Bernie Shaw of Uriah Heep on latest tour, album and 50th Anniversary of the band

Uriah Heep – Abbotsford Centre – June 17th, 2019

Judas Priest’ Firepower will be making a number of stops in BC, including Dawson Creek, Prince George, Kelowna and for those of us in the lower mainland Abbotsford will be the closest spot to catch the metal gods in action.

Joining them on the tour will be heavy rock legends Uriah Heep. Uriah Heep are heading full pelt into their 50th year,  and are showing no signs of slowing down.  The band released Living The Dream, their 25th studio album in the second half of 2018, and in addition to finding time to write and record they still managed to squeeze in close to 100 shows a year.

You could forgive a band that has this been making music for this long to rest on their laurels and just dial it in, but this simply is not he case with Uriah Heep.  Band founder Mick Box, and long-time members Phil Lanzon and Bernie Shaw, backed by newer arrivals Davey Rimmer, and Russell Gilbrook, are not only giving 110% every night, they are winning new fans at every step of the way.

I was grateful to be able to get some of Bernie Shaw’s time to find out, amongst other things, how a boy from Victoria, BC managed to become the longest serving vocalist in the band, how the Judas Priest fans are reacting to the Heep, and what plans the band have for celebrating their 50th.

I caught up with Bernie as the band were preparing for a gig in St Louis, on the same night as the fourth game of the Stanley Cup finals. As a good Canadian I had to ask what the atmosphere was like, as the show venue that night was right next to the hockey arena.

BS: the whole town has kinda come to a standstill and we are right in the middle of it all, there’s portaloos and police cars everywhere… I thought it was a lot of security for a rock and roll gig, then I saw all the Stanley Cup advertising, and I think, I get it now.

SJ: How’s the tour been going so far?

BS: Amazing, absolutely amazing. I mean we found out from the very first show that Judas Priest fans are very ardent fans. And they’re not the most smiley people when you first walk out on stage, but it only takes about 3 songs and those questionable faces are all of a sudden smiling and they’re punching the air and by the end of our hour set they’re shouting out “Heep Heep Heep” so we’re breaking ice every night and walking away with our head held high.

We are doing a lot of double shows where it will be two days in one venue and I got into the routine of asking “so how many people were here last night” and the amount of hands that go up, and they’re all of a sudden wearing Uriah Heep T-shirts which is pretty nice to see and nice to hear.

Judas Priest have been very generous to Uriah Heep as a support act giving them a full hour, and it has been appreciated by the band.

BS: “they’ve been brilliant you know, Rob’s come down and watched the show, the whole band’s been on stage at numerous points, the whole band and crew have just been amazing and it’s been one giant family so far”

I put it to Bernie that even with an hour, this would still be a struggle to cover 5 decades of work as well as songs from the new album Living the Dream.

BS: “it’s very difficult and on the shows that we’re doing two days, we’re actually changing the set list just to mix it up a little. we start the show with Grazed by Heaven, as that is such a kick in the face first song, it’s got so much power and energy. and we’re doing Take Away My Soul and sometimes we’re doing Knocking at my Door. It depends which day it is, we’ve got 3 or 4 new songs that we’re throwing in.”

I had seen the Heep on the last tour at the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver, so I asked how the band manages to still deliver a show with so much energy after all these years.

BS: “We still give value for money and we still get a kick out of what we do you know, we always just go balls to the wall, and you know Vancouver especially for me because that’s as close to my home town as we’re gonna get. I didn’t know that we were going to be playing with the Vogue Theatre, I thought we would be playing something smaller… I got quite emotional because I just didn’t expect that kind of response from the west coast I was so elated you know and it really did choke me up…family and friends that have either never seen me before because we don’t play that much in Canada..everybody kind of had the same shock “you guys really do still rock”, “yeah we’re a rock band this is what we do”

With this tour that we know we’re coming to Abbotsford which is as far West as we’re coming but the new set if we were to come normally on our own, the new one hour 45 set has got 6 songs from the new album and some different classic songs, it’s even a step up from what you saw energy wise, these songs really do go well live.

SJ: From my perspective as a photographer, not just the sound, but the visuals were great as well.

