A really big fan of Uriah Heep made contact with me through my Facebook page, we had some coversation and before I knew it, he tipped my page off to several of the guys that have played or are playing in Uriah Heep. And I know that two or maybe three of those childhood heroes of mine have read this blog. Really fun and exciting stuff for me, so in honour of the band and their superfan from Norway – here is yet another article from those days long ago!
Have a nice read!
Is it hostilities in the Heavy Metal Zone?
Like this guy KEN HENSLEY wants to go melodic and mellow man… when the rest of URIAH HEEP wanna keep on makin` like pneumatic drills. It looks like a serious case of metal fatigue – but all is not yet lost.
TONY STEWART reports.
Being in this particular Bristol audience is pretty much like being under a labourer`s armpit.
There`s a nauseating reek of stale sweat and a fine spray of dandruff flicked from the kids` hair as they toss their heads from side to side in the customary tradition of the heavy metal freak. And there`s an awful humidity, akin to that of a Louisiana swamp, which creeps up your nostrils.
A glance across the Colston Hall reveals people lined up regimentally, row upon row, hands clasping the seats in front as though they`re trying to retain control over pneumatic drills. And the visual effect is completed by the violent, stilted movements of their frames – as if the whole audience is in the throes of a congregational epileptic fit.
It`s all a sure sign that Uriah Heep are once again on a British tour.
By some miracle this audience aggression was restrained, causing only superficial damage in the way of loosened seat bolts. But even so it was symbolic of a stage act which is becoming disturbingly violent.
Singer David Byron stalks manfully from one side of the stage to the other, at times screeching into the microphone like a demented and tormented town crier. Gary Thain curls his sinewy body around his bass, and contorts his face, his chin almost touching his nose, to look like a grotesque and sinister carnival mask.
Guitarist Mick Box is as equally brutal in his playing style. He stretches his legs wide, with the guitar slung between, whipping the neck as though performing some perverted form of masturbation.
Lee Kerslake (drums) and organist Ken Hensley seem at a disadvantage in this context, because most of the time they`re both seated – and are therefore only able to bring their hands down as if pounding an enemy into the ground.
This quaint, but overtly savage ritual in which group and audience participate is commonly known as getting it on.
Of course, it would be easy to be cynical and ridicule Uriah Heep and their strange stage show. But I won`t do it – because strange as it may appear, their brash, methodic pumping of abrasive riffs seems to be sufficiently musically-based to attract a large audience. And anyway it`s been done in the past.
Those creatures who occupied the Colston Hall left not only with a headache and/or a few loose teeth, but with a sense of fulfillment.
Heep do actually attempt to make their gigs into occasions providing an ostentatious but delightfully dramatic light show for an act which erupts in a blaze of multi-colour glory and dry-ice effects, building through most of their favoured numbers to climax in an incomparable pitch of excitement.
But is it enough?
Apparently Heep are reluctant to entice new devotees into their substantial, but not enormous, fold. After all, their show is geared to the converted and has certainly not changed significantly over the last couple of years, apart from the addition of what are, I feel, token numbers such as “Stealin`” and “Suicidal Man” in acknowledgment of the existence of their last two albums, “Sweet Freedom” and “Wonderworld.”
True, their act has not regressed – but nor has it progressed. To my mind they`ve been running on the spot for too long. And it would appear Ken Hensley has similar views.
Seated behind the wheel of six grand`s worth of BMW engineering, we`re on route along the M5 from Bristol to the next gig in Birmingham. And it proves a rare opportunity to talk to Hensley about the band, although his long and detailed explanations are interspersed by a series of driver`s expletives directed at other motorists and a few groans of pain as he rubs his bruised ribs – an injury he apparently sustained after falling out of bed.
Basically, Hensley feels there`s a rift within the Heep ranks, causing a division in their musical ideology. It came about, he indicates, because of complacency, lack of communication, and too much time spent worrying about the business side of the band.
“It`s been like this for about a year – ever since we started getting involved with the Inland Revenue. And unless it`s corrected it`s going to have its ultimate effect. And that`s a really sad prospect.
“It stunts your growth…just like smoking.
“But I don`t know what`s going to happen now…because we`ve reached the situation where there`s the possibility that a clash of musical opinions will put us on the spot when it comes to recording another album.
Hensley`s discontent stems from his own wish to change the band`s musical direction and – on stage – bring Heep more into line with the progressions evident on their recent albums.
And he claims that the songs which have more musical merit, being at the same time uncharacteristically mellow and melodic, are not treated with favour by certain other members.
“I really think that`s wrong. And if people aren`t convinced that songs like `Wonderworld,` and `The Shadows Of The Wind` are right for the band…without ever saying they`re not convinced…they`ll play them without conviction – and therefore the songs never come off properly.
“But when you get a song that`s crash, bang, wallop and tread on the gas, everyone gets into it and it comes off.
“It`s because there are two schools of thought. One says, `We should be just playing out and out noisy rock and roll,` and the other – which I admit is my own – says we should be doing something a bit different.
“What we`re doing at the moment is not only easy, it`s also not very futuristic – and it certainly isn`t progressive. It doesn`t really single us out from all the other bands. It just brands us as being another noisy group.
From the way Hensley says all this it`s pretty clear he hasn`t yet detailed his complaints to the rest of the band, although he intends to.
“But I believe in making these analyses, which have sometimes been described as too self-critical, and I`ve arrived at a solution as to exactly what we should be doing.
“Before too long I`m going to present these ideas. I`ve got pages of notes on them. And I`ll see what the reaction is. Because if we`ve reached a stage now where the general consensus of the band is that we`re running the right way, then…” he hesitates.
