Gig review: Uriah Heep, Islington Assembly Hall, 27 February 2013

Uriah Heep, 21 February 2013

Nearly 45 years into their career, Uriah Heep are seemingly indestructible, still treading the boards with an enthusiasm that puts younger bands to shame.

Sadly bassist Trevor Bolder was absent recovering from a major operation (which oddly went unmentioned from the stage), but the shaven headed  John Jowit made an admirable stand-in for what is one of the more difficult assignments with the bass very prominent in Heep’s material. However I noticed how Trevor’s absence, on top of Lee Kerslake’s departure a few years back, has reduced the impact of the harmony vocals that used to be a big part of the Heep sound, for all Phil Lanzon’s efforts to plug the gap.

Their previous tour 15 months ago had heavily promoted the last album ‘Into the Wild’: three numbers (the title track, I’m Ready, and the rather tedious Nail On The Head) still feature mid-set, but no longer needing to plug it so heavily, the first half of the set was an interesting choice of songs.

In particular, the earlier Bernie Shaw-era albums were dipped into, with Against the Odds a surprise opener, followed by Overload from their penultimate album Wake the Sleeper, with Mick Box letting rip and a spectacular Hammond organ solo from Phil  as it built to a climax.

Uriah Heep, 21 February 2013

A pair of the less well known cuts from ‘Demons and Wizards’ were also played in Traveller in Time and All My Life, the latter one of the few Heep songs closer in spirit to Zeppelin than Purple, either side of Sunrise where the crowd reaction caused a big smile to come over Bernie’s face.

He may be one of my less  favourite of Heep’s singers, but after nearly 30 years in the band he is a fixture and his enthusiasm does much to make the gig feel so enjoyable  and renders  his quirkiness endearing rather than irritating. After another return to the nineties in Between Two Worlds, with a great solo from Mick, he led the crowd participation to the evergreen Stealin’.

Great though it was to see them cover more recent times, the ageing- but healthily sized audience-  had of course come primarily for the old classics and were delighted by the seminal Gypsy, Phil playing the original keyboard intro, which segued straight into Look at Yourself which rattled on at a fair pace  until Mick stretched out on a solo slot.

July Morning’s epic 10 minutes flew by, before Mick strapped on his acoustic and told the story of Lady in Black as Bernie led the crowd piped piper like in a singalong.

For the first encore, before cranking out one of his heaviest riffs in Free and Easy, Mick reprised the tradition started on the last tour of inviting on stage the women in the audience (who were considerably outnumbered!) and the band’s families, and a frantic Easy Living inevitably brought an hour and 40 minute show to an end.

Aside from the enduring quality of the material from one of the pioneers of heavy rock, the most striking feature of this gig was the way the band, like their Dickensian namesakes, remain ever ‘Umble, with Bernie and Mick in particular, taking childlike joy in playing to an appreciative audience. In the words of Mick’s catchphrase, it’s ‘Appy Days’ in the Heep camp.

Review by Andy Nathan

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