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

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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