By Martin Popoff
OK, it’s pretty much unanimous – folks are absolutely digging the new URIAH HEEP album. Wake The Sleeper can be viewed as the bold vigorous latest model of a Heep deep in a Heepy sound, which began anew with the fantastic and well-regarded Sea Of Light from ’95, through the lighter and less beloved Sonic Origami from ’98, and now into new Hammond-rocked life for the band here ten years (and one retired drummer) later. I usually talk to Mick (and more often than I thought would happen… Ken!), so it was cool to catch up with the reticent Trevor Bolder, bassist for this band of harmonizing heavies.
“I think that Sea Of Light is… I don’t know, it’s such a long time since I heard it,” chuckles Bolder, asked to define the lay of the land with this trio of similar albums. “I think this is a heavier album, more of a Heep album, if you go back to the ‘70s and listen to the earlier Heep. It’s got more Hammond organ on it, more wah-wah guitar, and is just a heavier album, than Sea Of Light and Sonic Origami - there are more laid-back songs on those albums. And even though Sea Of Light is one of our best albums, I think this one tops it.”
Asked to articulate the Wake The Sleeper concept, Bolder demurs. “To be honest, that’s more Mick’s and Phil’s thing. I suppose it’s the awakening of the band again - you can put it down to that as well, the sleeping giant sort of thing. The band is alive again. And we’re trying to let people know that we are here and we’ve woken up, sort of thing. I suppose that’s part of it.”
Touring as hard as Heep does takes you places, even into an Eastern European salt mine. I got the story on that from Mick a month back, but I wanted to get Bolder’s impression as well… “Actually, it was amazing. We went down the salt mine, and we went quite a ways down as well, just this huge cavern. I don’t know what Mick has told you about it. We got on these little trucks and we were zipping through these tunnels, and you couldn’t stand up because the roof was just above your head. So you’re going down these tunnels about 30 miles an hour, around corners, and it was kind of scary… well, not scary, but it was quite an experience to go down there. But yeah, I think we got about 2000 people down there, to watch us. And I had never done anything like that before. It was like playing in a church, in a way; it was such a big cavern. It was something I would want to do again, but I don’t know if that’s something we could do electrically. I think it might be too loud down there. But as a venue, it was quite amazing.”
And, er, why did this happen? “I think quite a few people have actually been down there, in the salt mine, and done it. And because we were doing an Unplugged tour, I think our promoter just put it forward to the people, or the guy who promotes those gigs, and he took us on and we did it.”
One notices that Mick Box and Phil Lanzon are the main writers on the band these days, to the curious point where vocalist Bernie Shaw isn’t even in on lyrics. Why’s that? “Well, I write on my own, but they write together, and I think they just like to write the lyrics for their own songs. Bernie has never really been involved in any writing since he joined the band. He’s done a bit of writing when he goes on to Canada with a friend of his, but he’s never really jumped in on it. He just sort of leaves it up to us to do the writing, and he sings the songs.”
New to the brew is drummer Russell Gilbrook, who garners from Bolder (half the rhythm section) the following comparison with predecessor Lee Kerslake.
“I’ve known Russell for a long time, so I know what he can do. His abilities are quite amazing actually (laughs). He can play anything. He’s a well-rounded drummer and he can step into any sort of band, I should think. But with us, he knows what kind of a band we are, and he knows not to be flash. And he sticks to a lot of stuff that Lee used to play. So he has slotted in really well. He’s not coming in and going, ‘Well, I’m going to show you what I can do,’ on every song. Which is not what we want. We want a drummer who is very solid, but can also, if we need it, do the flashier stuff, like the guitar solo drum thing on ‘Wake The Sleeper’, that sort of stuff that he has added in there. Lee is more of a solid drummer, I would say, than Russell. Lee stuck to more the rock side of drumming, which is what he was brought up with. He has always been a Zeppelin fan and a Bonham fan, so Lee was in the Bonham mold, which Russell can do as well. But Russell could go play with a beat band - he’s got that kind of ability.”
