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Uriah Heep - The Lansdowne tapes CD (album) cover

THE LANSDOWNE TAPES

Uriah Heep

 

Heavy Prog

3.37 | 10 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Discovering an abandoned goldmine

When this album was originally released in 1993, I must confess I became very excited and rather emotional. Here was a CD full of songs I had not previously heard, recorded by Uriah Heep during the time that the now sadly departed David Byron was the lead singer. I was blissfully unaware until then that such a quantity, and indeed quality, of unreleased material existed. "The Lansdowne tapes" was originally a single CD set, comprising almost entirely of unheard songs. The more recent 2CD version retains all those tracks, but has been expanded to include alternative recordings and edits of tracks which made it onto the band's official albums.

As with many bands around the time of these songs, Uriah Heep tended to record more material than was required to fit within the limitations of a 40 minute LP. The tracks would be seen through to final production before a decision was taken on which to include and which to omit. Some of the tracks appeared as single B sides, while others were simply shelved. The reasons for omission were varied, and while some were not deemed to be of a sufficient standard, many were dropped simply because they sounded too similar to other tracks which had already been selected. The wonderful ballad "What's within my heart" is an excellent example of this. The track was recorded during the "Look at yourself" sessions, but was not included on the final album because "What should be done" had been chosen, and the band did not want to put two similar ballads on the same album.

The songs included here are all from the period before the arrival of Gary Thain and Lee Kerslake, and the release of the "Demon's and Wizards" album. Thus they cover the period from the latter days of the band's previous incarnation as Spice, through the arrival of Ken Hensley, and the recording of the first three Uriah Heep albums "Very 'eavy very 'umble", "Salisbury", and "Look at yourself".

Among the unreleased songs and B-sides, are some real gems. Apart from the aforementioned "What's within my heart", we have the superb 11 minute track "Why". Why this track was never included on an album is a real mystery, but one can only assume that it was considered to be too out of character for the band. The song has an almost jazz like structure, with wah wah dominated lead guitar (similar to the solos on the title track of "Salisbury"), and seemingly improvised vocals. It may sound unappealing, but it is truly magnificent, and rather progressive. Several versions of the song have since been found, one of which is more rock orientated. It is however an essential treat for fans of the band.

"Here am I", is an 8 minute outtake from the "Salisbury" album. It is essentially a softer, pared back ballad, with Passing similarities to "If I had the time" from the later "Sweet freedom" album. It does however include another great Mick Box lead guitar solo. Very much of its time, but a lost classic nonetheless. "Simon the bullet freak" is an odd piano based song, which originally appeared as the B side of the "Look at yourself" single. Almost funky in its structure, it contains a truly awesome performance by David Byron, who takes the opportunity offered by the sparse backing to demonstrate the extent of his vocal dexterity.

While the first of the two discs takes us chronologically from "Very 'eavy very umble" through to "Look at yourself", the second disk delves further back to the pre Uriah Heep SPICE days. Ken Hensley was not yet on board for the seven consecutive SPICE tracks which open disc 2. The Vanilla Fudge influences are already apparent, as is Byron's vocal capability, but the tracks do not have the refinement and structure which was to come with Hensley's arrival. The disc then reverts to further alternative versions of tracks from the first three Heep albums.

Most of the alternative versions of tracks which have appeared on albums are similar to the final takes. Those from "Very 'eavy, very 'umble" in particular are almost identical. The "Salisbury" outtakes have more variety. The acoustic guitar on "The park" is more dominant, while "Lady in black" loses the echo on the vocals, resulting in a more rough and ready sound. "What should be done" (from "Look at yourself") is even sparser than the album version, emphasising once again the stunning vocals of Byron.

Most of the lost tracks have now been included on the expanded remasters of the band's early albums. This collection however gathers them together into a single package.

I experienced something of a quandary when it came to the star rating here. On a personal basis, this is a five star album. In truth however, it's a collection of out-takes and discarded material, deemed for one reason or another, not to be required for inclusion in the band's official releases. "The Lansdowne tapes" is therefore essentially "for fans only". It is nonetheless, a first class collection, and a compulsory purchase for those who loved the early music of the Byron era.

Easy Livin | 3/5 |

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