“Then I`m going to have a very serious think and a very serious chat to everybody about whether I`m any use to the band anymore.”
He pauses, curses a motorist taking his time in overtaking, and then collects his thoughts.
“Being the main writer – right? – I don`t know whether I can sit down and write anything other than what I`m writing at the moment.
“If I`m responsible for the music failing to get through to the masses, then it`s because involuntarily I`m going off on a musical tangent to the rest of the group.
“And IF that is the case, to be absolutely realistic and practical about it, either somebody else in the band has got to start writing the songs which they claim they should be doing. Or else they`ll have to get somebody in to do the writing.
“I`m glad,” he continues, “that `Wonderworld` didn`t work out successfully, because it`s meant a re-examination period has started, which has been missing for 18 months. For a change everybody`s sitting around wondering if we are making mistakes.”
For a change is very much the operative phrase, inferring the possible existence of a complacent attitude within the band – perhaps because they believe there`s nothing further to attain.
I ask Hensley about this, but he hedges and will discuss the subject only generally.
“It`s a side effect of having a slight degree of success. It`s very easy to be like that when you have a few quid in the bank and you`re driving a nice car. Especially if you`ve been brought up in an entirely different environment.
“A few gold records on your wall…a few quid in the bank…and it`s really easy to see why some people just sit around and think there`s nothing left to do. But it depends on what your attitude is, and what you`re in the business for.
“You`re either in the business to make money, to be a star, or because you chose music as a career. Therefore you`re interested in furthering your career and contributing something to this work you`ve got so much out of.”
One common symptom of success and its financial benefits is a sense of independence, allowing group members to move away from each other socially and – too frequently – musically as well. Which might have happened with U. Heep.
If it has, Hensley isn`t saying. He answers my question in general terms – as though talking about the syndrome in another group – not necessarily Uriah Heep.
“Unfortunately that`s absolutely true. There`s no longer the need for everybody to live in the same area; there`s no longer the need to share hotel rooms, or even stay in the same hotel; there`s no need for you to travel in the same aeroplane or same car.
“Once that sets in you realise how fragmentated you`re becoming socially, and that in turn has its effect on your performance. It must do, because you`re not in contact, mentally or physically with any of the people you`re working with. The only time you see each other is on stage.
“But I know bands who make that work. I mean The Who don`t live together or party together all night long. They`re still going after ten years though.
“When you see somebody with an achievement like that,” he elaborates, “it makes four-and-a-half years and a few gold records look pretty puny.”
Now on the subject of Heep:
“I think the reason we haven`t really made it is because we`re right on the top of the fence now. We`ll either go on, and if we do we`ll probably keep on going for a good long time, or this whole thing will collapse. Which will mean we haven`t got that magic ingredient which keeps bands going for ever and ever, like The Who, the Stones and Led Zeppelin.
“I just think it`s wrong to sit back after four-and-a-half years and say `We`ve done enough`. Because when you choose music as a career and you`re eager to take all this money, success, fame and glory that it can give you, it`s unfair to sit back. It`ll just backfire, and sooner or later you`re going to realise the decision was premature.
“Complacency is like dry rot. In this case it`s not your doors and window frames that are eaten away…it`s your bloody life; your career.”
I could have sworn his accelerator pedal touched the floor at that moment.
“Kenny gets very paranoid,” David Byron explains, “and thinks we`re in a crucial position.”
Byron, Mick Box and I are comfortably seated in the cocktail lounge of Birmingham`s Holiday Inn discussing the U. Heep situation from their point of view.
It`s quite obvious from the start they don`t feel the situation is as critical as Kenny makes out.
“But,” continues Byron, “I`ve seen so many bands go up and down. One minute everybody says they`re finished, and the next minute they come back with the biggest album of the year.
“It really is irrelevant. You don`t know what is going to happen. The only thing you can do – and it`s my whole philosophy on life – is to do what you enjoy doing.
“Kenny gets really worried though. Like every night on the American tour he kept saying: `It didn`t happen! It didn`t happen!` I said: `Kenny, there were 12,000 people there, it was sold out, everybody was standing on their feet and clapping and we came back and did a 20-minute encore. How can you possibly say it failed?`
“`I know that,` he said, `but they always do that.` I said: `But they wouldn`t do it if they didn`t want to.`
“If you do fill a hall,” Byron comments, “and you do get good applause and you do get encores, then there isn`t anything badly wrong with you.”
Later that evening the same kind of response Byron had described was witnessed at the Town Hall Birmingham. Both visually and musically the show was a success, for Uriah Heep and Their Audience. But as I stated earlier, it`s an act which appeals very much to the Converted, and the attitude Byron expresses is not likely to increase their following.
It is no doubt because of such enthusiastic receptions that he`s able to declare unequi-vocally: “Kenny may want to try and push the band in another direction, which he tries to do, but he`s wrong. He`d be making a very, very wrong decision if he did that, and that`s why he`s never been allowed to do it.”
Isn`t it eventually going to come to a clash if Kenny and the other members of the band insist in following their own separate directions?
“It could come to the crunch,” responds Byron, “and if so he`d have to leave and do his own stuff. That`s the obvious finale.”
Box is less concerned and so quite naturally plays down the conflict.
“The most it`ll come to is a heated discussion which will then be sorted out.”
And bring with it something of an anti-climax to our story.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper and you are free to use it as you like. If you use it on your own webpages – please credit me or put up a link to my blog.
This number of the NME also contains articles/interviews with these people: Bad Company, Faces, Wishbone Ash, Robert Wyatt, Dave Quincey, Slapp Happy, Mike Mantler, Johnny Winter.
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