Uriah Heep are one of those lucky bands who are always on the road, always able to play somewhere, and always able to bring it for the fans. While many bands were hit with a case of “what the heck do we do now?” when album sales started to take a downturn post-download-culture, Uriah Heep were able to just keep on doing what they were doing: play 150 gigs a year, put out the occasional brilliant album, then do it all again.
Mick Box is the band’s mainstay member, and the current lineup features vocalist Bernie Shaw, drummer Russell Gilbrook, keyboard player Trevor Gilbrook, and bass player (and member of David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars) Trevor Bolder on bass. The band’s most recent album is this year’s Into the Wild, but the band is about to release Live in Armenia, a 2CD/2DVD set chronicling its 2009 40th anniversary tour.
How did Live in Armenia come about?
We were invited to go over there, and we were quite surprised, but we took it with open arms. What a fantastic country! The people are all lovely, and we had an opportunity to record it out there. We did, took it back to England, looked at it and thought, “This isn’t too bad! Maybe we could release it!” And we did! It was as simple as that, really!
What was it like to play there?
Well, we’ve played in 53 countries – 54 when we go to Venezuela later this year. But it was just fantastic. You don’t realize how much your music has affected people in other countries until you actually get there. And you realize that even in communist regimes, our music still managed to get out there. You play a song like “July Morning” and you see people in the audience crying because they thought they’d never, ever get the chance to see it live. It’s an incredible feeling.
What’s the strangest place you’ve heard your music being played?
Well, we’ve always been rock and roll pioneers in that regard. We were the first band to play Russia in December 1987. Went over to Moscow and played to 150,000 people, which was incredible. Then South Korea, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia before it became the Czech Republic and Slovakia. From the outset of the band, our motto was, “If the people can’t come to the music, we’ll take the music to them.” So we invested a lot of time going to these territories. And now that those regimes are tucked away and the world is a more open place, we find how much impact we’ve had there.
And it helps that you guys have always established yourselves as a live band, a working band. I’m sure that's really helped you now that CD sales are heading further and further down.
I’ve always had the attitude that a working band is a happy band. I think that stands true, and there’s nobody who works harder than Uriah Heep, to be honest, because we’re out there constantly. We do 150 shows every year, more like 200 this year. I think that’s your first love, even before you go into the studio. You cut your teeth on live work. And you’re absolutely correct: there’s no more money now to be made with the dissolving of record companies and that side of the industry. And now you’ve got the download thing happening – it’s depleted any income in that regard. Luckily for Uriah Heep we had that strong fanbase around the globe, so it didn’t really affect us. The downside though is that now everybody’s doing it!
Do you play much from your most recent studio album, Into the Wild, live?
We play about four songs: “I’m Ready,” which we open with, then “Money Talks,” “Out of My Head” and “Into the Wild.” They fit into the rock side and keep everything lively. “I’m Ready” is such a positive song lyrically and everything else that I think everyone’s relating to that now.
The album has a very live sound.
I never do more than a double track of anything, because I think that with any more, the ear can’t decide what to follow. It’s more powerful that way. The more you put on, the weaker it gets, in my eyes. And I do record straight through an amp. I’ll do a pass on the take we keep and then I’ll pick up another guitar to give it a slightly different tone, do a pass with that and that’s how they stay. The important thing in our recording process is that we do it as a band. We don’t piece it together or anything. We go in, set up and play. You’ve got to be on top of your game when you do that because there’s no safety net. It gives you an edge, and I kind of like that.
“I’m Ready” is a good example. There’s a kind of groove to that song that you can’t really get when you overdub.
Absolutely! And I think that comes through a lot in our music as late. And that’s what you like about the old ’70s albums. They all did it like that. They didn’t do it any other way. I think that’s where that feeling comes through. The other thing is, we had an inspirational producer in Mike Paxman, because when we got a take we liked with previous producers, they’d then go and put it on Pro Tools and try to put everything in line. Mike’s viewpoint is, if it sounds good now and we’re excited by it now, it’ll always be that way. That was refreshing to me. The other good thing about him as well is that he doesn’t sit in the control room saying, “Do another take.” He’s in the studio with us bouncing off the walls with excitement!
That’s the way it should be. That’s why it’s called a “record!”
Yeah! In search of perfection sometimes, people iron out what made it special in the first place!
What’s your approach to live improvisation?
The song “Look at Yourself” every night is a bit of a blow. We just take that wherever we go. There are points that we can pull out and move to, but it’s just a free-for-all and it’s good fun. People get used to hearing things how they’re used to hearing him – the solos and stuff like that – but there are points in the show where we just let loose a little bit, and that’s great, because everyone gets that feeling of freedom. And it goes down an absolute storm. And those are the moments that get the standing ovations.
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