Trevor Bolder: 1950 – 2013

This has been a very sad week for rock fans, with the passing first of Ray Manzarek, and then of another of my all time favourite musicians, Trevor Bolder, one of the greatest bass players in the history of the genre. Trevor had his greatest moment in the spotlight early in his career, as a founding member of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – and his part in that legend will rightly go down in musical folklore. Yet it was with the band he joined in 1976, Uriah Heep, that he found his spiritual home, and it is his work with them – my favourite band as a teenager – that made him one of my musical heroes. Like Rush and The Who, Heep are a band whose signature sound is defined to a huge extent by the bass, and Trevor had the challenge of following in some very illustrious footsteps when, along with blues rock singer par excellence John Lawton, he became part of their revamped line-up following the sacking of David Byron and the departure of John Wetton. But anyone who knew his work with the Spiders would have known that he was more than up to the task. He was a very different kind of bass player from the legendary Gary Thain who preceded him in what is generally regarded as Heep’s ‘classic’ line-up of 1972-74, yet he was able to find a distinctive style within the band that was, somehow, equally a perfect fit for them as was the New Zealander’s resounding yet sophisticated playing. He had such an incredible ability to make that baby rock like a bastard and warble like a nightingale, and could switch between the two approaches at a nanosecond’s notice – and, in addition to his virtuosity as an instrumentalist, he was also a gifted songwriter, who contributed immensely to Heep’s creative output in his more than thirty years with the band. He joined Heep at a difficult time, but his first album with them, 1977’s Firefly, was generally very well received and regarded as a distinct return to form by fans. Over the next few albums, however, Heep experimented with stylings that would grate with many of their longest standing fans – but Trevor’s class was a strong factor in ensuring that they pulled off surprising stylistic moves with impressive assurance. Equally, with principle songwriter Ken Hensley increasingly veering towards bubblegum pop and laid back ballads, to capitalise on commercial success in continental Europe, Trevor’s presence as a strong musical personality was an invaluable counterweight in ensuring that Innocent Victim (1977), Fallen Angel (1978) and the most controversial Conquest (1980; the album that precipitated Hensley’s abrupt departure from the band) had the variety and light and shade to remain satisfying to all but the most stubbornly traditionalist of fans. After a stint with Wishbone Ash, Trevor returned to Heep in time to catch the tail end of the Goalby era, recording Equator with them in 1985, but it was with the recruitment of Bernie Shaw on lead vocals that the band really began to flourish again, hitting upon their most stable line-up ever. Trevor and the boys stormed back onto the rock landscape with the raging AOR masterpiece that was Raging Silence (1989) – sadly though, while the band fired on all cylinders with that one, the state of the small label they had signed to, Legacy, was far from healthy, and it fell to Trevor to steer Heep through one of the most difficult periods in their history, acting as producer on Different World (1991) before Legacy completely collapsed leaving them out in the wilderness once more. Another phoenix-like rebirth followed in 1995 with the SPV released fans’ favourite, Sea of Light, which married AOR elements to the band’s classic sound more successfully than ever before, and featured stunning performances and fine compositions from Trevor,  and included his first lead vocal for the band on his own ‘Fear of Falling’; Sonic Origami (1998), while not as strong as its predecessor, featured some outstanding moments, with Bolder compositions ‘I Hear Voices’ and the bluesy ‘Shelter from the Rain’, on which his dynamic and unrestrained playing dazzles, amongst the highlights. By the time it came to Heep’s next album, Trevor had the formidable challenge of forging a new rhythm section, following the retirement of Lee Kerslake. His chemistry with powerhouse drummer Russell Gilbrook on the crackling Wake the Sleeper (2008) and its even better follow-up, Into the Wild (2011), is palpable, and Trevor was entirely at ease helping the band record some of its most bruisingly heavy music in decades. His last years with the band saw him playing as fiercely and astoundingly as ever, and continuing to contribute terrific songs to a period which saw the band hit a rich creative peak.

Further to his outstanding musical talents, I can personally attest, having briefly chatted with him prior to a Heep gig back in 1997, that he was a really nice guy, who was always happy to make time for the fans, and was truly thankful for their support and appreciation. R.I.P., Trevor. Without doubt, you were one of the best.

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