Uriah Heep

Uriah Heep are an English rock band formed in London in 1969 and are regarded as one of the seminal hard rock acts of the early 1970's. Uriah Heep's heavy prog distinctive features have always been massive keyboards sound, strong vocal harmonies and (in the early years) David Byron's operatic vocals. Twelve of the band's albums have made it to the UK Albums Chart (Return to Fantasy reached No. 7 in 1975), while of the fifteen Billboard 200 Uriah Heep albums Demons and Wizards was the most successful (#23, 1972). In the late 1970's the band had massive success in Germany, where the "Lady in Black" single was a big hit. Along with Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, Uriah Heep has become one of the top bands in the early 70s and also people like to call these four bands "The Big 4" of hard rock. Uriah Heep's audience declined by the 1980s, to the point where they became essentially a cult band in the United Kingdom and the United States. The band, though, maintains a significant following and performs at arena-sized venues in the Balkans, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Russia and Scandinavia. They have sold over 40 million albums worldwide with over 4 million sales in the U.S.

1967–1971: The beginning

The band's origins go back to 1967 when guitarist Mick Box, who was 20 at the time, formed in Brentwood a band called The Stalkers which started playing in local clubs and pubs. When the band's singer left, drummer Roger Penlington suggested his cousin David Garrick, who knew the band, as a replacement. Box and Garrick instantly formed a songwriting partnership and, having higher musical aspirations than their colleagues, decided to give up their day jobs and go professional. They set up a new band called Spice; it was then that David Garrick changed his second name to Byron. Drummer Alex Napier joined, having answered a music paper ad and bassist Paul Newton of The Gods completed the line-up. From the very beginning Spice avoided playing covers and, according to Box, "were always striving to do something original". Managed initially by Newton's father, the band climbed their way up to the marquee level, then got signed by Gerry Bron, the Hit Record Productions Ltd.'s boss, who saw the band at the Blues Loft club in High Wycombe. Bron became the band's manager and signed them to Vertigo Records, the newly formed Philips label. The four-piece found themselves booked into the Lansdowne Studios in London, still under the name of Spice. Then the name was changed to that of the well-known character from the David Copperfield  novel by Charles Dickens, Uriah Heep.

Then the band decided to widen its sound. "We'd actually recorded half the first album when we decided that keyboards would be good for our sound. I was a big Vanilla Fudge fan, with their Hammond organ and searing guitar on top, and we had David's high vibrato vocals anyway so that's how we decided to shape it", Box recalled. First session player Colin Wood was brought in by Gerry Bron, and then Ken Hensley, a former colleague of Newton in The Gods, who was currently playing guitar in Toe Fat, was lined up on keyboards and guitar. Their debut album, Very 'eavy... Very 'umble (1970), which was self-titled in the US, introduced Hensley's heavy organ and guitar-driven sound, with David Byron's theatrical, dynamic vocals soaring above thunderous sonic backgrounds, although acoustic and jazz elements also featured in the mix. The album's title references the signature phrase of the Dickens character Uriah Heep ("very 'umble") from the novel David Copperfield. Hensley had little to contribute to the debut: Box and Byron wrote most of the material, including "Gypsy", in many ways "...a marriage of contrasts that would, in time, become their trademark". Three quarters into the recording of the album Alex Napier was replaced by Nigel Olsson, recommended to Byron by Elton John. The debut was not popular with rock critics, especially in the USA where a Rolling Stone reviewer infamously promised to commit suicide "if this band makes it", but in retrospect the attitude towards it changed. In the course of the album's making the writing relationship between Box, Byron and Hensley was beginning to develop. 


With Nigel Olsson returning to the Elton John group again, Keith Baker took his place. The band's second album Salisbury (1971) was more squarely in the progressive rock genre, with its 16-minute title track featuring a 24-piece orchestra. One of the album's tracks, "Lady in Black", became a hit in Germany upon its re-release in 1977, earning the band the Radio Luxemburg Lion award. Produced by Gerry Bron, the second album went a long way to perfect Uriah Heep's "blend of hard rock power and prog rock complexity" and was also significant for Ken Hensley's instant rise to a position of the main author.

