According to music historian and author David Hepworth, 1971 is “rock’s most exciting year”. There are a lot of music fans of a certain age who would agree with that: those keen record buyers who still treasure well worn copies of Uriah Heep’s ‘Salisbury’, Caravan’s ‘In The Land of Grey & Pink’, Hawkwind’s ‘In Search of Space’ and Rory Gallagher’s ‘Deuce’; people who’d hit their early twenties in time to hear Pink Floyd’s ‘Meddle’ and Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s ‘Tarkus’ with fresh ears when the sounds of those hugely indulgent arrangements sounded like the future; and certainly not forgetting those for whom the first three Black Sabbath albums heralded the arrival of a whole new genre, but arguably hit perfection in ’71. There’s a lot of further weight to be added to the argument that 1971 is musically significant, with lesser known albums by Samurai and Jade Warrior propping up the art-rock scene, The Zombies’ Colin Blunstone delivering an absolutely killer solo debut with ‘One Year’ and Phil Collins making his first major appearance with Genesis. All of that barely scratches the surface, of course, but it’s fair to say there was always far more to 1971 than Led Zeppelin’s monolithic fourth platter and ‘Who’s Next’.
As the 60s drew to a close and musical fashions began to lean towards heavier sounds, The Gods renamed themselves Head Machine and headed back into the studio. The resulting album – the dubiously named ‘Orgasm’ – featured a couple of songs that sounded like 60s psych jams in bigger boots; others forged their way into the new hard rock sounds, following the example set by Deep Purple. Although it wasn’t necessary the most coherent record, it was an enjoyable one. It failed to be a commercial success and the band split almost immediately. A few months on, the core of Head Machine – Ken Hensley (gtr/keys) and Lee Kerslake (dtums) – resurfaced as the core of a new rock band Toe Fat with previous mod hit maker Cliff Bennett, whose Rebel Rousers had seen him providing vocals for a band that included Chas Hodges and legendary session pianist Nicky Hopkins.
Toe Fat released two albums between 1970 and 1972, both of which spent approximately two decades out of print between the early 70s and mid 90s. Both albums crept out on CD for the first time in 1994 thanks to the German label Repertoire Records, but the official nature of these reissues remains open to question and those CDs quickly became impossible to find, making Toe Fat a 70s curio that – much like Head Machine – went largely unheard by all but the most ardent Uriah Heep collectors. A double disc reissue from BGO Records briefly made the Toe Fat recordings available in the States, but for UK audiences, their work remained elusive.
Lee Kerslake will be best remembered as the man who drummed on several Uriah Heep albums and occupied the drum stool on Ozzy Osbourne’s 1980 LP ‘Blizzard of Oz’. Those works eventually earned him legendary status among two generations of rock fans. For Lee, it wasn’t enough: he’d more than proved his mettle as both hired hand and full time bandmate, but he yet to put his name to a solo album. That final piece of the musical puzzle began to slowly take shape in 2015 and with sessions taking place sporadically over the next few years, Lee’s solo debut became a reality in 2019. Like most solo albums made by rock drummers – excepting the extraordinary body of work created by Phil Collins – ‘Eleventeen’ (finally released in February 2021) isn’t what you’d call a world beater.
While it may not always be seen as favourably as some of 1970’s heavyweight hard rock discs, ‘Very ’Eavy Very ’Umble’ marked a more than credible beginning for British rockers Uriah Heep. While the release never troubled the UK album chart, its mix of blues, rock and occasional psychedelic leanings met with a devoted group of music fans. Having found an audience, it would have been easy for Mick Box and his merry band of musicians to knock out a near carbon copy for their second release, but the album that eventually emerged in February 1971 couldn’t have been any more different.
As the 60s gave way to the 70s, some musical fashions began to take a more aggressive turn. The psychedelia and blues that had been a dominance force on the rock scene had started to fade and while some of the psych bands took the leap into full-on prog rock waters, many psych bands merely just fizzled out. Deep Purple, whose early mixture of psychedelia, rock covers and blues took a harder direction and helped forge what would soon be known as heavy metal; Status Quo – who’d had major success with a couple of brilliant psych-pop singles – floundered for a bit and eventually became a lynchpin of a no nonsense boogie rock sound. In February 1970, the Black Sabbath debut changed everything, killing the last remnants of a 1960s optimism for good. For The Gods – a little known rock pop band who’d released two unsuccessful LPs – the writing seemed to be very much on the wall. In what appeared to be a last throw of the dice, they changed their name and beefed up their sound in an attempt to rejuvenate their ailing career.