Clips & Pix: Uriah Heep/July Morning

While writing my post last month about Uriah Heep’s sophomore album Salisbury, I found myself thinking more than once how much better that record would have been, had its title track been replaced with the magnificent July Morning – sort of like adding Strawberry Fields Forever to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and taking out When I’m Sixty-Four and Lovely Rita. July Morning had been on my mind ever since.

The song, which I would consider to be among Heep’s top tunes, was written by keyboarder Ken Hensley and lead vocalist David Byron in July 1970. Notably, Manfred Mann had been brought in by the group’s manager Gerry Bron to play a Moog synthesizer. Supposedly, this was the first time Mann was recorded using what became a staple of ’70s progressive rock. That’s according to the liner notes of Look At Yourself, Heep’s third studio album from September 1971, on which July Morning first appeared.

There were also various singles of the song. The first was an edited shortened version, released in Japan in June 1972 and backed by Love Machine, another tune from Look At Yourself. A Venezuelan single split the full song between both sides. Finally, in May 1973, a live take from the Uriah Heep Live album appeared in the U.S. I’m not fooling around with this amazing tune, so here’s the full studio album version.

Following is some additional background from Songfacts: This 10-minute song was essentially put together from different ideas from Ken Hensley and David Byron. While recording Look at Yourself, the band noticed that they had three separate parts of compositions that were all in C minor, so they tried putting them together, thus those parts became the intro, verse and chorus buildup of “July Morning.”

In a Songfacts interview with Ken Hensley, he related the story about how he came to write the song. “Uriah Heep was on tour in the UK with an American band named Sha Na Na and we were sharing a bus, which meant we had to wait for them to finish before we could go home,” Hensley said. “This was boring!”

To entertain himself, Hensley started noodling around with his acoustic guitar. “It began with a true statement,” he said. “‘There I was, on a July morning,’ and then my imagination took over.” Hensley worked the song out over the next few days and played it for the rest of the band in their rehearsal room. “I played it to the band on my acoustic guitar and, by the end of the day, it had become the song that so many people grew to love,” Hensley said. “That was magic!”

Here’s a live version of July Morning by present-day Uriah Heep. According to the clip, this was literally just captured by an attendee of Heep’s concert at Eventim Apollo in London on January 29 – not bad. Guitarist Mick Box remains the only original member. Bernie Shaw who has been Heep’s vocalist since 1986 does a commendable job, though replacing David Byron is pretty much mission impossible. BTW, the group’s current keyboarder Phil Lanzon also joined in 1986.

Last but not least, July Morning inspired a tradition in Bulgaria in the 1980s, which continues to this day, where every June 30, people from all over the country come together on the coast of the Black Sea to watch the sunrise on July 1st. The origin was political.

Once again here’s more from Songfacts: “July Morning” inspired a Bulgarian show of resistance against a repressive Soviet Communist government and became an annual festival that has only grown more popular with each passing year.

The song…doesn’t have anything overtly political in the lyrics. It seems to be about a guy waking up on a July morning resolved to find his own road and an unnamed love. It’s natural to assume that the “love” is a romantic interest, but that’s not exactly how the song is formed. Things are kept ambiguous enough that the “love” can be something more like a grand purpose, a passion, or perhaps love of life itself.

The ambiguity may in part be why the song was able to resonate so much with Bulgarians in the 1980s. During that time, a Soviet-backed communist government held power over the people. Young Bulgarians started travelling to the coast of the Black Sea, camping out, making music, and just having fun into the early hours of July 1.

It was a sort of a soft, spiritual rebellion against the joyless Soviet state, as well as a great excuse to party. It’s been compared to the hippie festivals of the 1960s in the United States. Bulgaria broke out of Soviet rule [in 1989 – CMM], but the festival has continued ever since. In 2012 it had upwards of 12,000 attendees, and one-time Uriah Heep singer John Lawton performed “July Morning.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

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

Uriah Heep can be an acquired taste, especially their sometimes very high vocals. Interestingly, I pretty much dug the British rock band from the get-go. It all started with the power ballad Lady in Black, which became a pretty big hit in Germany and was on the radio all the time. Because of that tune, I bought Salisbury, their sophomore album from February 1971. And then I got Uriah Heep Live, the band’s first live album that appeared in February 1973. It definitely sounds very ’70s, but I still find it pretty enjoyable.

Uriah Heep were founded in London in late 1969. Their initial line-up featured Mick Box (guitars, backing vocals), Ken Hensley (keyboards, synthesizers, guitars, vocals), David Byron (lead vocals), Paul Newton (bass, backing vocals) and Alex Napier (drums). The band, which remains active to this day with Box being the only original member, has seen numerous changes over the decades. At the time Uriah Heep Live was recorded at Town Hall in Birmingham, England on January 26, 1973, Newton and Napier had been replaced by Gary Thain and Lee Kerslake on bass and drums, respectively.

Let’s kick things off with what Byron called a party song, a rock & roller boogie: Sweet Lorraine. Co-written by Box, Byron and Thain, the tune first appeared on Uriah Heep’s fifth studio album The Magician’s Birthday released in November 1972. I believe that somewhat crazy-sounding keyboard is a Moog synthesizer played by Hensley; hey, it’s the ’70s, baby! 🙂

Here’s another nice upbeat rocker: Easy Livin’, a track from Demons and Wizards, which was the band’s fourth studio album from May 1972. This tune was penned by Hensley.

July Morning from Look at Yourself, Uriah Heep’s third studio record that came out in September 1971, definitely blends into prog rock. The 10-minute-plus opus was co-written by Box and Bryon.

Next up is Gypsy, a co-write by Box and Byron from Uriah Heep’s debut album …Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble. In the U.K., it was released in June 1970. The U.S. version, which had a slightly different tracklist, appeared in August that year. And in this case, there’s no doubt about the Moog, since Byron noted it during the song’s announcement. While he referred to it as a “Moog simplifier,” it was actually the so-called Minimoog, a highly popular synthesizer in the ’70s. Okay, I guess I’m getting a bit carried away here, so on to the song! 🙂

Let’s do one more tune: Look at Yourself, which apparently was the official set’s closer. The title track from Uriah Heep’s above mentioned third studio record was written by Hensley.

Altogether, Uriah Heep have released 24 studio albums, 20 live albums, 41 compilations, 33 singles and 17 videos to date. I had to count them all! Just kidding – that’s according to Wikipedia. For the most part, I’ve only listened to the band’s first five studio records and this live album.

It looks like Uriah Heep’s most recent album, Living the Dream from September 2018, charted in several European countries, including the U.K. (no. 57), Germany (no. 10), Austria (no. 18), Switzerland (no. 5), Norway (no. 28) and Finland (no. 28). While I haven’t listened to it, that’s pretty remarkable for a band that has been around for more than 50 years!

Their website currently lists various gigs across Europe starting in July – seems a bit optimistic to me! In early April, they also announced a series of shows in Russia that have been rescheduled to April 2021. That may be more realistic!

Sources: Wikipedia; Uriah Heep website; YouTube