Fans of British singer John Lawton will have a 2CD compilation celebrating John’s life in great music to be issued July 7. John, who passed away June 29, 2021, had been recording for over 50 years, and was best known as the lead singer for German progressive hard rock band Lucifer’s Friend, as well the singer for Uriah Heep in the latter half of the ’70s. He also recorded & toured with The Les Humphries Singers in the ’70s, and later recorded with such bands and projects as Rebel, Zar, Gunhill (a band he formed in the ’90s), The Lawton-Dunning Project, (his own) John Lawton Band, OTR, and The Intelligent Music Project, plus a few solo albums, and various guest appearances (notably with Uriah Heep years after he left). John’s last album was 2019’s Black Moon with Lucifer’s Friend.
Celebrating The Life Of John Lawton is a collection of 33 tracks, spanning his career from the early ’70s until 2015. And it appears to be a well thought out set, as opposed to something predictable. It is actually more about some of the rare recordings he did, singles, guest appearances, and one-off projects and albums he was a part of, including previously unreleased material . I don’t see any Lucifer’s Friend songs, or too many Uriah Heep titles, but this does touch on most of the bands and projects I mentioned above. So, this will be an essential purchase for fans of John’s career. The man put out so much great music, that this will be an excellent celebration of his work.
*Artist royalties donated to British Heart Foundation charity to research “Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm”.
DISC ONE 1 Corner Street Girl 2 Little Chalk Blue 3 Out Here 4 Is There Anybody There? 5 Eloise 6 Me And My Harley 7 Stargazer 8 Broadway Nights 9 Heart Of The Night 10 Dirty Tricks 11 Colgate Gel 12 Set The World On Fire 13 Back To The Highlands 14 Someone Sings 15 Come Together 16 Wise Man 17 I Am Alive
1 Feelings 2 Tonight 3 It’s A Long Way To Go 4 Mama Loo Impromptu Jam 5 I’ll Be Here 6 Written On The Wall 7 Been Away Too Long 8 Mamonama 9 Shine 10 Ride On 11 Salvation 12 River of Dreams 13 Fairytale 14 Rain 15 Rock ‘n’ Roll Is My Thing 16 Things We Can’t Do
MAD PAINTER have released their 2nd album Splashed. The album (reviewed elsewhere here) features 17 tracks, including the singles/videos “Illusion” and “Rock and Roll Samurai”, as well as a few covers, a diverse mix of classic rock, pop, and ballads. The band’s singer, keyboard player, and songwriter is Alex Gitlin, who I’ve known for many years. Alex is extremely knowledgeable about his ’70s classic rock, glam, and pop acts, And fashions! In this interview, Alex discusses the band’s history, the songs from Splashed, the band’s live show, and future. Enjoy the read. *Check out Splashed, as well as the links below.
Can you tell me a bit about the band (players), just how you connected and mutual influences?
The band’s been around since early 2016, but it was a totally different, and ever changing, line-up. We recorded our first album, which came out only digitally (YouTube, Spotify). For it, I gathered all the songs I’d written most recently and rehearsed with “embryonic” Painter in 2014-15, before Mad Painter Mk I even materialized. There were some ferocious rockers on it like Beware of the Dream, the title track, etc., which are still very much part of our live show. The aforementioned album was done in one weekend, then our producer took the tapes, drove back home and added his own guitar and production and mixing. We had no control over it at all. The result came out charmingly primitive, the sort of low-fi sound that our bassist Kenne Highland affectionately calls Garage Prog.
We went from strength to strength for a couple of years, playing shows as a trio, without a guitar, or hiring a guitar player for one gig. Those weren’t the happiest of times. Sometime before the lockdown of 2020, we got together with Kenne, Alan Hendry on drums and Al Naha on guitar, and jammed, getting a totally different and fresh vibe from it. We all felt enthused and encouraged and decided to continue as a unit. Alan and Al also play in Kenne Highland’s Airforce, an altogether different band, which Painter occasionally shares a bill with. It just felt right, and that’s how the patented Painter sound was born.
Kenne’s a big fan of late ’60s rock and blues, the fuzzier the better. He loves Vanilla Fudge, The Move and Small Faces. Psychedelic stuff. We all have our own influences and musical favorites, but we do converge somewhere in the middle, sort of overlapping on Mountain, Grand Funk, Spooky Tooth, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Procol Harum and Iron Butterfly. In a practice, you’ll often hear him say, “let’s do the Vanilla Fudge version”, that just means long, drawn-out, fuzz-drenched and with screaming organ and guitar.
