What I’ve Been Listening to: Uriah Heep/Salisbury

The other day, fellow blogger Darren from Darren’s music blog wrote about recent solo releases from members of Uriah Heep. This reminded me how my journey with the British rock band began as a teenager back in Germany in the late ’70s/early ’80s. I’m pretty sure it must have been the rock ballad Lady in Black, a big hit in Germany, which caught my initial attention. I also recall receiving a gift from a friend, a music cassette titled The Rock Album, which included Free Me, another popular Uriah Heep tune in Germany. Since I preferred Lady in Black, I ended up buying Salisbury, the album that included the tune. I own that vinyl copy to this day.

The origins of Uriah Heep date back to 1967 when Mick Box, then a 19-year-old guitarist, founded a cover band called Hogwash. After David Garrick joined, who later changed his last name to Byron, Box formed a songwriting partnership with him and established a new band called Spice, which focused on original songs. In 1969, Spice became Uriah Heep, named after the fictional character in the 1850 Charles Dickens novel David Copperfield.

Uriah Heep in December 1970

In addition to Box (guitars, backing vocals) and Byron (vocals), the group’s initial line-up included Ken Hensley (keyboards, synthesizers, guitars, vocals), Paul Newton (bass, backing vocals) and Alex Napier (drums). That formation recorded the band’s 1970 debut album …Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble. By the time Uriah Heep went into the studio for their sophomore album, Salisbury, Napier had been replaced by Keith Baker – the first of numerous line-up changes throughout the group’s 50-plus-year history.

Interestingly, Salisbury appeared first in the U.S. in January 1971 before it was released in the UK the following month. Unlike the group’s first album that credited the music to most members of the band, Salisbury saw the emergence of Hensley as a key songwriter, with half the tracks attributed solely to him. Let’s get to some music! This review is based on the album’s UK/European edition.

Here’s the opener Bird of Prey. First included on the U.S. version of Uriah Heep’s debut album, it’s the only track credited to four members of the group: Box, Byron, Hensley and Newton. As you listen to the powerful rocker, you can literally picture the rumbling tank on the front cover of the album. I’m a bit surprised Bird of Prey wasn’t released as a single. Nevertheless, it has become one of Heep’s most popular tunes, at least among their fans.

After the furious opener, things slow down on The Park, a ballad and one of three tracks solely written by Hensley. I realize Byron’s high vocals may be an acquired taste, especially for first-time listeners. Interestingly, I never had a problem with it, though I can see why some folks might consider his singing to be a bit weird. It’s certainly quite distinct!

Side A closes with the above-mentioned Lady in Black. The tune, another song penned by Hensley alone, also appeared separately as a single in June 1971. Remarkably, it didn’t chart in the UK. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 5 in Germany, no. 6 in Switzerland and no. 16 in Finland. Based on Wikipedia’s chart overview, this lack of success in the UK seems to be pretty consistent when it comes to the band’s singles.

Side B only includes two tracks: High Priestess, the third tune solely penned by Hensley that also became a U.S. single in January 1971, and the title track. Here’s the latter, co-written by Box, Byron and Hensley. And, yep, it’s a massive, largely instrumental prog-rock type tune featuring a 24-piece orchestra.

Salisbury was produced by Gerry Bron who also produced or co-produced Heep’s other 12 albums released during the band’s first 10 years of their recording career, including Conquest from February 1980. Salisbury was most successful in Finland where it peaked at no. 3. Elsewhere, it reached no. 19 in Australia, no. 31 in Germany, no. 47 in Japan and no. 103 in the U.S. Uriah Heep’s first chart entry in the UK would have to wait until Look at Yourself, their third studio album that came out in September 1971.

To date, Uriah Heep have released 24 studio albums, most recently Living the Dream from September 2018. According to Wikipedia, numerous other acts have identified the British rock band as an influence, including Iron Maiden, Queen, Accept, Dio, Krokus and Demons & Wizards, among others.

In November 2021, Mick Box, Heep’s only remaining original member, told heavy metal and hard rock news website Blabbermouth.net they had finished recording sessions for a new album. “And it’s over in L.A. now being mixed,” he added. “So a new album is on the horizon.” Details have yet to be revealed.

Meanwhile, Uriah Heep announced a “mammoth European tour, a delayed celebration of their 50th anniversary. The 61 dates will span 28 countries. Current shows are listed here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Blabbermouth.net; Uriah Heep website; YouTube; Spotify

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