Very 'Eavy, Very 'Umble (1970, 40.25/50.49) ***½/TT½
Walking in Your Shadow
Come Away Melinda
Real Turned on
I'll Keep on Trying
Wake Up (Set Your Sights)
Bird of Prey (US album version)
Born in a Trunk
Come Away Melinda (unreleased version)
Gypsy (extended version)
Wake Up (Set Your Sights) (unreleased version)
Born in a Trunk (unreleased version)
Dreammare (BBC session)
Gypsy (BBC session)]
Salisbury (1970, 38.45) ****½/T½Bird of Prey
Time to Live
Lady in Black
Return to Fantasy (1975, 40.37) **½/TReturn to Fantasy
Your Turn to Remember
Why Did You Go
A Year or a Day
High and Mighty (1976) **/T
|One Way or Another
Weep in Silence
Can't Keep a Good Band Down
Woman of the World
Footprints in the Snow
Can't Stop Singing
|Make a Little Love
Equator [expanded ed.] (1985/2010, 47.08/64.23) *½/0 (½)
Lost One Love
Poor Little Rich Girl
Night of the Wolf
[Expanded ed. adds:
Rockarama (single edit)
Back Stage Girl
Poor Little Rich Girl (single version)]
The Lansdowne Tapes (1993, recorded 1969-71, 77.26) ***/T
|Born in a Trunk
Simon the Bullet Freak
Here am I
What's Within My Heart
What Should Be Done
I Want You Babe
Born in a Trunk (instrumental)
Look at Yourself
Uriah Heep have become an institution on the British rock scene; over thirty years in the business, with nearly as many albums. Notorious for their ever-changing personnel, they've kept the same lineup now for well over a decade and have actually increased their public profile of recent years. Oddly enough, they've had two separate bursts of Mellotronic activity during their career, starting with the late-'60s pre-Heep outfit Spice. Their debut, Very 'Eavy, Very 'Umble (a not very good pun on their Dickensian name) began as a Spice session and ended as a Uriah Heep album, with organist Ken Hensley brought in fairly late in the proceedings. As a result, some of the keyboard work, including the Mellotron, was played by a session guy, Colin Wood; I believe Wood played on Come Away Melinda and Wake Up, with Hensley on I'll Keep On Trying.
Of the three tracks on the original release, I'll Keep On Trying has a little Mellotron flute and Wake Up features quite a bit of strings work, but it's the album's big ballad, Come Away Melinda, which really does the business. Starting with overdubbed flutes and strings, this is a marvellous piece of work; very emotive and well worth anyone's time. Melinda wasn't a band original and was recorded by several different people at the time, including the early post-psychedelic UFO. Heep themselves re-recorded it recently, sans Mellotron, of course... Irritatingly, a new version of the remastered CD has appeared recently, with loads more bonus tracks than the original. Funnily enough, I'd just been alerted to the fact that the US version of the album, released the following year and called simply Uriah Heep dropped Lucy Blues and added a remixed version of Bird Of Prey from the UK Salisbury, including some tasteful Mellotron overdubs on the chorus. There's also another stunning version of Melinda, definitely with Wood on Mellotron, almost certainly a Mark II and a different mix of Wake Up (Set Your Sights).
Very 'Eavy's follow-up, Salisbury, is an excellent album, particularly the sixteen-minute title track, the nearest Heep ever got to out-and-out prog, utilising woodwind and brass sections. It was only recently, however, that I noticed the bit of Mellotron that had crept onto the album; major acoustic guitar workout Lady In Black features a nice single-note string line throughout much of the song and even more recently that I spotted the low-in-the-mix strings on Bird Of Prey, meaning that the US version isn't so different to the UK after all.
|John Sinclair at the black M400|
There was no more Mellotron to be heard on a Heep album for some years; not until, in fact, their slight return to form after the abysmal Wonderworld (**), '75's Return to Fantasy. After relatively long-term bassist New Zealander Gary Thain left under a cloud after an unfortunate on-stage electrocution incident (not the cause of his subsequent death, incidentally), he was replaced by recently ex-King Crimson man John Wetton, who brought one of Crimson's old M400s with him, which Heep magnanimously allowed him to play on one track each of the two albums he made with them. Why Did You Go is a rather lightweight countryish song, with some fairly nice strings, while Midnight, from the following year's High and Mighty is a rather average mid-paced rocker (like much of its parent album, it has to be said) with some flutes and strings in the middle. Neither album is especially strong, I'm afraid, although Return to Fantasy's title track is a real cast-iron classic, recently resuscitated by the band as their set opener. Good move, chaps.
