“So tell me, Ken, why is it Uriah Heep drive rock critics to suicide?”
This article was published in the NME magazine on June 8, 1974. Author — Chris Salewicz.
So tell me, Ken, why is it Uriah Heep drive rock critics to suicide?
Chris Salewicz fearfully puts the question, remembering adverse album reviews and also the murderous bottle-throwing devotion of Heep’s fanatical supporters.
“IT GETS ON my tit when people start talking when I’m listening to music, so when I’m at ‘ome I always turn the sound right up loud so that it’s impossible for anyone to try and hold a conversation.”
And the entourage grins sycophantically at the chortling Ken Hensley, and I begin to wonder what I’ve let myself in for.
The point is that hardly anyone I know exactly gets off on Uriah Heep’s music. Yet all over Europe, North America and the Far East the band helps maintain the scarcity rates of precious metals by picking up silver and gold albums each time they clear passport control.
And then, of course, there’s the blind allegiance of their followers – loyal, dedicated, murderous (remember their maniac Lord Of The Flies bottle throwing at Alex Harvey at Alexandra Palace last year?).
So this has become something of a voyage of discovery – an attempt to discover the answer to “Why Uriah Heep?”
ALREADY, THOUGH, I’m beginning to fear the worst. The setting – the King Henry VIII hotel in Bayswater – epitomises that kitsch opulence that often seems associated with the band: plexiglass habitatty chairs, portraits of the Tudor ruler and his various ladies, and the obligatory swimming pool with green and blue surround.
This obviously ain’t no place for any rock ‘n’ roll confessional. So the Uriah Heep keyboards player and myself are ushered through the hotel to one of the bedrooms where we can sprawl on burnt ochre bedspreads (what else?) with nothing to disturb us but the distant rumble of the Circle line.
In my experience, heavy musicians tend to be somewhat lightweight mentally – I once spent the most awkward hour of my life attempting to discuss the philosophical and sociological ramifications of their music with a member of a very popular and very heavy band – and so I take my time letting Ken get comfortable. There comes a point, however, when small talk can be carried beyond the bounds of decency, and, from the way he’s shuffling about inside his denims, it quickly becomes apparent that he knows I’m procrastinating.
Alright, then. No point in holding back any longer. Why is it, Ken, that rock writers seem, shall we say, not too keen on Uriah Heep? After all, when Melissa Mills reviewed your first album in Rolling Stone she wrote that if the band ever made it she would commit suicide.
“You asking me this on tape?” he mutters quizzically.
Well, yes, I am actually genuinely interested in this loathing or, at best, total apathy that mention of Uriah Heep tends to generate. I mean, how do you react to it all?
He considers this for a second or two, and then: “I think it was because we dropped a bit of a cobbler when we first got going.
“See, what we did was to try and advertise our product before we took it on the road and it was just about the time people were getting tired of hypes.
“But I didn’t regard it as a hype because I was too busy. Mind you, we were very, very rough when we first got going and I think that some of the criticism was right. But it didn’t just apply to the critics, y’know – it applied to the public as well.
“The only criticism I didn’t like was the stuff that just rejected it out of hand and that didn’t attempt to make any constructive remarks but was just totally destructive.”
And he cites that initial Rolling Stone review.
“We’re still waiting for her to do it.”
Am I to take it, therefore, in the light of what you’re saying about having been very rough, that you’re not exactly satisfied with some of your records?
“If you’re ever totally satisfied with any of your records then you might as well give up.
“But on those first three albums – well, we were just thrashing about trying to find a direction. You should just listen to a couple of cuts of any of them and it’ll indicate just how much out of our depths we really were.
“Our feet were right off the ground!
“In some ways, though, it seemed to help us. We were good and aggressive in our early days and not very much else. And when we went out to Germany they seemed to like that and went out and bought a lot of copies of our first album.”
Okay, you’re said some of what you think about Uriah Heep and its problems. Now let me say that I tried to understand your music by playing Sweet Freedom several times, but I just felt that it churned on and on and on.
In fact, the only moments that I faintly enjoy were when the structuring reminded me of the early Vanilla Fudge.
For once I seem to have got Spot The Influence right on target.
“Being totally honest I think that Vanilla Fudge is the strongest influence on the band – that first album they did was such a totally original heavy album.”
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© Chris Salewicz, 1974
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