The guys in my band are ’60s and ’70s punk fans, so anything from The Fugs, Blue Cheer and MC5 to Iggy Pop, you get the picture. Personally, I’m not big on punk, but Kenne started out his musical career in 1976 with the Gizmos in the MidWest. And he’s been rolling ever since. You can look him up on Discogs under Johnny & The Jumper Cables, The Gizmos, Afrika Corps, Hopelessly Obscure, etc.
Where did the songs from the new album come from — ie; time period, circumstances, etc…?
The lyrics to our two singles, “Illusion” and “Rock And Roll Samurai”, were written by my friend Dmitry M. Epstein, circa 2017. I rehearsed them with the first lineup but they didn’t make the cut for the album, as we just weren’t ready at the time it was recorded. We did have a second recording session a year later, but it was aborted. Luckily, it produced good quality demos, which this current lineup took as templates. Same can be said for The Moon and San Michel, completely different in style, but same time frame and trajectory. Whereas the two aforementioned singles are heavy rock in the Uriah Heep vein, San Michel is nostalgic ’70s pop with French flavor and The Moon is simply a Queen-lite pastiche. I’m not much of a singer, I have a limited vocal range, but I was thinking of Freddie, Brian, John and Roger when I wrote that number. It’s silly, whimsical and English, much like “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon”. Julie Gee has provided the kind of background vocals that would emulate that style. Another couple of numbers, soft ballads, “I’ve Been A Fool” and “I Live For Love”, are once again leftovers from the prior lineup that were not captured on the first album. “Fool” was written after I watched “Jersey Boys”, a biopic about Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, while “I Live For Love” was me trying to pay homage to my heroes Paul McCartney and Jeff Lynne (ELO). Both heavily orchestrated; since I didn’t have the luxury of an actual string orchestra, I had to do it all on my Juno synthesizer. I hated for so many songs, however disparate stylistically, to be languishing in the vaults and gathering dust. So we’ve revived them. Talk about reviving! Three more numbers had been waiting their turn for nigh on 25 years! Back in 1997, while I was in between bands, I recorded demos of “I Don’t Know”, “Lie To Me” and “A Friend In France”. And it wasn’t until the year 2021 that the right opportunity presented itself and we’ve collectively brought them back to life. It was a dream come true. While the original demo of “I Don’t Know” sounded a bit like Gilbert O’Sullivan, who I’ve always liked, the album version has that mid-70s disco feel a-la “I’m On Fire” by 5000 Volts. I’m really proud of this number, it’s the kind of a song I grew up listening to, and the string arrangement really gives it the most authentic of auras.
Both “Lie To Me” and another ballad, “Let Him Go”, despite being almost 25 years apart, are autobiographical. A lot of my lyrics are, actually. On “Let Him Go”, while recording vocals, I was thinking of Freddie Mercury, I could never match his greatness, EVER, but he inspired this number in a huge way. But also Frank Sinatra, especially “That’s Life”. The jazzy organ solo is very much of that “ilk”, although I’ve listened to Jimmy Smith and other Hammond greats before daring to record it.
The album has 17 tracks, so it’s very much a “kitchen sink” project. It’s quite diverse, and some people find the variety to be a good thing – a little bit of something for every taste. Others think it’s incredibly inconsistent (or schizo, as I would call it!) It’s like that by design. It’s a bit of a milestone, a roundup of everything I’d had to hold back prior to the recording sessions, which started in early 2021. There was this period of forced inactivity between the very last gig we played at the Jungle on March 8, 2020 and when we cautiously got back together again for a jam in Sept. 2020, right after my birthday. After sitting home for six months with absolutely nowhere to go, it felt so good to be jamming again, therapeutic even. And towards the end of that year, we landed in Peabody, at producer Tom Hamilton’s home studio, to lay down tracks for the Airforce. That was my introduction to Tom. He’s an ace and knows exactly what feels and sounds right for Painter. He’s the only producer I’d ever trust my music to. So during a break, I got on a zoom call with a few friends including John Lawton, who’s no longer with us. I remember that evening so well. John didn’t look or sound very cheerful, but then this was in the middle of the pandemic, a lot of people were affected emotionally. And on top of it, Ken Hensley had just recently passed. Little did I know this would be the last time I’d speak to John. His widow Iris says he’d have loved our CD. And when I’d quit music and felt uninspired, back in 2009, he encouraged me to get back into it, saying, “You don’t have to be rich to play.” He was so right. But with that said, when you’re doing it all yourself, promotions, recording, working with a producer, paying for the studio time, then mixing and mastering, it certainly adds up. I mean, when no management or record company would have your back. On the other hand, you live and die by your product, and there’s no one in the “biz” to screw you over.
Why the 2 covers? Stealin (IMO) gets done a lot, but the Randy Pie cover (Highway Driver) was an interesting choice.
