YESTERDAY’S TOMORROW

Named after one of the most odious characters in literature, Britain’s Uriah Heep have been churning out records and touring relentlessly for over forty years. The Allmusic guide lists more than three dozen albums and informs us that there have been over 30 members of the band formed by the wonderfully monikered Mick Box and singer David Byron in the late sixties. Though Mr Byron died in sad circumstances in 1985, Mr Box still carries the flame, toting it around the world with unflagging energy. If memory serves, they visited these shores as recently as last year, playing the Narre Warren Hotel, or something like that.

In a revelation that will draw sneers from the metal crowd and disbelief from those who would rather have their teeth drilled than listen to heavy prog, it can be revealed that the Vinyl Connection collection contains precisely four Uriah Heep titles: the third, fourth, fifth and sixth releases.

Uriah Heep 71-73

But which is my favourite? And which should I write about?

Maybe the one I heard first.

Uriah Heep - Magician

Sitting on the brown shag-pile carpet in the gloom of Rod Amberton’s bedroom, I had my first taste of many albums that became as good mates as Rod and I were back then. Santana’s Lotus was spun, Black Sabbath Vol. 4 thumped forth. And Uriah Heep’s Magician’s Birthday (rel. Dec. 1972) with its captivating Roger Dean cover art and stomping single “Sweet Lorraine” was another. I was wowed by the heavy sounds; the mystery of opening song “Sunrise”, the mournful majesty of “Echoes in the dark”. Listening again this week, I enjoyed the long proggy final title cut too. But much of what is in between is somewhere between good and a bit plodding.

So what about the other Roger Dean cover?

uriah heep - demons

Demons and Wizards (rel. May, 1972) was probably the peak for Uriah Heep. Its eight songs covered both wizards and demons as well as magic, stalking, confused mysticism and er, marriage.

I never ever thought I was looking for a wife

But I think I could love her for the rest of my life

[“All my life”]

You can imagine how that lyric connected with a couple of repressed, lonely seventeen year olds who’d never even managed to ask a girl on a date. On the other hand, maybe it was only me being inattentive, as within a couple of years Rod had indeed found a wife and settled into a life of deadening suburban endurance.

Back to Demons and Wizards. What really stands out is how many short rock songs there are on the album. Three clock in comfortably under three minutes while a further trio are under four-and-a-half. Given that the final 12 minute piece is actually two songs joined together (“Paradise/The Spell”), this is clearly not a meandering record. Centrepiece of the album is “Circle of Hands”, a terrific Ken Hensley composition that manages to pull off the fantasy/magician thing in a way that stays on the right side of risible.

Sky full of eyes / Minds full of lies

Black from their cold hearts / Down to their graves

Murdered the dawn / Spreading their scorn

Cursing the sun / Of which love was born

There is even a bit of existential philosophy chucked in, the sort of thing Gandalf might say. “Today,” he’d intone to a young hobbit, “Is only yesterday’s tomorrow.” Yeah, right greybeard. But the album isn’t grey, it’s alight with prismatic sprays of synthesiser, explosions of guitar and thunderclaps of rhythm. In short, it charges in, rocks its robe-clad arse off, and buggers off into the sunset waving a rune-engraved staff triumphantly.

Then there’s the album I played on radio.

Uriah Heep Live

On Friday nights in the early 90s, a mate and I alternated presenting Late Night Shopping on 3PBS FM, a Melbourne public radio station. Whenever there was a fifth Friday in the month, we did the show together, usually with some sort of theme. For one such show we featured moments on live albums where things go wrong. Steven pulled out a wonderfully wince-ful moment on Bowie’s live Ziggy Stardust set where Mick Ronson hits the wrong fret on a guitar fill in “White Light/White Heat” and plays the run a semi-tone low. Ronson redeems himself with savage playing throughout the rest of the piece, yet the blooper moment is simultaneously awful and funny.

Uriah Heep - David Bryon

My choice came from Uriah Heep Live (rel. Oct. 1973) which draws entirely – bar a dreadful rock and roll medley at the end – from the two albums above and the one below. The moment I chose for radio was the start of “Traveller in time” where proceedings are delayed. We’ll let singer David Byron take up the story.

