They've been rocking all over the world... now it's time to come home
Say Uriah Heep and it means one of two things to most people; it's either the name of Charles Dickens' fictional character in his novel David Copperfield, or the borrowed moniker of the British rock band who achieved major success in the 1970s.
No prizes for guessing that it is the latter who will be performing at The Wharf in Tavistock on February 24 as part of a long-overdue British tour.
In Russia, Germany, Japan and Scandinavia these guys regularly play to audiences of anything between 2,000 and 20,000. They have performed in 25 countries across the globe, but on their neglected home turf, and in the USA, they have more of a cult following. Indeed, only the most dogged fans seem to know that Uriah Heep are still a fully functioning outfit.
Their forthcoming list of dates at modest UK venues is the band's attempt to remedy that oversight.
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Guitarist Mick Box, who co-founded the band back in Essex in 1969 and is the only remaining original member, says: "We are making a conscious effort to improve that situation.
"We usually play to quite big crowds, but the shows we're doing in the UK are going to be quite intimate and I love those. It is going to be quite a different experience."
The band's image comes from a retro-land of flares, shades, leather waistcoats, curtains of centre-parted hair, and guitar posturing – although the platform boots seem to have had their day.
The Uriah Heep sound is a perfect match – epic, melodic rock that comes with a badge of quality and integrity, and a healthy injection of fun.
"In the 1970s we took things into excess in every angle you can imagine. My hair used to be so long I could tuck it into my belt," recalls Mick, 65, the driving force who has kept the whole thing rolling for more than four decades.
"Those were fantastic times. Every band developed their own individual style as musicians and performers. None of us sounded the same – we paid attention to every little detail."
They were also the glory days of major label deals. Bands were signed up for six or seven albums and allowed the freedom to develop and experiment at their own pace, as long as they were selling records.
"These days people are downloading one track at a time, but when you used to buy an album there were a couple of singles that you would already know, and the rest would be growers. Can you imagine someone like Pink Floyd selling music track by track?" says Mick, who is a strong advocate of analogue recording and vinyl records.
"When we go into the studio we don't do that piecemeal business; we set everything up and if there's any overspill then so be it.
"People have been searching for perfection in digital recording and in doing that they chuck out a lot of the good stuff. Just throw a towel over the computer and use your ears!" adds Mick, who jokingly lays claim to being one of the only big rock and roll names to come out of Walthamstow. The others he cites are the defunct E17 and Def Leppard.
He was about 14 when he picked up a guitar for the first time.
"I was more interested in football at that point, but my mother bought me some guitar lessons on a Saturday, so I went along. The guy who was teaching me would give me something to learn by the following week, and I would master it by mid-afternoon the same day.
"That's when I started learning by playing records and working out the riffs. Luckily I had a talent for it and a good ear."
Before long Mick was composing his own tunes, inspired by the likes of virtuoso jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, then Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochrane, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
The rest, of course, is history – all 24 studio albums and multiple personnel changes later.
The current line-up has been pretty stable since 1986, with Bernie Shaw on lead vocals and Phil Lanzon on keyboards. Bassist Trevor Bolder's involvement goes back to 1976 after he left David Bowie's backing band, but he is taking a temporary break on this tour to recover from a routine operation. Russell Gilbrook has played drums and percussion for the past six years.
Touring has always been their prime focus, with writing and recording slotting in between outings.
"All of us on stage have still got the same passion and energy that we always have, and that shines through.
"One of the first songs I ever wrote for Uriah Heep was Gypsy, and that's how it's been really, living out of a suitcase most of the time," adds Mick, who lives in London. He does, these days, manage to take more time out for relaxation.
So, what is his favourite spot for a holiday? You might expect it to be some exotic overseas haven, but Mick, his wife and 12-year-old son, Romeo, love nothing better than chilling out and surfing at Watergate Bay.
"Cornwall is my favourite place in the world," says Mick, who also has a 34-year-old son in America. "Sometimes we hire a house, or we stay in the hotel overlooking the beach. It's a very special place. I'm not talking about that word retirement... but we may well end up there."