Published on 23rd December 2019
Ken Hensley – The Bronze Years: 1973 – 1981
Ken Hensley was a founding member of Uriah Heep from their earliest inception right through to June 1980 after the Conquest world tour, at which time he felt he had gone as far as he could with the band and left. Ken was not only a founding member but also one of the band’s main songwriters, frequently working with singer David Byron, drummer Lee Kerslake or guitarist Mick Box on many of their classic songs. Ken also released several solo albums under the guidance of band manager Gerry Bron – the ‘Bron’ in their label, Bronze Records.
Ken’s own albums tended to be far more introspective and acoustic in nature, even though he often used members of Uriah Heep in the recordings. He also featured other musicians, including Simon Kirke of Bad Company and Ian Paice of Deep Purple. This review covers the three albums that Ken released on Bronze between 1973 and 1981.
1973’s Proud Words on a Dusty Shelf was Ken’s first foray into solo work and came about as a result of him having a backlog of material that wasn’t quite suitable for Uriah Heep, although several of the tracks were attempted in demo form by the group, including the title track which can be found as a bonus track on The Magician’s Birthday album. Rain was also on that album, but the version here is a slightly different shorter version. In the main, the album comprises mostly gentler songs, apart from the storming opener When Evening Comes, which is very much in the vein of his Uriah Heep material with a searing guitar line that leads into the main verses, and the strident Proud Words on a Dusty Shelf.
Fortune opens side two of the vinyl, also featuring a great guitar introduction before reverting to a quieter acoustic section. An excellent track, it would have suited Heep had they tried it. Black Hearted Woman has an almost countrified feel to it along with another fine guitar intro, while Cold Autumn Sunday, at 5:27 the longest track on the album, has mainly acoustic verses but the chorus is electrically driven, and the power and contrast make this a great song, as do the excellent electric guitar and solo parts which shine out strongly. Supporting musicians Gary Thain and Lee Kerslake really add their parts well.
The album showed that Ken Hensley was indeed a writer of good strong material, although I do know that his solo album was not widely appreciated by his group colleagues, who were somewhat jealous of the attention he was receiving that they felt was at their expense. The album came in a gatefold sleeve that some could assume as pretentious, I actually like the cover and thought it looked good. I also enjoyed the music that Ken was making at this time, it didn’t detract overly from his Uriah Heep work in my opinion but gave him an alternative outlet for material that fans would otherwise not have heard.
This really is a strong album which helped Ken get his own material used up so that he could fully return to the band, until 1976 when he started the think about a second solo album. This re-release adds both single and mono edits of several of the tracks.
Eager to Please finally emerged in 1978, by which time David Byron had been fired from Uriah Heep and the band was significantly different in tone. The making of the album was a turbulent period, according to Ken, with lots of sessions taking place before it was finally completed at Lansdowne Studios.
The album is weaker material-wise than Proud Words…, this is all wonderfully explained in the fine DVD that features in this set, however that’s not to say that it’s a poor album. It’s not and there are some very strong songs, including the title track, which would have easily worked with Uriah Heep. The majority of the album is more introspective and restrained, again not a bad thing, Ken showing his sensitive side, which is as worthy as his more rock-orientated side.
There is a version of a Mark Clarke song, from his band Tempest, called Stargazer that Ken was apparently not overly keen on covering, but whilst not as good as the Tempest version, it’s still a strong song and quite what Ken didn’t like about it is discussed in detail on the DVD, which actually works almost as a ‘Directors Cut’ to these three albums and is essential viewing.
Through the Eyes of a Child is another fine piece, introspective and subdued, and all the better for the gentleness it portrays. Side two kicks off with another more up-tempo rocker, Winter or Summer, that again shows off Ken’s guitar skills to fine measure with some great fills. This album gets better the more you play it. I used to have it on vinyl when it came out and it had a marvellous drawn portrait of Ken by the famous artist Alfred Heyworth printed on a textured sleeve. All highly impressive. This reissue has the same picture, but sadly not the textured cover.
Take and Take has a lifting guitar line that really shines out, and this album certainly surprises you. There are some very lovely moments and some fine instrumentation employed throughout, including some great pedal steel from B.J. Cole and sax from Ray Wardleigh, alongside the core trio of Ken on guitar, keyboards and lead vocals, Bugs Pemberton on drums and Mark Clarke on Bass and vocals. In the Morning is another Clarke song, this one having a funky guitar part.
The penultimate song is How Shall I Know, with growling Moogs in the mix of what is a fairly simple song, but one that is again very Heep-ish in style and tone, so much so that you can almost imagine David Byron having a stab at it, but sadly that wasn’t to be. There is a bonus track, Who Will Sing for You, on this reissue. Originally the B-side of the In the Morning single is a storming little number with some fiery slide guitar from Ken and a pounding bassline from Clarke, a fitting finale to an underappreciated and overlooked album that is full of wonderful songs, performances and emotions.
