Uriah Heep have just released their 24th studio album, 'Outsider', which is out now on Frontiers Records. MetalTalk's Mark Taylor chatted to singer Bernie Shaw and he had Heeps to say.
Hi Bernie, what can we read into the album title 'Outsider'?
"Well, even though there is a song on the album called 'The Outsider' it had nothing to do with the thought of what we wanted for an album title. Uriah Heep has been going now for 44 years and you do get classified as many different guises and some are dinosaurs of rock or you're en vogue or you're not en vogue and it's seemed to us as we felt that we are neither and even though we have sold a lot of records we are still treated as the outsider so it seemed quite appropriate for right now."
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How happy are you with the album yourself?
"We've come up with a true Heep rock album. We did not enter the studio trying to reinvent the wheel, we're way too long in the tooth for that. We know the chemistry of the band, we know what the fans expect from a Heep album and that's a good melodic rock song, lots of wailing wah wah guitar, a grungy Hammond organ and a good dose of harmony vocals and that's what we have come up with."
You have shot a promo video for 'One Minute'; it's one of the most commercial songs you have done with the band.
"Yes, except for the Argent cover of 'Hold Your Head Up'. It's a got a very cool groove to it. It's very catchy as having a tendency to being catchy can be."
Did the writing of that song come quickly?
"Mick Box and Phil Lanzon do all of the writing, and that was definitely one of the fastest songs that came with ease... With this album we went into the studio with a lot of ideas but only a few finished songs because we had a very busy two years of live work. Mick and Phil would be up burning the candle at both ends, at night time writing, then up early for a good breakfast, then into the studio, press the button and start work on the backing tracks, and we were knocking out a couple of tracks a day with all the full backing tracks because we record in one room... You had all five members in the studio together sweating and having a laugh. None of this, doing it on email or in different countries."
Do you think it's important to be all there together when it comes to recording?
"Well i think that if you want to get that continuity and that feel down, that's it's five guys having a laugh, five guys in a room playing their hearts out. You can't do that via a computer... It sounds all too disjointed to me, if you want a real album, then get real musicians all playing real instruments in one room."
This is the first album to feature bass player Davey Rimmer, who came into the band after we sadly lost Trevor Bolder last year. How has Davey bonded with the band and what did Heep get out of working with him?
"I think we got a fantastic performance out of him. When he first joined the band Davey was learning all the classic songs of old, copying and doing his renditions of Trevor's bass lines which are very melodic and like a liquid running form of bass. Trevor played with his fingers and was a real solid player.
"Trevor never really got the recognition that he deserved, one of the best bass players this country has ever produced, but he wasn't one for blowing his own horn so he went kind of unnoticed, except from other bass players.
"Davey Rimmer has always been a David Bowie and Trevor Bolder fan and to be stepping up to the plate in the studio he came up with his own lines but they're right in the pocket. That's what Trevor would've played and we felt that and he really did contribute his 'bit' to the album. It's seeped in Trevor's memories but it's Davey Rimmer solidly song by song."
You released 'Sonic Origami' in 1998 and then there was a ten year gap before 'Wake The Sleeper' which is the first of four studio albums you've made since then. How have Uriah Heep become so prolific since then considering that you're constantly touring your backsides off around the world?
"We have been, the live arena is where we flourish and where we really feel the most comfortable but with the state of the music business over the last two decades you can't even compare it to what it was and what it is now, and that's why 'Wake The Sleeper' took so long as it did to record, because we couldn't find a home.
"We sign a record deal, then two months down the line, that person who signed you went off to work with somebody else, and the person who took their place didn't like you and would'nt be one of 'their' priority bands and you get moved around like a piece of meat, so we thought forget it, we just do our bootlegs and have fun with the 'Magician's Birthday' gigs and that was good enough for us.
"Finally Frontiers approached us and that's where 'Wake The Sleeper' came in... Now we have a stable home, none of the creative juices are going to waste, Mick and Phil are quite prolific song writers now they have a place for all of their ideas and not just sitting on a tape recorder or a computer waiting to go somewhere. With Frontiers we now have a happy home."
You have now been in the band for 28 years now. I believe that Mick Box first saw you singing for Stratus at the Marquee Club back in 1984. What were your first impressions of meeting Mick?
"The guy's an icon, even though I hadn't met him before I knew the music of Uriah Heep. I even used to sing their songs back in Canada in a band called Cold Sweat, but to have him knocking on my dressing room door and there was this rock star in front of me grinning like a Cheshire Cat was quite daunting, but to find out he was just a normal guy with a really cool job was even better. There was no ego and all he had to say was positive things and a positive outlook for the band he wanted to put together and carry on with the Heep name."
No disrespect to your former bands of Grand Prix, Praying Mantis and Stratus, but to go into a band like Uriah Heep which were a worldwide household name must have been very daunting for you?
"Absolutely. You know, it's funny, I'm the fifth singer that the band have had in their history, but some fans still will only think that David Bryon as the singer for Uriah Heep, so I was always compared to David even though there was also John Lawton, John Sloman, Peter Goalby and five minutes of Steff Fontaine...
