The roots of Uriah Heep extend back to the 1960s in Walthamstow, England, when Mick Box formed a local band by the name of "The Stalkers", a semi-pro group playing on the local circuit. When their singer left, drummer Roger Penlington suggested that his cousin David Garrick come down to the auditions. David had joined the others on stage a few times and was soon a permanent member.
When The Stalkers eventually split up, Box and Garrick formed "Spice", with Paul Newton on bass and Alex Napier on drums. The group worked out of London and mixed the standards of the day with original hard rock/jazz numbers. About this time, Garrick started to use the name "David Byron" and the band recorded a one-shot single called "What About The Music" for United Artists Records. The quartet gradually climbed their way up in the local scene under the guidance of Paul Newton's father, but by late 1969, it was time to take a giant step upwards.
The man to provide that step was Gerry Bron, a management/production magnate, who upon being contacted, went down to see the band at the Blues Loft in High Wycombe and was sufficiently impressed to sign the four to his Hit Record Productions Ltd (who had a deal with Philips Records), for the purposes of recording. The band soon found themselves booked into Lansdowne Studios in London, still under the name of Spice and still as a four piece unit.
The next couple of months brought about several significant changes; firstly a change of name. Gerry Bron suggested "Uriah Heep", based on the 'orrible little character from Charles Dickens' novel, "David Copperfield"; then the introduction of keyboards to the band. The group had actually recorded half of the first album when Ken Hensley, who had played keyboards with Paul Newton in a band called "The Gods", was brought in. Hensley's talents lay not just in producing innovative keyboard and mellotron sounds, he could write as well, though his contribution to the first album was limited.
Following the release of Uriah Heep's first L.P., "Very 'eavy, Very 'umble", a seemingly never ending string of personnel changes started when Alex Napier was replaced by Nigel Olsson. Finding a permanent drummer was to remain one of the band's problems throughout their early years. When Olson left to join Elton John, the Heep auditioned numerous drummers before offering the job to Keith Baker, who was on hand to help record the album "Salisbury" before deciding that the tour schedule was too rigorous for his liking and was replaced by Ian Clarke. "Salisbury" was a drastic change from their first effort, with many lengthy, meandering solos and a 16-minute title track embellished by a 26-piece orchestra. The band were near the forefront of a richly embossed, fastidious style of music later to be called "progressive rock". During 1971, the line-up was altered again when Lee Kerslake, another former member of the Gods, replaced Clarke following the recording of "Look At Yourself", which reached number 39 in the U.K. in November of 1971.
A new bassist named Mark Clarke, replaced Paul Newton, but lasted just three months before Gary Thain 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 U.S. charts. The musical and lyrical themes continued on "The Magician's Birthday", the double set "Uriah Heep Live", "Sweet Freedom" and "Wonderworld".
Thain was kicked out of the band 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 of '75.
John Wetton, formerly of King Crimson was expected to provide the impetus needed when he took over the bass guitar in March, however, many observers considered that he had taken a retrogressive step in joining a band that was quickly becoming an anachronism. The band's next album "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 following the release of the album "High And Mighty".
Internal arguments were tearing Uriah Heep apart by early 1976, and the band nearly folded completely. Hensley briefly walked out during a tour of the USA and in a subsequent power-struggle, David Byron was forced out of the group and would go on to release a series of solo albums before he passed away 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 the album "Firefly", along with new bass player Trevor Bolder, formerly of David Bowie's band.
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 quickly dwindling. Former Lone Star singer John Sloman performed on "Conquest", which also featured new drummer Chris Slade. Hensley subsequently left the band, leaving Mick Box as the only original member.
A brief hiatus resulted and a new Uriah Heep that included Box, Chris Slade, John Sinclair (keyboards), Bob Daisley (bass) and Peter Goalby (vocals) was formed. Daisley quit in 1983 following the release of "Head First", and was replaced by the returning Trevor 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 (vocals) and Phil Lanzon (keyboards) 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 slice of Uriah Heep's trademark melodic rock. 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. In 1998, they released "Sonic Origami", which contained some of the band's best work since their earliest days.
Into the new millennium, the band continued to tour, mostly in Europe, where they still have a large fan base.
In January, 2007, Uriah Heep announced that they had signed a new, exclusive worldwide recording deal with Sanctuary Records and were going into pre production rehearsals in February. The band also announced that they have parted ways with longtime drummer Lee Kerslake due to health problems. Kerslake had played with the band for thirty-five years. In March, his replacement was announced as Russell Gilbrook, who is regarded as one of the UK’s finest drummers. He has worked with such diverse artists as Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), Van Morrison, John Farnham, Alan Price, Chris Barber and Lonnie Donnigan. Originally scheduled for a summer 2007 release, Universal Music finally issued "Wake the Sleeper" on June 2nd, 2008.
In October, 2009, Uriah Heep released their "40th Anniversary Celebration album", which was made up of new studio recordings of twelve of their best known tracks, plus two new tunes. A US tour slated for the Summer of 2010 was delayed by immigration problems, but was eventually highlighted by an appearance at B.B. King's in New York City. They also played at the inaugural High Voltage Festival in London's Victoria Park on July 25th, 2010.
The band released their 23rd studio album, "Into the Wild" in the Spring of 2011 and were booked for a heavy touring schedule throughout Europe in 2012.
During the course of their career, Uriah Heep have sold over 30 million albums worldwide.
For an inside look at what life was like for Uriah Heep in the '70s, be sure to read Gary James' interviews with
Mick Box and Ken Hensley