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INTERVIEW – Mick Box, Uriah Heep – February 2015

| 10 March 2015 | Reply

INTERVIEW – Mick Box, Uriah Heep – February 2015
By Shane Pinnegar


Uriah Heep formed in London in 1969 and, remarkably, have been a constant force in hard rock and heavy metal unfailingly ever since. Popularising the genres from the start alongside contemporaries Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple as part of the original ‘Big Four’, they have endured good times and bad times, but they’ve never stopped rocking.

Uriah Heep - Mick Box 01

At the helm of the good ship Heep is, and always has been, guitarist Mick Box, possibly the most jovial interviewee we’ve ever had the pleasure of chatting with. Easy with a chuckle and a quip, Box’s passion for what he does (and has done all his life) is evident from question 1, making the prospect of seeing the band on their March Australian tour even more exciting.

Thu 19th March – Sydney – Rooty Hill RSL
Fri 20th March – Sydney – Metro Theatre cap.
Sat 21st March – Melbourne – Shoppingtown Hotel
Sun 22nd March – Melbourne – Chelsea Heights
Tues 24th March – Perth – Astor Theatre
Wed 25th March – Adelaide – The Gov
Thu 26th March – Brisbane – Eatons Hill
100% ROCK: You’re heading back Down Under, man. Do you recall how many times you’ve toured Australia?

Mick: Wow. You know, it can only be four or five times in our whole career. We came over in the very early days… funnily enough, I was thinking about that the other day. It was around the ’73 mark, around that sort of area, because I remember that they had a thing called the British Invasion week and it was us, Black Sabbath, and I can’t remember who the other band was now. There was three of us and we played on different nights, but you came to the city each week, if you know what I mean.

100% ROCK: That probably involved a bit of hell raising, I would imagine?

Mick: It had its moments, mate. [laughs]

100% ROCK: I am sure. You’re been on the road for the better part of five decades, Mick. How do you keep putting yourself out there so much? It must take a bit of a toll physically.

Mick: Actually, we’re all pretty fit. I think the basic end of it is, we’ve still got the passion and energy for what we do. I think that’s the most important thing, I think that’s the driving force at all times, you know? We just passionately love what we do and [because of] that, you don’t really feel the other stuff. I mean, a lot of the other stuff sort of fades into the ether because you’re enjoying what you do.

Uriah Heep - Mick Box 02

100% ROCK: Yeah. A lot of musicians complain about the repetitiveness of endless hotel rooms and the many hours spent travelling and waiting around for show time. How do you make sure that those things don’t do your head in?

Mick: Well, tell them people to try and get a job fixing a roof in the middle of winter in England! [laughs] How can you complain? It’s absolute rubbish. You know, yes, it can be tedious but theres worse jobs in the world, you know. You’re doing something you love, number one, you’re travelling around the world doing it, number two, generally on a free ticket if you like, as part of your fee, so come on… What they have to put up with is very, very little compared to what a lot of other people have to do.

They do something they love and they get a great reaction each night when [they] go on stage. The audience is shouting for more and most people go to work and they finish their days work on their computer screen and they have a horrid train journey home. ‘Get real,’ is my reply to that. I don’t like people that do that. It’s the same thing with people that won’t give autographs or spend time with fans, you know – come on, get a grip.

Uriah Heep 2015

100% ROCK: You’ve always seemed a very down to earth bloke, I’ll give you that.

Mick: Well yeah, I’m from the East End of London, mate. I’ve always been quite grounded. I mean, even in the heyday [of Uriah Heep], I was always in it for the ride, as long as I was playing my music. Things came and went, and that’s fine by me, you know. The important thing is I’m still playing. Some people just, I mean we were in a ten year bubble where, a part of our career where we had so much success that we were playing worldwide, we were on private jets everywhere. We were met off the jet in a limo on the runway and all that sort of stuff, never going through passport control and all those things. We had whole floors of hotels booked out for us, and bodyguards, and it was all madness, you know.

Some people start believing they’re God’s gift to it, and I was never one of those. For instance, I’ll give you an example: if we had a limousine each, say in America, and one of us would get in the back – I would get in the front with the driver, I couldn’t stand it. The good thing about that was, I got all the gossip – [laughs] – about all the other bands and everything else. I couldn’t [do it], I shied away from that stuff, mate, but then you go and get on stage and that’s fine, but when you come off, I’m Joe Schmo.

100% ROCK: The last few Uriah Heep albums have met with great critical acclaim, and deserve, I think, recognition up there with the best of your discography. Are you, as a unit, feeling in a really good place creatively at the moment?

