Going online to treat myself to the newly-released CD from former Uriah Heep singer, Pete Goalby, I ended up having one of those “customers who viewed this also viewed these” impulse purchase experiences. Before I knew it I had, not one, but four recently-released CDs from the extended Uriah Heep family popping through my letterbox, three of these being released posthumously.
The four albums are My Book of Answers by Ken Hensley (Heep keyboard player 1969-80), Eleventeen from Lee Kerslake (Heep drummer from 1971-79 and 1981-2007), Sail The Rivers by Trevor Bolder (Heep bass-player from 1976-81 and 1983-2013) and Easy With The Heartaches from Peter Goalby (Heep vocalist from 1981-85). If you’re simply looking for a replication of classic-era Uriah Heep, don’t expect that from any of these releases but there’s lots to like here for any dedicated Heep fan.
Taking them in turn, My Book of Answers was released back in March 2021 just a few months after Hensley’s sad and unexpected death in November 2020. A strong and consistent album it stands up well against Hensley’s other solo material. Showcasing some heavy, sweeping, majestic-sounding tracks, the genesis of the album lay in a collaboration with Russian poet and Hensley fan, Vladimir Emelin which came out of a chance encounter at an airport. Once Emelin’s words were translated, Hensley set about putting them to music. There’s a spiritual theme to many of the lyrics but it never gets too happy-clappy for an avowed atheist like me. I never believed in demons or wizards and that never put me off Hensley’s songs either. My Book of Answers is a classy album and a joyous farewell from a superbly talented songwriter and musician.
Similarly, I really wanted to enjoy Lee Kerslake’s album. Released in February last year Kerslake began work on Eleventeen back in 2015. In spite of battling terminal cancer the self-produced album was a labour of love and was finally completed in 2019. Sadly Kerslake passed away in September 2020 and, like Hensley’s, the album had to be released posthumously. Now, some drummers, such as Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, have proved themselves to be talented singer-songwriters. A singer the late Lee Kerslake was not, sadly. He really struggles on this album and it’s not a comfortable listen, particularly when he attempts to take on Carole King’s You’ve Got A Friend. Ranging from soft rock balladry to lively rockers to a big emotive theatrical number and even a jocular Chas and Dave style singalong, Eleventeenth is an eclectic mix for sure. Making it was clearly very important to Lee Kerslake and his special way of saying goodbye. There’s a beautifully poignant, heartfelt tribute from Uriah Heep’s Mick Box in the sleeve-notes. For taht reason I’m really pleased that Kerslake was able to do this album even if it’s something I’m not likely to listen to very often.
Although Trevor Bolder passed away in 2013 Sail The Rivers, the solo album he worked on in the year leading up to his death, was finally released in 2020. With the blessing of his family, friends of his stepped in to complete it. Packaged in a very evocative Roger Dean-esque cover artwork, Bolder’s solo album is probably the closest to Uriah Heep of the four reviewed here – including, as it does, contributions from both Mick Box and Lee Kerslake as well as containing a number of Bolder’s compositions that had previously appeared on Heep releases. In parts it’s actually quite a bit heavier than the average Heep album and, unlike Uriah Heep, keyboards are avoided with the emphasis placed firmly much on guitars rather than the trademark Hammond-meets-guitar sound. In contrast to Kerslake’s album, Bolder’s makes considerable use of the vocal skills of a guest vocalist in Derk Gallagher, who sings lead on five of the ten tracks. Sail The Rivers is a wonderfully strong album and a fine tribute to the ex-Spider from Mars and long-time Heep bassist.
The most recent release of the four is Peter Goalby’s Easy With The Heartaches which came out towards the end of 2021. The album was recorded before any of the others here though, with tracks laid down in 1990 but lying unreleased until now. Sonically, it can be seen very much as a natural continuation to the trio of albums that Goalby released with Heep: Abominog, Head First and Equator. This was in the period when Heep had moved away from their signature early 70s, Hammond-heavy proggish hard rock and embraced a more modern, melodic 80s sound. You’ll find similar on this album and the songs were written just after Golaby left Heep. Unlike Ken Hensley and Lee Kerslake, Goalby’s post-Heep life always enveloped in a degree of mystery. Rumours abounded that his voice was completely shot and he could perform no more. In truth, he had just decided to pursue a different career path. As Goalby says in the sleeve-notes: “I think that they are some of my best work. I hope you like them too… and just for the record, my voice did not give up. I did.” There are some really strong melodic hard rock tunes here with Goalby in fine voice. It’s good to have this album finally seeing the light of day. And, what’s more, after so many tragedies in the Heep camp in recent years (former singer John Lawton is another who passed away last year) it’s reassuring to still have Goalby here with us and releasing such excellent music.
July Morning – a fifty-year-old British rock song and an annual celebration of summer in Bulgaria
Uriah Heep at Giants of Rock 2018