Concert Hall of Hotel Kosmos, Moscow
May 18, 2002
The place of Uriah Heep in the hearts of the most passionate and the most deprived audience that was huge but invisible from the other side of the iron curtain was truly unique. In comparison with other rock giants of the 1970s, their music was the most melodic and the most intimate, it touched the most delicate strings of human soul, and the soul, like a violin before the concert, should be tuned precisely and correctly, which is not something that everyone can do. The Russian audience of that time had many favorites, but only Uriah Heep were perceived as kindred. Others were idols, but only these were friends. This is so, and it is impossible to understand it if you have not lived in this country at that time…
Ken Hensley is more than a ex-member of Uriah Heep, he was the heart of the band, the one that fed it with his talent of a Musician with a capital M. His melodies were behind unique guitar parts of Mick Box and God-gifted vocal lines of David Byron. He later quit the band, and even though the band survived, it was totally different. The Maestro himself continued to create music and assist other artists. He went through a lot of good and bad times before releasing his latest album "Running Blind", but the record proved that Ken still has something to say with his songs.
He was awaited here with anticipation and he couldn't but come. His arrival was not even the triumph of justice, but a simple logic. Having welcomed Mick Box and Co regularly for the past 15 years, we sensed Ken's presence every time in his songs. But this virtual presence was not enough, we needed him to come and fill the empty space in the souls tuned by his music a long time ago.
From the moment Ken appeared in front of reporters at the news conference and until he left the stage that night I had a feeling that this was the man whom I have known closely for a very long time. Not only because I'm quite familiar with the stuff he did throughout his career, but also because Ken was very sincere and open. He was honest and simple to everyone, I mean reporters, audience, musicians… Moreover, the news conference and the stage were graced by the presence of an Artist, not a simple musician. Like a true rocker, he would light a cigarette and leave it smoking at the pegs, he would play and joke with the audience, he would stamp his feet on the floor while playing the Hammond, and would lean back in extasy like it was in the 1970s. It was clear that he was acting, but acting naturally, without falseness.
The news conference in general was more like a conversation of friends. Ken was asked a lot of questions and he answered in detail even the most trivial of them. I will cite a few excrepts here, but there is no way I can convey in words the main part of the event. Yet before the arrival of the Maestro, the personnel of the Soyuz record store were tuning in an acoustic guitar. The instrument sat quietly in a corner while we were trying to beat each other in the originality of questions and Ken was answering them. But before the news conference was over its time had come, and Ken sang to us… "He was the Wizard of a thousand kings…" - it felt like the Wizard himself was performing the song.
- The song "In For the Kill" is being re-issued once again. Why this particular song?
- When I wrote this song, I was in Blackfoot. The song was called "Moving In", but the record company changed the title to "In For the Kill". And the reason they did that was because they wanted to get this song in "Rocky" movie. And they sent the song with the new title to the movie producers of "Rocky", I don't know which one: "Rocky" two, three, five hundred, whichever… and they said "No" because it was too violent. And it seems very strange to me that producers of the "Rocky" movie would call my song "violent"… I just wanted to re-record this song the way it was written in its original form. And we will be playing it tonight.
- How come you participated in the recording of WASP's album "Headless Children" and what is your actual relationship with Blackie Lawless?
- Blackie's bass player at that time, Johnny Rod, was a friend of mine and he called me and asked to play Hammond on Blackie's new album. I did and I enjoyed it until I heard the lyrics, that I didn't enjoy any more. I like Blackie, he's a very intelligent man, and I saw him last year in Sweden, but I don't keep in touch with him.
- A question about Hensley / Wetton Band. When will this album be issued and how do Ken and John share their vocal parts?
- I believe that the DVD will be released at the end of June. I haven't seen it yet. It should be pretty much the whole show, I think. John sings about seven songs and I sing about seven songs. Actually, there is no CD from this concert - just the DVD.
- Do you follow what is happening on the modern scene and what can you particularly say about bands like Gamma Ray, Dream Theater, Cradle Of Filth?
- Let's see… Uriah Heep really was at the beginning of what is called or what was called "heavy metal" and I think that what is called "heavy metal" today is very different. I think compared to bands like Korn and so on, Uriah Heep sounds like a pop group, really. Uriah Heep really was a high-energy rock band with songs and melodies that were written to be meaningful and have messages and thing like that… The thing I don't like about most modern rock music is that I hate violent lyrics and I hate violent attitudes.
- Which Uriah Heep's cover-version by some other band do you consider the most successful one?
