Uriah Heep's Mick Box: "I feel like I’ve done ten rounds with Mike Tyson and not got a punch in"

Uriah Heep group shot
(Image credit: Silver Lining Music)

Any band that reaches their 50th anniversary must have something special going for them. Uriah Heep – the hard rockers who formed in 1969 and have rarely paused for breath since – have Mick Box. At 75 years of age, the guitarist should probably be organising his slipper collection. Instead he’s an exuberant blur of positive energy and garrulous cockney vowels when he greets us just after the end of the World Cup Final. 

“Did you watch the football? How exciting was that?” he beams. “Mate, what a game! ’Appy days!” 

Box’s enthusiasm is infectious, and he would probably be equally upbeat even if he hadn’t just witnessed Lionel Messi bringing the Cup home for Argentina. 

As showcased on their brand new album Chaos And Colour, Uriah Heep are on similarly top form right now. In fact, they’ve been enjoying a new golden era for at least the past decade. A run of great albums, which began with 2008’s Wake The Sleeper, has delighted diehard and old-school fans, while bringing plenty of new, often younger punters through the doors too. A startling 53 years on from the release of their seminal debut Very ’Eavy, Very ’Umble, Uriah Heep are still making great music and momentous memories. 

“There’s been a few little milestones as we’ve gone along,” says Box. “There was the first album, and then Demons And Wizards [the ’72 classic that features Heep’s best-known song, Easy Livin’] really hit for us. We had a resurgence again with Abominog [’82], and then again with Sea Of Light [’95]. But, as you say, from Wake The Sleeper onwards, right up until the new one, it’s been another really good ride. With this particular band, delivering it every single night, the consistency is wonderful.”


Nostalgia demands that Uriah Heep will always be most strongly associated with the hard rock explosion of the late 60s and early 70s – when Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath strode the earth, blowing minds and eardrums by the million. 

While Mick Box’s crew are arguably the least celebrated of that unofficial Big Four of Big Rock, they steadily proved themselves to be the most dogged and resilient of them all, and have been touring, releasing albums and generally behaving like a good rock’n’roll band should, with very few breaks of note ever since. 

The key to Heep’s ongoing state of rude health can be traced back to the most significant line-up change in the band’s history. Thirty-seven years ago, Box was looking for a new singer to replace the departing Peter Goalby, and a new keyboard maestro to take the reins from previous incumbent John Sinclair. 

The musicians he chose – singer Bernie Shaw and multi-instrumentalist Phil Lanzon – were plainly the right men for the job. As Chaos And Colour demonstrates, the chemistry between Box and his bandmates continues to spark and fizz all these years later. As he notes, some things are written in the stars. 

“Back then I knew Phil was hugely talented, but he was busy too. So I traced him to, would you believe, Tasmania, where he was working with the Sweet,” Box recalls. “That’s how hard I had to look for him [laughs]. I got him in a phone box in Tasmania. I said: ‘I’m not trying to poach you, but if you’re not happy over there and you want to move on, let’s have a conversation.’ He said: ‘Give me the info now!’”

In the case of Canada-born Bernie Shaw, Box saw him singing at the Marquee with (short-lived hard rock ‘supergroup’) Stratus, and thought their voices would blend together well. 

“I went and met them after,” Box recalls. “It was their last gig, and we ended up at his apartment in Deptford somewhere, and we had a few brandies too many and I think I woke up under his coffee table. I said let’s get an audition together, and he said he’d love that. So we did, and he came along and did three or four songs.” 

He obviously passed the audition. What clinched it? 

“Well, I thought: ‘Oh, he’s done his homework! This is going to work, so let’s move forward with this…’ Little did I know he’d been singing all our songs with a band called Cold Sweat back in Canada, so he knew them already [laughs]. Once again, it was almost like it was meant to be.” 

As a bonus, Uriah Heep’s loyal army of fans later confirmed that Box had made the right decision, particularly regarding Bernie Shaw – with whom Box has a strong relationship. When Shaw got married, Box was his best man. 

“We were out on the road, fans were coming to me and saying: ‘At last you’ve found a Heep singer!’ It never occurred to me, because all the other singers we’ve had were so good, in my eyes at least. But the way the fans warmed to Bernie, I felt we were on to something here. We’ve become great friends as well, aside from the working relationship, and that’s the essence of it all, really.”

Mick Box onstage

Mick Box onstage (Image credit: Future)

Aharmonious and productive unit since 1986, Box, Shaw and Lanzon have weathered plenty of sea-changes in taste and trend over the years, buoyed by loyal support from all over the world. As Box states, touring has been the band’s lifeblood over the years, and so the abrupt, covid-inspired cessation of just about everything in 2020 hit him and his colleagues harder than most. For Box, who has now been flying the Heep flag for five decades, it must have been torture. 

“Yeah, it was tough,” he says with a grin. “All my life I’ve been out on the road, you know? When covid came along it took us all by surprise, didn’t it? But I’m the sort of person that when a hole appears in the schedule, I fill it with something else. So I started writing a lot. 

"You’ve got to keep your mind going, mate, haven’t you? So I did lockdown diaries, I did ‘Ask Mick’ videos for the fans, and all sorts of things to keep the whole thing vibrant. Along the way, we were thinking that there may be an opportunity for us to go and record an album, because it was about time!” 

