Mick Box of Uriah Heep - More Than Just A Loud Noise!

By Jeb Wright

Uriah Heep is celebrating life -one concert at a time!  Want proof?  Then check out their latest live album on both audio and video, and see and hear for yourself why they continue to play to packed houses around the globe and have sold over thirty million albums worldwide.

The latest live album is a special one for the band as they announced they were doing a live taping. Fans from around the world came to see take part in the historical event.  Titled Live At Koko, London 2014, Uriah Heep was on fire that night!  The set list ranges from the classics to the debut of two songs from their latest studio album, Outsider.  This release, as with any live offering by this line-up of the band, does not disappoint.  In fact, the mix of the new and old creates a very energetic atmosphere between both audience and band alike. 

Today Uriah Heep is composed of founding member Mick Box and keyboardist Phil Lanzon, vocalist Bernie Shaw, drummer Russell Gilbrook and bassist Dave Rimmer.  They are a tight-knit unit, both on and off the stage, and are as excited about rock and roll as they were when they were fans in the audience. 

In the interview that follows, Mick speaks openly about how much he misses the late, great bassist Trevor Bolder and how much Trevor wanted the band to continue.  We also discuss the live album, a few of the classic tunes and how grateful Mick is to the Heep fan’s around the globe. 

Check out their new album as it shows that Uriah Heep are not only true pioneers in the field of hard rock, they are a viable, energetic and fantastic live band to this day… and shall remain as long as they would like.  This is, simply put, a great album by a great band!

Jeb: You have made another fabulous Uriah Heep live album. Making a live album back in the day, like 1973, was a big deal.  Now, Heep cranks these out every gig, it seems.  So, tell me, are you amazed at the technology that allows you to do so many live albums?

Mick: Actually, our bootlegs are not high-tech and are just recorded with a digital recorder at the front of house, like real bootlegs are recorded. A lot depends on the venue for sound, but we have had some reasonable results thus far, and they seem to be well-received.

Jeb: Now, I have to ask… why this gig?  Why record this one?  What made this one so special?

Mick: This recording of the show in KOKO’s had more attention paid to it, and we were able to mix it, but it is still an honest representation of that night with warts and all. We only mixed it with no repairs whatsoever. Even then, there were some technical difficulties, but that all comes with the package when you do these one-offs.

This night was a special one as we were also making a DVD of the show and our fans from all over the world came to be a part of it, and this added greatly to the atmosphere and general vibe. We had only just finished recording the CD two days before this show and we added two new songs from Outsider, “One Minute” and “Can’t Take That Away,” and it was wonderful to see how well these two songs were received amongst the classic ones.

Jeb: This live effort features Dave Rimmer on bass.  It is a huge reminder that Trevor Boulder is no longer with us.  Tell me first how much you miss Trev on that stage, then how you found Dave and how you knew he was the right guy for the job.

Mick: Trevor was a world class bass player, singer, writer and a world class friend. We were devastated when he passed away, and it is something that you never recover from.

Trevor was with me, for the most part, from 1976, so we cut deep as musicians and friends. When he was ill, he wanted the band to continue on playing, and he gave his blessing to Davey to fill his spot until he was well enough to return. We now know that this was not to be, and the obvious thing to do was to fulfil Trevor’s wishes and carry on.

Davey was a big fan of Trevor’s style of bass playing and when he came into the fold, he was very respectful of Trevor’s bass lines, but he still does this with adding his own touch to it, which we all like. Davey is a very likeable person and the fans warmed to him quickly, so it was obvious to keep him with us. We constantly talk about Trevor, either in the studio, or on the road.

Davey plays bass in a covers band in Camden Town in London. Russ used to pop down then for the odd jam. Russ suggested Davey to us and he came up to the studio to run through some songs and he fitted in almost immediately. He locks in very well with Russell, and he quickly became a part of everything, even down to our sense of humour.

Jeb: Hard to believe Russell Gilbrook has been in Heep SEVEN years… wow.  Lee was another special Heep member.  How is Lee?  Do you talk?

Mick: I speak with Lee quite often on the phone. He is still my brother and a good mate.

Jeb: Russell was an easy choice for the band wasn’t he?

Mick: We were auditioning drummers after Lee’s departure and it was becoming a chore, as we just could not find anyone that would fit the bill. They were either not good enough, or under prepared, which in my book is a sin. However, Russell was the last drummer we auditioned, and he quite simply made the drum stool his. He had learnt his parts and even more, and he also showed that he was a true professional by doing this, which went a long way. When we were playing through the songs we felt the energy of the band and the room increase ten-fold and then we knew we had our drummer.

Jeb: Shit, as long as we are talking Heepsters we gotta mention Phil and Bernie.  They had perhaps the biggest shoes to fill and they’ve done it for nearly three decades.  Talk about each of them and how they filled those shoes.

Mick: Bernie has developed as a vocalist and front man big-time. He puts in 110% every time he performs and he has become an integral part of Heep. The same would go for Phil, and both Phil and I have developed a very strong writing team. Phil is continually creative inside and outside of Uriah Heep, and so am I, so this helps make a good team.

Jeb: Do you feel Bernie and Phil are pretty much honorary original Heep members?  I mean they were not there for the original classics, but they have to be more than band members; they have to be like family… 

Mick: They have been in the band longer than most, so of course they are. We are definitely a family away from our families and we are the best of friends.

Jeb: How are you so lucky that you can play new songs and get them received as well, or nearly as well as the classics?  Most classic rock bands can’t do that.  When they fire up a new one, people head to the beer-line and the bathroom.  What’s your secret?

