Q&A with Uriah Heep’s Bernie Shaw

I’m delighted to say that Bernie Shaw, lead singer of Uriah Heep, has been kind enough to answer my questions about his work with the band, upon the release of their stunning new album Into the Wild. Enjoy!

Me: Into the Wild is a very powerful album, featuring songs that are as intense as those on Wake the Sleeper, with very strong hooks and the classic Heep hallmarks. How do you think it compares to Wake the Sleeper? And what were your favourite songs to sing on the new album?

Bernie: I think Into the Wild is one step further from where “sleeper” left off. It’s a bit more direct as a “rock” album, more streamlined. As for a favorite, that’s a hard question as I’m a Gemini – meaning what is my fave today may or may not be my fave tomorrow. But as of TODAY, on the rock side, ‘Money Talk’, and ‘I’m Ready’ are great live numbers and sound the nuts in the new live set. ‘Kiss of Freedom’ is my fave slower number in the set at the moment.

Me: You are, in my opinion, one of the all-time great ballad singers in rock. Heep have always been known for their fantastic ballads – from, to name but a few, ‘Rain’, to ‘Come Back to Me’, to ‘Cross That Line’, to a couple of cover songs that I really loved, ‘When the War is Over’ and ‘Across the Miles’. What’s the secret of a great ballad? And which other artists do you particularly admire for their ballads?

Bernie: As I said earlier, I’m a true Gemini (as are Mick and Trev too!) and I’m driven by my heart. So when it comes to ballads, they just come naturally to me. I love to sing songs that MEAN something or have a story to tell, as do most of Heep’s ballads. ‘What Kind of God’ was and still is one ot the most emotional songs to sing . . . would get me choked up every night, really. Without thinking, three voices (in the rock field) stand out: Joe Cocker, Sammy Hagar, and Lou Gramm. All seriously gifted men, born to be on stage – emotion to the 10th degree.

Me: Heep’s live sets are very demanding for the lead vocalist! How do you keep your voice in such good nick? Do you have any advice for singers?

Bernie: OK, this might seem a bit corny, but RELAX, keep your shoulders down, breathe deep from the back and lower part of your lungs. NEXT is SLEEP. I need a lot of it on tour, eight hours minimum, then the boring bits like not TOO much to drink after the show (one or two to calm down after the show is fine in my book), and of course, I don’t SMOKE. I know there are a lot of singers out there, GREAT ones too, that do smoke (Freddie Mercury, for one, smoked like a chimney and had the voice of an angel), but the best thing I ever did was to give it up . . . back in 1979 when I joined the band Paris.

Me: With a band like Heep, we expect to hear the timeless classics and a healthy selection of new material in concert. For the diehard fans, though, it’s often the surprises from the periods in between, that we anticipate most keenly. Have you been revisiting any hidden gems from your extensive back-catalogue for upcoming shows?

Bernie: Not too much really. We’ve been to THAT well MANY times over the last decade or so. We like to change the set around each time we tour, so as to keep ourselves fresh and interested as much as keeping the fans happy. We’ve put ‘Rainbow Demon’ in this year from Demons and Wizards, and it’s a good alternative song off of one of Heep’s biggest sellers.

Me: On a related note, Heep has been fronted by some very talented – and very distinctive! – vocalists in the past. Do you enjoy reinterpreting the songs they recorded? How did you approach the challenge of putting your own stamp on the classic material, and making it your own?

Bernie: Mick was very clear from the start that he did NOT want a David Byron or Pete Goalby sound-alike. He gave me free reign to sing the songs the way I felt, as long I didn’t stray TOO far from the original sentiment. As for me, I didn’t try to fill either of their boots . . . WAY TOO BIG, so I was, and still am, happy to stand beside them in my own pair of loafers.

Me: Lastly, Uriah Heep have been on blistering form of late, from Wake the Sleeper to Celebration to Into the Wild. What can fans expect in the future?

Bernie: Bigger Blisters, mate . . . BIGGER BLISTERS.

Massive thanks to Bernie, and good luck to the guys on tour!

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