Perhaps Uriah Heep’s greatest achievement is to have gone from a national joke to a national treasure. Emerging in the wake of Purple, Zeppelin and Sabbath, they were never taken seriously by the critics, even when they started notching up Top Ten albums. When they fired their lead singer it seemed like a suicidal act of folly. Thirty nine years later, though, people are laughing with Uriah Heep, not at them.
They may have had 25 members during their 46-year career but they also boasted an unchanged line-up for 21 of those years. The arrival of singer Bernie Shaw and keyboard player Phil Lanzon in 1987 brought stability after a decade of chaos. Together with sole remaining founder member, guitarist Mick Box, they are now the white-haired triumvirate at the ‘umble heart of Heep.
While most “heritage” acts don’t bother with studio albums any more, Heep definitely do. Apart from a decade-long gap at the turn of the century, the band have released a new collection of songs every couple of years or so. And the three they’ve made in the last seven years have demonstrably revived the spirit of Heep.
Live At Koko, a 2-CD/1-DVD package catches the indestructible beat of Heep. They start with Against The Odds from 1995’s Sea Of Light, a fan favourite, before rocking into Overload from 2008’s Wake The Sleeper, the album that kick-started their latest renaissance and the first of six songs from the last three albums including two from last year’s Outsider that hadn’t yet been released but are rapturously received nonetheless.
Only then do they delve into their 70s heyday. No complaints there either although maybe Mick Box could dig out a couple of lesser known gems just to keep things interesting on the heritage front.
The white-haired triumvirate are clearly invigorated by their youthful rhythm section. Drummer Russell Gilbrook has been with the band a mere seven years while bassist Dave Rimmer replaced the sadly departed Trevor Bolder (RIP) a couple of years ago. Together, they bring a vigour and enthusiasm.
Bernie Shaw now owns the entire Heep catalogue and behind his glasses the twinkle in Mick Box’s eyes has a new sparkle. His signature wah-wah pedal technique now has its own spot, tacked onto the end of Look At Yourself, but in truth it crops up on just about every song.
Even if you have all Uriah Heep’s recent official bootlegs you still need Live At Koko. The official bootlegs may satisfy the diehard fans but the superior sound and production on Live At Koko spreads the message wider. And of course the DVD lets you see what you hear./o:p