Stealin’ was Kenne’s choice. We’ve always jammed on Heep covers, “Circle of Hands”, “Easy Livin'”, etc. And he called it Uriah Cheap. He’s been a Heep fan since 1973, when he first heard them. The first single he got may have been “Stealin'”, and I know for certain the following year’s Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert featuring UH made quite an impression on him. Then there’s Randy Pie… a German funk-disco combo from the mid-70s, starring the late Bernd Wippich. It was a hit in Austria and Germany at the time. We’ve jammed on this number with the prior line-up, but it took shape as a melodic hard rock number when the current lineup started running through it. It is still quite retro in sound, but a radical departure from the funky original. People reviewing our album usually don’t know this is a cover, so they think we’ve written a road trip song! But the proper credits are on the back of the CD.
Do you write All the songs, or are there co-credits and input from other band members?
I usually write the originals and, in some cases, co-write with Dmitry. He’s a poet and I’m a composer. We have Dmitry to thank for “Fool”, “Illusion” and “RnR Samurai”, with more to come in the near future! It’s the same dynamic as Elton John – Bernie Taupin or Gary Brooker – Keith Reid. But I usually listen to my guys when it comes to the arrangements – like why won’t we do a bridge here or a drum break there. Intros and outros, softer and harder bits, and so forth. They usually have good suggestions!
There is such a wide variety of tunes, from organ driven rockers, to ballads, to almost theatrical ‘show’ tunes. What gives?
(As previously stated), I’ve taken the kitchen sink approach. Open the vaults – empty the vaults. What have you got? Give me everything. This is what happens when you hold out for a quarter of a century. In my defense, I’m thinking Queen could have astonishingly heavy bits on albums like “A Night At The Opera”, for instance, sitting next to quaint, clever and whimsical little ditties like Seaside Rendezvous. But from the looks of it, judging by the critical and listener reaction, the listeners by far prefer our heavier side, so yes, the next one will be more consistent in terms of style. Let’s just say, I’ve gotten things like “You Nearly Stole My Heart Away” out of my system, time to move on. Speaking of which… this is one song on which I decided to take the “delicate whisper” approach, sort of borrowed from Colin Blunstone of the Zombies. I don’t normally sing like this, but it worked on this tune.
Can you tell me a bit about the John Sloman song (“Parting Line”), and how you ended up using the lyrics and putting them to a new song? (Was John cool with this? Any feedback?)
John… it’s a story onto itself. I came across his lyrics somewhere on the internet, and one song in particular, from his first solo album, ‘Disappearances Can Be Deceptive’, really touched me. It just sort of clicked in my brain. I heard the chugga-chugga Status Quo shuffle in my head to the tune of:
As the sun comes up to announce the day
The lights are coming down
On an allnight show starring you and me
The audience surrounds
And I thought, this could be something. It was a naughty thing to do, but luckily John was totally cool about it. He only asked to be credited on the CD and for a copy of the CD. He even added, “I wish I’d thought of that myself”. But his “Parting Line” is so different from ours – it’s a moody mid- 80s ballad.
What sort of gigs does Mad Painter play, and what does your set generally consist of?
We play locally here in the Boston area, sometimes venturing out of town for a festival. Our set usually contains upbeat rockers like “Barely Alive” and “The Letter” from the first album. Definitely both our current singles which now appear on Splashed. The guys are “gung ho” on going for the jugular, the 1-2-3 punch, wham bam thank you ma’am. I like to mix it up a bit on stage, so once in a while we do “Soldier Boy” (also from the first album), a somber ballad about the tragedy and horrors of the Vietnam war. Then we also play “Empty Bottles” and “Stand Your Ground”, the songs that haven’t yet appeared on record, although you can find “Empty Bottles” on YouTube if you search for it. “SYG” is the heaviest and the angriest song we’ve ever come up with, sort of Motorhead and Deep Purple in one flasket. Motorpurple.
I’ve always known you as a keyboard player, how do You feel doubling as lead singer? Is this natural for you, or something you had to adjust to?
My first love is the Hammond organ. As a kid, I was classically trained, between the ages of 5 and 8, but then I quit, so I never got proper classical piano education. And didn’t go back to playing keyboards until I was 19. But as early as 1994, I was in my first band Silver Star, playing keys and singing lead on some numbers. Sometimes stepping up to the mic with an acoustic guitar also. We did an EP CD back then called Foot Stomping Music, for which I wrote three numbers but only got to sing lead on one, “Kindness”. It’s still a very special track to me, one I’m really proud of. Being out of that band (I will omit the circumstances for now), thereafter, I entered a city studio and demoed the aforementioned three tracks which wound up on Splashed. This was in 1997. Throughout the ’90s, I played keyboards in a variety of bands, blues, heavy metal, funk, but those weren’t my projects and I didn’t feel like I truly belonged in any of them. I did not do much music-wise between 2000 and 2010 and all through that decade, I felt there was something missing in my life, this huge void inside. Then I tried myself out as a keyboard player in two tribute bands, Deep Purple (Stormbringer) and UFO (Lights Out), before finally getting around to create Mad Painter. So, as you can see, I’ve always wanted to double as a keyboard player and a lead vocalist. My two main heroes are Jon Lord and Ken Hensley, and neither one sang when they played the B3. So this to me was the biggest challenge. It takes a lot of energy to play “the beast”. I had to look to Billy Preston for that kind of inspiration.
