It was back in December 1969 when keyboard player Ken Hensley was asked to join a band called Spice. Shortly thereafter the band changed its name to Uriah Heep, and a rock legend was born. However, if you'd been running a sweep five decades ago as to which of the many rock bands on the go would ultimately celebrate a fortieth anniversary, I doubt anyone would have been cheering as they drew the name Uriah Heep out of the bag.
But despite enduring fifteen lineups, seven drummers, six vocalists, six bass players, five keyboard players as well as deaths, drugs, enough mayhem to fill a quadrilogy of Spinal Taps and a solitary guitarist — sole founding member Mick Box — the band is still here. When many a more critically acclaimed band has fallen by the wayside, Uriah Heep has toured their backsides off across the rock-starved former Soviet Republics and beyond.
In 2008, they released their 21st studio album, Wake The Sleeper, their first studio album in 10 years, which saw them getting the kind of praise that eluded them in the seventies. So it's strange to relate that their fortieth anniversary album, Celebration, is largely a set of re-recordings from their early years.
There are two new tracks in amongst the fourteen songs, and both "Only Human" and "Corridors Of Madness" would have sat happily on the Wake The Sleeper release. Both solid rockers with the Uriah Heep trademark sound, they're a hybrid of progressive rock and classic rock set well in place.
I suppose that fans may be interested to hear how "new" vocalist Bernie Shaw (twenty-two years a member, and counting!) gets on with the old material, but then he's sung them thousands of times in concert and on an array of live releases. I could reel off at least half a dozen live albums where Shaw sings the classics, including the likes of Live In Moscow, The Magician's Birthday Party and Magic Night, just to name three. Of course, it could be royalty related. After all, those record deals of old weren't exactly brimming over with pots of gold for the musicians. It may even be that new record label, Ear Music, wanted something that the casual buyer would pick up and go, "Oh, I remember 'Easy Living.'" Hell, it might actually be a gesture of thanks to their fans, but given that it's coming out in three different formats I think we can discount that.