Tag Archives: Ken Hensley

URIAH HEEP – Demons & Wizards at 50 Years

Demons & Wizards was Uriah Heep’s 4th studio album. A few days ago the album turned 50 years old. It was the follow up to Look At Yourself, an album which saw the band solidify a heavy hard-rock direction, and featured classics like “Love Machine”, the title track, and the epic “July Morning” – the latter 2 would remain in the band’s set list almost permanently, and the album has been argued as the band’s best by some critics & fans, but it did not have the commercial success that Demons And Wizards would. In the time after Look At Yourself the band went through more personnel changes, first dropping founding member / bass player Paul Newton. Newton was a key figure in the band’s formation and early days, as he had played with The Gods – which featured Ken Hensley and Lee Kerslake before moving on to Spice – which would become Uriah Heep with the addition of Ken Hensley, upon Newton’s recommendation. Newton was initially replaced by Colosseum bassist Mark Clarke, a friend of Hensley’s. Iain Clark, who was the band’s 4th drummer and played on Look At Yourself, left the band soon after Newton, and Lee Kerslake joined. With Clarke on bass the band recorded 2 tracks for a single release – “The Wizard” and “Why”. The latter had been around for some time, as the band had recorded it previously, much longer as “Why -14 Minutes?”, and it would never find a place on a Heep LP, but would become perhaps the band’s most popular non-album track. Clarke would also get a co-writing credit on “The Wizard”, with Hensley. The song featured acoustic guitar, the band’s harmonies, a mystical tale, and the whistle of a tea kettle! The idea to record the tea kettle was spontaneous in the studio and it fitted in perfectly. Clarke also sang the bridge in the song that was better suited to him than David Byron. Released in March “The Wizard” would chart in a few countries, a minor hit in Canada (#86), a top 40 hit in Germany, and a top 10 hit in Switzerland – where the band had previously had a top 10 hit with the single “Look At Yourself”.

Before the album would be completed though Clarke left the band while on US tour, with Gary Thain (ex Keef Hartley) brought in to replace him. “The Wizard” also became the first track on the album, an interesting way to start an album that would go on to be much heavier. (An interesting comparison is Golden Earring’s 1971 album Seven Tears, which begins with the acoustic track “Silver Ships”, as well as a unique lyrical subject). Side one would also contain “Traveler In Time”, and “Poet’s Justice” – the first featured in the band’s live show at the time, while the latter is one of the band’s great album tracks, rarely mentioned, and not featured on the Live ’73 album – just a classic tune, and and stellar performance from Kerslake – who would receive a co-writing credit on both of these tunes. “Circle Of Hands” is the track that had me going back to carefully drop the needle on that Ken Hensley organ intro, and listen through to the end with the David Byron’s vocal and Hensley’s slide guitar that plays out to the end. It is the Heep song that had me as an immediate fan, and remains my favorite Heep track. The band did a remarkable live performance of it on their Live ’73 album, and have occasionally revisited it in the live set since 1994, as it appeared on Spellbinder (Live in Koln) . “Easy Livin'” was the third track on Demons And Wizards, and the album’s 2nd single. It was short and full of energy, with that Hammond organ throughout with Mick Box’s fuzzy guitar tone. And again it’s full of harmonies, a great vocal from Byron, and the rhythm section of Kerslake and Gary Thain drove this one home. Kind of a cool follow up to the track “Look At Yourself” musically. It would be the band’s first (and only) top 40 hit in the US at #39, while in Canada it peaked at #25, and as put by one former Heep PR person “opened all doors” for them. It is among the most covered Heep classics, and is the band’s best known song globally, one of the few that still receives radio play on FM classic rock radio, and has rarely never been featured in the band’s live show.