Oh… [Crestfallen voice], I’ve got some chewing gum on me boot an’ I keep sticking to the stage, yeah… ‘S terrible when you get it stuck on yer boot like that… [Woefully] Terrible stuff.

At another point someone – presumably not keyboard maestro Ken Hensley – introduces a song as featuring the “Moog simplifier”. Pure Tufnel and St Hubbins. Don’t get me wrong, Heep Live is a pounding, thundering tank of a live album that I loved hearing again. Hensley adds yummy synthesiser squoodling* here and there, a delight for analogue synth fans. Design-wise, I love the glossy colour photos of the lads almost as much as the inner sleeve inclusion of Rolling Stone’s less than complimentary review of the first album. If you don’t know it, do read it. You’ll be happy you are not a recording artist.

Canned Heep

Canned Heep

Ultimately, it has to be Look At Yourself.

Uriah Heep - Look

This 1971 album is one of the earliest albums that could be labelled ‘heavy prog’ and is an excellent showcase for the category. After the excitement of the fast-rocking title track, things slow barely at all for the bluesy “I wanna be free” where a ponderous rhythm is hoisted joyfully on multi-tracked harmonies. Then comes “July morning”, centrepiece of this album and a stage favourite for years and years. Hensley’s organ features with rich reedy chords and simple but effective melodic lines; the extended final section where the keyboards extemporise over a repetitive guitar riff is organ/synth heaven – the US version cover notes by Hensley reveal that the synthesiser is played by guest Manfred Mann!

“Tears in my eyes” tears out of the blocks with a crunching riff before the quieter middle section reminds us that these blokes have hearts. After the frantic, riffing “Shadows of grief” comes a genuine ballad (“What should be done”), more pleasant than memorable.

The album closes with “Love machine”. A little Spinal Tap to be sure, yet if you can avoid images of foil wrapped cucumbers then the song offers a bushel of 70s rockin’ fun. And mention must be made of the mirror cover that allows the listener to, um, look at themselves. This fab cover has featured previously but deserves a return appearance.

IMG_5267

Playing Look At Yourself again – several times! – for this review made me smile. And maybe that is better therapy than almost anything else. Though I have been tempted to put a verse from the title track on my flyer:

If you need assistance or if all you need is love

There’s no point in hiding, tell me what you’re frightened of

You’ve got a friend, just look at yourself,

Don’t be afraid, just look at yourself.

Uriah Heep Look Back

* Squoodling = squelchy noodling. Patent pending.

29 comments

  1. At the moment I’ll hold my comments on the oeuvre of Uriah Heep (although I do have to say that one has to love a band named after a character from Charles Dickens) and, instead, congratulate you on your second anniversary of being out in the blogosphere. Thank you for your passion for music, and for sharing that passion with us these last 730 days. I salute you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks JDB.
      It has – as you most certainly know – been touch and go a few times as to whether VC would quietly fade away. Thankfully (?) there have been genug Augenblicke to stay the course, for now anyway.

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      1. Stay the course! 🚣🏻

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      2. Bitte!

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  2. Only last week, I thought about Uriah Heep’s ‘Look at Yourself’ for the first time in decades.
    It might be a good one to cook by tomorrow morning.

    Thanks.

    DD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It held up to another listen or three remarkably well. Your recipes don’t stand a chance in the face of the Heep!

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  3. I’ve never heard anything by Uriah Heep. Or not that I’m aware of anyway. Again, inspired to check them out – especially The Magician’s Birthday and Demons and Wizards. I really dig the album art for those two. Really pretty wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Here is the opening track of Magician’s Birthday. If you like this, you can be pretty confident about the rest!

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      1. Yup! I very much like this!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. About five years ago, I was shopping at my local grocery store and Uriah Heep’s “The Wizard” started playing over the public address system. I recognized it immediately and looked around at the other shoppers to see if anyone else was listening or marveling at such an obscure cut making it onto a grocery store’s playlist.

