It was the summer of 1983. My Uncle, my two cousins, my brother Rick and I headed out on a cross country drive, from Ottawa to Edmonton. We had two cassette tapes: Neil Diamond’s Greatest Hits and Def Leppard’s Pyromania. It was a long trip for my uncle, who had no desire to Rock Rock til he dropped. He survived though and got us to Edmonton on the day that Def Leppard was set to play the Northlands Coliseum. Incredibly, my mom actually let us go to the show ($13.50, I believe was the ticket price.)
It was our first concert. None of us had any idea what to expect when we arrived at the arena. One thing we weren’t expecting was a band not named Def Leppard playing music. To be totally honest, I can’t remember a single song played by the opening band that night. But, I can remember two things: The name Uriah Heep, and wanting to be a rock star.
I had gone that night to see the mighty Def Leppard, and they were amazing. Mick Box and Uriah Heep, however, were the first band I had ever seen and they blew me away.
It’s the winter of 2018. A cold and frosty night as Uriah Heep are preparing for the second of two shows at the Brass Monkey in Ottawa, the kick off to their 2018 North American Tour.
Sitting in the back room with guitarist and only original member, Mick Box, I mention this story to him.
“That was a good time,” he remembers. “We had our album Abominog. That went top 40 and with MTV doing the rock videos, we were a part of that in high rotation at times, so it was a real exciting time. And then to be with Def Leppard of course, another English band who were the biggest thing since sliced bread, weren’t they at that time? They were huge.”
It’s no secret that the Leps were huge fans of Heep.
“Oh yeah, very much so. Phil Collen used to follow me around.,” Box states with pride. “We come from the same town.”
For the uninitiated, Uriah Heep are one of the original Hard rock/heavy metal bands, having released their debut album …Very ‘Eavy…Very ‘Umble in 1970. They are set to release their 26th studio album, Living the Dream, in September.
“We finished the new album, which is being mixed in LA at the moment, which is good. We headlined one festival in England and then came straight out here. It’s called Living the Dream. It’s gotta be mixed and then the record company will need lead up time. We did it in 19 days, I think. We get in there and play as a band and record as a band. We don’t do it individually. The backing tracks are there as we do it…and without a click track. That’s the way we do it. We’re a band in the true sense of the word.”
When asked about the band’s incredible output of albums, especially in the early 70s when Heep was releasing an album a year, sometimes two in a year, Box explained that there were a couple reasons for this.
“We did have the creative force within the band to do that,” He states. “But, management would drive you mad. When you first start out and somebody invests money in you, they want that money back. (laughs) So they’re gonna drive you to hell and back to get it, you know? We were doing nine month tours and straight back in the studio to do another album and another album. In the end they got their money back a thousand-fold, but that’s not the point. By then you were burnt out.”
He claims that this was the reason for so much drug and alcohol abuse among musicians at that time.
“Absolutely. And we lost one, (original Heep vocalist) David Byron to alcohol and we lost Gary Thain, our bass player to drugs. A lot of it is, when you’re being driven that hard…and don’t forget, in those days…now we’ve got tour buses. In those days, you drove everywhere. You did an eight hour day before you even got on stage. And after that, you pack up and sleep in the car. It’s not very comfortable. We didn’t have the luxury of sleeping in buses. Or you were flying everywhere when you got really popular. Imagine, everyday, checking out, checking in, checking out checking in. It was just a nightmare. And so, put that together, all the hard work and the different countries you’re playing in, it takes it’s toll on you.”
Asked if he still feels the same passion now that he felt when he was first getting started, the answer was simple.
“Oh yeah, in abundance. We’re in an enviable position. You can’t moan about it. There’s a lot of hard work involved, and a lot of dedication, but that can apply to anyone and any job really. But hey, it’s a nice place to be. “
Describing Living The Dream, Box states that Heep fans will love it.
“It’s a natural extension to our last album Outsider. It’s typical Uriah Heep. You know, we created a template back in 1970 and we haven’t changed it. There’s no need to. Five-part harmonies. They call us the Beach Boys of Heavy Metal. (laughs) We are in fact living the dream. I’m still doing what I was doing at 18. I’m 70 years old. Who can complain? I’ve lived the life I wanted, which is something a lot of people don’t do. I’m in an enviable position. I’m doing something I love.”
Mick Box and Uriah Heep are Living the dream and it’s Easy Living. Catch them on their North American Tour this winter.
Listen to the full interview below and hear Mick Box talk about his beginnings and influences on guitar, not learning anyone else’s songs, the past and the future.