Can you tell me a bit about the CD cover art? Is album art, in this day & age, still important (or as important)?
The artwork on Splashed is a thing of beauty. It’s done the “old school” way. It was a real photo session with a real pro photographer, and we used real vinyl records, threw them randomly across the floor and then squeezed acrylic paint of different colors all over them. It was my idea, materialized by Dmitriy Gushchin (the photographer) under my supervision. And it worked wonderfully. Our guitarist Al donated the vinyl records that had been ruined by a flood. They weren’t playable anyway.
In this day and age, album or CD cover art may matter less, but when you set your mind on creating a 1973 or 1975 album instead of 2023, it is of paramount importance. We couldn’t do the vinyl LP format because it’s too expensive. But we have pressed a quantity of CDs housed in a wallet style foldout. Plus the album art is a striking visual online, websites and social media alike. It catches your eye immediately. This is the physical painting component to the Mad Painter experience. Our music is sonic painting. Or, to quote “Return to Fantasy”:
‘In another place There’s a newer face Like an unfinished painting Your creator is waiting’
I know it’s early, but what might be expected on the next Mad Painter album, as far as direction, types of tracks, anything you’ve learned from making ?
Firstly, I must take into account what the entire band wants. My guys thrive on the heavy, rambunctious sounds of vintage hard rock. So when it comes to pop and balladry (some writers have called it “traditional songwriting”), I’m kind of on my own and they tend to refer to those numbers as “Alex’s solo material”. We are a unit, and I don’t want the next one to be “Alex’s solo” even in part. So for as long as this lineup sticks together, we’re going to go for the proverbial jugular. There will be some bluesy rock’n’roll numbers for sure, but the next album should be a lot more consistent in style. With “Illusion” and “Samurai”, we’ve sort of introduced and defined ourselves, our own sound. For better or for worse, this is Mad Painter.
Can you (a few) give us a ‘top 10’ of your favorite albums from your younger years?
Alex Gitlin, vocals and keyboards:
Status Quo “Blue For You”
Uriah Heep “Demons and Wizards”
Deep Purple “Machine Head”
Black Sabbath “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”
The Sweet “Give Us A Wink”
Smokie ‘Midnight Café’
Queen “A Night At The Opera”
Alan Hendry, drums:
Grand Funk Railroad – Live Album
Yes – Yes
Galactic – Already, Already, Already
Tower of Power – Back to Oakland
Porcupine Tree – Any Album
Blind Faith – Blind Faith
Tool – Lateralis
King Crimson – In The Court of the Crimson King
Genesis- Trick of the Tail
Jethro Tull – Stand Up
Kenne Highland, bass:
Stooges – The Stooges
Stooges – Fun House
Stooges – Raw Power
MC5 – Kick Out the Jams
MC5 – Back in the USA
MC5 – High Time
New York Dolls – Too Much Too Soon
New York Dolls – New York Dolls
Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat
The Velvet Underground – Velvet Underground & Nico
Uriah Heep have released a new video from Chaos And Colour. The track is “Golden Light”, a favorite, penned by Mick Box & Phil Lanzon.
“Golden Light” is a smorgasbord of soaring melodies, robust rhythm, luscious guitar lines, and brims with spiritual optimism. “We’ve always had positive energy in everything we do,” beams Mick Box, Uriah Heep’s venerable and effervescent founding member. “It’s always good over evil no matter where we look at it. That’s what we’re like as people, which is why it’s always been a big part of Heep to have that positivity.” “‘Golden Light’ is a typical melodic Heep rock song” continues Box, “it explains that in this troubled world, there is a guardian angel shining down a light, to guide us through these difficult times. ‘Appy days!”
Produced by Jay Ruston, and engineered by Pieter Rietkerk, Chaos & Colour is a superb album of quality hard rock from the pioneers of the genre who continue to create top class material. Old fans will be reinvigorated whilst new fans will surely find Chaos & Colour an exceptional discovery. In this, their 53rd pioneering year as a band, Chaos & Colour sees Uriah Heep throwing down more life, light and energy than peers 40 years their juniors.