BS: We’ve got some more visuals; we’ve got a big kabuki, which covers the backdrop with our logo on it, so when you first come into the venue it’s all black onstage but then with a couple of smoke machines with volcanic vertical geyser smoke the dropping of the backdrop I mean we worked a little bit more on our production from what you saw in Canada ….it’s still not everything because we aren’t able to do too much but Priest have given that really good free reign on what we can do and given us a good amount of stage space, you will see a difference.

SJ: I noticed that you’re doing quite a few stops in B.C., including Dawson Creek, and Prince George.

BS: When I saw Dawson Creek, I thought I haven’t been there since I was 17, and Kelowna and Prince George, yes, we are playing some places I’ve not been donkey’s years. Our first Canadian stop will be Saskatoon.  I lived there for 9 months back in 1978. I was singing with a band called LEGEND back then. It was a local band and I’ve not been there since 1978. Even on the few Canadian tours that he did we never played Saskatoon, so I’m really really pumped to see this place because it was the rocking capital Back in the late 70’s everybody would be playing Saskatoon. A lot of rock bands came from Winnipeg… all the boys from Bachman Turner, The Guess Who. it’s all Winnipeg based, But by the late 70’s early 80’s all the live rooms were just drying up there was no place for any pub bands to play any more. By ‘78 I got a little disillusioned with it all, and that’s why I made the choice to get to England the get right to the thick of it.

SJ: What made you choose the U.K?

BS: It was between London or L.A. My dad was born and raised in England, and he said if you pick England you can work legally. I was only 21 years old and I was like, I don’t really know what I want to do but I want to be a rocker. My dad bought me a one-way ticket to London, and he said if things work out you can make your way back yourself and a couple years later I signed with R.C.A. Records for a 7 album 7-year deal, and I came back on my own 2 feet and it’s the best move I ever made.

SJ: What was it like getting started in England?

BS: In 78 I was still wearing platform shoes you know, and I landed in London and everybody’s wearing winkle pickers and skinny jeans and I was you know the height of Canadian fashion if there is such a thing. I almost didn’t get my first gig because of what I was wearing, they were thinking what circus did he climb out of?

You know walking down Kings Road I was I was looking at some crazy sights, but they were looking back at me like I was just as nuts. Thank God for Kensington Market. Kensington Market saved my bacon because Ralph Hood, the bass player with the band that I was auditioning with, we kind of hooked up after the 1st audition and he said “Between you and me and walls we really like the way you’re singing and we’re going to get you back on Friday for a 2nd shot but if I don’t take you shopping tomorrow you don’t have a hope in hell”.

Ralph met at the bus station he took me down to Kenny market and I spent almost every penny I had on new clobber but that got me into the band that became Grand Prix. That’s where I met Phil Lanzon the keyboard player I’ve been playing with for the last 30 years, so it set a partnership in stone from the very 1st week that I landed in England, something was destined to happen.

SJ: I read somewhere that later when you were playing with Praying Mantis that when Mick was in the audience?

BS: Praying Mantis had changed its name to Stratus, because we got Clive Burr on the drums. That didn’t go anywhere, so just to say thank you to all the Praying Mantis fans we did this final show at the Marquee, down on Wardour Street and Mick Box was in the audience.

What we didn’t realize that he told me much later was that Praying Mantis’ sound engineer that we hired for the night was actually the Uriah Heep FOH engineer so he had told Mick about me, because he knew that Mick was looking for new singer. He said come and check this guy out because this is their last gig and this guy can sing anything in the same range as (David) Byron, Pete Goalby, John Lawton and John Solomon he’s got a range that’ll cover all that.

So, Mick came down on he was singing the whole night and harmonizing in the back of the gig, and he figured we could blend, so once he knows that he came knocking on the door and said I’m looking for a new singer, and I said coincidently as of 5 minutes ago I am a looking for a new band. That was 32 years ago.

SJ: since that time the band really has been very stable other than people who’ve had to leave you through health reasons.

BS: You know when we lost Trevor that line up and been together for 27 years.

SJ: You’ve got Russell and Davy on board, and I always think of them as the new boys, but I think Russel has been in the band for more than 10 years.

