RUSHONROCK editor Simon Rushworth caught up with drummer Russell Gilbrook as the Heep continue to roll back the years and confound the critics.
RUSHONROCK: You were five-years-old when Uriah Heep was formed – do you still have to pinch yourself when you’re up on stage with Mick Box?
RUSSELL GILBROOK: Well yes but it’s been like that for most of my career. I’ve been fortunate enough to play with quite a few famous people since I was a kid. I suppose what’s nice now is that I’m finally living the dream as a touring rock drummer. As a musician that’s what you aspire to – I always wanted to be in a famous band touring the world. That’s what I needed to cap off my career. I always thought it would be my ideal gig. It’s just a shame for me that I was born too late to see the band at a time when the music business was evolving so fast. But I think deep down touring in a band all over the world is what most musicians want to do. If you can play in a band that’s as successful as it can possibly be then you’re very lucky – that’s the ultimate goal for everybody. But as we all know it’s often not down to how talented you are but whether you are given the opportunity and you can take that opportunity. You never know what road your career is going to take but you have to take your chance when it comes.
RUSHONROCK: You didn’t have long to work with Trevor (Bolder) before he passed away in 2013 but do you look back on that time with fondness?
RG: Definitely. He was one of the few bass players who, as soon as you started working with him, made you feel like you were wearing a fitted velvet glove. It was just so comfortable. Musicians like that don’t come around very often. Right from the off it was so easy and so pleasant to work with Trevor. He knew his stuff inside out and was a great singer and songwriter too. It was great to have that time with him even if it was far too brief. It was just lucky for me that when poor Trevor passed away there was another bass player ready to step in who is so similar that it’s freaky. Davey (Rimmer) is another who’s so easy to play with.
RUSHONROCK: How difficult has it been for the band to move on from Trevor’s death during the last two years?
RG: There were a lot of discussions that went on regarding Trevor. But I don’t think he’d want it any other way. He’d want people to enjoy and celebrate the music of Uriah Heep. We decided that there were still plenty of people out there who like what we do and would want us to carry on. But we had to ask ourselves if it was the right thing to do to carry on or had we had enough? We hadn’t. This music is in our blood and from a personal point of view I’m putting my life and soul into this band. I want to keep the Heep alive.
RUSHONROCK: Outsider (2014) is a supremely confident album – how important is it for Uriah Heep to be making new music after 46 years in the business?
RG: We know that a big percentage of our fans want to come out and hear the classics – they always do and they always will. But we’re musicians who live for tomorrow and not for yesterday. We don’t even live for today. As much as everyone in the band enjoys playing the classics we’re always looking to progress. We would get stale if we didn’t make new music. And if you get stale you lose that spark. Once you lose that spark people don’t want to see you anymore. Then it becomes a downward spiral. We’ve all seen it before with other bands. We want to see surprise on the faces of our fans and keep this classic rock thing going.
RUSHONROCK: With 24 studio albums to draw from how on earth do you come up with a set list in 2015?
RG: I think that’s the biggest problem that we have right now. And it’s a nice problem to have. If we played all the songs that the fans wanted to hear every time we played a show then we’d be on stage for a week! When you’re restricted to 90 minutes or two hours there’s only so much you can do. We want to promote Outsider because we’re very proud of that album and want to show it off. But of course we’d never dream of leaving out the likes of Easy Living and the other classics. So we work around that and fill in the blanks with some older songs that the band haven’t played in a while but the set list has to flow. We want the fans to enjoy their night and we want to take them on a rollercoaster ride of the old, the new and the rarely heard.
RUSHONROCK: Do you think you’ve cracked it on the current tour?
RG: It’s going great. We play five songs from Outsider and brought back The Hanging Tree – I love that song. It’s what I call a real mid-tempo shuffle song. It’s one of those dirty old rock and roll shuffles. Classic Heep. We’re playing July Morning, Sunrise and all the other fan favourites. And we’ve brought Bird Of Prey back into the show. There’s a little bit of everything.
RUSHONROCK: Can you describe what it’s like watching Mick Box every night?
RG: The best thing about Mick is that he always has a smile on his face. He loves every single gig that he plays. And he couldn’t be more courteous to everyone in the music business. He just loves it. But I always say that one of the reasons he loves it is that he doesn’t actually understand music. When you look at the best musicians in the world – and Mick is one of them – it’s not about what they play it’s all about the way that they play. In fact the best musicians are those who don’t fully understand the music. They’re playing with pure, spontaneous talent and expressing themselves. Too many people learn how to play without learning what it means to play – that’s when the magic is lost. With Mick he does his thing and even without looking you know it’s him. And the stories he tells us are just incredible! Uriah Heep took Kiss out on their first tour – the band was responsible for breaking so many other acts over the years and Mick has always been there. What he’s seen and what he’s gone through is simply unbelievable.
RUSHONROCK: Is there a danger you become jaded after five decades in rock and roll?
RG: Of course. But I don’t see that with Mick. That’s the danger if, unlike Mick, you don’t love your job. If the job becomes tedious then it’s obvious to the fans. Perhaps the people who come to shows don’t always understand the technology or what goes on behind the scenes but they can see when a musician’s heart is no longer in it. That’s when you get a bad show. People do lose that spark but Mick isn’t one of those people. He’s been doing this for 45 years and I reckon his body would just pack in if he suddenly retired from rock and roll. It’s what keeps him alive – playing shows, meeting fans and making music. I’m just so pleased I’m enjoying the ride alongside him.