Side 2 opened with “Rainbow Demon”, another song featuring a tale of fantasy, though darker and heavier than “The Wizard”, it was (obviously) the track used for part of the album’s name. This one has occasionally crept in to the band’s live set over the last decade or so, as well. “All My Life” was the album’s other short and furious rocker, featuring plenty of slide guitar (via Ken Hensley). A Box/Byron/Kerslake credited track that was, in many countries, used as the B-side to “Easy Livin”. Admittedly, this was the last song on the album that I really got in to. The album closes with the epic combo of “Paradise / The Spell”, 2 different tracks that are edited to blend together, and fit well, clocking in at over 12 minutes. While “Paradise” is an acoustic ballad, the weight and pace pick up as the it blends in to “The Spell”, a more upbeat saga of good vs evil with Byron and Hensley trading off vocal lines. Lots of changes throughout, a fantastic production. A shame this one was never performed in full during at the time it came out.

From RPM (Canada) – A surprisingly sophisticated set of uniquely produced avant garde rock. The group has matured considerably and this album is easily the high point of their careers. Listen particularly to “The Wizard” and “All My Life”. This one should do it for them.

Demons And Wizards would be the first of a pair of Heep’s classic albums to feature the artwork of Roger Dean, who was quickly becoming famous during the era having done album art for bands such as The Gun, Atomic Rooster, Lighthouse, Osibisa, and Yes by this point. The album made the charts in numerous countries – top 10 (#1 in Finland, #5 in Germany and Norway), top 20 (Australia, UK) … in the US it would be the band’s most successful, making it to #23 there and #22 in Canada, the band’s first to go ‘Gold’, With Heep’s hectic schedule at the time the band were on the road much of the rest of the year, breaking to record and release a follow up within 6 months! The Magician’s Birthday came out, rushed before the end of the year, and although the 2 albums are often seen as a classic pair for their fantasy themes, Roger Dean covers, and legendary tracks, the latter would not be as successful, nor would it contain that global hit single as Heep had with “Easy Livin”. But another awesome album to look at in the future.

The 50th Anniversary of the Heep’s most successful and famous album seems to have gone by without a huge deal , due largely to the pandemic that pushed back the band’s 50th anniversary tour from 2020. There was a limited edition picture disc LP release, but heck I would’ve loved to have seen a box set (ala Led Zeppelin style) marking such an iconic album. But the year is far from over, the band is touring, and have a brand new album recorded in the can, and there’s a few more classic Heep albums coming up over the next year that will deserve celebrating as well.

RIP: David Byron, Gary Thain, Ken Hensley, Lee Kerslake.

http://tralfaz-archives.com/coverart/U/U_Heep_wizard.html

https://www.discogs.com/artist/254059-Uriah-Heep

https://www.popsike.com/Uriah-Heep-Demons-And-Wizards-LP-180-Gram-2018-Reimagined-artwork/382724670780.html

KEN HENSLEY – My Book Of Answers to get special vinyl reissue

Originally released last year on CD & vinyl, Ken Hensley’s posthumously released My Book Of Answers will get a special white & black ‘splatter’ vinyl reissue in May, on Cherry Red Records.

The album came months after Hensley’s passing, featuring 9 tracks, and cover art by Olesya Vasilieva, package design by Hugh Gilmour, and lengthy liner notes from Ken Hensley, as well as from Steve Weltman (manager & friend). Each track on this album was accompanied by a video. Stand-out cuts included “The Cold Sacrifice”, “Stand (Chase The Beast Away)”, and “Lost (My Guardian)”.

URIAH HEEP – A Look At High and Mighty

Among the Heep faithful there are 3 albums that tend to stir up the most controversy and conversation, and often one of them is cited as the band’s ‘worst’ album by many fans or rock historians. I’ve already written previously my support for Conquest and for Equator, both albums that land at the bottom of any Heep album ranking, and the 3rd in that trilogy would be 1976’s High and Mighty – the last to feature original singer & founding member David Byron. Frankly, none of these 3 land in the bottom 3 for me, in particular High and Mighty, an album I rank in the top half of the band’s catalogue.