Mick: We are actually. All the songs are written by Phil Lanzon, our keyboard player, and myself and we’re a good writing team, you know, we’re very in tune with each other, musically, lyrically, [sense of] humour and everything. Yeah, I think we’ve got a really creative thing going and long may it last.

100% ROCK: I was really sorry to hear of Trevor Bolder’s passing in 2013. I interviewed him for your last Australian tour, it was very sad when he passed away, so commiserations for the loss of your friend, man.

Mick: It was devastating, mate. It was absolutely devastating. He was a world class bass player, world class singer, world class songwriter and a world class friend. It was just… it was absolutely devastating.

Uriah Heep a few years ago with the legendary Trevor Bolder, far right

Uriah Heep a few years ago with the legendary Trevor Bolder, far right

In fact, funny enough you mention him, because his son Ashley Bolder is putting together an album of stuff that Trevor was recording and some of the songs that he’s written. So I just did three solos for [that].

100% ROCK: Excellent, that will be cool to listen to.

Mick: Yeah, so that’s good, that will come out at some stage, yeah.

100% ROCK: You brought Davey Rimmer into the band in 2013 to replace Trevor… with something like 25-odd members of the band over the years, and such an instantly recognisable sound to Uriah Heep – is it hard to maintain that individual sound when somebody new comes in with new flavours and new influences?

Mick: Well, you know, when they really come into the band, they come in knowing what the band’s all about and there’s no use trying to change a template that’s worked for all those years. So they come in and try and be faithful to Uriah Heep and then just bring their own little twist to it, you know. It’s the same with Davey, he’s come in and it was a great honour for him to be in Trevor’s shoes, if you like, because he admired him so much as a bass player.

Davey comes along and he’s very faithful to the bass lines that Trevor used, but he also puts his own spin on it and his own style and I think that’s the essence of it all really. You don’t want to stifle anyone but you don’t want to move too far away from what the band is all about. And if I’m there to guide it, there’s no fear of that!

100% ROCK: On a similar note, with your own guitar playing, having played for so many years and you’ve got a very recognisable sound as well, does that make it harder for you to sit down and then come up with something different or original that you haven’t tried before?

Mick: Well, in terms of soloing and stuff, no, it’s the song that sparks you into where you go with the solo, and writing riffs and stuff just comes so naturally. It’s something that I do on a daily basis. I used to put it on an old Sony Walkman, but now of course, we can just write it down on our iPhones and stuff. What I do is collect a lot of ideas. I think the important thing is having your antenna out at all times and when an idea comes, capture it. Then, what I do is, I sift through those ideas when I have spare time at home and then we start formulating songs from there. But no, it’s never a problem for me at all, no.

100% ROCK: With, I think 24 studio albums…?

Mick: 24 indeed, yeah.

Uriah Heep 2015 02

100% ROCK: How do you go about selecting a set list, when you’ve got all of those songs in front of you?

Mick: Well, you know, [laughs] unlike a lot of bands, we’re very proud of our history, so for us it’s really quite simple. What we do is, there’s a nucleus of songs that we know that people love to hear and have stood the test of time, that people still love hearing in the live arena. There’s always the July Morning, Gypsy, Easy Living, Lady in Black, Free Me, you know, all those songs. We’ll always play them and that will be the nucleus of the set because they’re the ones that worked, that had the success around the world. We’ve played in 58 countries, so we get sort of an overview of what songs people all love.

Then when we’ve got a new album out, like Outsider, we’ll play about four or five tracks off that and then also we’ll go back and look at some of our older material, that maybe we haven’t played before, or maybe we haven’t played in a long, long while and we bring that into the fold and then the set kind of takes on a journey of the music of Uriah Heep, really, from day one.

100% ROCK: I imagine you could probably play for 2 1/2 hours and not play everything everyone in the room wanted to hear.

Mick: We could play for 5 hours, 10 hours and still not please everyone, yeah. I mean, some people ask for the most obscure tracks, you know, that in their day were b-sides or something. But that’s the nature of the beast.

100% ROCK: Obviously you’ve had a good share of success, but to the mainstream media, you’re often considered, at best, a cult band. Do you let that sort of journalistic ignorance get you down?

Mick: We don’t think about it to be honest, mate. You have to just go on with it. [laughs] You can never change these opinions and I think we were part of the ‘Big Four’ when we came out, which was Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and we were up there with them.

I think the reason we’ve got that tag is because we were the last one of the ‘Big Four’ to come out. It was almost a feeling – especially in London because the music was changing so radically at that point – almost like, ‘oh, not another one of that genre.’ Because the whole music scene in London was changing at that time.