"For fans that compared me with David, that's fine, but David was a fantastic singer. In the studio nobody could touch him, a charismatic front man extraordinaire, but his time with the band came to a close and unfortunately he passed away due to his excesses. I didn't push him out, but I was asked to join the band by Mick and I vowed to Mick that he will only ever get 100% out of me because I don't know how to do anything else except give 100%."
Let's talk about your first shows you did with Uriah Heep back in 1987. After a tour of Germany you were invited to play behind the Iron Curtain in Russia. People forget now, but it was a different time and we didn't really know what it was like on the other side. What was that experience like?
"Absolutely amazing. It was scary. We didn't know what we were heading into. We had experiences of playing in a band that had played in the Eastern Bloc before so we knew about the Communism and the red tape and the pitfalls of playing in such a regime, but to actually go into Russia, Mother Russia! and to play in front of 186,000 Soviet people including 300 armed soldiers every night for ten nights, that was scary! But the adrenaline rush was like wahoo, off the Richter scale, you can't buy drugs like that, and I had only been in the band five minutes!"
You recently did some special shows in Germany with just yourself and Mick Box along with Alice Cooper, Joe Lynn Turner, Kim Wilde and Midge Ure in the Rock Meets Classic Tour. How was that for you?
"That was fabulous. Me and Mick have never been invited to do anything so off the cuff and left of the centre with a 50 piece orchestra and a ten piece rock band. Everyone got to do four songs each. We were second billing from the top, one below Alice and we went down an absolute storm which still kind of shocks us because it was just Mick and I doing what we do best. But there was between 3-7,000 people there every night, 22 shows and it was an actual barnstormer."
These type of shows are very popular in Germany, but we don't get them anywhere else yet.
"Well, the shows were in Germany plus there was some shows in Austria, Switzerland and one show in France and everybody from the bus drivers to the caterers to the wardrobe people were great. There were no egos from the artists, everyone was like a diamond, we all got on like one big family and we just went from town to town and knocked 'em dead every night.
"Alice was fabulous. At the end of every show for the finale everyone was on stage for 'School's Out' and Alice Cooper would either come up and hit me with his cane or kick Mick in the pants. Alice was always in character."
Did Kim Wilde surprise you? I saw her myself in concert recently at the Shepherds Bush Empire and she is a formidable singer and performer.
"She has got such a great rock voice, you think of her music from the 80s and her commercial stuff she did but the girl has has got a serious rock voice and she can sit down and drink with the rest of the boys. On nights off we'll go off to a wine bar and have a nice dinner together and she would talk about her Dad and her family, a very famous family and a really cool girl."
I would imagine Midge Ure has got a few stories to share, because some people forget he was in Thin Lizzy for a little while?
"A lovely, lovely guy. We shared the dressing room many times as he was on his own... Funnily enough I had just finished reading his biography and for every page I turned I thought 'I've already heard this story' because we would be sitting backstage conversing for hours and hours."
So when you played in Vienna, did Midge Ure perform his Ultravox hit 'Vienna'?
"Yes he did, he sang 'Vienna' in Vienna and the place went absolutely nuts. The boy has got a serious set of pipes on him. People forget that it was the New Romantic age, but Ultravox were a rock band at heart."
You only came back from Brazil last month with Uriah Heep. Did you feel that the country has got the World Cup Fever at the moment?
"I gotta admit, in certain areas it is, but we actually found that Brazil for a football mad country has got a lot of poverty and there's a lot of animosity going on about how the money was being misspent. It should be being spent on schools and infrastructure rather than new football fields.
"I did eight concerts in ten days in Brazil and I spent time travelling through eleven different airports and each one was being refurbished, millions of dollars being spent, and I gotta admit in talking with local people like taxi drivers, hotel people, the general consensus is that the money should be spent on the people and not on this one big party... It's going to be good but the people's heart is not really into it."
Iron Maiden have their 'Trooper' beer and Status Quo now have their 'Piledriver' but in Brazil. I noticed that on your website someone knocked up some Uriah Heep beer.
"They did indeed, two different beers, a weiss beer and a Belgian 6% Pilsner beer. Under duress I did have to try it and it's not bad. I didn't realise Quo have done their own Piledriver beer. It's funny that that have called it Piledriver because that's the the little pre show tipple that I invented of the same name. Dave Ling knows all about what one of those is."
Funnily enough I was with Dave Ling that night in your dressing room at the Giants Of Rock Festival earlier this year and yes, we were indeed introduced to the Piledriver.
"Ha-Ha, he was left with a hangover from Hell. It's copious amounts of vodka with a touch of the vitamin C and some tonic water. It's the composition that makes it so special. You can't go overboard on any of the ingredients, you got to have the right measures of all three and many a greater man than Dave Ling has ended up under the table."
With that parting shot, Mark Taylor went off to the bar.
Uriah Heep's 'Outsider' is out now on Frontiers Records.