Album review: URIAH HEEP – vinyl picture discs

…Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble, Salisbury, Demons And Wizards, The Magician’s Birthday

BMG [Release date 28.01.22]

Led by the ever present and ever grinning guitarist Mick Box (the sole remaining founding member), Uriah Heep are iconic legends in British progressive rock. Formed in the late 60s, they were originally called Spice (with connections to bands like Toe Fat and Gods).

Many line-ups later, the band are still going very strong, but in the early 70s the band’s sound was centred around Ken Hensley’s organ and David Byron’s powerful operatic vocals. Before later forays into solid hard rock, their early 70s sound epitomised classic progressive rock.

Although the catalogue has been issued many times on a variety of formats, four of their first five albums are here reissued as picture disc LPs and they look and feel as good as they sound.

1970’s debut Very ‘Eavy Very ‘Umble was originally issued on Vertigo (Mercury in the US), and soon reissued on Bronze, and recording had started in mid 1969. Opener Gypsy is much loved classic oft played live. Crunchy guitars, grinding organ, operatic vocals, it was certainly heavy for the period (the album has been called proto heavy metal), then there’s the ballad Come Away Melinda, which showcased Byron’s range and versatility.

The occasional genre hopping was slated at the time, but there was a feel the band hadn’t quite found their feet (2 tracks were recorded while still Spice, with a session pianist, and not rerecorded when Hensley joined). But there is plenty to love here and in retrospect it is widely (and rightfully) considered a genre defining classic.

Recorded at the tail end of 1970 and issued in early 1971, second album Salisbury is a more solid and consistent affair (a contemporary review called it a failed experiment – I still laugh at that now). Ken Hensley had taken control of much of the song writing.

There’s still some variety on the album, without being completely tangential. Opener Bird Of Prey (which featured on the US issue of the debut) is a lesson in prog rock and one still loved today.

The acoustic The Park is reminiscent of Come Away Melinda. Lady In Black is a short, catchy number often extended live with crowd involvement.

The classic on this album is the 16 minute title track, featuring a 24 piece orchestra. A mini rock opera in its own right, a great guitar solo or two in there, a little overblown but that is what prog was all about back in the day. Another fabulous album.

Also issued in 1971 was their third album Look At Yourself, a personal fave, but not issued (yet?) as part of this series.

1972 kicked off with Demons And Wizards, by which time the chemistry was well and truly cemented. Here Box, Hensley and Byron are augmented by drummer Lee Kerslake and incoming bassist Gary Thain (though Mark Clarke appears on a couple of tracks). This was the first album to feature the iconic art of Roger Dean.

The Wizard is a great tune, and Traveller In Time nods to the same kind of glam that T Rex and Elton John alluded to at the time, albeit in a heavier fashion. Then there’s the conundrum of Easy Livin’; a catchy blast and a hit single by a prog rock band? Indeed yes. If this track isn’t well known by anyone reading this, well, it should be. Solid, great riff, and Byron’s vocals go from solid to whimsical falsetto and back again.

Also issued in 1972 is The Magician’s Birthday, again illustrated by Roger Dean. A much loved album and in a time of revolving door line-ups there’s some stability here.

While the musicianship is spot on, and there are some very good songs such as Spider Woman and Sweet Lorraine, none really follow opener Sunrise with the same aplomb. The 10 minute title track is always worth going back to though.

Great times, great albums, and these look and feel lovely on picture disc.

Sound wise, these are as good as picture discs will get; by definition through the method of manufacture (the pictorial layer and lacquer), the needle will always be a layer removed from the original grooves. But that said, the sound is warm and you really can’t beat the look of one of these spinning on your deck.

These albums really should be in your record collection in one form or another and these are a great addition.

Review by Joe Geesin

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