The latest installment of Avi Rosefield’s Very Heepy Very Purple is out. The Israeli guitarist/songwriter is on volume 14 in his series of classic rock albums, heavily influenced by Uriah Heep & Deep Purple, among other great bands. X!V features 10 new tracks, as well as an impressive list of guests from such bands as Savatage, Bonfire, and Jag Panzer.
The lead off track “I Got A Riff” has a very Deep Purple sound and feel to it, like it would’ve made a cool opener to an early Gillan era album; great vocals courtesy of Hadi Kiani (Deaton Lemay Project). The 2nd track, “Fire And Ice” is equally as good, featuring Damond Jiniya (Dead Dark Slide, Savatage), though I can’t help but notice that sounds remarkably like an Iron Maiden song. “The Mass Grave” offers up something unique, a ballad, featuring Stefano Stex Sbrignadello (Great Master) on vocals, and violin from Sanja Smileska Mihajlovski .
But without rambling on about every track, this is a solid album of music, not a bun track here, and it should suit classic hard-rock/heavy prog fans. Other highlights being “Asteroids”, which is heavy on the Hammond organ courtesy of Michael Berry, making this one reminiscent of Rainbow, and like many others here is given a classy Blackmore-sound influenced solo. As well check out the closing track “Black Rocks”, featuring Harry ‘The Tyrant’ Conlin (Titan Force, Jag Panzer), and some Heep-like harmonies. If you like that familiarity of certain bands, from a certain era – you may want to dig in to this and this whole series. *Check out the links below for more info and ordering…
Well, being Phil Lanzon’s birthday I thought to pull this one out, from Uriah Heep’s keyboard player and a major songwriter. It is an album I never tire of! Phil’s first solo album, from 2017, From the eye-catching cover art courtesy of Michael Cheval through all 10 tracks – this album really has it all with catchy swinging pop rock like “Lover’s Highway”, to heavy keyboard prog in “Step Overture”, to acoustic tale-telling ballads like “I Saw Two Englands” and heavy Heep-like prog-rock of “The Bells”. Really an entertaining and amazing package, especially the 2LP vinyl (which I have on this am).
Phil sings some lead vocals, as does John Mitchell (Lonely Robot), Andy Makin (Psycho Motel) and Andy Caine. Aided by Simon Hanhart (co-producer), Laurence Cottle (Black Sabbath), Richard Cottle (co-producer, orchestrations). as well as violin players, cello players choirs, pedal steel guitar (Sarah Joy), etc… *If you’ve not heard this, I highly recommend it! Phil followed If You Think I’m Crazy! up with 2019′ excellent 48 Seconds.
URIAH HEEP”s Chaos & Colour has been out for some time now, and has been received enthusiastically and with great reviews from fans. Phil Lanzon, has been a major part of the Heep songwriting team since he joined the band as keyboard player. On Chaos & Colour Phil, along with founder/guitarist Mick Box, have delivered 6 awesome new Heep tracks. In this exchange Phil answers my questions pertaining to the band’s latest album, as well as what else he is up to. *Check out the links below!
With the pandemic and time away from each other and stage, was there more songwriting going on prior to recording Chaos & Colour? Was there an abundance of songs & ideas to choose from this time around?
Yes there was plenty of that. Mick and I wrote songs remotely during the pandemic. It was unusual but worked really well. There are songs and ideas left over, maybe for the next album, who knows.
You worked again with Jay Ruston. Was that an easy decision?
Yes it was easy. Our working relationship worked really well with Living the Dream so we wanted that to continue with Chaos.
Russell & Simon Pinto contributed 4 songs to Chaos & Colour. Was there some tough decisions in cutting down the number of songs?
Well there is always tough decisions when choosing the final songs. Especially as others band members are contributing; which we all feel has made for a great combination of material.
Chaos & Colour is a great follow up to Living The Dream, but I think a bit of a step up with more varied tracks trhoughout. Was there any deliberate move to try and include more progressive moments or ballads?
I personally always feel that there should be a prog section within a Heep album, specifically to keep variety in the material and also take the listener on a journey. It is a Heep feature that makes an appearance on many Heep albums from the early days to today.
Can you give me a bit of insight into some of the tracks- lyrically or recall on how it all came together…
I’ll keep it short. We always keep a strict eye on our lyrics that they don’t stray into the ‘norm,’ which is a pitfall of many artists, so we use the basic premise of positivity and the knowledge that there is good everywhere. You just gotta find it!
You seem to have a few new keyboard sounds on this album, such as on “Fly Like An Eagle”. I get a bit of Dream Theatre feel in there. Can you touch on any new sounds, approaches or equipment?
Not a great deal of new sounds, I was just messing around with a mini-moog style sound and decided it worked for the track.
