For many years we, fans, asked URIAH HEEP to perform an acoustic show - as many of the band's songs have grown from acoustic form. Now, it was done. And a mixed emotions flood on listening to this brilliant set. Yes, it's great in his own right yet it takes some spins to realize what's wrong. With all kudos to the mastership, it has to be said that HEEP somehow lost its identity in the decorations. While it's great to have female singers and they turn the finale of "Come Back To Me" into powerful gospel chant, any hardcore Heepster will definitely miss unique vocal harmony the group's known for. The second point is that HEEP apparently needed more time to work on arrangements, Bernie's approach being a primary example - when others had to adjust their parts to acoustic sound, Mr. Shaw faced much complicate challenge: he was to live old songs - and sometimes he hardly keeps up. Everything Bernie sang before - say, "The Wizard" or "Lady In Black", not to mention songs he recorded with HEEP - sounds natural, but on part of the material his voice feels very strained: all down to the guys' nervousness, which is so clear compared to Ian Anderson's flute playing. Ian really made the music his own.
Anyway, it must have taken a lot of prowess to dig out the songs from the band's past - with no less than three pieces off the obscure "Wonderworld" album. HEEP start with one from "Return To Fantasy" (a hint?) though, namely "Why Did You Go". You just shiver on the dramatics Bernie put into "When I remember how good it was" line, Melvin Duffy's slide and Steafan Hannigan's bodhran adding to the picture. Girls' "ooh's" aren't bad either but it's Phil Lanzon on Hammond who shines throughout - you can't take organ off HEEP context, can you? The only electric instrument changes for piano on "The Easy Road" where one of the singers sneaks in her flute - with strings arrangement restored and gentle drumming from Lee, it would be unjust saying the version's worse than original.
Tragic string quartet taking over Phil's piano in the beginning of "Echoes In The Dark" remind of "White Room" - a pity that Melvin, not Mick played the lap slide guitar part. Completely different appears "Come Back To Me", the first song from the Lawton era to be played by this line-up. Bernie's lost here yet it's now that Trevor Bolder's mighty bass comes to the fore and keeps driving "Cross That Line" through. A little baroque to this song after uplifting coda of the previous one feels very refreshing. Mick's passages are great but, sadly, overdubbed to complement the folky solos by violin and Uileann pipe. What's funny is that strings play something close to "Love Me Do" hook.
Flute returns for another "Sonic Origami" track, "The Golden Palace" - and here's Bernie does exactly what he was short of in "Come Back To Me" - heart-wrecking tone. "The Shadows And The Wind" seemes the most unlike choice of the song to make the show - bodhran spices up not so bright song although the band members' voices would be much greater than the girls' at the outro. Guitar riffage was left out for gloomy cello to fill the air in the start of "Wonderworld" while Byron's vulnerability gone forever - voices' likeness notwithstanding. As if to compensate, there's one more "world", "Different World", a little jazzy one. Box entwines his acoustic guitar with violin and piano to create a light feeling and set the mood for "Circus", the fans' favourite. Anderson, Mick and Phil's touches turned the gentle piece into something it never was - a magic moment! Ian delivers his trademark flute singing only near the end to expose the band yet it's his fantastic part leading into "Blind Eye". Players - especially Kerslake - make for Bernie's rather flat singing.
The vocalist shines in "Traveller In Time" - did anyone think it might be acoustic? The tune comes naturally in this form and seamlessly flows into swaggering "More Fool You". (Ain't it time to re-listen the first works of this line up?) Mick does a scorching job, spot the last notes: was he trying to play another classic? Bernie's nerves show on "Lady In Black" since he changes the lyrics and melody a bit. How he underlines the rhyme on "She, the mother of all MEN, had counselled me so wisely, THEN I feared to walk alone AGAIN"! A violin cuts in for riff and shivers come down the spine. Strings and pipes play a hoedown as if FAIRPORTS joined in. And to quench the thirst, all HEEP eventually sing harmony on "The Wizard", a bit thin but linked with "Paradise" and "Circle Of Hands" - all medley Celtic-tinged. An interesting turn and the audience went for it. Bravo
Thanks to all the fellow Heepsters that help this project happen. It's great - not only to keep this beautiful booklet graced by the Roger Dean's artwork but also have your name printed in. To be a part of it all really warms up.