    No one was so I continued through the aisles, singing along silently in my mind and enjoying every moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You and your magic man kind of feeling fine.

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  5. We had ‘The Magician’s Birthday’ and ‘Demons and Wizards’ when I was growing up. My older brother had both album sleeves hanging on his wall(along with that Grand Funk Railroad LP with the 3-D image.)

    I always found the artwork more interesting than the music, but I love Ken Hensley’s Hammond B-3 playing. He did wonders to WASP and their album The Headless Children from 1990.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They are indeed wonderful Roger Dean paintings.
      Do you hear some Deep Purple similarities (esp. in Hensley’s keyboards)?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Absolutely. Lord and Hensley both made the Hammond something of a rock star. I still get chills hearing Lord’s runs on “Highway Star”, even more so than Blackmore’s guitar virtuosity.

        Prior to what those two did, the Hammond was seens as a blues/jazz thing. I mean, after hearing Jimmy Smith’s ‘The Sermon’ you really cannot not hear the B-3 in the same way again. In comes these two Brits and pretty much rewrite that instrument’s history. Total rock star organ.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Sorry I completely missed this one somehow.

    This was intriguing, all I own is Easy Livin on about three different rock compilations. Look @ Yourself (they need to modernise the title) is the one I’ve always fancied, glad to hear it’s a winner too.

    Next time I see a reasonably priced one, I’ll pounce. Thanks, Bruce!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pleasure Joe. Hope the IOGOVs place a copy in your line of sight.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Me too!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Uriah Heep are one of those guilty pleasures, you find yourself bellowing the lyrics when alone but cringe if someone else realizes what you are listening to. I love Return To Fantasy, not their best I am sure but it has John Wetton on bass.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know what you mean. Sing-along-a-heavy-prog… Yipee!

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  8. […] Other Dean covers from the first decade of his work recently appeared at Vinyl Connection here. […]

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  9. Heep have been a real grower on me although I find them a bit better when they’re straight up rocking to their more proggy stuff. But I’ve got plenty of albums and their all good. Even liked them when they went a bit Foreigner for Abominog too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Confession time: I stopped at the end of this post, i.e.: Magician’s Birthday. The shame. (Actually, it was the proggy stuff I loved!)

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      1. I don’t think I’ve got much beyond that myself. Sweet Freedom (which I’ve still never listened to) and Abominog are the only ones I think.

        I do love prog but I’m just never quite convinced by them. I really have to be in the mood otherwise stuff like July Morning just sends me right off to sleep!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ha ha! My favourite song. Must try “July Morning” instead of warm milk some insomniac night.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Loads of people say that one is their favourite! I’m sure it’ll grow on me eventually… if I can stay awake long enough!

          Liked by 1 person

  10. You know, I’d meant to comment on this one way back but wanted to say something weighty given a very positive Uriah Heep concert experience I’d had here just last March. In the end, my inability to immediately say something profound put me off and the moment passed. Reading today’s “Yes” reminded me of this one so I figured I’d just drop back by late to the party to say Demons and Wizards was my teenage favorite UH, but I loved Magician’s Birthday as well. Abominog is ok and I’ll give it a spin on occasion, but way outside the UH prog glory so I’m always a little put off by it.

    What I really want to say is that the current version of UH — with only Mick Box left from the 70s prog glory days — has been putting out some great stuff in recent years. Seeing them on tour for their latest album “Outsider” was a blast. They joyfully hit the 70s highlights (including the entirety of Magician’s Birthday) and also managed to thrill with their brand new songs. Great musicians, great showmen, happy people = giddy VotF.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I knew that UH were still touring with Mick Box at the helm. Amazing to hear that both albums and concerts were satisfying. That must have been a blast.

      As for that immortal duo of D & W and The M’s B-D, I think we all bought them as teenagers because of the covers. That they were good solid heavy prog was a bonus.

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  11. […] I had friends with records. Or at least, I had one friend. Rod – no stranger to these pages – lived a couple of miles away, a hot bicycle ride in summer sure enough, but the rewards […]

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