Chatting at length to Bernie Shaw I suddenly realised that vocalists usually need to rest their voice before a gig. He agreed. But his real complaint was the woeful heating in the semi-legendary ‘Tiv’ and a lack of TLC for their guests. The genial frontman could console himself with the thought of a Caribbean “rock” cruise next February, a million miles away from a rather dank, cold night in North Wales but a warming thought nevertheless.
Nearly a year ago Uriah Heep played this very same place and it does seem rather incongruous for a band of this stature to be slumming it in a venue that may have seen better days. But the show must go on, and frankly if the set list had matched the novelty of the venue this would have been the equivalent of a magician’s birthday present.
Mick Box also told me before the gig that outside of the UK the band attract a younger audience and that the new album (the band have recorded 11 tracks in as many days and will complete it next month) may play to the more youthful amongst their admirers: it’s rocky.
Looking around the crowd tonight it was a motley crew with a predominance of tonsure, including my own. But it’s not healthy. Indeed when Bernie stopped off from belting out two seventies staples – and suggested that the band play some more up to date stuff from the current album – it was met with less than enthusiasm from the crowd.
There is a real fear – evidenced by their two almost identical sets at this venue – that Heep have mainly become a heritage band fixed in the seventies and, in my more progressive if tonsured view, there’s not much danger or experimentation or more adventurous plundering of glorious back catalogue.
Where, oh where, is any real stuff from the eighties and the nineties, save for the opener tonight ‘Against All Odds’, and ‘Between Two Worlds’? After the band went into meltdown following the successive departures of David Byron, Lee Kerslake and Ken Hensley they resurrected themselves in 1982 with ‘Abominog’ which got good press reviews and still sounds relevant.
Fast forward to Bernie’s albums with the band, from the late-eighties onwards, and we also have interesting work like ‘Sonic Origami’ (1991) and ‘Different World’ (1998). Surely such embracing of this period will prompt healthy re-investigation of the band’s back story in general?
Although Heep have always been founded firmly on the heavy guitar and organ interplay, and of course those multi-harmonies, they’ve never stood still musically and it is interesting that in some quarters they are regarded as progressive rock whilst some of those post-seventies albums often dabble in AOR/melodic rock territory. There is a sense that they can be all things to all men which perhaps has confused some folk in the past.
Tonight was a condensed, economical – but perfectly executed – greatest hits but the triple whammy from the current album (‘I’m Ready’, ‘Nail On The Head’ and ‘Into The Wild’) was very welcome and if that energy presages the new offering, so much the better.
Bizarrely perhaps, new bass player – Liverpudlian Davey Rimmer – looks like he’s moonlighting from Sepultura. With his pointy bass and back-up harmonies he also provides another focal point. Definitely one to shake up the conservatives in the audience and maybe even the band themselves?
For my ears, there wasn’t really enough of Phil Lanzon’s Hammond in the mix but Mick Box – for 45 years the mainstay and always looking like he’s having as much fun as when he started – cranks out his frequently wah-inflected guitar shapes with real pride and pizazz.
But the real hero of the night, for me, was Bernie Shaw and aside from his amiable audience banter, his voice (even those very high Byron-esque bits) is perfect. I shouldn’t have worried about our pre-gig chat. But I do think he should be singing more from his own tenure.
1. Against The Odds 2. Overload 3. Traveller In Time 4. Sunrise 5. Stealin’ 6. I’m Ready 7. Between Two Worlds 8. Nail On The Head 9. Into The Wild 10. Gypsy 11. Look At Yourself 12. July Morning 13. Lady In Black Encore: 14. Free ‘n’ Easy 15. Easy Livin’
Review and photos by David Randall
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
Uriah Heep play a special show on at the Koko, Camden Town, London on March 4. This will be filmed for later DVD release. More information
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