- Well, there has been, I think, about thirty different cover-versions of "Lady In Black", including rap versions and flamenco, and some of those are very good. But there is not one which I think is special, I mean they're all quite good and interesting but it's hard to listen to your own song done in a different way by somebody else… Probably the best version of "Lady In Black" is a new version which is coming out this month I think in Germany where they changed the words, it's about a guy who goes to the dentist and tries to impress the receptionist or something…
- Ken, did your expections concerning your visit to Russia in February come true and are you happy now with this tour? And the second question, the next album, will it be issued under the name of Ken Hensley or Free Spirit?
- My trip here in February was very special for me. First, because I had no idea that people like the music so much, I was surprised by the enthusiasm, because the West is very cynical towards classic rock or people like me playing music… So, to come here and to see so much enthusiasm and appreciation was a great experience for me. I came for five days and Eugene and Lisa from Sony made me work so hard - I had to go on holiday when I go home. And it was a wonderful trip, I really enjoyed it and that's why I was so exited to bring the band here. When I woke up this morning I couldn't wait to play… Just because people like Alexander would drive three thousand miles just to see me play… The next album - we're already working on songs for the next album, which will be released next spring, not before, because we have so much touring to do… And I haven't decided yet what the commercial benefit would be to put my name or call it Free Spirit, we haven't make that decision yet. Probably in some markets we'll just call it Free Spirit, on others we'll use my mane - I don't know. I have to talk to record companies 'bout this.
- Have you made any videos for the last album?
- Yeah, there is a video of six songs which is done in rehearsal and we're negotiating with the company that did the video to get it released. But there's much more interesting video which will come probably the end of June - beginning of July: I took video through the two years of making the album and this is much more interesting stuff. We gonna make a DVD of that video which I hope will be finished by the end of June and then it will come some time after that.
Speaking about the show, it went just the right way: expectations were not deceived, wishes came true and everybody was satisfied. On the one hand, Ken was in good shape, he was willing to play, he realized what he was for the Russian fans and enjoyed the warm response. On the other hands, long-time fans were so eager to see in person one of the founders of hard rock that their reaction couldn't be less than overwhelming.
The set list was just wonderful. Being aware that little known material always gets a mixed response, Hensley did not overload the set with new songs. The songs from his solo albums were already familiar to most of the fans ("Free Spirit", "I Don't Wanna Wait", "The Return") and Uriah Heep classics that formed the core of the set does not need any introduction, just look at the set list below.
Ken was skillfully changing the mood of the performance in order to demonstrate all sides of his talents in songwriting and performing. The dynamic opener "Free Spirit" was a sort of calling card, and its follower "Moving In" is definitely among Hensley's best solo tracks. The next to be performed was a package of slow songs that started with the immortal "July Morning" and ended with a new ballad called "Could I Close My Eyes". From that moment on and until the end of the show, Ken was delivering one hard rock tune after another for the joy of respected fathers of families that were jumping and headbanging in front of the stage even though they came to see the idol of their youth accompanied by wives and kids.
Ken's renditions of familiar songs were rather interesting. He added long instrumental intros to many songs that developed gradually towards the emergence of the main theme that the audience would welcome enthusiastically with applause. This was the case with "Free Spirit", "Free Me", "Stealing" and "Wizard". The all-time hit "Lady In Black" requires a special comment. Having listened to various mutilations that the song had suffered from various performers for 30 years (see above), Ken decided that he was the one who definitely had the right to do whatever he wanted to his own song. Moreover, he did this new rendition with much more care than those who simply took the song and played it in a different style. From the original semi-acoustic tune "Lady In Black" was transformed into a huge epic with a psychedelic mystic sound a la Pink Floyd. However the audience was not taken aback, and the chorus was sang all together as in best years of the original Uriah Heep line-up.
Miserable lights reminding me of a Soviet-times disco did not prevent the band from rocking the hall, as the audience was more than happy with the music and performance and paid little attention to the accompanying entourage, especially given that the hall had a quite decent sound. An obscure opening band called Tomas did not blur the impression either even though their music was nothing more than modern Russian rock, or pseudo-rock, as many fans of classic rock call it. People like that simply left the hall during the opener's performance and spent some time drinking beer and recalling memories of the times when true Music reigned… And these times are not over as long as Ken and other Masters of his constellation continue to perform.
1. Free Spirit
2. Moving In
3. July Morning
4. The Return
6. Could I Close My Eyes
7. I Don't Wanna Wait
8. Out Of My Control
10. Easy Living
11. Lady In Black
12. Free Me
13. Tell Me
Translated into English by Roman the Maniac
Special thanks to Max Bylkin (Soyuz Music) and GO'ST Music International for accreditation at the news conference and show
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