BS: Yeah, I think he’s coming for 10/11 years, but hey, I was called the new boy for 25 years, so, you know, Russell is still wet behind the ears.

SJ: He is an unbelievable drummer

BS: He is very very confident. He’s talented, when he walks on that stage every night you know exactly what you’re going to get because he’s like a metronome but he’s also like a bulldozer Pit Bull Terrier. He’s the hardest hitting drummer I have ever come across and his timing is impeccable.

He is a piece of work that boy, he is a very under-rated, so dependable and like that every single night, really very very focused as a drummer. He does a proper warm up every night. He’s brought a consistency to the band and he’s brought a power to the band that we hadn’t seen for a while and I think it shows. That’s no disrespect to Lee or any of the other drummers that been there but he is a different animal.

I asked about his impact on the latest album

BS: He has this brand-new drum kit made him the British drum company. It got delivered in boxes to the studio it was that New. So, the 1st day was just setting up the drums and then mic’ing them up and getting a workable sound and we worked with this Canadian guy Jay Ruston who did the production. Jay and Russ got on like a house on fire from day one. A lot of producers will say let’s just get a workable sound and we’ll knock out the backing tracks and then we’ll fine tune it when we mix it. Well if that workable sound isn’t good for the drummers ears you’re not going to get the best out of the drummer. Jay and Russ sat down for the very first day just the two of them and got the most amazing drum sound. Russell ended up with a shit eating grin for all the recording as he got this amazing new kit that sounds and looks the nuts, and the best drum sound he’s never had.

SJ: How did the rest of the recording go?

BS: We knocked out the whole album in 19 days, that’s walking in, and walking out with the finished product to go get mixed in 19 days and I’ll put that to any band on the planet who can do that.

Normally we would spend about 6 weeks. You go in and you get your sound and start laying down your backing track, you build it up you know like a huge layer of pancakes. We’ve always gone residential, we’ve always gone and locked ourselves away as we work better that way.

Jay’s idea, which was completely alien to us, was to do a track a day. That’s backing tracks before lunch, solos after lunch vocals before dinner, more solos and any little tidying up and then all the harmonies in the early evening so every day you have a completely almost mastered song.

We said well let’s give it a try, you know we might be old dogs, but we’re open to new ideas, and let me tell you it worked like a charm. I go in in the morning and lay down a guide vocal and within 3 takes they have the whole thing because we all record in the same room, so it’s all open mike and you get spillage and you know that we do it old school – you know how to play the song, play it as 5 guys. Mick would then do the guitar solos and Phil would do the keyboard solos, but the whole backing track is done at one shot.

I’ve never made such an impressive sounding album I was so blown away with Jay’s production, very modern sounds, but it’s raw, Micks guitar sound is just phenomenal. We knew what sound we wanted, and Jay turned us on our heels, he said You guys don’t need all that time and blah blah blah – it’s a rock band, I’ll tell you when you got it and he said its holy shit we got already.

He was blown away with how fast we can work. When you know each other inside out and the songs are strong you don’t have to waste a lot of time on it, they look after themselves

So, we can’t wait till next year because that’s the 50th anniversary. We’ve got so many ideas I can’t really tell you what we’ve got planned accept it’s going to be fun and the fans are going to love it and you know not many bands these days get to celebrate 50 years together and were actually still turning out new music and music with meaning you know not just going through the motions, good progressive rock stuff.

SJ: Hopefully it will bring you back to the to the west coast

BS: It will definitely, we took such a hiatus from Canada yet because the promoters out there said you don’t mean anything in Canada and we’d only be playing little tiny clubs, well we kind of proved them wrong.

Every time that we go back we get the question how come you didn’t play in Canada? You play in America you know you play Seattle why don’t you pop up to Vancouver. So, we started last year’s tour back east in Ontario and Quebec and we had 5 of the 6 shows sold out. So, I don’t know who we were believing saying that the band doesn’t mean anything in Canada we’ve got a great following in Canada and we can’t wait to go back there and give the people who were starving a great rock show. I’d go back to the Vogue in a heartbeat

With that, we wrapped up our chat and I thanked Bernie for his time

Interview: Stewart Johnstone

Check out our previous review of Uriah Heep at the Vogue Theatre

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