An incredible 45 years after their debut album, Uriah Heep could be gently coasting towards retirement, but on this evidence the band who on their debut professed to be ‘very ‘eavy and very humble’ are rocking harder than ever.
This gig was particularly enjoyable for taking place in a well-appointed, all standing room, with a relaxed Friday night crowd, fortified in some of our cases by one of the South’s best real ales, Dark Star Hophead. It made a change from the low ceilinged conference room at the Brighton Centre Heep played on their last visit which singer Bernie Shaw dismissed this time as a ‘hotel foyer’.
Of course only one member remains from the band’s heyday in the evergreen guitarist Mick Box while in more recent times explosive drummer Russell Gilbrook and Davey Rimmer who has replaced the late Trevor Bolder on the bass have given the sound a heavier, more contemporary feel, not to mention radically upped the quotient of tattoos on stage!
What should a live set for a long-serving band consist of? For my money there should be three broad categories: showcasing newly recorded material, dipping into the back catalogue for one or two obscure treats each tour for the diehard fan, and the ‘greatest hits’, those songs which made the band famous, are played on classic rock radio and which everyone would expect to hear.
The third category is the easiest, many bands fall down on the first two, but this set provided the perfect balance.
Heep opened with two new songs, ‘Speed Of Sound’ and ‘The Law’ (the latter actually rather short of their usual melodic standard) but sandwiching an unexpected blast from the past in ‘The Hanging Tree’, its chugging riff and arm waving chorus sounding as fresh as when it appeared on 1977′s ‘Firefly’.
Equipment difficulties then held up the gig for a good ten minutes before they resumed at a cracking pace with the title track of new song ‘Outsider’ but there were few grumbles. It certainly helped what could have been an atmosphere killer that the Heep are such engaging characters, with Mick’s ever present smile and Bernie’s warm, quirky manner.
A couple of sure fire classics that sum up the old over the top Heep of the big harmonies and fantasy lyrics in ‘Sunrise’ and ‘Stealin’, complete with audience participation, were followed by a couple of big surprises.
With Bernie joking that 1972 was the heyday of progressive epics and ‘are you standing comfortably ‘we may be some time’ they played the whole of the ‘Magician’s Birthday’ including a rather psychedelic sounding guitar and drum battle between Mick and Russell. Then the more recent ‘What Kind Of God’, inspired by the book ‘Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee’, was less song-oriented but an atmospheric piece with some great musical dynamics that really added a new dimension to the set.
They obviously have real faith in the new album and thanking Planet Rock for playlisting it, ‘One Minute’ built from Phil Lanzon’s piano intro into an uptempo, catchy number and ‘Can’t Take That Away’ showcases the typical sound of more recent Heep.
Then it was time for oldies in the epic ‘July Morning’, with scope for some classic Hammond organ playing by Phil, Bernie singing his heart out, Davey showing his paces on bass, and Mick in trademark fashion holding down a note with one hand and making semaphore signals with the other. Mick donning an acoustic could only mean a joyful sing-along to ‘Lady In Black’ to close the set.
With two 10 minute plus epics in the set and the unscheduled break, I had become worried that Gypsy was going to be omitted from the set so was relieved when Mick said that they would go right back to the band’s start and Phil was pulling shapes as he attacked his organ Keith Emerson style, before a rollicking ‘Easy Livin’, as always, and the ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ outro finished a thoroughly enjoyable set.
Always one of British rock’s underappreciated treasures, the evergreen Heep are now probably playing as well as ever, and what is most pleasing is that they have got the edge over their contemporaries successfully balancing old and new.
Review by Andy Nathan
Photos by Paul Rodgers ( www.rodgers.photography )
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