The Uriah Heep axeman muses on the value of locating the edge of the stage…
Tell us about your first gig…
“I used to have a mate called Micky Parker. We used to play a lot together and we went to one of these trade fairs in London, playing on one of the stands. In another part of the hall there was a competition and these two girl singers came up and said, ‘Our guys let us down, would you be able to stand in for them?’
“I think it was Somewhere Over The Rainbow; they gave us the charts and we thought it was a bit out of our league, but we came second. So, we kind of got the bug there.”
Describe your current stage rig…
“I’ve got my own signature Carparelli guitar, which is a white S4 and it’s fantastic. The guitar straps are from RightOn! and I use Rotosound strings. Then, for amplification, I’ve got Engl amps: I’ve got the Artist Edition and my cabs are loaded with Celestion Vintage 30s. On the floor I have a Cry Baby wah-wah, a Carl Martin chorus pedal and I use a Shure wireless system - and that’s it.”
What piece of gear is most essential to your live sound?
“The wah-wah. It’s almost become my trademark, you know? I don’t use it particularly in the wah-wah sense, but I do use it almost as an expression pedal, really. When I’m bending a note up and I put the pedal down I find a nice sweet spot… I use it as part of my playing style.”
What non-musical item could you not do without on tour?
“It would be the iPad or computer. A lot of our time is wasted travelling, so if you have your iPad, which has also got a Kindle on it, you’ve got books, magazines, papers, films, the whole thing. Get online and you’ve got YouTube to float through. You can kill a lot of time with an iPad.”
What’s the nearest you’ve come to a Spinal Tap moment on tour?
“I fell off stage twice at the same gig at the start of an American tour! We used to have a black carpet and I used to run out and play the first part of the show and then the band came in. It was a fantastic intro to the show, but I’d never asked the crew where the lighting towers were because that was my clue as to where the end of the stage was. So, I went running out and ran straight off and dislocated my left arm.
“I was really hurting badly and while our singer at the time, David Byron, did a long, long introduction, our guys had been down to the hospital and got a nurse up, who snapped my arm back into place. We got to the end of the show and we went up for the bow and I fell off again! This time I broke my wrist in four places.”
What’s on your rider?
“In the old days it was legendary, but what we have now is a bottle of vodka, because Bernie [Shaw] makes these drinks called ‘Piledrivers’ with orange juice and tonic water and everything else. Then we have red wine, white wine, beers and a bottle of brandy for medicinals - just half a bottle in case anybody has throat problems.
“I think Russ [Gilbrook], our drummer, likes a bit of rum, so he has that with a bit of blackcurrant. Food’s usually picky stuff, but after a show we always have tuna fish salads and pizza delivered. For the healthy and the not-so-healthy.”
What’s the best venue you’ve played in from a musician’s point of view and why?
“I like Shepherd’s Bush Empire, The O2. I like the fact it’s intimate. An old music hall theatre, if memory serves me right, built around 1903, so it’s got a lot of history and stuff with it, too. If I went back to the old, old days, I’d probably pick the old Marquee because, as scuzzy as the dressing rooms were, and as sticky as the floor was, it was just one of those venues that every band played and it was a magical time.”
What’s the worst journey you’ve had to or from a gig?
“This year we flew from London to Japan and played three shows. The next day we flew back to Heathrow, stayed overnight, got up the next morning, flew to Miami and drove to Fort Lauderdale and caught a rock cruise that we played on for five days. Then back to Fort Lauderdale and back to London. By the time we got back home, it was straight to A&E!”
What’s your best tip for getting the audience on your side?
“You’ve got to connect with them, you know? Early on in our show we try and connect with our audience and I think that’s where it takes off. If you’re going to stand there looking at your shoes you can’t get anyone excited, can you? You have to hit the stage runnin’!”
What do you do to warm up?
“I didn’t warm up for many years, but now I spend about 20 minutes just doodling on the guitar. The dressing room 20 minutes before a show is hilarious anyway, because we’re getting vibed up and the humour’s at its height. So, I just sit there and doodle just so I’m loose enough, so when I walk out there I can give it my all from the first note on.”
What’s your favourite live album?
“Deep Purple, Made In Japan. Fantastic! It’s just exciting, it’s raw… A great band and, live, they’re untouchable, especially with Ritchie onboard. That chemistry between Lordy and Blackmore was unbelievable.”
Uriah Heep: The Classic Rock Years boxset is available now on Store For Music.