“Age of Changes” is a fantastic track (my early favorite). Can you touch on this song?
I wrote this lyric based on my first childhood sweetheart. A story I’m sure will resonate with so many. We go through so many changes in our lives but the first real awakening to that fact hits most of us in the school yard.
You guys recently completed the 50th anniversary tour. How did You enjoy the shows? Any highlights or favorite moments in the set for you?
We all enjoyed the tour, it was a huge success as far as we are concerned and made a whole lot of Heepies very happy. The acoustic show was well received and was a joy to perform.
Phil, in your time awaiting the next Heep tour – might you be working on another solo project, book, or any guest appearances anywhere?
I am at the moment trying to sell my Musical, I mean, musical theatre. It is a full length musical about Ellis Island New York in 1917. The script is with an American producer as I write.
What are you listening to these days? Any current (new) favorites?
Nothing new at the moment. I am immersed in my artwork right now. Check out my Instagram.
Paul Newton was the original bass player in Uriah Heep, a founding member. Paul was the link between the 2 pre-Heep bands The Gods and Spice. He played on the band’s first 3 albums, featuring such classics as “Gypsy”, “Lady In Black”, “July Morning” and “Look At Yourself”. Following Heep his life took a very different path, but in later years he found his way back to the Heep family and fans, having been involved in shows with Ken Hensley & John Lawton, The Heep Legends, and guesting with the band on occasion, as well as Heep tribute bands. He also released an album (with Chris Rainbow) in 2016, titled License To Rock.
Paul comments on the how and why he wrote Bone Structure – “It was a project I started during the pandemic lockdowns, just a self-indulgent exercise..to see if I could actually write a book that I could put on my shelves amongst my recordings but ‘Aspect Design & Publishing’ suggested that I should make it available…so here we are. I thoroughly enjoyed the writing process and ending up with ‘my own’ book’…job done. Anything else will be a little bonus..!!”
Regarding the book’s subject matter, Paul opted to write a fictional book, as opposed to a mere autobiographical recall on his time in bands – “It is a fictional story based on my life through the eyes of an alter-ego. I did not want to produce yet ANOTHER Heep anthology as there are so many out there and I only spent a fairly brief time with the band. As I said, it was purely self-indulgent exercise and will have probably have very limited appeal but that does not bother me really and I have no great expectations…” Despite his ‘no great expectations’, early orders for Bone Structure warranted a 2nd run of the book within a few days!
*for more info and ordering, check out the links below
Drummer Alex Napier passed away on January 19. He was the original drummer for Uriah Heep, the first in a number of drummers in the band’s early years. Napier was born in Glasgow in 1947. He joined Spice, taking over for Nigel Pegrum, well before the band added keyboard player Ken Hensley and changed their name to Uriah Heep. It is Alex Napier who drummed on the Heep classic “Gypsy”, as well as “Come Away Melinda”, “Wake Up (Set Your Sights)”, and favorites like “Walking In Your Shadow” and “I’ll Keep On Tryin'” on the band’s 1970 debut album Very ‘Eavy…Very ‘Umble . He also played on numerous Spice demos and unreleased from 1969 that were later released on The Lansdowne Tapes CD in 1993.
Paul Newton posted – “…Alex was a strong, powerful player who has been virtually ignored and unrecognized for his work and contribution to Heep’s success. He was a tough, larger-than-life no-nonsense guy who didn’t take shit from anyone so not ideal for those intent on dodgy dealings…Gerry Bron & Ken Hensley were terrified of him but for me a good kind friend back then.”
Alex left the band due to family commitments (the band not making enough in those days to support a young family). After Uriah Heep Alex Napier would play with other bands, such as one called Prism alongside friend Peter Harrison whom I swapped messages with years ago – “(Alex) as a drummer, was a joy to behold. It’s like watching a ballet, he could do more with his feet on double bass drums than most guys could do with their hands. A f**king amazing drummer!” Napier also had the Alex Napier Band (The Party) around 1980-81. This band featured singer Tony Mason, and recorded a 2 song demo (which can be found on Youtube). Alex eventually retired from playing, and worked as a cabinet maker, according to Harrison. “The last time I’d saw him he had quit playing and was teaching his son. He [his son] was playing drums and using his dad’s kit.”