High and Mighty came at the end of a very busy period for the band. In ’75 – the band had changed bass players, adding John Wetton in place of Gary Thain, who had been fired, and the band got down to releasing Return To Fantasy in the summer of ’75. Ken Hensley also had his 2nd solo album Eager To Please released not too far off from that. A huge world tour followed the release of that Heep album, followed by David Byron’s solo album Take No Prisoners, and a Best of Uriah Heep issued in most markets (except for North America). So, to say High and Mighty might’ve been rushed soon after is more than likely. Despite Return To Fantasy being a huge success in the UK, the band’s last few albums were selling less in North America, and with this perhaps was the motivation to ‘fire’ Gerry Bron as the new album’s producer and produce it themselves. But, where as RTF had many more band co-writes and member contributions, High and Mighty would consist of entirely Ken Hensley penned tracks, with Wetton getting 2 co-writes. Ken has stated in the past the album felt more like a solo album, and both he and Wetton noted that not much of the band were around at the time, leaving the 2 of them to take on most of the production, aided by engineer Ashley Howe.

John Wetton’s presence is felt immediately on the opening track “One Way Or Another”, in which he takes the lead vocal. A fantastic beginning to this album with the opening guitar riff coming in with a fresh new strong sound, before Wetton’s bass, then drums and organ join in. This is a standout track, and a shame it never got a proper single release. There would be no global single from this album, with this song being issued in the UK (limited), and nothing in North America. David Byron was apparently off with chicken pox at the time of recording this track, so that was the reason given for Wetton’s lead vocal. John recalled in an interview that when David did come back he went in to sing the song, part way through stopped, saying that it was fine the way it was. “Weep In Silence”, a heavy guitar driven ballad, with Hensley’s distinct guitar sound throughout and a great vocal from Byron remains a fan favorite from this album, though it was never played live. “Misty Eyes” starts out gently with Byron singing the opening lines alone before the band comes in softly with acoustic guitar, organ and drums. A good lighter pop song that would’ve made a catchy single, IMO. The first side ends with “Midnight”, the longest track on the album, and most progressive,. An often overlooked epic in the band’s catalogue, and although Wetton didn’t get a co-write on this Or on “One Way Or Another”, his performances (bass, guitar, keyboards, vocals or backing vocals) make these 2 tracks his greatest contributions to his time with the band.

Side 2 opens with the anthem “Can’t Keep A Good Band Down”, a response and dig at the band’s critics. A good upbeat rocker that would’ve (again) made for a fine single. A shame the song would never feature in the band’s live show back then or ever. Next up was the pop-rock of “Woman Of The World”; a good tune, tho’ a bit on the lighter side. Might’ve made a decent single, but like a number of tracks here it lacks an extended solo or something unique as the song merely fades out quickly after the last chorus. “Woman Of The World” would include the band’s message to Bron in the harmonies – You can stick this contract up your flue “Footprints In The Snow” is a favorite of mine on this album, co-credited to Wetton. Love the mix of acoustic and electric guitars organ, and harmonies. An underrated classic from the Byron era, IMO. From here, despite how much I love this album, I can see how critics might disagree with my enthusiasm, as the next 3 tracks drop off a bit, especially the funky keyboardy “I Can’t Stop Singing”. I never ‘got’ this song, and listening to it now, I still don’t. . tho’ it’s not bad, and David sounds convincing on the verses, but the chorus… meh…. “Make A Little Love” is a guitar blues n boogie number, featuring slide guitar. Sounds like it could’ve been a good old school jam rocker, but it ends too early, like a few tracks here, sounding rushed . This one did make it in to the live set on the High & Mighty tour, but like the rest of the album was never played again (aside from Ken resurrecting a track live with John Wetton). The album ends on a high note, but a sad one with “Confession”, with David delivering an apologetic lyric on Ken’s piano ballad. It’s an excellent, moving ballad that sits behind the band’s previous ballads “Rain” and “The Easy Road”. A shame it ends so soon.

In 1995 I interviewed John Wetton and he recalled no leftover tracks being recorded, but sure enough 2 outtakes would eventually be released. “Sunshine”, a good upbeat number; love Lee Kerslake’s intro and playing here. The other cut is the guitar heavy “Name Of The Game”. This song appeared in another version on Ken Hensley’s From Time To Time album in ’94 (an album of solo outtakes and demos), as Ken had recorded the track in the late ’70s with members of Bad Company. A great heavy riff to open this song, fantastic delivery from David and slide guitar from Ken. To me, this sounds like it wasn’t totally completed or mixed well enough, hence it’s lack of inclusion on the album, but a crying shame this wasn’t totally finished and cleaned up and included – could’ve made for a very different outcome of an album that is often brushed off as “lightweight”.