And how does Bolder hang with the Purple comparisons Heep has always suffered from, day one, namely sorta Jan. 1, 1970. “We’ve toured quite a few times with Purple and I mean, we’re similar, because of the Hammond organ. But they don’t have any harmonies at all, and of course we use five-part harmonies, with basically every song, and they just have the one front man. I suppose, you know, it’s heavy rock, from the same era, and Purple are a bit like us in a way, in that they’ve had lots of members in the band too (laughs). But I suppose that’s about as much as I can compare us, really. I suppose we’re more of a Hammond band, and they’re much more of a guitar band with a vocalist.”
With an album this good, one figures Heep will receive less stick than Maiden or Priest did when it comes to the shocking idea of… “doing the whole of the album, on stage,” affirms Bolder. “We are playing every song, which is taking a big risk (laughs). I mean, you go out there and play every song and that’s 11 new songs in the set, that people have not heard. Or the ones that bought the album will, but you’ll get people out there that won’t have. So that’s a bit risky, but, it seems that from the reviews we’ve had, everybody thinks it’s great. So why go out there and play the same old stuff over and over again? I mean, throughout the career we must’ve covered the whole Heep catalogue, over the years. And it’s so refreshing to go out there and just play the new stuff. Plus I mean we’re playing ‘July Morning’, ‘Easy Livin’’, ‘Lady In Black’, the popular ones, ‘Sunrise’. But the new ones are going down great, so we’re pleased with that.”
The road goes on forever for Heep, and one wonders what the guys do to keep sane out there. “Well, we just like playing, I suppose; otherwise we wouldn’t do it,” reflects Trevor. “It’s quite hard work being on the road. We’ve been on the road now for five weeks and we’re really looking forward to going home this weekend for a couple of days, before we do the British tour. But it’s better than doing a job, you know (laughs).”
Are you big readers, video game guys, museum-goers, sports guys?
“No, I mean, I keep fit on the road every day; I do that. I work out for an hour a day, and I usually walk a lot. I always go for a walk, walk around the town where we are, have a look around. If I’ve got the time. I mean, I’m not a big reader. I will read now and again, and I used to play video games, but I got bored with that one. Don’t do that anymore (laughs). And I don’t really watch a lot of movies on the tour bus and stuff. We usually sit and talk a lot. You know, you’ve got ten people on a tour bus; there’s always someone to talk to. I mean Mick does Sudoku and reads a lot, and Phil is writing some play or some book or some film at the moment. Bernie watches TV, and Russell, I don’t know what he does - he just sort of sits there (laughs). Russell doesn’t go anywhere. He doesn’t go out of his room. He won’t go for a walk. He’s a typical drummer, because Lee was like that. Never, never, ever went for a walk. Just stayed in his room and watched television. That was his relaxation. But you don’t get much time to yourself anyway when you’re on the road. You’re in and out of hotels, and you’ve got a couple of hours here or there; the rest of the time you’re with everybody.”
The Heep machine vows to get over to North American shores, an all too rare event for this band over the last coupla decades…
“Yeah, well, they’re talking about starting in January, mid-January, and starting off in Canada, and then working through, I think, six gigs in Canada and then going on to America. Three or four weeks doing House Of Blues and stuff like that. So we’re looking forward to doing that. It just needs confirming now. We’re just going to go out there and tour the world and hopefully sell some records. And hopefully impress some people. I mean, we’re trying to get a lot of the younger audience in as well. Which we’ve been doing on this tour, funnily enough. There are a lot of young kids out there who really like our stuff, that are into the bands that are similar to us. We’re trying to get our music across to them as well. Plus the regular fans that we have. We’re trying to expand our audience.”
Well I think, the industry is starting to realize that there is gold in these venerable brands.
“Yes! I mean, we’re quite surprised that we’re getting quite a lot of young girls out to concerts. Which is amazing for us (laughs). But yeah, we want to expand our market and get our music out to the world as much as possible. I mean, we’ve had some amazing reviews. We’ve just got to get it out there and get it on radio. I think that’s our next goal, to get more radio play. Hopefully in America and Canada we’ll get that.”