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Heep - Look At Yourself
Review No: 286
Mick Box: Guitars and Vocals
Ken Hensley: Keyboards and Vocals
Paul Newton: Bass Guitar and Vocals
David Byron: Lead Vocals
Ian Clarke: Drums
There has been a band going under the Uriah Heep banner now since 1969, and no one can take away their influence on hard rock music. Only Mick Box survives from the original line up, but combining his undeniable popularity with musical skill on his chosen musical weapon, the modern electric guitar, a great vision of what the customer wants, and an incredible faith in his ability to succeed within the band, he has kept the band going through all the sticks and arrows that have been thrown at them. (A certain journalist from America’s prestigious rock magazine ‘Rolling Stone’ said she would commit suicide if the band made it when she reviewed their debut album. Fortunately for her, after millions of album sales including 19 studio albums and countless live albums and compilations, playing concerts to thousands of adoring fans all over the world, the band has not held her to her word).
The line up of the band today, Mick Box on lead guitar, Trevor Boulder (ex-David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars, and Wishbone Ash) on bass guitar, Phil Lanson on keyboards, Bernie Shaw on lead vocals and Lee Kerslake on drums (Lee has been with the band since the fourth album, only missing one along the way after a spat with keyboardist Ken Hensley, but when he left the band it left an easy way for Lee to come back as he had just been evicted from ‘Ozzy Osborne’s Blizzard of Oz’) have now been together for over twenty five years, but it certainly was not like that at the beginning.
In their early days Uriah Heep was one of the main bands that gave the inspiration to the ‘Rockumentary’ Spinal Tap, one of the finest comedies ever made about rock culture, with its self combusting drummers, revolving stages, and dramatic band break ups.
Uriah Heep had five different drummers before their fourth album, to be fair the fifth was Lee Kerslake, who became the fifth and seventh drummer after Chris Slade stepped in for the ‘Conquest’ album, before going off to ‘The Firm’ with Paul Rogers and Jimmy Page. Throughout their careers, Uriah Heep has had five lead singers, four keyboard players, six bass players, but only one lead guitarist - good old Mick Box who today looks more and more like one of the wrestlers from the American wrestling series than ever, although he still plays a mean guitar.
Uriah Heep was formed in 1969 by taking the four members
of the band ‘Spice’ - David Byron on lead vocals, Paul Newton
on bass, Alex Napier on drums, Mick Box on lead guitar, and adding Ken
Hensley on keyboards to add an extra dimension to the instrumentation
and the writing skills of the band. Ken Hensley had been in ‘Toe
Fat’ with Cliff Bennett and a certain Lee Kerslake.
Look At Yourself
Their first album, Very ‘Eavy, Very ‘Umble (1969), had a very good cover! It also contained the opening track ‘Gypsy’ which is still in the live set list today, which does have a certain appeal in its opening riff, but then rather fades away as an excuse for a long complicated keyboard solo, which to be fair it still is today. After that things rather went downhill with the rest of the album searching for direction and including an ill advised blues workout imaginatively titled ‘Lucy Blues’, a cover of ‘Come Away Mellinda’, which would have been better left in the hands of a Tom Jones wannabe, and some other assorted plod rockers.
Six months later the band came out with their second album (and third drummer, second drummer Nigel Olsson got an offer from Elton John, which he could hardly turn down) ‘Salisbury’ (1970) (even the cover was awful). This started in fine style with a song called ‘Bird Of Prey’ with its harmony vocals, excellent soloing from both guitars and keyboards, giving hints as to what the band was capable of.
This was then followed by a rock ballad which had a very stop start rhythm, clever but a bit confusing for the new fan. Then it was back to hard rock for the flat out ‘Time To Live’. Next was the now classic ‘Lady in Black’, an acoustic sing-a-long which had wonderful harmonies, and was great for a sing song at concerts.
Then when you turned the album over (ah the good old days of vinyl) there was another rocker in ‘High Priestess’ before a sixteen minute piece which was the title track. It had brass sections, sweeping violins, you name it, Uriah Heep added it onto the song. Listening to it now it really was a mess, leaving the record buying public in complete confusion.
Things had to be put right, and ten months later that year they were. ‘Look At Yourself’ (1970) still is to many the ultimate Uriah Heep and hard rock album. The cover is great, it’s a mirror, look at yourself! Get it?
Opening with the title track it hurtles out of the tracks like some demented heavy metal demon. Hensley and Box thrash out the song’s riff before the wonderfully strong voice of David Byron calls his brethren to the cause, the rest of the band harmonizing behind him, then after a rampaging guitar solo, the riff is picked up again to bring the song to a rousing crescendo with the percussionists from ‘Osibisa’ brought in to add their sound to the climax. This time the session musicians were used to good effect.
The pace is not let up by the following song, ‘I Wanna Be Free’, as the chorus is driven along by a pounding beat, but with sympathetic vocals and fine musical flourishes, with all the guitars in the band standing out.
At track three is probably Uriah Heep’s most famous song, ‘July Morning’, a song that no version of the band could ever contemplate going on stage and not playing before they leave. It must have also been licensed out to every ‘Best of Hard rock albums’ ever made. After Ken Hensley’s strident organ chords open the song up, Mick Box takes the song to a higher level with some truly rockin’ guitar, before the whole thing is brought down to allow the vocals of David Byron to take over. The song is a loving ten minutes long, showing the full range of all the soloists, building to many crescendos before reaching a dramatic conclusion with everybody having a go at the solos and Manfred Mann brought into the studio to add his deft touch on the moog synthesizer - a classic rock song.
The following songs on the album are not an anti-climax. ‘Tears In My Eyes’ is a great little rock ‘n’ roll song with lots of loud guitars, and the harmony vocals would not do shame to any of the great American vocal groups of the Fifties.
‘Shadows Of Grief’ is another epic song that perhaps never gets the recognition of some of its peers, maybe this is because there just was not room for it in the live set with all its twists and turns, but it is like a hidden treasure on the album. It has aged very well even though it still glorifies in the use of stereo with all the instruments and vocals switching from one speaker to the other in dramatic fashion, as if the band had found a new toy to play with.
Finally the band drops the pace a little, as if needing to catch their breath, with the beautiful ballad ‘What Should Be Done’. There is nothing wrong with having one ballad on a rock album as long as they do not dominate proceedings. The album is brought to a rollicking conclusion by ‘Love Machine’, a number that just rocks, bringing the music to a conclusion as it did Uriah Heep’s live set at the time.
A job well done, ‘Look At Yourself’ was the first Uriah Heep album to break into the American Top 100 and the British Top 30. Of course the band would hit pay dirt with the next year’s ‘Demons and Wizards’ album, but would it all have been possible with out a good look at yourself?
Over the next thirty years Uriah Heep did make some awful
yawn inducing albums (like ‘Fallen Angel’ in 1978). But make
no mistake, ‘Look At Yourself’ is a diamond hard jewel.