Boasting 24 studio albums, 46 years of touring experience and a combined age of 250-plus there’s no escaping the fact that nostalgia is at the heart of a Uriah Heep show. Or is it?
Yes and no. On the one hand a packed Newcastle crowd was treated to a raft of vintage classics – including encore double Gypsy and Easy Livin’ – but this first trip to the Toon in four years was as much about showcasing the fantastic Outsider.
Released in 2014, the first studio album to feature dashing new recruit Davey Rimmer bristles with confidence and class. This was Heep’s chance to do it justice and what began as a gamble swiftly became a triumph with a raft of new songs lapped up by the knowledgeable masses.
In fact saving the best until last was the only predictable thing about a setlist that surprised from start to finish. Mixing back catalogue favourites with almost half of Outsider, the potential for a jarring juxtaposition of old and new was the pre-show concern. But Heep are too clever for that. It’s testimony to the quality of the band’s new material that one song segued seamlessly into the next – 14 songs fit for purpose on a night when heavy rock never sounded so good.
Of the new material One Minute and Can’t Take That Away allowed the evergreen Mick Box and long-term buddy Phil Lanzon licence to steal the show. But frontman Bernie Shaw was never far behind in chasing the limelight – the Canadian’s pin-sharp vocals and blunt mid-song banter straight from the (old) school of rock and roll showmanship.
Jokes flowed, solos soared and hollers of appreciation punctuated the Riverside floor. But at the heart of this life-affirming reminder of rock’s feelgood factor was beaming drummer Russell Gilbrook – never has one man appeared to enjoy his night’s work as much as Heep’s titanic tub thumper.
Fast closing in on their 50th anniversary this is a band that refuses to die. Right now they’re in rude health and a return to Tyneside can’t come soon enough.
Exclusive image courtesy of John Burrows