October 20, 2009

URIAH HEEP: FEBRUARY 1974

David Byron

Uriah Heep

Winterland, San Francisco
February 10, 1974

All photos by David Miller

David Byron, Lee Kerslake

Uriah Heep (a name taken from a character in David Copperfield by Charles Dickens) started out as a British band called Spice. When Ken Hensley joined on keyboards in 1969, the musicians of Spice became Uriah Heep, and quickly began to establish a strong reputation for themselves in the United Kingdom and Europe. They released their first album, Very 'eavy... Very 'umble, on Vertigo Records in 1970, followed by Salisbury and Look at Yourself, both in 1971.

Mick Box

In addition to Ken Hensley, the first lineup of Uriah Heep also featured David Byron on vocals and Mick Box on guitar. Other musicians came and went during the early years, but in 1974, when Uriah Heep performed at Winterland, the band also included Gary Thain on bass and Lee Kerslake on drums. It was this lineup that finally achieved a breakthrough in the USA, and recorded four of Uriah Heep's best known albums: Demons and Wizards (1972), The Magician's Birthday (1972), Sweet Freedom (1973), and Wonderworld (1974).

Ken Hensley

David Byron was at the forefront of Uriah Heep's sound, both on their records and in their performances. His voice was a thing of shrill wonder, unmistakable and unforgettable in equal measure, full of unguarded feeling and able to pierce through even the most bombastic tune. On the stage, he was a shamelessly flashy performer. He sang directly to members of the audience, making broad gestures with his arms, bending and twisting his body to the music, doing everything that he could to hold their interest.

Mick Box, Gary Thain

Next to David Byron, the most noticeable musician on stage was Mick Box. He handled his guitar with the showy style and knowing ease that frequently was displayed by British guitarists of the period. He seemed unaffected and down-to-earth, but he also knew how to pose in the spotlight. Ken Hensley was mostly a hidden figure behind his bank of keyboards, as generally happens with keyboardists, but his musical contributions were thoughtful, well-defined, and essential. Gary Thain and Lee Kerslake, both able musicians, rounded out the heavy approach for which Uriah Heep was justly known. 






David: Uriah Heep was the loudest sound I ever heard. My ears are still ringing. I am sure the hydrogen bomb was louder, but not by much. Ken Hensley hit notes that cut into my ear drums. Mick Box drove his guitar into the stratosphere. David Byron's voice was powered by jet fuel. The concept of putting cotton into my ears was unknown to me at the time.

I had seen Uriah Heep a year and half earlier, but I think we caught them at their peak at this concert. They had the best band members and had released Sweet Freedom several months before. I was taken with their combination of hard, raunchy sound leaning toward progressive rock. Toss in a little glam and songs about wizards, and it made for a great concert.

David Byron was the ultimate showman. When he saw me pointing the camera at him at the start of the show, he leaned forward and allowed me to take a super closeup. The tight pants he wore gave credence to the myth that British rockers had the biggest crotch cleavage. Whether it was real or whether something was stuffed down there, is not known.

I was totally thrilled to be in a position to photograph this concert. They did "Sweet Lorainne," "Sunrise," "Easy Livin'," and "The Magician's Birthday." I remember David Byron pointing at the audience when he introduced "Look at Yourself." Every time he sang, the spotlight was on him, while Ken Hensley sat in darkness, playing keyboards and theremin. Gary Thain thumped away on bass. Mick Box was a mass of hair and screaming lead guitar. All in all, a perfect band for the eyes and ears. 





Gary: Uriah Heep weren't among my favorite bands, though I bought their records (and sold them back) thinking at the time that they were kind of a hard rock band trying to be accepted as a progressive band (which I didn't think they were). In listening to a couple of their LPs that I bought back in recent years, I like some of Ken Hensley's writing, mainly the early recordings. "Look at Yourself" has a Moog solo by Manfred Mann, and "Salisbury" is a longer track with orchestration that is fantastic. Ken Hensley's first solo album, Proud Words on a Dusty Shelf, seemed unspectacular back then, but I'd like to find it again and give it a new listen.

Demons and Wizards and The Magician's Birthday had the cover artwork by Roger Dean, but I didn't like the music as much. I just found a copy of Sweet Freedom (made after the Roger Dean period) that I had forgotten about. It looked like they were getting back to a more basic approach, with just a photo of the band on the cover. It seemed to fit the band better. Maybe the freedom was freedom from trying to market their music in a certain way.

The Winterland concert was fun. I mostly remember David Byron hamming it up, and Mick Box spitting into his hair. It was all very entertaining. Ken Hensley remained mostly in the shadows, as I recall. It was good to see Gary Thain. I really liked his playing on LPs by The Keef Hartley Band. Sad to hear of him passing away from a heroin overdose in 1975. Also sad to hear of David Byron passing away too young in 1985, as a result of alcoholism. I enjoyed his singing. He put a lot of energy into it, and was a very dynamic performer. Overall, Uriah Heep seemed more hard rock than progressive, though Ken Hensley's writing could have made the band different if he and they had wanted it to be different. They were a unique band, named after a Dickens character, no less. "Charles Dickens, meet Lee Kerslake!!"

After the concert, meeting members of the band for autographs, I remember David Byron being very flippant at our attempts to congratulate him. He kind of shrugged off his talent by being funny. They were all nice people and skilled musicians. To this day, they have a cult following.





Michael: I was quite excited to see Uriah Heep. I loved performers who had flash and flair, qualities that Uriah Heep had in abundance. Their music was not particularly subtle, but it was not entirely shallow, either. They gave a thunderous performance that was embellished with unblushing showmanship, especially on the part of David Byron. He thoroughly outdid himself, ardently engaging the audience from beginning to end, clearly taking great delight in being on display. At the end of the show, a burst of confetti rained down on the stage.

I was standing right in front of Mick Box during the performance at Winterland. He was a straightforward guitarist who came across as an extremely amiable fellow. I remember him crouching at the edge of the stage between songs, taking a moment to show the fingering of a chord to a fan in the front row. He could not have been any more obliging that that!

I share Gary's memory of meeting David Byron at the stage door after the show. The singer, who appeared to be thoroughly drunk, casually dismissed the words of praise that we offered to him as he stepped out to the sidewalk, appearing to be much more interested in the two young women at his side. The wonderful world of rock'n'roll!

Finale

More photos and memories of this performance can be seen here

More about Uriah Heep at David's Rock Scrapbook

Next: Peter Frampton

3 comments:

  1. Visit http://www.david-byron.com

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  2. Chuck in ChicagoMay 24, 2010 at 10:37 PM

    Rest in peace, Gary Thain! You were amazing...

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