With June 9 having been the Uriah Heep guitarist’s latest birthday, I thought I’d visit a bit of his story and selection of some of my favorite Heep tracks that feature some of his best work writing and/or playing.
[*Mick shared birthdays with longtime Heep member – Trevor Bolder – RIP]. This page is to celebrate Mick’s work and efforts in keeping Uriah Heep going strong for the fans throughout the years.
Mick is the lone founding member left in the British band, after he – along with David Byron [RIP], Alex Napier and Paul Newton were joined by Ken Hensley in late 1969 and changed the band’s name from Spice to Uriah Heep. Over the years he survived numerous band member changes, management and record company changes and hassles, and sadly a few passings. In 1981 he had become the only founding member and with the name and still a record deal – he rebooted the band with Lee Kerslake, Bob Daisley, Peter Goalby and John Sinclair [with longtime bassist Trevor Bolder returning not too long after]. Though the band had peaked in the ‘70s with David Byron on vocals and Ken Hensley writing the vast majority of the material, and both members being the focal point of the band – Box remained a steady contributor and the ‘80s saw him move to the front. By the end of the ‘80s he was the band’s major songwriter [along with Phil Lanzon] and by the mid ‘90s he was managing the band. I think it is safe to say Mick has done more of his best writing and studio recording over the past 20 years [since 1995’s Sea Of Light brought the band back to life for many old fans, new fans, and critics].
“Mick has always been a great player, and he’s been what I call a “team player”. I used to run in to Mick a lot in England, and he always such a great guy. In fact we used to rehearse in the same studio a lot. I don’t know why he never got more acclaim than he did, because i think he was due a lot more.” – Stuart Smith [Heaven & Earth]
Here’s my list — I didn’t pick all the predictable ones either! Feel free to comment and drop your own list or recommendations in the comments….
I’ll Keep On Trying – from the first Heep album, credited to Mick and David Byron. Although this song really shows the immediate impact of Ken Hensley with the band – Mick’s heavy playing here is the highlight; that lengthy solo where he turns it up and lets loose. Classic stuff!
The Magicians Birthday – with the song built around a story Ken Hensley had written, it is the guitar & drum interplay in this song that became what this song is known for. According to Lee Kerslake, the instrumental section was done in one take. The band has re-added this to the set list over the past year or so and it is a concert high point with Mick and Russell Gilbrook sparring it out on stage.
Devils Daughter – from 1975’s Return To Fantasy, and co-credited to the bandmembers [though newcomer John Wetton was left off the writing credits at the time]. So not sure who all contributed what, but one has to suspect Mick had a good hand in this with one of his more memorable riffs, and a cool lengthy solo exchange of guitar and keyboard interplay with Ken Hensley. A seldom mentioned gem, which the band resurrected in the early ‘90s and used as a live show opener for a few tours.
Free N Easy – a song John Lawton brought in for Innocent Victim, but with the help of Mick it became the heaviest song the band had done in years, and much needed as the band was in the confused state of becoming a middle of the road pop band. Killer riff, worked great with Hensley playing slide as alongside Mick. The band brought this song back in to the live show a few years ago, providing a highlight of the evening when they’d invite ladies on stage to jump around to the song.
Too Scared To Run – though brought in to the band by [then] singer Peter Goalby, it is Mick’s riff and solo performance here that scream “Heep is back”. Fittingly the lead off track to 1982’s Abominog, and featured in the band’s live show [off and on] for years.
Poor Little Rich Girl – another track from the Goalby era, and perhaps from one of the band’s lowest rated albums by longtime fans. I believe Goalby wrote most of this, but you gotta love Mick’s acoustic playing and that big dramatic solo.
Against The Odds – after 1991’s less than stellar Different World and a few years of no new recording this lead off track from 1995’s Sea Of Light was so welcomed and so exciting and easily set aside any fears that Mick and the band couldn’t come up with great rockers anymore. A real blazer, co-written by Mick with Phil Lanzon, and featuring a killer riff and 2 [!] huge solos from Mick.
Between Two Worlds – from 1998’s Sonic Origami. Another huge lead off rocker, and my favorite Heep classic from the past 30 years! Co-written by Mick with Phil, and lyrically about the chance of meeting those you lost in another world. A cool guitar break, and a huge lengthy solo that races to the finale on this one. The heaviest from a fairly lighter [but excellent] Heep album.
Ghost Of The Ocean – from 2008’s Wake The Sleeper; written by Mick and Phil about female pirates(!) This song just blares out right from the start with Mick’s riff and sound [and Russell beating the hell out of it], add Mick’s hooks and solo – a classic modern Heep rocker.
Jesse – from the latest Heep studio album [Outsider]; this album was a bit of a grower for me, but this song (written by Mick & Phil) I liked upon first listen – a bit more of a commercial rock tune, with a great little intro from Mick and one very different and killer sounding solo from anything else here. My favorite song from this album; too bad it didn’t make it to the live show or as a single.