There’s never been a lot of photos out there showing Alex Napier’s time with Spice & Uriah Heep. He left before the debut album Very ‘Eavy, Very ‘Umble was completed, and by the time the band’s first single “Gypsy” was released Keith Baker was the drummer (who played on the B-side “Bird Of Prey”, and appeared on the single sleeve and subsequent band photos). Napier is often overlooked in the band’s history, often seen as just one in a line of many early drummers that played on the band’s first 3 albums. But his performances on that album are brilliant, having left his mark on a classic on a classic British heavy prog rock album. RIP
Russell Gilbrook joined URIAH HEEP in 2007, and made an immediate impact with his drumming performance on Wake The Sleeper. Coming up to fifteen years since the release of that first album, Heep’s brand new album is titled Chaos & Colour, and Russell Gilbrook has not only given the band a strong boost of once again, but has also contributed 4 songs to the new album! Along with longtime friend and guitarist Simon J. Pinto, Russell also co-wrote the band’s newest single “Hurricane”. In this interview Russell answers my questions pertaining to the amazing new Uriah Heep album, his writing contributions, and more. Enjoy the read, and check out the new Heep album, as well as the links below.
You’ve contributed 4 excellent tracks to the new Uriah Heep album, co-written with Simon Pinto. First, can you tell me a bit about Simon and how you came to work & write with him?
I’ve known Simon for around 30 years and played in quite a lot of bands with him. He really understands my approach to drumming and rock music in general. He’s a great player and I knew the chemistry would work between us when it came to a writing process.
How did you and Simon write together — who came up with musical ideas, lyrics, etc…?
We got together and I gave him all my ideas of feels, grooves, chord progressions etc.. and he did his own research and familiarized himself with the Heep back catalogue and we slowly built up the songs from those initial ideas.
We wanted to write songs that had a storytelling element and wanted the music to help tell these stories.
Was there an abundance of songs to choose from for Chaos & Colour, more so than previous albums? How was it all cut down (producer’s choice?) And was there anything put to tape that wasn’t included?
Because of the lockdown situation, everyone was able to put down a lot of ideas. We had a lot of time on our hands. All those ideas were brought to the table during our two weeks of pre-production and we picked what we felt were the strongest ideas for the next album. Our producer, Jay Ruston, also had a say on which ideas he would like on the album.
The 11 songs were agreed and recorded in Chapel Studios over the three-week period.
Are there any plans to work on / record your songs that didn’t make the album in the future or with another project (solo or with Simon)?
Yes! All ideas that didn’t go on this record are saved and may be used for either a future Heep record or another project somewhere down the line.
Hurricane sounds like it will be a great live track. I know it might be a ways off, but have you guys discussed what songs from Chaos & Colour you’re probably going to include in the live show?
Well, we have no idea at this time what will make the live set but I’d definitely love to see it in there. What tends to happen is when we rehearse for touring the Chaos & Colour album, we’ll try out various songs from the album to see which ones we think will fit well with existing Heep songs.
You’ll Never Be Alone is an epic piece! Can you talk share a bit of what influenced this song lyrically and musically?
The story is about a child’s dream where fairies are luring and kidnapping children but this one particular child realizes that there is a problem and alerts the parents who then come to find the lost children and take them from the fairies’ grasp and when it seems like all the children are safe and well, the initial verse structure repeats, suggesting that it is a recurring dream and the fairies are up to their usual tricks. If you close your eyes and focus on the music, it really accentuates the story in a dramatic and magical way. It was really important for us to match the lyrics with the music, making it such an epic track!
Can you give me a bit of insight into Hail The Sunrise (a great catchy chorus), and Fly Like An Eagle (just an awesome hypnotic, progressive sort of song)?
Hail The Sunrise is going back to ancient times of how people erected these sacred formations and the blood, sweat and tears and long journeys that went into the process of moving the stone from one place to another, all for what they believed in. The dedication and devotion that ensured the formations at places such as Stonehenge, Gurung Padang and Gobekli Tepe stood through the ages is astounding and difficult to even comprehend! We wanted the chorus to be quite anthemic to represent the elation these people must have felt when these structures were completed and in use.
Fly Like an Eagle… On the surface it’s about meditation but it also touches on the indigenous cultural tradition of ‘Vision Quest’ – A spiritual journey to receive knowledge from the spirit world. The song was written to be uplifting journey for the listener, so hopefully, everyone gets those feelings from it.
Of the other tracks on the album from with Davey or Mick & Phil – what are a few of your favorites?
Save Me Tonight by Davey and Jeff Scott Soto is a killer, high energy track! We had no doubt Dave would bring something like this to the table after ‘Grazed By Heaven’. I also really enjoy Silver Sunlight by Phil and Mick. The dynamic changes within that song and the big melodic chorus are exactly what Heep fans love, but all in all, I think every track on the album has it’s strengths and the album has something to offer everyone.
There’s that cool little exchange between you w/ Mick and Davey, back and forth on “Freedom To Be Free”. A pretty intense instrumental section. Can you recall a bit about that song and section came together?