Bird of prey

Soon after the release Keith Baker left the band to be replaced by Ian Clarke (from another Vertigo band Cressida). With him the band made their first US tour, supporting Three Dog Night and Steppenwolf. By the Spring 1971 Gerry Bron's deal with Philips/Vertigo was over, so he set up his own label, Bronze Records. The third album was recorded in the Summer months of 1971, during the band's three visits to Lansdowne. The third album, Look at Yourself, released in October 1971, marked the solidification of disparate ideas that had been a prominent feature of Salisbury and presented the unified sound and direction. Among the stand-outs were the title track, "Tears In My Eyes" and "July Morning", an epic which Heep fans regard as equal to Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" and Deep Purple's "Child in Time". The album peaked at No. 39 in the UK.

Tears in my eyes

Love machine

1972–1976: The classic era

By the end of 1971 it became clear that Hensley, Byron and Box had become the tightly knit nucleus of the band. Feeling marginalised, first bassist Paul Newton left to be briefly replaced by Mark Clarke, then in November 1971 drummer Ian Clarke was replaced by Lee Kerslake, once of The Gods. New Zealander bass player Gary Thain with his unique style -a then member of Keef Hartley band- joined Uriah Heep as a permanent member halfway through another American tour. Thus the classic Uriah Heep was formed. The result of this newly found chemistry was the Demons and Wizards album which in June 1972 reached No. 20 in the UK and No. 23 in the USA. While the title of it and Roger Dean's sleeve both suggested that the band was working medieval myth into their songs -surely songs like "Rainbow Demon" and "The Wizard" (co-written by Mark Clarke, during his short stay) did have thematical links with fantasy world- more straightforward, hard-rocking approach was also obvious. To discard any possible insinuations concerning any kind of concept behind it, Hensley's note on the sleeve declared the album to be just a collection of songs. Both critics and the band's aficionados consider the album as crowning achievement which solidified Uriah Heep's reputation. Two singles were released from the album: "The Wizard" and "Easy Livin'", the second peaked at No. 39 in Billboard Hot 100.

Easy livin'

Paradise / The spell

Six months later, in November 1972, Uriah Heep's fifth studio album The Magician's Birthday (#28 UK, No. 31 USA) came out, with "Sweet Lorraine" released as an American single and the title track (a multi-part fantasy epic featuring Hensley-Byron vocal duel and Box's extensive guitar solo in the middle) being the album's highlight. David Byron was the the focal point of the whole group's stage presentation. 

Blind eye

A lavishly packaged (an eight-page booklet plus) double album Uriah Heep Live followed, recorded at the Birmingham Townhall in January 1973. Having completed another Japanese tour, the band (due to tax problems) went to record to Chateau d'Heronville in France. It was there that the solid, but rather mainstream-sounding Sweet Freedom (#18 UK, No. 33 USA) was created with "Stealin'" released as a single in 1973. Having gained the world-wide recognition, the band quit the fantasy world in lyrics and made an obvious stab at versatility by adding funk ("Dreamer") and acoustic folk ("Circus") elements to the palette. Ken Hensley meanwhile had been gradually recording his own, mellower material; his solo debut Proud Words on a Dusty Shelf was released the same year.

If I had the time

Wonderworld (1974), recorded in Munich's Musicland Studios in January, proved to be a disappointment to both fans and band members alike. "Recording abroad disrupted the band's normal method of operation and that had a big negative effect on the group. Our communication was falling apart, we were arguing over stuff like royalties and we were getting involved in matters beyond music", Hensley said. Box remembered weeks spent in the studio as dramatic for all the wrong reasons. While on tour during September,  bassist Gary Thain got electrocuted on stage in Dallas. Soon after going out of the hospital, Thain openly accused manager Gerry Bron of having turned Uriah Heep into a mere "financial thing" and he was promptly fired. Gary Thain died in December 1975.  Bassist John Wetton (ex-Family and King Crimson) joined the band and with him Return to Fantasy (1975) was recorded; representing a revitalized Uriah Heep, it soared up to No. 7 in the UK. The following "Year-long world tour" was marred by a new accident. Mick Box fell off stage in Louisville, Kentucky, breaking the radial bone in his right arm, but persevered through both the set and the tour, receiving three injections a night. In November 1975 The Best of Uriah Heep compilation was released, preceded by two solo albums: Byron's debut Take No Prisoners and Hensley's second, Eager to Please.

Beautiful dream

High and Mighty that followed in June 1976 was considered lightweight. The matter of production here became the point of major contention. With Bron committed to non-musical projects, the band decided to produce the album themselves. The band's live concerts at that point were more and more chaotic due to Byron's inconsistency on stage and the distance between David and the rest had grown to unworkable proportions. In July 1976, after the final show of a Spanish tour, David Byron was sacked. Soon bassist John Wetton announced he was quitting. Obviously neither he was comfortable in the band, nor his colleagues with him.