I think Bob Dylan was coming over with electric guitar and there was all that hoo ha about that, [with] all the [folk] purists getting upset… so we kind of got the backlash, but in the end it worked in our favour, to be honest, because we became the people’s band.

We used to go to shows and [get] fantastic reactions, [but] the press could be quite brutal with us, you know. In the end, it’s the fans that count. The fans see through all the BS, if you like. [laughs]

100% ROCK: What did you think of a band like Wolfmother, which took a big chunk of your sound and put it into their little recycling of the golden era?

Mick: It’s very interesting, yeah, I heard one riff, and somebody said to me, ‘you know what this is, this is Gypsy’ – and it was a song by Wolfmother. It was very close, the riff and stuff. You know what, Wolfmother are a band that wear their influences are on their sleeve, aren’t they? You see where he’s coming from, you can see all the bands that he’s influenced by, and good luck to him.

100% ROCK: You came up as a contemporary of course, of the likes of Iommi and Blackmore and all that mob, but what were your strongest influences?

Mick: As a band, I was very influenced by the Vanilla Fudge. Which is why we got the Hammond organ and we do those high harmonies and all that sort of stuff. The thing with Vanilla Fudge is, when they came out, they were the most tremendous band and so exciting, great vocals, the Hammond organ, their searing guitar and all that stuff, but they did mostly cover songs.

They did them very well, [and] that was a great influence on the band, because when we went into studio to record Very ‘Eavy, Very ‘Umble, we were actually a four piece, just the two guitars, drums and a vocalist. It was only when we started hearing those songs back that we decided that adding in a keyboard player might give us the palette and picture that we were looking for. We tried some keyboard stuff and it worked very, very well on our songs so it was obvious to me to try and get the Hammond organ in, because Hammond organ is such a versatile instrument.

It can be very powerful and of course, it can be very tender and beautiful. That kind of sums up all our music. We need an instrument that copes with those dynamics in our music and that does very well. So that was the guiding light of that. On a personal note, I mean, I started loving jazz guitarists, Barney Kessel, Tal Farlow, Les Paul, Mary Ford and things like that and then I sort of graduated into Buddy Holly, and Eddie Cochran and then it sort of moved into, the Shadows were a big influence with Hank Marvin and then it just started getting rockier and rockier. [laughs] Of course The Who were very exciting, the first band I saw use feedback as a very exciting tool on stage. Then Jeff Beck would be my favourite guitarist of all time, and still is today.

Uriah Heep - Mick Box 03

100% ROCK: Wow, I’m running out of time, so I’ve just got a quick one for you. When the band finally does call it a day, do you have any bucket list projects up your sleeve that you’d like to work on? For instance, an acoustic album or something like that?

Mick: I’m sure I’ll continue playing until I drop, you know, and I think that’ll be, I think that’s the same for the band too. We never look at stopping, we look at the next venture. We’re already looking at the next album maybe next year, early next year. We’ve got a huge tour to do. I mean, we’re actually starting next week in Russia. We go through Israel, then we go over to America, we’ve do a rock cruise that goes through the Bahamas, it starts in Miami, Florida or Fort Lauderdale. That’s with Alice Cooper and Doobie Brothers, Blue Oyster Cult, it’s a big rock cruise, which will be a laugh.

Then we leave that and we start the American tour that goes from the east coast to the west coast, from the west coast we come over to Australia, then we go to New Zealand, then we come back and we’ve got UK tour booked. Then we enter the big festival season in Europe in the summer and then we’re looking at Brazil, Japan and on and on and on. [laughs] We never look at stopping.

100% ROCK: Is it hard to be away from home for that length of time?

Mick: I think it is nowadays, yeah. I’ve got a young son who’s just turned 14, funny enough, on the 27th of Jan.

100% ROCK: Oh, happy birthday to him.

Mick: And I got another older boy in America. Yes, it is, it is, but you know what? It’s made a lot easier today with technology, in terms of Skype and emails and phone calls even that you can make. We used to have to run to the phone boxes or pay extortionate [charges for] hotel phone costs. It’s a little easier in that regard, but saying that, yes, it’s hard to be away. Then of course, when you come home, you have to take off your rock and roll hat off and put your dad and your husband’s hat on [laughs] and get into life as it is at home!

100% ROCK: Man, it’s been a pleasure to talk to you. Look forward to seeing when you’re in Australia

Mick: Thank you mate, and we look forward to it and thanks for your support too, that’s brilliant.

An edited version of this interview was originally published in X-Press Magazine’s 25 February, 2015 issue

Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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