The song was written by Mick and Phil and we agreed that it would be great to have Davey do a bass solo in there. We played a musical phrase and Davey basically answered it. What that tends to do within a song is give it a bit of a cool musical expression to add a bit of interest. It’s the proggy part of Heep coming out, I suppose!
How did you approach this album playing-wise — anything different?
As a band, no, nothing different really. The song ideas determine ways to play and in the pre-production weeks, we try out a range of different approaches for the playing and find which works best. For me personally, the way I tackle the songs is pretty organic – When I hear the first demos I can already hear what the song needs and as I come from a session background and have played a load of different music styles I tend to have quite a few ideas on the spot and as a result, the drum parts come together pretty easily.
Prior to the release of this album you played on the White Spirit album. Can you tell me a bit about this project? How you got involved and all? Any plans to perform with the band live or on anything in the future?
Actually, Dave Ling (Classic Rock journalist) recommended me to Cliff Evans (Guitar) and Mick Tucker (Guitar) as they were looking for a drummer for the project. They sent over the rough demos and said that I was free to do my own thing on it. Unfortunately, due to the Heep schedule, adding in other touring responsibilities is quite difficult, however, I never say never if there is a gap in the Heep dates, I’ll be out there playing! I’m very happy with the outcome of the album and the songs are really good! It’s a great album, with awesome artists collaborating on it. I’d recommend people go check it out if they haven’t yet.
You’ve been in Heep now for 15 years. Have you ever sat and gone through the band’s Entire catalogue? And do you have a few favorite albums, and/or a few favorite tracks that might be considered ‘deep cuts’ or hidden gems in the Heep repertoire?
I wouldn’t quite say I’ve sat and gone through every album! Haha, but when we have rehearsal time to put together a new set, we tend to go back in the archives and find tracks which the band hasn’t played for a while, such as ‘Love Machine’, ‘Shadows of Grief’, ‘Wiseman’ and ‘Against the Odds’. As for albums that I love, ‘Wake The Sleeper’ is special to me because it’s the first album I played on, just a few weeks after joining the band and ‘Look At Yourself’ is such a Great early album for Heep that has the fantastic ‘July Morning’ and title track. Special mention goes to ‘Chaos & Colour’, of course as It’s my first contributions to the writing.
What sorts of music do you listen to at home (in car or at the gym)? Anything new you’ve been into lately? btw – Do you still buy albums – physical copies or mainly download or stream?
I like a varied amount of music – My car playlist is a bit of a joke actually! Haha
My car favourites go from the likes of Saxon and Judas Priest to Billy Joel and Oscar Peterson.
I’m really enjoying the new Ozzy album ‘Patient Number 9’ at the moment – I’m listening to it a lot in the car.
To be honest, I mainly stream because I only really get to listen to music in the car or in the tour bus. Unfortunately, streaming is the easiest way to access music in these cases.
Can you give me Russell Gilbrook’s Top 10 (favorite) Albums from your youth?
I struggle to name my top ten favourite albums from my youth! I have too many, but I can list 10 albums that I really like in general?
URIAH HEEP has a new single out from Chaos & Colour, which is to be released on the 27. The rocker “Hurricane” was written by (drummer) Russell Gilbrook, along with friend & guitarist Simon J. Pinto, who has played with Les Binks (Les Binks’ Priesthood), and also worked with Adam Wakeman, Brian May, and Sam Smith among others. “Hurricane” is an outstanding heavy rocker and sounds like it should make an excellent fit in to the band’s live show.
The anthemic and epic “Hurricane” carries an underlying historical and mythological theme. Co-writer and drummer Russell Gilbrook explains: “Simon (Pinto) and I wrote the song about how our ancestors looked at storms and how these can be interpreted as being messages from the Gods… Their power is awesome and a great inspiration for a rocking track!”
Founding member Mick Box comments: “Music and lyrics are of paramount importance to me… I used to hate those ‘80s MTV million dollar videos as they created such a visual image that all calls to imagination were lost because you didn’t have to think. I think the power of music and lyrics are that they do certain things to certain people.”
Chaos & Colour is an album which bristles with explosive classic rock guitars, supreme harmonies, and Heep’s famously generous keyboard foundation. “One Nation, One Sun” is a journey of soaring balladic contemplation, “Fly Like An Eagle” takes the listener on a journey of meditation, whilst “Closer To Your Dreams” is a battle cry for all rockers to get out there and do it, with Shaw imploring that “So many have tried but slipped away/Now it’s time for you to have your say.” During the entire album, Bernie Shaw’s timeless vocals sit expertly beside the band’s phenomenal artistry (Mick Box – guitar, Phil Lanzon – keyboard, Russell Gilbrook – drums, Dave Rimmer – bass), rounding out exceptional performances throughout.