In a year where Deep Purple deservedly gets inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, it is time to remind everyone about another band from England that deserves to be there. If someone forgot how big they were in the 70s you only need to read this article to understand that they were (and still are) an international band of some repute.
See the Lead Guitarist.
His legs are peculiar but he plays good.
Watch him “get it on” with the crowd.
Sometimes he “sends” them into raptures…
…And every now and then he doesn`t.
By Tony Stewart
You sense you`re in converted territory, and that Uriah Heep are Important Visitors, as soon as your rump touches the plush, airconditioned interior of one of the four large, black limos waiting for the band at Chicago airport.
“Hi! My name`s Richard. I`m your chauffeur. Anything you want just flick your fingers.”
Heading the motorcade Richard delivers us at the H`yatt House Hotel, where a specially appointed security team sentry the entrances as the band file through.
On previous tours band members have received four murder threats. On one occasion a bullet was fired through the window of Lee Kerslake`s room and at a concert in Louisville one guy leapt over the barrier and attacked David Byron with a knife.
Funny what Heep`s music can do.
The closest any of the physicals have been, though, was actually in Chicago when Byron clambered onto the shoulders of a guard during a set. Just as he did a kid pounced, swung a punch and loosened the guard`s dentures. He was not amused.
But the only imminent danger in the Hyatt bar seems to be from a City cop who`d been used as security on their last tour, though now his services are no longer required. Somehow he`s attached himself to the group and his party trick is continually having a large drink flowing down his throat as he displays his police issue revolver.
In short he`s a pissed maniac.
No sweat, however, with four thick-set martial-arts experts watching over The Party with as much concern as hens over chicks – even to the point of riding shotgun in the Limos when Heep make a personal appearance in a suburban shopping precinct.
The appearance is to some extent an important chore, but on this occasion it`s even more essential as this tour is regarded as particularly crucial, and every little bit of promotion helps their cause.
The departure of bassist Gary Thain and the subsequent upheaval within the band and then the harnessing of John Wetton into the outfit – meant Heep have been unable to tour America for almost a year. Which is sufficient time for their drawing power to wane. To such an extent that perhaps it would require more than an extensive 43 date-swoop, playing to an estimated half million folk in all, to regain lost ground.
Even though the US trek`s something of a challenge the various groups members nevertheless approach PAs with some trepidation and reluctance. And on this occasion their worst fears are justified as we emerge into the precinct from an underground carpark and the organiser, a straight Jewish looking card called Lewis, suddenly dons white topper and tails, springs onto a specially erected stage surrounded by young teenies, and in the showman tradition introduces his prize exhibits – Uriah Heep!
Four of the band participate in the farce and shuffle embarrassed onto the platform with arms outstretched to acknowledge the applause.
Wetton, however, declines, and instead chats to an American kid about a variety of subjects – from King Crimson to the make of his own home stereo. John, despite the initial impression his attitude portrays, is not in fact playing out the Subdued Musician number. “I don`t feel too well actually,” he explains rubbing his delicate stomach delicately. “And I`d rather puke in front of two people than 30.
“I`m not particularly into this sort of thing anyway, but I do feel genuinely sick.”
And he`s so convincing I step back a pace for safety`s sake.
Back at the gig the actual sound quality may be abysmal and a severe testament to almost every criticism levelled at the huge American rock theatres, but Heep`s presence and resounding panache is of such strength that, by the encores, the whole audience is in jubilant uproar.
Also Chicago does indicate the general, but elsewhere more rational, response the band will receive on a further two concerts I`m to see, as well as thrusting you into the ambience of their 1975 American Tour. Plus it introduces you to the peculiarities of the characters and events surrounding an English Name Band.
By the time they hit Chicago they`d flown back to England a roadie with pneumonia, seen another OD, and lost a sound engineer who`s held by the cops on suspicion of murder (but who`s later charged with possession). And another of the staff had to fly home to bury his brother-in-law.
The strain has certainly told, with alarming results.
“All of us are feeling less than ourselves,” remarks Hugh, who works for Heep`s management. “I`ve given up sex for the duration because it exhausts me. Actually,” he confides, “I don`t think I could deliver anything personally.”
Then the band`d been following or preceding the Stones into various towns. At Buffalo, the opening date, the promoter originally pulled the gig because he thought Mick and Co. were too much competition and would adversely effect ticket sales. But, at the management`s insistence, the gig was put back in and 6,000 kids showed for the Heepers.
Yet at another early juncture the whole jaunt was in jeopardy when Guitarist Mick Box took a long walk off a short Louisville stage, breaking his arm in four places which now necessitates a plaster dressing, pain killing injections, and a helping hand to wash his hair.
Although Mick`s unable to use a plectrum he has improvised a four-finger playing style, and he bluntly refuses to quit the tour.
“I just won`t give up,” Box comments. “I`d have to be unconscious before I`d stop playing. If I can possibly play and still give a reasonable show I`ll do it.”
Ah yes. Heep are a regular bunch of troupers, and the show goes on.
Limos run the band and entourage to the airport. We travel first class to Cleveland, where another three Cadillacs are on hand to drive first to the hotel then to the 80,000 seater baseball stadium for an afternoon festival which, following performances by the likes of Blue Oyster Cult and Aerosmith, culminates with sets by Heep and finally The Faces.
