Still 'Eavy, Very 'Umble: Uriah Heep

Mick Box is one of rock's true gentlemen. And he likes a chat. Which is lucky, 'cos his band, Uriah Heep, have got an Australian Tour to spruik...

The tyranny of distance. That apparently is what’s responsible for the late appearance in MaF of this interview.


“We’re so far apart, and we just don’t seem to have been able to get this together!” says Mick Box, lead guitarist and prime mover of Britrock legends Uriah Heep, and he’s right. Metal as Fuck has been trying to speak to the man for two weeks, but circumstances have conspired to prevent this meeting of metal minds until now. But no matter, he’s here now, and we’ve got stuff to talk about, specifically, and most importantly, an upcoming Australian tour. It’s been a long time since the ‘Heep graced antipodean shores…


“It has, but I’ve got relatives there, I lived in Australia for eight years, as did Phil (Lanzon, longtime Uriah Heep keyboarder), so we’ve been around. I remember actually playing there as part of the British Invasion package in 1971! It was us one night, Black Sabbath the next and then Status Quo- a top bill! But we’re really looking forward to this. It’s a bit whistlestop, we come in, play Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane and then we’re out again, but we hope that if this goes well we’ll be back for a more extensive tour.”


1971 is thirty nine years ago. Did you have an inkling just how far you were going to take the band then?


“None at all! I was in a band called Spice before Heep, just enjoying making some noise! And I took that attitude with me into the band, but I think that none of us had any idea where it was leading.”


The band will be touring here as part of their fortieth anniversary celebrations, another part of which has been the re-recording of many of their classic songs under the Celebration banner. How did that come about?


“It was a record company suggestion, and at first I was a bit wary about the whole thing, because you can never take away from the spirit of those original versions. But in the end I was very glad we did, and very pleased with the way the album came out.”


You’ve comparatively recently released an all-new studio album, Wake the Sleeper, as well. Will we be hearing material from this on the tour?


“Of course, we’ll have a few songs from Wake the Sleeper, but we’ll be playing material from everything, all the way back to (first album) Very ‘Eavy… Very ‘Umble”


Again, touching on something we talked about earlier, you’ve been at this a long time, and you’ve got enough ‘greatest hits’ to fill two complete sets, choc full of heavy metal classics – how does that feel, being a complete ‘institution’ and an influence to boot, across the world?


“Strange. Like I say, when you’re sitting in your room, with your guitar, these things never cross your mind. You come up with a good riff – wahaaay!. But then people come up to you, and tell you how much the songs mean to them, how important our songs, are, it makes you stop and think. Even the Estonian Army sings Lady in Black!”


Indeed in Eastern Europe, where Heep were and are hugely popular, it went even further than that didn’t it? You were one of the first bands to play in Russia in the late eighties.


"We were, but the intensity of the fans there was amazing. We found out that people were actually getting in trouble with the authorities there for listening to our music – to the point of being imprisoned, and we got letters from people saying our music gave them hope even when the regimes in those countries were incredibly repressive.”


This is amazing news. Whilst we here in the free west may well feel that liking Nickelback is criminal, we wouldn’t actually imprison someone for doing so. Just how mad for it were the Russians back then?


“We played ten shows to one hundred and eighty thousand people. We couldn’t believe it!”


Metal seemingly beyond all other musics seems to bridge the language gap – those people couldn’t possibly all have spoken English?


“Haha no. But you’re right, because all those people singing along is amazing when you know that they don’t know what we’re on about. But again, some people have come up to me and told me they’ve learnt English by studying our lyrics – I don’t know whether that’s a good idea or not!”


Time is running out, so I just quickly want to ask Mick a little about his early influences. The night before this talk took place I’d been watching a documentary about British rockers the Small Faces, which led me to remember that around the time of their 1982 album Abominog the Heep actually covered the Small Faces (to my mind) greatest song, Tin Soldier.


Were the Small Faces – and more importantly their vocalist/guitarist Steve Marriott- a big influence on Mick?


“Huge. When I was in Spice we actually supported the Small Faces at Leyton Swimming Pool in East London, and I was able to stand at the side of the stage and watch them. Steve was only a little bloke, but he had a huge voice, massive. And he was a great guitarist. It was a real thrill when we played to see him standing at the side of the stage giving us the thumbs up! They were Mods then, and the day after I went down to (London clothing Mecca) Carnaby Street and bought myself all the clobber! They were bloody loud, though! That was another thing I learned from them – volume! My other big influence from that scene was The Who. I saw them upstairs at the Manor House pub in London very early on in their career, and they were amazing.”


Time has run out. Apart from this tour, what does the immediate future hold?


“Well, we’re writing a new album. You know what we were saying about sitting in your room writing riffs? That’s what I’m doing this afternoon! I love it.”


And how does that process work. Phil Lanzon is the other main songwriter isn’t he?


“Yes. We both approach it in much the same way. I stockpile ideas, and so does he. Then we meet up, compare notes and see what happens.”


Well it’s a system that’s worked thus far – why change now?