music, it seems that many people are content - even happy - to overlook the achievements of Uriah Heep. But for more than 30 years, and through innumerable line-up changes, Heep have mantained an ashtonisingly high standard of performance and songwriting, in the process establishing a style that’s almost unique. Many have been influenced by the band, nobody has come close to emulating their sound or their sheer class.
It’s always been onstage that Heep have truly excelled. Whatever the era, circumstances or personnel, Heep have never failed to deliver the goods. All of which makes the comparatively paucity of live albums in their extensive canon seem positively staggering. Sure, in 1973, they issued the album Uriah Heep Live - which showcased the talents of vocalist David Byron, guitarist Mick Box, keyboard player Ken Hensley, drummer Lee Kerslake and bassist Gary Thain - for many, still the definitive Heep incarnation. But… er, well… the band have released comparatively few live albums of any worth since. However…
By 1977 Heep had in place arguably the most underrated incarnation of their history. Replacing Byron was former Lucifer’s Friend vocalist John Lawton while, after briefly recruiting John Wetton to take over from the sacked Thain, the band brought in one-time David Bowie collaborator Trevor Bolder to complete the line-up.
This incarnation recorded three stunning studio albums - Firefly (1977), Innocent Victim (1977) and Fallen Angel (1978). And those privileged to see them live during this period attest to the fact that they were an awesome proposition. Live In Europe 1979 is testimony to this line-up’s power, precision, emotion and belief.
It was recorded at six locations on the band’s 1979 European tour: in Newcastle, Manchester, at the famous Hammersmith Odeon in London, plus three dates in Germany: Freiburg, Ludwigshafen and Offenbach.
"Germany was always a stronghold for us," recalls Box. "But when John Lawton came into the band we’d been going through something of a dip in fortunes out there. All that changed with John’s arrival. Why? Because he had lived in Germany for so long (Lucifer’s Friend were a German band fronted by the English singer), he was married to a German woman and he spoke the language. The German audiences loved the fact that he would talk to them in their own language. A simple thing like that made a huge difference. He really turned things around for us out there, and brought us back up to the level we’d enjoyed in the early-to-mid ‘70s."
Lawton’s announcement as the replacement for Byron had brought a certain sense of consternation from many quarters. Byron was a charismatic front-man, full of brio and attitude. He was an archetypal rock star of the ‘70s. Lawton, frankly, did not look the part.
"We made a conscious decision to bring in someone totally different when David left us," explains Box. "He was a real character-and-a-half, with enough charisma to fill the Royal Albert Hall. To try and find someone else like him would have been asking for trouble. What we liked about John was his amazing voice. He really did have a fantastic set of pipes, and that allowed us to think in terms of changing our musical style just a little. By this time, Kenny (Hensley) was starting to write slightly poppier material, the sort that wouldn’t have normally suited David at all. But John could take it all in his stride. That also gave us a boost. Suddenly a whole new world opened to us."
Heep’s set on that ’79 tour reflected their ability to balance the old with the new.
"This has always been our approach. On every tour we ensure that we introduce as much new material as we can, without forgetting that fans love to hear the classics. So, if you look at the track listing here, we did include Easy Livin, Look At Yourself, Lady In Black, July Morning and Gypsy but we also had eight songs from the albums we’d recorded with John."
Thus, you’ll find one cut from Firefly (Who Needs Me), three from Innocent Victim (Cheat ‘N’ Lie, Free ‘N’ Easy and Free Me) and four from Fallen Angel (One More Night, Falling In Love, Woman Of The Night and I’m Alive). Box is especially fond of Free Me...
"It became John’s song, simple as that. Nobody could sing it live the way he did. John gave it an extra dimension that really sent shivers down my spine. I remember that a couple of years ago we did some shows in South Africa with Deep Purple. Bernie (Shaw, current Heep singer) went down with a throat problem and couldn’t do the gigs, so we persuaded John to come back temporarily. In a way it was lucky we did, because Free Me was such a massive songs for us in South Africa that we had to dust it down and do it for the first time in years. The fact that, due to circumstances, John was with us on the tour gave it a special edge. It was just incredible to hear him doing it again with us, for the first time in nearly 20 years."
Box doesn’t pretend that Live In Europe 1979 is the greatest live record ever made of the band, but he feels that it offers a chance for fans to hear them in an honest state.
"When we first heard the tapes we did wonder whether they should ever come out," the guitarist admits. "That’s why it took until 1986 before the album was first released. But, you know, this is something very much for the fans. There are no extensive studio overdubs. This is Uriah Heep as we were in 1979 warts and all. And I think real fans of the band will appreciate this."
Whatever it’s faults, there’s no doubting the resurgent energy and vitality of Uriah Heep on these recordings. If nothing else it proves that the Lawton / Box / Hensley / Bolder / Kerslake incarnation could more than hold their own with any of their peers. Enjoy the music, revel in the nostalgia.
Metal Hammer/Classic Rock/Rock Radio Network
Uriah Heep had already recorded three studio albums (Firefly, Innocent Victim, Fallen Angel) by the time these recordings were made on the Fallen Angel tour of 1979. Three full concerts were recorded in Germany, Freiburg, Ludiwigshafen and Offenbach, in January of 1979 and another three (Newcastle, Manchester and London) were recorded in March. Although the set lists for all three German concerts were identical, it was changed for the English dates. A comprehensive composite of the two set lists based around original order of the German concert have been presented. Ironically some of the best recordings were performed in Newcastle (of which we only have crowd noise and banter included here). There was a problem with the Rolling Stones Mobile (which recorded all six gigs) on that particular night, and there was interference on bass and some drum tracks, rendering songs from this night unusable at this point. This is not to say the recordings or performances are bad, far from it, just that it will need some serious 'cleaning up' before we can utilise any of these. Thats a job for another time. Newcastle by the way was the best of the three UK concerts by a mile! Typical I suppose, but it was after all John Lawton's home turf. The concerts from this era were interesting from another aspect as well. Ken Hensley played a lot of guitar during these gigs, just check out I'm Alive, Who Needs Me and One More Night. John Lawton, exited from Uriah Heep later the same year, but not before completing a substantial amount of recording sessions with Jimmy Miller (of Rolling Stones fame). These of course were for the fourth, and as yet unissued, album with Lawton as lead singer, recorded as the Five Miles sessions. The album is more in the style of Fallen Angel than earlier offerings...... and yes it was completed, then shelved. It is a good one.
Robert M Corich December 1999
Previous album Next album
Content Copyright © 2000 Jay Pearson
|LinkExchange Member||Free Home Pages at GeoCities|