Behind the high stage the organisers have laid on a line of small, luxury motor caravans which act as dressing rooms. In Heep`s you can find fruit, bottles of champagne, and assorted spirits and beers. In fact their every whim is catered for in the contract riders, and what with the limos, luxury hotels and bodyguards everything clicks into its lavish place.
Compared to their English and Euro tours their American trips have a totally different, more auspicious, atmosphere. The trappings of success also seem to effect them significantly.
They enter like stars, look like stars in their finery clasping the necks of bottles of Dom Perignon; and therefore they act like Stars.
But do they need to? Does it make any difference to the actual performance? According to the band it does.
“It is expected,” Ken Hensley insists as we all squat in the motorvan`s limited space a half hour before Heep are due on stage to face the 60 odd thousand crowd.
“You`re expected to put up a kinda front. People treat you like rock and roll stars so what ever you think of it yourself, however you categorise yourself, you`ve still got to give the impression you are.
“I am very anti all that,” Ken adds. “I`m anti having security, karate experts and bodyguards. It`s the show that`s important to me. Nothing else.”
Lee Kerslake`s attitude is slightly different. He digs it all.
“Let`s put it like this,” he explains, “if you build yourself up an ego and you go on stage with that ego you put on a better show.”
“I don`t agree,” interjects Hensley.
“Well, I think it`s true,” Lee continues unabashed. “If I`m built up to feel like I`m something I go on there and really work at it. If someone makes me feel like I`m a crud it disheartens me.”
What he`s basically talking about is confidence. And Byron, elaborating on this point, says that the American promoters will ensure everythings to hand for a band so that when they go onstage there haven`t been any niggling problems which could detrimentally affect their performance.
Continues Hensley, on the same subject, “They don`t give you any room for excuses. They give you everything you ask for. They`ll give you ten limousines if you ask for `em. They`ll give you 50 bottles of champagne if you ask for `em.
“But if you go on stage and cock it up then you know it`s your fault. It`s not because somebody else hasn`t supplied what you asked for.”
Heap, by the way, request a modest six bottles of champagne.
“Just a little bit of stardust to make you feel good,” explains Lee.
The road manager gives the band their final five minute call and they add the final preparations for their performance. Byron and Kerslake use eyedrops to make their eyes shine, even in the sticky afternoon sun. And overall they seem particularly relaxed, but not in the least worried that after them follows Stewart.
After all it is their second gig together, the first being in Norfolk, Virginia where Heep, Byron claims, “killed `em stone dead”.
That, you suppose, is the kind of confidence their life style stimulates.
Compared to Chicago the sound quality at Cleveland is far superior even though it exhibits the normal problems involved with the acoustics of an open-air stadium, such as sound drift, too much treble and an echo delay.
Heep are considerably more sure of themselves than on the previous night. This of course could be something to do with their own celebratory aura (with the result they`re more relaxed) because it`s not only Hensley`s 30th birthday, but the day he chooses to announce his old lady`s pregnancy and that in another three days his divorce from a previous would be absolute.
Strike one, two, and I suppose, three.
Out of the three gigs it`s Milwaukee the next night which is the closer illustration of why Heep are a success in America.
They arrive like Stars in three limos down the drive way to The Arena with a capacity of just over 11,000. The metal doors are automatically raised and we find ourselves parked between the dressing room and the stage where Blue Oyster Cult are playing a rough, heavy and excellent opening set.
So, even though Uriah Heep haven`t been seen on this part of the Lake Michigan shore for several years their reception, before a single note is played, is typical unihibited mania.
Yet it`s surprising how quickly the band are able to find the right frame of mind for a performance after a rather trying day. The plane was delayed in Cleveland because of thunder storms, making the arrival in Milwaukee so late there was barely time for a meal before leaving for the gig. Nerves were frayed. Byron snapped at Chris the road manager and Box rowed with his American PR over an article printed in a US rock magazine.
Apparently the piece inferred Mick had died. The cause of death, it insinuated, was syphilis.
Box`s anger faded as he commented, “apart from anything else it ruins your social life.”
He later talked of suing the ass off the paper. You know, just to prove he`s very much alive.
But for a corpse he`s a pretty nifty onstage mover. Of course though, Heep`s whole charm lies in the histrionics. Byron tripping, running, sprawling on the stage and nuzzling into either Wetton or Hensley. Depending on his fancy.
There`s Hensley lying back over his organ stool or standing up to tip the instrument onto two legs. While Box smashes his plastered arm across his guitar.
At the Milwaukee Arena, however, the musical quality is appreciably high. Wetton`s addition has obviously resulted in certain changes because of his playing technique, and yet the fundamentals of the band are really quite similar to when Thain carried the bass.
Wetton was the guy who wanted me to say Heep were dreadful rather than be non-committal. But I can`t. Musically they could be better and therefore they put the audio qualities on equal footing with the dramatic visuals. As they are, though, they`re an entertaining and exciting rock outfit.
But it isn`t until the next morning as we leave the Milwaukee Hotel that Heep`s esteem on the American frontier becomes crystal clear.
Just as we`re all checking out President Ford is due in. The foyer is sprinkled with a crowd of well-wishers, and the road to the airport is occasionally dotted with more patriotic citizens. Yet it`s not that good a turnout for Gerry, seemingly slightly half-hearted.
Observing this from the back of a limo, it`s Kerslake who comments.
“Bloody hell, there were about ten and a half thousand more who came out to see us.”
He was right as well.
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 New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Procul Harum, Genesis, Andy Pratt, Suzi Quatro, Buddy Holly.
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