The Bloody Classics - Uriah Heep
Uriah Heep Demons and Wizards, 1972, Bronze Records
Traveller in Time
Circle of Hands
All My Life
I’ve enjoyed listening to some glam rock, but the British music scene of the early 1970s was full of variety, so there was still some hard rock out there to enjoy. Formed in 1969 from the ashes of a number of previous bands, Londoners Uriah Heep continued the work of keeping hard rock going started by their more northern contemporaries Black Sabbath. Why “Uriah Heep”?, well 1969 being the hundredth anniversary of the death of Charles Dickens, his characters were apparently at the forefront of the public consciousness at the time and the band chose to name themselves after the duplicitous lawyer from “David Copperfield”. Now I love a Victorian literary reference as much as the next person but my absolute favourite fun fact about Uriah Heep is that they wrote most of their first album (the title of which Very ‘Eavy...Very ‘Umble is another nod to Dickens’ character) at Hanwell Community Centre in West London, which is where I had to go for some of my PE classes in high school. How could I resist them?
Demons and Wizards was the band’s fourth album. Folky opener The Wizard shows the quality of the lead singer David Byron’s voice, but lyrically it seems relatively generic fantasy stuff, although you can hear a whistling kettle in there, so I suppose that’s fun. Traveller in Time is much cooler right from the intro and quite blues-y. Easy Livin’, one of their more well known tracks and Uriah Heep’s only US top 40 single is really catchy, I bet this was phenomenal to hear played live. Byron’s voice is again the stand out element on Circle of Hands. The quietly menacing Rainbow Demon has a solid chorus and a great guitar solo. All My Life is fast and fun despite having a bit of a waily vocal. I have to say by this point I’m pretty much over the wailing. Paradise is probably my least favourite, it has a very floaty vibe but it’s rather dull and it seems far too long. The Spell is a bit of a surprise since it starts with boogie woogie piano and is very upbeat, it then turns into epic soaring guitars, but again it’s longer than necessary.
I expected this album to be much harder rock but it was more a prog rock album with a few hard guitar tracks. It was Uriah Heep’s most successful, reaching number 20 in the chart. Overall I found this album a bit dissapointing. Other than Traveller in Time and Easy Livin’ I felt that there wasn’t anything new and interesting and I don’t think I could argue that this album moved British music forward in any way. I do think it’s important that not everyone had jumped on to that glam rock bandwagon though and it shows just how vibrant and varied the UK music scene of the early 1970s was.
So, why have I included this album then? Well, up to now I have focused on bands who have had a level of success at home and in the US market. This album was the peak of Uriah Heep’s career in the UK and maybe the Britain of the mid 1970s was too bleak for anyone to care about long haired blokes pretending they were in middle earth any more. This was not the case across the English channel though and Uriah Heep were and remain successful in mainland Europe (they have had multiple number 1 albums in Finland), Japan and Russia and continue to tour there. In 1987 they became one of the first Western bands to play in the Russia of the Soviet Union when they played ten nights in a row at the Olympic Stadium in Moscow and they continued to play sell out shows across eastern Europe into 1988. This was considered of huge importance not just to rock music at the time but to western music as a whole.
Demons and Wizards was released less than a year before the UK joined the European Union, so perhaps sitting here in a country ripping itself apart as it tries to leave that union successfully and listening to an album by a British band that has a great relationship with our European neighbours is a timely reminder of some of the things we all share.
Or perhaps it’s just some long-haired dudes from the 1970s singing about made up creatures and time travellers. At least the Fins enjoy it.