Backstage Pass: Sleeping giant Uriah Heep awakens with new album

It’s been 10 years of false starts, almost deals and record company dissolutions, but England’s own Uriah Heep is finally back with a new studio album, Wake The Sleeper.

The record is a decidedly stripped-down, rocking affair, with Heep’s trademark five-part harmonies, Hammond organ and wah-wah guitars making musical magic. It’s also the first Heep album in nearly 30 years without longtime drummer Lee Kerslake, who left the band in 2007 for health issues. His replacement, Russell Gilbrook, has brought new energy and a new voice to the band, composed of guitarist and founding member Mick Box, bassist Trevor Bolder, keyboardist Phil Lanzon and vocalist Bernie Shaw.

Goldmine spoke with Box about the new album, the new drummer and more.

Uriah Heep has had a history of bad luck and struggles with record companies. After recording your first album in a decade, you then had to wait a year for Wake The Sleeper’s release. Did you think it would ever happen?

Mick Box: Yeah. We always had faith, but you never know… the music business — the whole way it was [previously] structured with the record companies and the Internet came along and shook everything up. Initially, record companies took Napster to court, and they attacked the Internet, didn’t they? But they found out they couldn’t police it; they couldn’t work it, so they moved on and decided they had to embrace the Internet.

And in doing so, the record companies were never the same. They folded up, disappeared, amalgamated, got smaller, lots of people getting fired, not many people getting hired — it’s one of those jobs, you know. [laughs]

So it just went on and on and on, and we really couldn’t find a home. We’d actually left our last record company because they didn’t support Sonic Origami as well as we’d wanted, so we were kind of homeless for a while there. But we always had the faith that somewhere down the line we’d find a way of doing it.

We were very close during those 10 years with a number of little companies and some bigger ones. But as soon as you get in touch and start talking, the next minute they’re not there! [laughs] “We’ve been taken over.” And that ended up happening to us with this particular album, because we signed to Sanctuary — who owned our back catalog — in the U.K. And they said they were going to do a frontline label with a few bands like us, and we’d be the first on it. We went off and recorded the album, came back, and Sanctuary loved it and put a release date out, and then they got taken over by Universal! And we had to wait another year to find out if Universal was going to release it. Thank God they did. And now I’m talking to you. [laughs]

The five of you recorded this live, together, as a band?

MB: What happened was Mike Paxman, who produced the album, was a real inspiration. He came into rehearsals, heard the songs in the rehearsal room and said, “God, this is the way we’ve got to record it. This is so exciting.” He was bouncing off the walls with excitement, and it was just wonderful.

We thought that maybe he was onto something, because the band plays better because we were playing as a band! As long as you can play your instruments, that’s fine. We didn’t like the idea of doing it piecemeal — you know, doing the drums, and then the bass, and then the guitars, and then the Hammond. We wanted to do it as a band. I think we do our best speaking as a band, anyway, ‘cause we’re all on one pulse then.

So we went into the room — this particular room is called The Chapel. It’s an old converted church. W

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