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Easy Livin View Drop Down
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Direct Link To This Post Topic: Circle of hands, A Uriah Heep classic for all
    Posted: October 15 2006 at 11:02

A track by Uriah Heep which deserves special mention is “Circle of hands”. This started life as the last track on side one of “Demons and Wizards”, initial impressions being that while it was a great number, it was a something of a clone of “July Morning” from the previous “Look at yourself” album. The structures of the songs are very similar, with a powerful opening burst leading to a soft vocal section and louder refrain, both tracks closing with a repeated instrumental theme. By this time, Ken Hensley was clearly writing with Byron’s style of vocal delivery upper most in his mind, the “Demons and Wizards” album as a whole finding the two of them in greater harmony than any other Uriah Heep album.

 

“Circle of hands” really began to take on a life of its own during the bands subsequent live performances, to the extent that by the time of the “Live ‘73” album (sometimes referred to as “Friday night in Birmingham”), it had arguably become the highlight of their act. The original version closed with a repeating slide guitar solo, which faded after a couple of minutes. The live version however was a complete transformation. David Byron gives one of his finest virtuoso vocal performances here.  The closing slide guitar theme is repeated briefly before being picked up by Hensley on moog synthesiser, and developed into a magnificent solo. It should be remembered that at the time, only an handful of bands were using synthesisers successfully. Indeed, on the closing section of the studio version of “July Morning”, Manfred Man had been brought in to play the synth solo, Hensley at the time being unfamiliar with this new instrument.

 

The “moog” (as it was then commonly known) was still tricky to programme and use in a live environment, as evidenced by Hensley’s unscripted noises and audible asides to his roadie just before his solo on the preceding “Gypsy”. The sound he used for the solo on “Circle of hands” was still rather unusual for the time, with only artists such as Emerson and Wakeman really exploiting it commercially. As Hensley develops the theme, the band’s engine room of Lee Kerslake and Gary Thain picks up the pace, the synthesiser soaring to a screaming held note. Hensley pushes the synthesiser to even further heights while Kerslake pound out every beat of the rapidly increased rhythm on bass drum. The track climaxes in a wonderful cacophony of controlled chaos, forming the absolute pinnacle of the show. 

 

It was interesting that Yes subsequently adopted a similar style of ending for “Starship trooper” some years later.

 

“Circle of hands” has remained a live favourite throughout the numerous line of changes of the band, the current long lasting line up also having included a version on their “Spellbinder” live album.

 

In 2001,Uriah Heep took the brave decision to turn off the power for an entire show. (Bear in mind their sound over the years has been based on the driving power of the Hammond organ, and the wailing wah-wah guitar of Mick Box, combined with volumes which could set off earthquakes in unstable regions.) The result was the astonishing “Acoustically driven” set, which consisted of unplugged versions of many of the band’s classic songs.

 

The closing number was a medley made up of “three tracks form “Demons and Wizards”, Paradise”, “The wizard” and of course “Circle of hands”. This version of “Circle of hands” sees a female vocal trio replacing David Byron’s “whoa, whoa” refrains, before the slide guitar theme is picked up, this time by uillean pipes. The pipes are backed by sympathetic instrumentation, including acoustic guitar and acoustic bass. Here, the sound does not build to a crescendo, instead, the backing subsides to leave only the unaccompanied pipes replicating the original slide guitar theme. On the DVD of the gig, Mick Box sits motionless, eyes shut, mesmerised by the sheer beauty of the sound. It is clear this is a highly emotional moment for him. Here is a song he was a key part of during its birth, and over 30 years later he is leading a performance of it which is completely different, yet utterly magical. As the final note on the pipes is held, then abruptly stops, ending the gig, there is a momentary silence. It is as if both band and audience are reluctant to break the spell first through their applause. Inevitably though, that reaction manifests itself, as the need to recognise the performance overwhelms the futile hope that a single moment could last forever.

 

One of the things which really makes “Circle of hands” special is the complete contrast between the “Live 73” version, and the “Acoustically driven” rendition. There is no question that we are listening to the same song, yet on the former it is one of the most bombastic, musically aggressive performances ever witnessed. On the latter though, the melody is brought to the fore like never before, and the song becomes a piece of pure beauty.

 

I find listening to the two live versions of this song I have highlighted to be truly inspirational.  After playing the “Live ‘73” version, I am physically exhausted. The volume has been pushed to 11, and the foundations of the house dislodged yet again. Conversely, the “Acoustically driven” version raises the hairs on the back of my neck, my throat dries, and I avoid speaking for fear of a stray faltering of my voice revealing the overwhelming emotion I am experiencing.  

 

The song may have been written by Ken Hensley, but it is the band members past and present collectively who deserve the credit for all it has since become.

 

“We must sacrifice, the future has its price, and today is only yesterday’s tomorrow.”

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 25 2007 at 19:44
running down to the vaults and getting those albums (D&W's, live '73)....  nice write up, I'll take a listen to both versions.  Haven't listened to either album in a long while...
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 26 2007 at 04:49

Well Bob, as a huge Uriah Heep fan I feel sad that I have missed early Uriah Heep but I was lucky to witness the new Uriah Heep line-up and I agree about the difference between the two Circle Of Hands versions. Personally I prefer the bombastic Uriah Heep Live version because of the exciting slide-guitar, powerful Hammond waves and distinctive Minimoog flights ApproveDuring the Acoustically Driven tour I was very pleasantly surprised about the great new arrangements of early songs, so warm, melodic and elaborate, timeless beauties with Circle Of Hands (indeed a bit similar atmosphere as July Morning, my all time Uriah Heep favorite) as a great example, these guys are excellent tunesmiths Thumbs%20Up 

By the way Bob , you gave me a good reason to play Uriah Heep Live this February morning Wink 


Edited by erik neuteboom - February 26 2007 at 04:59
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 26 2007 at 10:19
"There I was, on a February morning,...."Big%20smile
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 26 2007 at 10:34

The band's last two albums, 'Sea Of Light' and 'Sonic Origami' (with a bit of pruning...) stand up to most anything from earlier era, imho. Their 80s period really wasn't the best though- they just sounded like a generic AOR band on everything post Abominog (and really, on that one too, though the songs are still good) up to Different World. However, the highlights on Acoustically Driven for me were Cross That Line and Different World- the studio versions do not showcase the strength of these songs. The production is generic AOR stuff on those, but they sound folky and yes, proggy, especially Cross That Line, when they were played acoustically. But it's hard to imagine a better climax to any show than the gorgeous version of Circle Of Hands they did in that set.

I'm really looking forward to a new album, though with the departure of Lee Kerslake I can't help feeling the chemistry might be altered somewhat. For me, that line up was the best since the classic Byron-Box-Hensley-Thain-Kerslake one in terms of handling earlier material and strength of new material. Certainly, the recordings I've heard of other eras showed singers unable to tackle the Byron era material.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 08 2007 at 07:50
Originally posted by Easy Livin Easy Livin wrote:



"There I was, on a February morning,...."Big%20smile


"I've got some chewing gum on me boot & I keep stickin' to the stage 'ere!"

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: March 08 2007 at 09:33
...and the song features Ken on the moog simplifier...
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 28 2007 at 23:30
Yes. "Circle of Hands" is a very good song, maybe the best from their 1972-73 period. The live version from "Live January 1973" is great, and it is maybe the best from this album. Some years ago I visited several fan websites about Uriah Heep and some people there considered this song as Uriah Heep`s "signature song".
 
...and the song features Ken on the moog simplifier...
 
If I remember well, Byron says that before "Gypsy" in the "Live January 1973" album. Big%20smile
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