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Non-Prog Interviews

Uriah Heep

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Bernie Shaw From 2000
Audio of this interview is contained in our members area
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: The Early Years Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.


The new album seems to capture the classic Heep sound while bringing a new freshness to it. Was that the intent?
That's exactly the intent. You`ve got the nail right on the head there. It`s a long CD, too, isn't it. I think we went right to the maximum barrier for time on that one, too. Serious value for money for the kids. You find the more that you listen to the album, the more that you hear in it. The more that it grows on you. It's a bit of a creeper. It was definitely an extension from Sea Of Light, which, unfortunately was not released over here (US -- editor), but it is now with Spitfire Records. When we signed the deal with them, we gave them Sea Of Light and Spellbinder, which is the live in Cologne album we did about 1995, I think it was. So, we've got three new albums out in the marketplace, but we're trying to concentrate on Sonic Origami first.
MSJ: You did a tour in `94 with Wishbone Ash, Nazareth and Blue Oyster Cult. Can you tell me anything about that?
That was a great bill. We had so much fun doing that tour. The funny thing was, none of the bands had a record out at the time. We just came over and did a tour. So, it didn't really elevate the band too much, but we had a great time. The audiences were brilliant. The tour that we're starting in September we're downscaling a little bit. We're not doing quite as large places as we did with the four-band package, because we're having to reeducate people. A lot of people think, "have they broken up?", because we haven't been around. We can go in at a level that we can play the full hour and 50 minutes. We're doing 8 tracks from Sonic Origami, 3 tracks off of Sea of Light and the classic Uriah Heep songs from the early `70`s. If we were to go out on a big package first time out, we'd probably only be able to play 30 minutes or 40 minutes. So, we've opted for the let's hit a smaller tour, but get to play longer.
MSJ: How long will you be on tour this time, and where will you be going?
We are starting on September 3rd, here in New York, and we're going to be here for at least three months. I think my return ticket is dated something like December 2nd. So, we're going to give it a good three-month run. Then have a Christmas break. Mick will be going back down to Australia, and Lee will be going to Bali, and I'll be going to Vancouver. In February, we're starting in Australia with Status Quo. We'll be playing Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Rim. Then come back over to America, probably in late March or early April, and get on some big tours. Carry on right through the summer. We want to spend a lot of time on these shores, because it's been such a long time since we've been able to. It's such a big country, it does take Uriah Heep 12 to 16 months to do a world tour, because we're playing like 47 different countries now. America is just so big, we had to say "if we're gonna do it, let's do it properly." So, we're gonna take basically a year and hit every town this country's got.
MSJ: You've been the lead vocalist for the band for over twelve years, but a lot of the casual fans still think of the `70`s lineup. Is that a little bit frustrating?
little bit, I think I'd be lying if I said "no", but a lot of the fans, I'd say the majority, have grown with the band now. It's nice to be compared to the classic Uriah Heep lineup, because they had some really brilliant songs and some very big selling albums. So, to be compared to the band in their heyday, I find that quite complimentary.
MSJ: Where did the title Sonic Origami come from?
It was actually a phrase that Pip Williams would use, our producer. We'd do a couple of good takes of each song, and when the hair stood up on the back of his neck, he'd press the button, and go "we've got this one in the can, boys. Go have a beer or play some pool, and let me do a little sonic...". First off all, he'd say either "sonic origami", or "sonic architecture", which means he'd play each one, and find which were the best parts, you know. Then he would weave his magic, so to speak. On the recording room door we had a sheet of paper, and if anyone came up with an idea for a title, we'd just stick it on the door, and it was getting quite long. We stuck down Sonic Origami, and every time we went past it, everyone would say "that is the neatest sounding name", because it is very fresh. It is very new. At the end of the day we kind had to whittle it all down, and that's the one that shown through. It kind of relates to what we do. As you know, origami is the Japanese art of paper folding. What Pip was doing was folding sounds, to get the best take. So, it kind of has a bit of a two-fold meaning.
MSJ: The song "Across The Miles" was written by members of Survivor. How did that come about?