High and Mighty received a huge press bash at the time in Switzerland, where James Bond was filmed. But after that the album dropped – with no worldwide single, and little push. As the band toured the US before it’s release – with no single on the radio or record in the shops, High and Mighty was kinda doomed. The tour saw Ken Hensley leave the band and return, and David Byron fired at the end of the European tour. John Wetton had already made up his mind due to the internal conflict, and and left as well. Many fans wrote the band off after David Byron was dismissed, and the band’s profile and album sales would continue to sink in North America.

But really, I kinda love this album. I realize it may be seen as lightweight or too much of a Ken Hensley solo project by many old Heep fans, but to me it had a new fresh approach and sound following Return To Fantasy and Wonderworld. The band experimented, did something new, and High and Mighty offered up a number of tracks that would’ve made fine singles. With John Wetton having a major hand in it, it sounded much more modern in tune with UK nd Asia, and a forward step from the band’s previous albums. Heck, I even think the album cover art is pretty cool!

KJ, 02/’22

WONDERWORLD Pays Tribute To Ken Hensley as LIVE FIRE on New Album

WONDERWORLD is the name of the power trio consisting of Roberto Tiranti, Ken Ingwersen, and Tom Fossheim. From 2013 until last year the band played alongside Ken Hensley, as his LIVE FIRE band (including 2013’s Trouble album and 2019’s Live In Russia). During that time the band also doubled as their own heavy rock outfit releasing 3 albums under the Wonderworld name. So, it is most fitting that Wonderworld’s 4th album pays homage to their former mentor and band leader via a newly recorded collection of songs they performed as part of Ken’s support band, under the name Live Fire!

The album consists of 12 tracks – 6 Heep tracks, 5 from Ken’s later albums, and 1 instrumental opener to the album. It is essentially songs that the band (Live Fire) would’ve performed the most while with Ken Hensley. There are the Heep standards like “Gypsy”, “Easy Livin”, “July Morning”, “Circle Of Hands”, “Look At Yourself”, the first video “Sunrise”…. and despite Ken’s absence [there is a guest keyboard player on various tracks]. These are not simply tired ol’ rehashes, as the band really does an exceptional job performing,. Lots of energy. Both [singer] Tiranti and [guitarist / producer] Ken [Jr] Ingwersen sing and play with a lot of emotion and it shows throughout this album. I love this version of “Look At Yourself”, and how the band work out the ending here. Digging this version of “Gypsy” as well. [*There is No “Lady In Black” on this album! 🙂 ]

For me though the highlights are the post Heep tracks, notably “The Last Dance”, “Ready To Die”, and “The Curse” — 2 of the best songs Ken Hensley wrote in the last 2 decades. I will always hail Ken’s original take of “The Last Dance” as the best [with his own vocal], however Roberto pulls off a strong performance of it that I will gladly take. “Ready To Die”, from the Trouble album is also a favorite here; tho it lacks a bit of the weight without Ken’s Hammond organ, I think Roberto gives a better vocal here, and the band still delivers it with power; a great track for the heavy hitting drumming of Tom Fossheim here. And lastly – “The Curse” – what made this song so great the first time was the interplay from the 2 Ken’s during the 2nd half – the instrumental section of the song. So the keyboards take a different approach here, but Ken Ingwersen plays this so well, as his guitar stands out even more here, definitely the highlight of the album for me! The disc ends with “The Longest Night”, another track I think Hensley really liked from his latter days, and it is the only track here to feature him, as it’s a duet between Ken and Roberto. (not sure where Ken’s vocal came from – an alternate take from ’13?] , but it sounds great.

Cover art nicely done by Ken Ingwersen, which follows nicely in suit with the other Wonderworld covers.

*You can sign up for this CD release [4 days left!], as well as get other Wonderworld albums [LP & CD] here : https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/wonderworld-live-fire?fbclid=IwAR1D_-RHSAGxbaXX0Vi-fxrswh4fscpryy8263g_9dUX6TQaU_zLSkstBA8#/

KJ, 11/21