1977–1979: The John Lawton era

Uriah Heep recruited bassist Trevor Bolder (ex-David Bowie, Mick Ronson) and, after having auditioned David Coverdale (Deep Purple, Whitesnake), Ian Hunter and Gary Holton (Heavy Metal Kids), brought in vocalist John Lawton, formerly of Lucifer's Friend and the Les Humphries Singers, with whom they turned away from fantasy-oriented lyrics and multi-part compositions back toward a more straightforward hard rock sound typical of the era. Firefly was released in February 1977, displaying renewed energy in the Uriah Heep sound. The band then toured the USA supporting Kiss. "They were incredibly professional, and so consistent that their worst nights were excellent and their best were tremendous". 


Innocent Victim was released in November 1977. The single "Free Me" became an international hit, making it to No. 1 in New Zealand. In Germany the album sold over a million copies and became Uriah Heep's most successful album, which coincided with the success of the re-released "Lady in Black". For some time during this period, there were three Uriah Heep singles sitting together in the German Top 20, these being "Wise Man" (from Firefly), "Lady in Black" and "Free Me". In the end of 1978 Fallen Angel came out, having completed a hat-trick of studio albums to feature a consistent line-up. It was well received at the time, but failed to chart. Meanwhile the relative stability of the Lawton period belied the behind the scenes unrest  having to do with Ken Hensley earning much more than his colleagues. The major rift, though, developed between Hensley and Lawton leading to the vocalist's departure, shortly after playing the Bilzen Festival in Belgium. 

Falling in love

1980: The album with John Sloman

Ex-Lone Star John Sloman was brought in, a younger singer who played keyboards and guitar, but almost instantly Lee Kerslake departed, following a row with manager Bron, whom the drummer accused of favouritism towards Hensley's material. Several tracks of the next album had to be re-recorded with a new drummer, Chris Slade (of the Manfred Mann's Earth Band). Conquest LP was released in February 1980 and represented a confused Uriah Heep. The band went on the 10th Anniversary Tour with Girlschool as support and attracted respectable crowds. Hensley was unhappy primarily with vocalist Sloman. A meeting at the manager’s office concerning the songwriting dissent was to be the last straw and in September 1980 Ken Hensley quit. Keyboardist Gregg Dechert, a Canadian who had worked with Sloman in Pulsar, came in and the band went on a 23-date tour of the UK. After that Sloman left, citing musical differences. He would later go on to work with UFO, Gary Moore and Robert Palmer. Hensley's acrimonious departure had left the group in a state of collapse. Bassist Trevor Bolder, who by that time "had had enough of Gerry Bron and the management", decided to join Wishbone Ash and when Gregg Dechert left, Uriah Heep were down to just Mick Box with the name and contract.

No return

1982–1986: The Peter Goalby era

Box first rang Lee Kerslake -who in the meanwhile had co-founded Blizzard of Ozz with Ozzy Osbourne- and the drummer brought along with him bassist Bob Daisley. Then keyboardist John Sinclair came in, whom Box knew from the times he was a member of Heavy Metal Kids and who currently played with a Los Angeles band called Lion. The band’s new vocalist became Peter Goalby of Trapeze fame. The latter had once auditioned for Uriah Heep and failed, ironically Hensley being the only band member who had supported him as a choice. Produced by Ashley Howe, Abominog album "pulled Uriah Heep out of the 70s and thrust them into the 80s with determination, even if sounded a bit too American". Released in March 1982, it won favour with the critics as one of the most mature and consistent albums in the group's lengthy catalog. The album did relatively well in the American charts (#56) and the band successfully performed at the Castle Donington Monsters Of Rock event. Head First (1983), produced again by Ashley Howe, followed much in the same vein. Not long before its release bassist Bob Daisley left the band to return to Ozzy Osbourne and Trevor Bolder re-joined Uriah Heep. Both albums, Abominog and Head First, updated the band's sound and generated a brief, newfound interest in Uriah Heep among younger heavy metal fans. Uriah Heep toured the USA supporting Rush, Judas Priest and Def Leppard. Massive Asian and South American tours followed before the band returned to the studio with producer Tony Platt and a new deal with CBS's Portrait label secured by new manager Harry Maloney. Meanwhile, David Byron died of a heart attack and liver disease in 1985 at the age of 38. The album Equator (1985) sold poorly. Totally exhausted and having serious voice problems, vocalist Peter Goalby left mid-way through the Australian tour. Then keyboardist John Sinclair quit deciding to join Ozzy Osbourne and Phil Lanzon (Grand Prix, Sad Café) came in to fit in immediately into the Box-envisaged scheme of things. American singer Steff Fontaine, formerly of Christian metal band Joshua, joined but he was criticized for being totally unprofessional and was sacked after just one American tour. Fontaine's position was offered then to ex-Grand Prix, Praying Mantis and Stratus vocalist Bernie Shaw, and that in retrospect proved to be a winning move. 