Pandemic circumstances dictated that Chaos And Colour was pieced together in a less organic way than Mick Box would instinctively favour, with songs being written with Phil Lanzon over Zoom rather than cooked up in rehearsal rooms. But despite the challenges of remote working, the end result is one of the finest records the band have ever made. 

“In the end we wound up with a great bunch of songs,” Box says. “If there’s anything good that came out of covid, it was that it allowed the other members to get involved in writing as well. Dave [Rimmer, bassist] wrote some stuff, Russell [Fairbrook, drummer] wrote some songs with a guitar-player mate of his, and Phil and I wrote the rest. So it broadened the writing scope.”

From rambunctious rockers like Save Me Tonight and Hurricane, to epic, proggy sprawls like Freedom to Be Free and One Nation, One Sun, Uriah Heep’s twenty-fifth studio album continues the impressive run of form that began almost 25 years ago with Wake The Sleeper. Rich with ingenious detail but frequently thunderous, Chaos And Colour lives up to its title with a flourish. 

“The idea of Chaos And Colour was that it was written in the chaotic times of covid, and I believe that the only colour in a lot of people’s lives was music,” states Box. “That’s why I chose it. When we eventually got in the studio, I always insist that we’re all in the same room at the same time for recording. 

"We got [producer] Jay Ruston over from America, who also did Living The Dream [Heep’s previous album, in 2018], and we went straight in and recorded it in about seventeen days. When we got in, there was the impetus of all being together again and playing. We’d been stifled for so long, and so I think some of that excitement came through in the performances.” 

Aside from rocking like an absolute bastard from start to finish, Chaos And Colour is also notable for its defiantly upbeat and inspirational tone. While many other bands have written dark, introspective records after being cooped up at home for too long, new Heep songs like One Nation, One Sun, You’ll Never Be Alone and Fly Like An Eagle reflect a hopeful world view that is undeniably refreshing. 

“There are reflections in the lyrics about the covid times, but we tried to give them a positive perspective,” Box explains. “When I’m touring, I meet so many fans that say they’ve had a really difficult time in their life, but our music has got them through. Well, generally that’s about the positivity of the lyrics. We’ve always sung that good always wins over evil, and that’s the mantra that we continue with to this day.”

Uriah Heep studio portrait

(Image credit: Chard Stow)

As Box and his bandmates continue to forge ahead with hope in their hearts, they are also mindful of the need to pay tribute to three former members who sadly have passed away in the past two years. 

Both original keyboard player Ken Hensley and long-time drummer Lee Kerslake died in 2020, while vocalist John Lawton, who sang on three Heep albums in the late 70s, unexpectedly bowed out in 2021. Box is eager to pay tribute to his ex-colleagues, while admitting that losing so many friends within such a short space of time has been difficult to process. 

“I can try to explain it. It’s kind of like feeling numb,” he says, looking momentarily downbeat. “With someone like Lee, we were brothers from different mothers, aside from playing in a band together. We were great friends. His health declined over a period of five years, but it was still a shock. But with Ken and John, they were gone in seconds. There was no build-up to it at all, so both were a complete shocker. 

"You start re-evaluating stuff, and I just thought, I’m going to keep my passion and spirit going here, because by doing so it allows their music to still be in focus. What they leave behind is amazing – the songs, the playing, it’s all absolutely wonderful. But yeah, I feel like I’ve done ten rounds with Mike Tyson and not got a punch in.” 

Moving on from talking about fallen friends, the smile returns to Box’s face as he talks excitedly about Uriah Heep’s recent run of (much delayed) 50th-anniversary shows. With fan-friendly bonus features like a Uriah Heep Museum and big-screen footage of all the band’s classic line-ups and former members, the career-spanning gigs have been celebratory affairs, and a much-needed chance for Box to escape his house and get back to what he does best. 

“I said to everyone that we don’t just want to do a normal show with all the old songs in. That’s not going to work for me. For the encore, we have a video screen that shows every band member there’s ever been, including the school teacher who originally played the keyboards before joined [laughs]. The crowd roars, we come out and do Gypsy and we’re away, you know? It’s been a great tour.” 

Very few bands survive for 50 years. But then only one band has a Mick Box in their armoury. Age is just a number. Rock’n’roll is forever. ’Appy days, mate. 

“I don’t put barriers in front of me. That can only lead to trouble,” Box says, laughing. “So all I do is keep healthy, stay passionate. Writing is part of my DNA, so I’ll continue doing that. The album’s out, so I think we’re starting to put tours together. We’re playing at Wacken Open Air this year, and we’re on lots of other festivals. 

"We’ll do a Chaos And Colour tour, and we may do some more fiftieth-anniversary dates too, so it’s going to be a really busy year. And long may it last!” 

Chaos & Colour is available now via Silver Lining Music. Uriah Heep tour Germany in April.

Dom Lawson

Dom Lawson has been writing for Metal Hammer and Prog for over 14 years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He also contributes to The Guardian, Classic Rock, Bravewords and Blabbermouth and has previously written for Kerrang! magazine in the mid-2000s.