Ken left Uriah Heep in mid-1980 and then offered Free Spirit as an example of his own work. This saw Ken free of any shackles, to make the music that he wanted to, and right from the off this album has passion and power. Opener Inside the Mystery sees Ken firing on all cylinders with some fiery playing and fine guitar work. New York is another driving track, again with echoes of Uriah Heep days now gone. The songs on this album are generally shorter and more concise, but they are of the early 1980s and you can hear where music generally was heading, with lots of synths to the fore and lighter drums. This actually still sounds good to me, although I guess some may not like the production values employed.
The next track, When, features Ken’s classic organ sound, like the opening to July Morning or Gypsy before a lighter melody comes in. Again, this is a great little number with Ken in fine voice. This leads into No More which is a lower-key number, more downbeat and moody. The chorus of “no more, I won’t take no more of your lies” is certainly memorable, as Ken sings of love gone wrong, loss And unwillingness to lend a hand anymore.
Brown Eyed Boy is my favourite on the album and could almost be autobiographical. It features Ian Paice on drums, somewhat subdued somehow but a fine track in all other aspects. I think the production lets this song down, the drums should be louder and clearer but the vocal is fine and Ken’s guitar is really good, as is Mark Clarke’s bass. The rest of the album is less than inspiring somehow and seems a bit like filler, or maybe I’m being unfair as the tracks could easily have come from the Fallen Angel album with its AOR stylings. Again, there is a bonus track, Inspiration, the B-side of The System single, which is a better track than Telephone, Woman or New Routine.
This is a good album, but I feel it is of less merit than the earlier two solo albums somehow. The great DVD sheds more light on what was going on with Ken when this album was recorded.
Overall this is a fine little set of Ken’s solo work and would be of interest to those who loved the classic Uriah Heep line-up that Ken was a major and driving force in.
Disc One: Proud Words on A Dusty Shelf (1973)
01. When Evening Comes (4:39)
02. From Time To Time (3:39)
03. King Without A Throne (3:54)
04. Rain (2:16)
05. Proud Words (3:19)
06. Fortune (5:22)
07. Black-Hearted Lady (3:36)
08. Go Down (3:10)
09. Cold Autumn Sunday (5:27)
10. The Last Time (2:48)
~ Bonus tracks
11. From Time To Time (Edit) (3:06)
12. From Time To Time (Mono) (3:05)
13. When Evening Comes (2:31)
Disc Two: Eager to Please (1975)
01. Eager To Please (4:56)
02. Stargazer (3:49)
03. Secret (4:02)
04. Through The Eyes Of A Child (2:21)
05. Part Three (3:50)
06. The House On The Hill (3:19)
07. Winter Or Summer (3:03)
08. Take And Take (3:43)
09. Longer Shadows (3:38)
10. In The Morning (2:36)
11. How Shall I Know (4:11)
~ Bonus track
12. Who Will Sing For You (Single) (2:54)
Disc Three: Free Spirit (1981)
01. Inside the Mystery (4:39)
02. New York (2:25)
03. The System (2:35)
04. When (3:49)
05. No More (4:38)
06. Brown Eyed Boy (4:05)
07. Do You Feel Alright (2:52)
08. Telephone (3:11)
09. Woman (3:24)
10. New Routine (3:29)
~ Bonus track
11.Inspiration (B-side) (3:24)
Total Time – 190:28
Disc Four: DVD
Ken Hensley in Conversation with Malcolm Dome:
01. Ken Hensley Discusses Proud Words on a Dusty Shelf (22:20)
02. Ken Hensley Discusses Eager to Please (18:31)
03. Ken Hensley Discusses Free Spirit (21:30)
Ken Hensley – Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals, Drums
Gary Thain – Bass (disc 1)
Lee Kerslake – Drums (disc 1)
Dave Paul – Bass (disc 1, track 2)
Mark Clarke – Bass, Vocals (disc 2; disc 3, track 6)
Bugs Pemberton – Drums & Percussion (disc 2)
B.J. Cole – Pedal Steel Guitar (disc 2, track 3)
Ray Warleigh – Saxophone (disc 2, track 10)
Michael Gibbs – Orchestral Arrangements & Conductor (disc 2)
Denny Ball – Bass (disc 3, tracks 1 & 9)
Trevor Boulder – Bass (disc 3, tracks 2 & 8)
Gary Taylor – Bass (disc 3, tracks 3-5)
Jim Tooney – Drums (disc 3, track 1)
Geoff Allan – Drums (disc 3, tracks 2-5 & 9)
Ian Paice – Drums (disc 3, track 6)
Kenny Jones – Drums (disc 3, track 8)
The Wrongettes – Backing Vocals (disc 3, track 2)
Record Label: Cherry Red Records
Catalogue#: HNE BOX 127
Date of Release: 22nd November 2019