Mick: I would hope that is because we are still writing good songs. Also, we never steer too far from the musical template we started back in 1970. You mention the classic songs, but the new ones are soon to be classic, so it all fits like a glove.

Jeb: Wake the Sleeper, Into the Wild and Outsider have a signature sound, much the way your early albums have a sound.  How much time has been spent perfecting this band to your musical vision?

Mick: We just do things naturally and do not over-think them. We took the band back to the basics, and we record the songs all playing together in the one room. This gives you a band feel, as the band are all on one pulse. This is how we did it in the old days, and it really works for us.

Recording piecemeal, like some bands do, is not for us because we think it takes the passion and energy of the band together away. Also, when we choose a backing track, we leave it at that because if it feels and sound good like that, then it will always do so. Mike Paxman, our producer, is great in that way, whereas other producers then go to work on it to get everything on the one, and you lose what you loved about it in the first place. If it feels right, it is right in my book.

Jeb: When Classic Rock Revisited.com began in 1998 you helped us get known.  I shared how much of a Heep fan I was and I proved it with my knowledge of the band.  You seem sincere in your generosity and respect for your fans.  Talk about the relationship you have with fans all around the world. 

Mick: To play on stage you have to have some sort of ego and confidence, but once we are back in the dressing room we are normal guys, and that makes the band so special. To be good to our fans and have the relationship we have with them is the most natural thing in the world. They support what we do and we truly appreciate that. To put it another way, if you do not have fans, you are just a loud noise in a rehearsal room.

Jeb: Does it bother you that Heep can play to tens of thousands in many countries but in the USA you’re likely in a club.  Why do think that is?

Mick: I think you have to be a realist. We have only just started playing in the USA again over the last few years to try and build up a following, though those that still come and see us have been loyal fans for many years, so it is good for them to see the band live. We can only hope that by performing some great shows that the word will spread throughout the media, the promoters, the agents, the radio stations, and of course along the way generate some new fans.

Jeb: Talk about the video aspect of this live release.  You’re not like Motley Crue… there is no drum rollercoaster.  There is not a huge lightshow.  There are not scantily dressed babes in cages… it’s just rock and roll.  Explain how you can ‘just be a band’ and not rely on show biz and get away with it!

Mick: Well, it has always been for us about the music. We have had no desire to create an image that you are stuck with for life. We would rather the music be the image. Look, people also love the spectacle side of concerts and that’s great, too. If we could afford to put on a more lavish show, then perhaps we would up the ante a bit, but as always the music would come first.

Jeb: “Traveller in Time” was trotted out for this show.  This song is one of the best you’ve done.  Do you remember coming up with that riff?

Mick: Yes I do, in a hotel room! Most of my riffs come that way and that one worked out very well in the end.

Jeb: “Sunrise’” is such a powerful song.  When playing music that intense, does it ever drain you emotionally?

Mick: I think it is the opposite of that, it energises you!

Jeb: Do you remember Ken Hensley playing that song for you the first time and your reaction?

Mick: Truthfully, no!

Jeb: For a new song, “Nail on the Head” is a muther of a riff.  That, and “Wake the Sleeper.”  How do you come up with riffs nearly 50 years down the line?

Mick: It is something I enjoy doing, so as long as I have a recorder with me when they appear while I am doodling on the guitar, I am okay.

Jeb: “Stealin”… Who’s the farmer’s daughter?  

Mick: I never found out!

Jeb: Okay, Mick, here is a thought provoking question.  As an artist you certainly like all of your tunes.  However, the WORLD has adopted “Stealin’”, and “July Morning” and “The Wizard” and “Easy Livin’”.  Do they mean more to you than new tunes?  Or is it just different? 

Mick:  They are just great songs, and so are the new ones. When the classic songs took to the world stage, the world was in a different place back then. All there was, was Music, Sport, the Cinema and Fashion. Now there are so many diversions just on your mobile phone, so it is impossible to replicate that success.

Jeb: When do we get a new Heep studio album?

Mick: There will be another CD, but we have to tour the Outsider CD extensively around the world first, which takes some doing as we have fans in 58 countries.

Jeb: Last few are classic stuff… is the legend true that “Gypsy” was recorded in the same studio where Deep Purple was recording an album?  If so, did you guys ever mix?

Mick: You mean the last half a dozen questions were not? To put the record straight, “Gypsy” was written in the same place DP was rehearsing. We recorded it at Lansdowne Studios in London.

Jeb: You once told me how in the song “The Wizard” you recorded a tea kettle and put it in the song.  Tell me another crazy fact about another Heep song?

Mick: We made a cup of tea for everyone after the kettle boiled! There are too many to mention, but we had a floor tom mic’d underneath with David singing through the drum skin. Gerry Bron, our manager and producer at the time, walked in and said, “You are all mad” and walked out again.

Jeb: “Sweet Lorraine” is an amazing song.  You don’t play it much.  Do you hate it?

Mick: It does not sit well in our present set list.

Jeb: When did you discover the wah-wah pedal and how long did it take you to perfect it?

Mick: After listening to Jeff Beck’s Truth album. It was a natural thing for me and I took to it immediately.

Jeb: Fill us in with what all is going to come true for Uriah Heep in 2015.  What are the big plans?

Mick: The first part of the year we are playing shows in Russia, Israel, a Rock Cruise from Florida through the Bahamas with Alice Cooper, The Doobie Brothers & Blue Oyster Cult etc., and a tour of the USA, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. A summer of European festivals and onwards and onwards. It will be a busy year as per usual for the mighty Heep.

Jeb: Last one:  Mick Box will be remembered outside of music as… (Fill in the rest)

Mick: A diamond geezer.