David Byron

When David Byron was found dead in his Reading home on February 28th 1985, his death was barely reported in the music press. Yet, for millions of people who bought his records the memory and music of David Byron lives on. Unlike quite a few dead pop stars Byron had left behind some of the best examples of rock vocals ever recorded.

David interviewed by Dutch Magazine Muziek Express Okt.1973

I started singing 22 years ago at the age of 5. My mother was  singing in a Jazzband, my whole family was into  music. Everybody played a instrument or was tap dancing. Around that time I tried to get famous by a childrens TV show. My first band had no name, did no gig's and lasted exactly 2 weeks. When I was 16 a local band offered me a job. I did one gig with them and joined the band of Mick Box which then was called The Stalkers. They had fired their vocalist and at the audition I had to sing Johnny B. Goode. I was hired right away.

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Spice from l.to r. : Mick Box Paul Newton, David Byron & Nigel Pegrum

 

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David with Spice

 

Born, David Garrick in Essex on January 29th 1947, his first venture into professional music was with a Epping based semi-pro band called The Stalkers who also featured guitarist Mick Box. Byron and Box worked well together and teamed up to form the band Spice which also featured Paul Newton on bass and Alex Napier on drums. The band gigged extensively locally under the management of Paul Newtons father and they secured a recording deal with United Artists who issued the bands one and only single "What About The Music/In Love" (UP 2246) copies of which now fetch around $50 to $100 on the collectors market.

 

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Although Spice regularly played venues like the Marquee it wasn't until they met up with manager Gerry Bron that things began to happen. Deciding that the Spice sound would require keyboards they recuited keyboardist/guitarist/singer/songwriter Ken Hensley who was Paul Newtons bandmate in The Gods. The band rehearsed and played diligently and during this time Bron redubbed the band Uriah Heep from the Charles Dickens classic David Copperfield. Shortly afterward the band's career really took off, first in Germany, England and finally the States.

Mick Box, Keith Baker, David Byron and Paul Newton

 

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Live in action

David Byron sang on ten Uriah Heep albums. Their first (which had originally been slated as a Spice release which becomes apparent after listening to "The Lansdowne Tapes", "Very 'eavy Very 'Umble", "Salisbury", "Look At Yourself", "Demons And Wizards", "The Magician's Birthday", "Live" (also known amongst fans as "Friday Night In Birmingham", "Sweet Freedom", "Wonderworld", "Return To Fantasy", "High And Mighty". During these six years David Byron gained a reputation with his operatic vocals and harmonies as one of the best rock vocalists and frontmen in the world.

around 1975 -1976

 

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Interviewed by Dutch Magazine Muziek Parade Oktober 1976.

"The fact that we would produce our selves was because of bad sales of Return to Fantasy in the USA.With High & Mighty we wanted to go in a new direction. The problem was we used just one source. And we had just little time to be in the studio because of the extensive touring. We decided to put all Ken's songs on the album, and hoped it worked out the right way. I think though we should have used everyone's songwriting. Thats why High & Mighty is a bummer to me. for example Mick Box played just a few parts on the album.

 

In 1975 Byron released his first solo album, "Take No Prisoners" (Bronze Records ILPS 9824) which also featured fellow heep members Mick Box, Ken Hensley and Lee Kerslake. But unfortunatly for Byron (and sadly for his fans), he'd also gained a reputation for hard drinking which eventually led to him being sacked from Uriah Heep at the end of a Spanish tour in July 1976. Ken Hensley said at that time, David was one of those classic people who couldn't face up to the fact that things were wrong and he looked for solace in a bottle.

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Symbolic "Split" picture out a German Magazine 1976

Uriah Sack Byron  - New Musical Express july 1976

Uriah Heep's manager Gerry Bron announced this week that the band have decided to dismiss vocalist David Byron in what are described as "the best interest of the group". Byron has been informed of the decision, and Heep have already secured a replacement singer, although his name is not being announced for the time being in view of his present contractual commitments.

Bron explained that Byron and the other Heep members has been in disagreement for some time over fundemental issues of group policy, and that the differences were finally brought to a head following the band recent tour of Britain and Europe. "It was felt by the rest of the group that they could no longer reconcile David's attitude with teir own", commented Bron.

Heep started  rehearsals almost immediately with their new vocalist, with a view to fulfilling excisting commitments in America in the late summer, and in Yugoslavia and Australia in the autumn. They will also be recording a new album for release early next year.

Founder member and keyboards player Ken Hensley said; "Frankly, I welcome this opportunity to clear the air and make a fresh start with members who are united in their aims. In no way do I see this as a setback, i'ts more of new beginning

Byron will have complete freedom to pursue his own career, and it seems likely that he will now branch out as a solo attraction, possibly with his own band. The exact nature of the difference between Byron and the other Heep members has not been revealed, but sources close to the band suggest that the introduction of John Wetton into the line up helped to spark the dissent.

A excerpt of a private letter Dave wrote to a Mr. Trosley around the time he started up the Byron Band ( 1981):

"I don't really know much about Lawton and Sloman, cause when I got out of Heep I wanted to remember the good parts and f***k the rest. Everybody over the years has got fired or whatever only Mick is left and even I don't know wether he is going to try again. I'm very good friends with all of them now but it took a while".......

Ken Hensley after his departure from Heep:

"After Gary's dead and David leaving Uriah Heep sounded like Uriah Heep but never felt the same......

Also of note, the song "Man Full Of Yesterdays" from David's solo album, was supposed to be about Uriah Heep's bass player Gary Thain, who was to die shortly afterwards, but ironically came to describe Byron himself in later years. Anyway, it's safe to say that after this neither David Byron nor Uriah Heep were ever the same. The magic of Box, Byron and Hensley was broken.

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Determined to get his career going again Byron teamed up with former Humble Pie guitarist Clem Clempson and former Wings drummer Geoff Britton to form Rough Diamond. They recorded one self titled LP for Island Records (ILPS 9490) in March 1977. Unfortunately the album sold poorly and Byron split.

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Teaming up with multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Daniel Boone and recruiting some in-demand session musicians (including famed drummer Stuart Elliot), Byron secured a deal with Arista Records and released his second solo album "Baby Faced Killer" (Spart 1077) and the single "Rich Mans Lady/ All In Your Mind" (Arist 218). Unfortunately, neither gained commercial success.

The backsleeve of Baby Faced Killer shows Byron in a deadly position

 

Next Byron got together with wonderkid guitarist Robin George and formed The Byron Band. They were signed to Creole Records and debuted with the single "Every Inch Of The Way/Routine" (CR 8). This was followed by the single "Never Say Die/Tired Eyes" (CR 12) before the release of the 1981 LP "On The Rocks" (CRX 2). But like his previous band Rough Diamond, neither critical nor commercial acclaim was forthcoming.

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Gaby and David Byron as printed in a German Magazine 1977

 

Sadly, Byron never recovered from his alcoholism which steadily grew worse and after one too many unprofessional stage disappointments (he collapsed drunk on stage at the Marquee shortly into his set) and he was pretty much left washed up. Alcohol eventually overcame David Byron. He was found dead on February 28th 1985 and like all great stars of his magnitude, he was taken from us too soon. However, he left behind a vast catalog of material of both Uriah Heep and his own solo material which will ensure that the memory and music of David Byron lives on.

 

Taken from the CD, "On the Rocks" sleeve notes by Mark Brennan Edited by Joe Doran Other sources : Private letter from David Byron, German and Dutch Magazines, New Musical Express UK. 1975 -1976 Pictures by