Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
UK heavy metal group formed '69 by guitarist Mick Box (b 8 June '47, London) and vocalist David Byron (b 29 Jan. '47, Essex; d 28 Feb. '85), both formerly in groups called Stalkers and Spice. The lineup named after the unctious Dickens character was completed by drummer Alex Napier and Ken Hensley (b 24 Aug. '45), multi-talented guitarist, keyboardist and writer who'd played in the Gods with Mick Taylor and ex-Spice bassist Paul Newton: he joined straight from the unsuccessful group Toefat. Very 'Eavy Very 'Umble '70 featured Hensley's keyboards and Box's extrovert guitar leads, with Byron's high-register vocals enhanced by harmonies that took them out of the standard HM rut, 'Gypsy' becoming a perennial favourite. Salisbury '71 featured new drummer Keith Baker and an unusual, heavily orchestrated 16-minute title track. Look At Yourself '71 had Iain Clarke on drums, including their best-known track 'July Morning' (with Manfred Mann on Moog): it sold well but not as well as Demons And Wizards '72 (top 25 in USA), with a stable rhythm section (at last) of drummer Lee Kerslake (ex-Gods) and bassist Gary Thain (ex-Keef Hartley; b N.Z.; d 19 March '76). Magician's Birthday '72 continued the sword and sorcery image; these together with tour de force 2-disc Uriah Heep Live '73 went gold in USA and UK: single 'Easy Livin' ' made no. 39 USA '72. But it was downhill from there. Wonderworld '74 was unexceptional; Thain had an electrical accident onstage, arguments over that and personal problems led to his leaving early '75 and he was found dead of a drug accident; John Wetton (ex-King Crimson, Family) filled in for the aimless Return To Fantasy and High And Mighty '75-6; in '76 Byron was replaced by John Lawton (ex-Lucifer's Friend) who had made solo LP Take No Prisoners '75 and soon departed to form Rough Diamond with Clem Clempson (ex-Humble Pie); Wetton left, replaced by Trevor Bolder (ex-David Bowie sideman). The music continued to disappoint even loyal fans and the departure of Hensley left Box without his lieutenant and co-writer; Firefly, Innocent Victim, Fallen Angel and Conquest '77-80 were all poor: Box dissolved the band and formed another.
The new Heep with Box, John Sinclair (keyboards; ex-Heavy Metal Kids), Pete Goalby (vocals; ex-Trapeze), bassist Bob Daisley (ex-Rainbow) and Kerslake (who'd left to join Ozzy Osbourne) made LPs Abominog and Head First '82-3, both returns to form. Daisley quit '83, replaced by a returning Bolder, while the band acrimoniously split from onetime producer Gerry Bron's Bronze label to release Equator '85 on CBS/Epic, followed by The Raging Silence '89 and Different World '91, none of which charted in the USA. Other albums were Live At Shepperton '74, Live In Europe 1979, Live In Moscow '88; compilations on CD included Excavations From The Bronze Age and Echoes In The Dark. Like Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi, Mick Box strove for a standard expected by fans despite personnel changes; the most serious loss was Hensley, who made solo LPs Proud Words On A Dusty Shelf '73, Eager To Please '75, Free Spirit '80 and spent much of the early '80s with Southern rockers Blackfoot.