The critics have scoffed and generally poured derision on Uriah Heep over the years, but the band have sold over 30 million records and have had five US Top 40 albums. A technically brilliant heavy rock band, they deserve most credit for continuing despite over 20 personnel changes and two deaths along the way. David Byron (b. David Garrick, 29 January 1947, Epping, Essex, England, d. 28 February 1985, Reading, Berkshire, England; vocals) formed the group with Mick Box (b. 8 June 1947, Walthamstow, London, England; lead guitar, vocals). The pair had teamed up in the Stalkers during the mid-60s, and after the group broke up they assembled Spice with Paul Newton (b. Andover, Hampshire, England; bass) and Alex Napier (drums), recording a one-off single ("What About The Music"/"In Love") for United Artists Records. Spice evolved into Uriah Heep (the name was taken from a character in Charles Dickens' novel David Copperfield) when they were joined by Ken Hensley (b. 24 August 1945, London, England; guitar, keyboards, vocals). Hensley, a talented musician, had previously played guitar with Kit And The Saracens and the soul group Jimmy Brown Sound.
Before Uriah Heep were bonded under the experienced management of Gerry Bron, Hensley had played alongside Mick Taylor (later to become a member of the Rolling Stones) in the Gods. The rota of drummers started with former Spice man Alex Napier, followed by Nigel "Ollie' Olsson (later with Elton John). Finding a permanent drummer was to remain one of the band's problems throughout their early years. Their debut, Very 'eavy ... Very 'umble, in 1970, was a simplistic, bass-driven passage from electric folk to a direct, harder sound. They auditioned numerous drummers before offering the job to Keith Baker (ex-Bakerloo), who recorded Salisbury before deciding that the tour schedule was too rigorous for his liking and was replaced by Ian Clarke. Salisbury was a drastic development from the debut, with many lengthy, meandering solos and a 16-minute title track embellished by a 26-piece orchestra. The band was near the forefront of a richly embossed, fastidious of music later to become dubbed "Progressive Rock". During 1971 the line-up was altered again when Lee Kerslake, another former member of the Gods and Toe Fat, replaced Clarke following the recording of Look At Yourself.
Gerry Bron had formed Bronze Records by 1971 and Look At Yourself, their debut for the label, became the band's first entry in the UK charts when it reached number 39 in November. An ex-member of the Downbeats and Colosseum, Mark Clarke, superseded Paul Newton on bass guitar but lasted just three months before his friend Gary Thain (b. 15 May 1948, Wellington, New Zealand, d. 8 December 1975, Norwood Green, Middlesex, England; ex-Keef Hartley Band) took over. The stability of the new line-up enabled the band to enter their most successful period during the early '70s when the fantastical, eccentric nature of their lyrics was supported by a grandiose musical approach. The quintet recorded five albums, beginning with Demons And Wizards, their first to enter the US charts. The musical and lyrical themes continued on The Magician's Birthday, the double set Uriah Heep Live, Sweet Freedom and Wonderworld (their last US Top 40 entry), as the band revealed a rare thirst for tough recording and performance schedules. Thain was asked to leave in February 1975 after becoming too unreliable, due to a drug habit. There had been a brooding row the previous September when the bass player suffered a near-fatal electric shock at a concert in Dallas and said he had not been shown enough regard for his injuries. He died of a heroin overdose in December.
John Wetton, formerly of King Crimson and Family was expected to provide the impetus needed when he took over the bass guitar in March 1975. However, many observers considered that he had taken a retrogressive step in joining a band that was quickly becoming an anachronism. The union, celebrated on Return To Fantasy, failed on a creative level although it marked their first and last appearance in the UK Top 10. Wetton left after just over a year to back Bryan Ferry, although he featured on High And Mighty. Early in 1976, Uriah Heep were set to fold when internal arguments broke out and they found the previously winning formula had become archaic and undeniably staid. In Ken Hensley's own words, they were "a bunch of machines plummeting to a death". Hensley briefly walked out during a tour of the USA in the summer of 1976 and in a subsequent power-struggle, Byron was forced to leave. Byron soon afterwards joined Rough Diamond and after their brief life span released a series of solo albums before his death in 1985. Hensley had already embarked upon a short, parallel solo career, releasing two albums in 1973 and 1975. John Lawton, previously the singer with Lucifer's Friend, debuted on Firefly. The new bass player was David Bowie's former backing musician, Trevor Bolder.
The singer's position underwent further changes during the late 70s and early 80s as the band found themselves playing to a cult following that was ever decreasing. Ex-Lone Star singer John Sloman performed on Conquest, which also featured new drummer Chris Slade. Hensley subsequently left the band, leaving original member Mick Box to pick up the pieces. A brief hiatus resulted and a new Uriah Heep that included Box, Kerslake, John Sinclair (keyboards), Bob Daisley (bass, ex- Widowmaker) and Peter Goalby (vocals, ex-Trapeze) was formed. Daisley quit in 1983 following the release of Head First, and was replaced by the returning Bolder. Bronze Records collapsed in 1984 and the band signed with Portrait Records in the USA. Their earlier extensive touring allowed them to continue appearing at reasonably sized venues, especially across America, and in 1987 they had the distinction of becoming the first western heavy metal act to perform in Moscow. Inevitably, there were more personnel changes with the new additions of Bernie Shaw (b. Canada; vocals) and Phil Lanzon (keyboards), both formerly of Grand Prix, for the studio albums Raging Silence and Different World. Despite seeming out of time with all other developments in Hard Rock, the quintet's 1995 recording Sea Of Light offered another evocative slice of Uriah Heep's trademark Melodic Rock, maintaining their high standards in fashioning superior AOR. Their European tour of the same year saw them reunite with former vocalist John Lawton as a temporary measure, with Bernie Shaw suffering from a throat problem. Three years later they released Sonic Origami, which contained some of the band's best work since the classic Byron days.
In June 2008 Uriah Heep released the first studio album in almost 10 years. Wake The Sleeper is set to herald an exciting new phase for the band, taking their classic sound right into the future. The album sees Uriah Heep back to their very best and ... is set to become a future classic: sure to please their dedicated worldwide fan base and fans of Progressive Rock in general. Recorded in 2007 the album was produced by Mike Paxman (Status Quo, Judie Tzuke). This is the band's first album without their long-standing and original drummer, Lee Kerslake who sadly had to leave the band due to ill health in January 2007. Filling the drum stool for the very first time is the hugely well respected Russell Gilbrook.