Listening to 1985's Equator has performed a valuable function, of a kind, for my good self: this is why I hate cheesy '80s rock. Did I need reminding? Not really, but it doesn't hurt to have it reinforced occasionally. Actually it did, but there you go. Of course, being a) Brits, b) Really Old by '80s standards, not to mention c) not Def Leppard (horrible though they were), this is not only utterly godawful, but stodgy as fuck, all the above being reasons for the States not to take them to their collective bosom. Are there any better tracks? Listenable, even? In a word, no. In several words, no, this is the sorriest set of pseudo-commercial, '80s-dreck-by-an-early-'70s-band you're ever likely to hear, leaving other similar efforts by, say, Blue Öyster Cult (the well-under-par Club Ninja) or even Black Sabbath's very poor '80s work in the dust. Worst tracks? Where do I start? The execrable Party Time may just be its nadir, but it's a close call. Surely there's something... Oh, go on, then: closer Night Of The Wolf, while dire (dire wolf! Geddit? Oh, never mind...), is the least awful thing here, while still being, y'know, awful.
While the original album is (unsurprisingly) Mellotron-free, Matt's truly splendid piece of genuine research (thank you, sir!) tells me keys man John Sinclair plays it on one track on Cherry Red's expanded edition, a contemporary (and relatively short) live version of Gypsy, with a few bursts of custom-tape harmony vocals that you'd have no idea emanated from a Mellotron if you didn't know. A watchable-quality YouTube video from, of all things, a New Zealand gig in 1984, has several decent shots of Sinclair at his black M400. To quote him from Brit rock journalist Dave Ling's excellent Uriah Heep: Uncensored on the Record:
|"I was a fan of Ken Hensley's, so jumping into his shoes was a big thing... I had to think seriously about what I was going to do in order to maintain the sound of the band. Ken had a high falsetto voice. Mick had the next highest voice, and I devised a set-up where I could use a specially modified Mellotron like a sampler. I had multi-tracks of Mick's voice and when I hit the keys it would start a tape with Mick doing the high 'oohs' and 'aahs'. It was very crude, but samplers weren't around at that time.
"That was the first thing that struck me when I took his place, but I was influenced by Ken, being exposed to his style when we toured with Heep in '73 [note: presumably with The Heavy Metal Kids]. I was confident that I could emulate his style of playing, but the vocal part caused the most problems. It didn't sound exactly like the old Uriah Heep, but we still had the high vocals coming out of the machine."
So there you go; one of the odder pieces of Mellotron trivia on this site, amongst many. In 1993, a fascinating CD appeared rounding up all the old Spice demos, The Lansdowne Tapes, including outtakes from Very 'Eavy. One of these, I Want You Babe, featuring Colin Wood again, is the only unreleased Mellotron track in the Heep vaults, it seems; it features a little flute, in a similar manner to Very 'Eavy's I'll Keep On Trying, but it's easy to see why the latter made their first album when the former didn't.
So, to sum up: the only Uriah Heep album even slightly worth buying for its Mellotron use is Very 'Eavy, Very 'Umble, particularly the 2003 remaster, although their next few releases, Salisbury, Look at Yourself (****½), the magnificent Demons and Wizards (*****) and possibly The Magician's Birthday (***½) and Sweet Freedom (***½) are all worth hearing. None of the other three listed here are worth it for the Mellotron, or that much of the music, to be honest. The Lansdowne Tapes has some good moments, but one of the best, Born In A Trunk, is available in a different version on the remaster of Very 'Eavy anyway.
See: David Byron | John Wetton | The Gods