They never had big hit singles or possessed a glamorous front man. But British progressive old timers Uriah Heep still managed to develop hordes of loyal fans over their four decades in the hard rock trenches.
And, evidently a lot of them are in Israel, because the veteran quintet is returning here for the third time since 2000, for two shows - October 11 at the Wohl Amphitheater in Tel Aviv and the next night at the Roman amphitheater in the Shuni fortress near Binyamina.
Audiences at the band's shows in Israel are weighed heavily in the favor of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who consider Heep to be in the first echelon of British rock royalty. According to Box, that's likely due to bootleg albums by the band that were clandestinely sold in the 1970s and 80s in the Soviet Union - among the few Western rock albums that were available.
"We were very popular in the Soviet Union black market," remembers founding guitarist Mick Box. "And then, in 1987, we were the first major band to play in Moscow - we gave 10 shows for 180,000 people."
Even though they spawned from the same gene pool that produced '70s brethren like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep was always considered the ragged younger sibling in the West - always in the second echelon of British rockers. However, their focused, fantastical albums and performances touched enough nerves to place them firmly in that echelon.
Founded by lead singer Dave Byron and Box, Heep achieved its greatest popularity with the five albums they released between 1972 and 1975, beginning with their best seller Demons and Wizards.
Ahead of Heep's last performances in Israel in 2004, Box says that the '70s were a magical time to be entering the music business.
"You have to think back - it was much easier to be successful because the only thing rock music had to compete with for young people's attention was fashion and sport. There wasn't so much diversification with the Internet, Gameboys and skateboarding competing for kids' attention."
From the mid-70s on, the band's popularity began to slip. Byron left the band in 1977, but they soldiered on and continued to release albums into the '90s and 2000s. These days, the engine that drives the Heep vehicle is the 59-year-old Box, the only remaining original member.
While they're no longer on the charts or the radio, the band's bread and butter comes from touring to places like Israel, where they draw both old-timers who remember when they had long hair, and a younger audience who identify with timeless chimes of a riffing guitar.
Priced at NIS 200, tickets to Uriah Heep's shows this Thursday and Friday can be purchased by calling (03) 521-5200.