We were looking for something very radio friendly, and Pip listened to about 300 songs. Me and Mick, I think we listened to about 150 songs, all from different publishers, and Steve Prestwick and Dave Sullivan sent over a tape with 3 tunes on it. 2 of them, 1 of them being Across The Miles, were just brilliant. It's right up Uriah Heep style, with the vocals and the harmonies and everything. We thought, it's a good song. Even if the fans don't like it, it will stand on its own. We did our treatment of it, as we would always do. It's come up to be one of the favorite songs on the album. It's definitely the women's favorite choice, between that and Heartless Land. This album is, especially in Europe, broadening our fan base a lot in the female department. Before we were getting all the complaints. We'd have guys saying "Oh, my God, my wife is giving me so much aggravation for playing Uriah Heep records." Now, we find with Sonic Origami "they're going out and buying it for me."
MSJ: The band through the years has been hit with many labels, from heavy metal to progressive rock to hard rock. Where do you see Heep sitting on the continuum?
I've never seen them as a heavy metal band, although, Mick plays some pretty heavy licks. I think that with the imagery of the lyrics and the fact that Heep's always had five singers, and not just one guy with a bunch of hair screaming, it has kind of put them into the melodic bracket. I'd say "melodic rock", but has tendencies to be heavy, and tendencies to be really soft. Like typical songs like Come Away Melinda or The Wizard or July Morning, very much the soft side. We're not afraid of picking up an acoustic guitar. Where at the other end you've got songs like Bird Of Prey.
MSJ: Who would you consider to be some of your musical influences for vocal style?
In the very early days, I listened to a lot of Guess Who. Burton Cummings was always one of my favorite singers. Funny enough, he's now living in my hometown where I was born. I've yet to bump into him. Hopefully this Christmas when I go over, and do some skiing, I'm gonna look him up. I'm lucky to have a voice which is quite on the clean and high side of things, and he is what I wanted to sound like. I used to do a lot of the Guess Who stuff, as well as Styx and Boston and Kansas. Him I like cause he influenced me, Sammy Hagar I like just cause he's the best singer on the planet. He's just Mr. Rock and Roll to me. Steve Perry, really good set of tubes on Steve Perry, Geoff Tate from Queensryche.
MSJ: Are there any musicians who you would like to work with?
Yes. I'd really like to do something with Tommy Shaw from Styx. Not only because his last name is Shaw (laughs), but he's a great songwriter. The stuff that he did with Styx and with Damn Yankees is unbelievable. He's a very good friend of our manager.
MSJ: What would be your five desert island discs?
Hard question, because I'm a Gemini, and I change my tastes like I change my clothes. What I've got in my gig bag to listen to today might not be what I want to listen to next week. I've got a little stereo that I take on the road with me, and I've got about 80 CD's in the bag. It ranges from Mary Chapin Carpenter to Robbie Robertson to Sammy Hagar, Joe Cocker, Damn Yankees, Enya. I like to listen to something rocky when I'm getting ready. I'll throw on Mr. Moonlight by Foreigner, their last album, which I thought had some really good tracks on it. Then after words, when I'm all shagged out and covered in sweat, and I want to try to get some sleep, I'll throw on Collective Soul or Enigma or Acoustic Alchemy, and get the whole flip side of the coin. So, any 5 of those.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Too numerous to mention. That whole era of what they portrayed had a lot of Uriah Heepisms in it. Funny enough, one of the guys that was doing the score for it, and actually was on the credit list, was Heep's old keyboard player John Sinclair. He was actually supposed to do the part. He was very instrumental in lending a proper English humor to it. Do you remember the bit where they did the gig at the airforce base, and it was supposed to be a dinner dance, and everyone was sitting down at a table? That did happen to Heep. Heep actually did an army base, and Mick was setting up his own Marshall gear, and they were just, "I guess you don't do polkas". They got up and just blew the hell out of the place. So, that was definitely John Sinclair letting the cat out of the bag.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought?
It was an older one, Steely Dan Live, really good. No overdubs on that album, set up the mics and play.
MSJ: What was the last concert you went to?
Two nights ago in New York, but I can't remember the name of the band, but it was New York, the Continental Room. It was three bands, all three very much in that Uriah Heep vein, a Marshall cabinet, a good old-fashioned Les Paul and a wah wah pedal. All three bands had awesome drummers. Old style rock and roll, which is good to see. I'm not a lover of rap music. The new rock has been very short lived, and it doesn't get much of a tasting in England at all. It gets a little bit of play in Europe, but England is all sort of boy bands and girl bands, flavor of the month stuff.
You'll find concert pics of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
You'll find an audio interview of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
 
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