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Uriah Heep: a missed opportunity after Fifty Years In Rock

Bumper box set celebrating a half-century of ’ard graft and ’umility from Uriah Heep

50 Years in Rock - Uriah Heep
(Image: © Sanctuary Records)

Still marshalled by their ever-beaming guitarist Mick Box, for whom the worst possible crisis imaginable represents nothing more than an opportunity to contemplate, regroup and emerge to see another day, Uriah Heep are among the last breathing pioneers of hard rock and heavy metal. Led Zeppelin – gone; Black Sabbath and Budgie – also gone. 

However, along with Deep Purple and Judas Priest, Heep have actually used the past decade and a bit to engineer an unlikely renaissance. In a career marked by few awards, 2008’s Wake The Sleeper saw them hurdle the departure of long-time drummer Lee Kerslake and begin anew (once again) with a nomination for Album Of The Year at the Classic Rock Roll Of Honour. 

It lost out to Whitesnake’s Good To Be Bad, but the public acknowledgement almost seemed to regenerate Heep, who rebuilt with a new record label and management and three further top-quality records: Into The Wild, the appropriately titled Outsider and, even more so, Living The Dream.

Fifty years after their impossible to ignore debut …Very ’Eavy …Very ’Umble, Uriah Heep are still in the game, and but for COVID-19 would have celebrated this fact with a world tour that included a prestigious home-town date at the London Palladium. 

The 24-disc 50 Years In Rock (available at Amazon for £137.99) sets itself up as the all-singing, all-dancing documentation of Heep’s adventures. Considering the numerous labels through which the band have released music over the years, its compilers deserve kudos for uniting all 24 of their studio records, plus their David Byron-fronted Live 1973, an all-time great example of the double-gatefold concert set format.

Presented in a heavy-duty album-shaped box, it includes a vinyl edition of 1972’s The Magician’s Birthday featuring reimagined Roger Dean artwork, a softback 64-page book containing new comments by its four curators – Box, keyboard player/guitarist Ken Hensley, bassist Paul Newton and the recently deceased Kerslake (mistakenly described as surviving “original” members) – plus adverts for albums and gigs, tour programmes and some press cuttings. 

What it doesn’t offer is anything that could be considered ‘new’, except for four discs, effectively ‘playlists’, curated by Box, Hensley and co. Given the amount of unheard material gathering dust in the vaults, this is tantamount to unforgivable and is a real missed opportunity. 5/10 for the packaging.