Uriah Heep at Tavistock Wharf February 2013
Boasting a distinctive massive keyboard sound and strong vocal harmonies, back in the early ‘70s Uriah Heep were regarded as one of the ‘big four’ alongside rock legends Led Zep, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple.
Their career spanned four decades and they have 40 million album sales to their credit, so you might think that Uriah Heep’s West Country date this weekend would be at Plymouth Pavilions.
But although the band are still huge around the world and play massive arenas in 56 different countries on mammoth tours that keep them away from our shores for around 200 days a year, they’ll be back here on Sunday to play the relatively intimate Wharf in Tavistock.
Main man, Mick Box, Heep’s founder and only surviving original member, says he has absolutely no problem with that;
“It’s actually good touching base here,” he explains, “to feel the sweat of the crowd and see the white’s of their eyes. You lose all that with the big stuff, the arenas we do abroad are so huge – plus all of our families are here, so it feels more relaxed to do smaller shows…”
Mick has vague recollections of Heep’s gig at Plymouth Guildhall back in the day, when one heckler was silenced by a rude noise that he had perfected on his guitar for just such an occasion. It brought the house down:
“I remember that was quite a useful tool to have in my armoury at that time, when guitar solos were long and twiddly – the guitarist’s version of the comedy put down!”
A phenomenal guitarist in his own right, Mick says his own heroes are Django Reinhardt and Jeff Beck, the sort who pushed boundaries, and whose solos really did the hairs on back of the neck thing:
“They could do it with just one note well placed. In those days, the guitarists were self taught and had developed their own very distinctive styles. Nowadays there are so many technically brilliant guitarists coming out of college, but they don’t have their own identity – they all sound alike.”
It’s partly the individuality of his sound that has kept him gigging for the last forty years and partly his willingness to travel:
“We’re lucky that the world stage is ours,” says Mick. “In the ‘70s we invested our time by going to all sorts of far out locations, especially the Eastern block countries, while most bands only went to the safe places.
“The rewards have been immense. We were the first Western band to be officially invited to play Russia in 1987 after Glasnost to an audience of 180,000. It was particularly humbling to learn that tickets to the show had cost around two months wages.”
Mick says that for him and the band, touring hasn’t changed that much over the years.
“A tour bus is still a tour bus and we never stayed in particularly fancy hotels. Egos aren’t allowed in this band and we do keep our feet firmly on the ground, shifting our own gear.
“If it’s your case, you carry it!”
The line up has been largely stable since the 80s and Mick says that what keeps them together is hard graft:
“I always say, a working band is a happy band. We always put in the passion and energy on stage, we bring out new albums and are not tied to our back catalogue although of course some of the classics will make the show.”
Listen up for July Morning, Gypsy, Easy Living, interspersed with tracks from latest offering Into The Wild, their 23rd long player. Oh, and don’t forget your earplugs – they’re likely to be every bit as loud as they always were.