The line-up remained unchanged from 1986 until 2007, being veteran Mick Box at the helm and on lead guitar, Trevor Bolder on bass, Lee Kerslake on drums, vocalist Bernie Shaw and Phil Lanzon on keyboards. Their principal tour circuit has been in Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Japan and Russia. In December 1987 they were the first ever Western band to play in Soviet Russia. At Moscow's Olympic Stadium the band played ten consecutive nights to a total of 180,000 people (following a reception that Bernie Shaw remembered as being "something like Beatlemania") which was represented in the international press as not just an achievement for Uriah Heep but a major breakthrough for Western music in general. The concerts were recorded and issued as the Live in Moscow album which included three new tracks. After a series of sell-out dates in Czechoslovakia, East Berlin and Bulgaria the band returned to Britain for the Reading Festival in August 1988, and toured the UK with The Dogs D'Amour. Raging Silence, produced by Richard Dodd and released in May 1989, was followed by a return to the Soviet Union, concerts in Poland, East Berlin, six dates in Brazil and another British tour. The band played in the Central TV studios in Nottingham (the film was shown as part of the Independent TV series "Bedrock") and celebrated its 20th Anniversary with a series of compilations and re-issues. Produced by Trevor Bolder and released early in 1991, Different World got a mixed reception from the press, sold poorly, failed to chart and marked the end of the band's contract with Legacy Records. Touring incessantly, the band issued some compilations of which Rarities from the Bronze Age and The Lansdowne Tapes (featuring previously unreleased material from the early 1970's) are considered most noteworthy. Still the first half of the 1990's is regarded even by the Heep fans as "the wilderness years". The Sea of Light album (1995) produced by the band along with Kalle Trapp, was well received and in retrospect is seen as the band's return to form. Produced by Pip Williams, Sonic Origami, originally issued in Japan in 1998, then a year later, in the U.S. The release was followed by a successful European tour which continued all through 1999. The band released The Legend Continues DVD and then toured the UK. A reunion gig with Ken Hensley and  John Lawton took place in London on 7 December 2001 in the course of the Magicians Birthday Party, which since then became a tradition, even though Hensley never actually joined again. For most of the years that followed Uriah Heep have returned to Britain for a tour or just this annual showcase concert, which in 2003 was held at the now demolished London Astoria. All the while Mick Box acted as a manager for the band until 2005 when they retained Simon Porter as their manager. In early 2007, drummer Lee Kerslake had to leave the group due to ill health. In March of that year the band recruited Russell Gilbrook as their new drummer and immediately started recording a new studio album entitled Wake the Sleeper, where they used double drums in the songs "Wake the Sleeper" and "War Child". Originally slated for a summer 2007 release, Universal Music finally released Wake the Sleeper on 2 June 2008. In October 2009 Uriah Heep released their 40th Anniversary Celebration album, containing new studio recordings of twelve of their best known tracks, plus two brand new songs. Uriah Heep performed live on the Progressive Rock stage at the inaugural High Voltage Festival in London's Victoria Park on 25 July 2010. They played their 1972 album Demons and Wizards in its entirety, being joined by ex-Whitesnake man Micky Moody on slide guitar. Uriah Heep released their 23rd studio album Into the Wild on 15 April 2011 in Europe (3 May in North America) via Frontiers Records.

Studio albums

...Very 'Eavy ...Very 'Umble (1970)
Salisbury (1971)
Look at Yourself (1971)
Demons and Wizards (1972)
The Magician's Birthday (1972)
Sweet Freedom (1973)
Wonderworld (1974)
Return to Fantasy (1975)
High and Mighty (1976)
Firefly (1977)
Innocent Victim (1977)
Fallen Angel (1978)
Conquest (1980)
Abominog (1982)
Head First (1983)
Equator (1985)
Raging Silence (1989)
Different World (1991)
Sea of Light (1995)
Sonic Origami (1998)
Wake the Sleeper (2008)
Celebration (2009)
Into the Wild (2011)