Trevor Bolder – A Great British Bass Player

It was a tragic loss to rock music when Uriah Heep’s bass player Trevor Bolder passed away in May 2013 after a brave battle against pancreatic cancer. For me Trevor was one of the greatest players of our generation, but at the same time he was almost criminally underrated outside of the rock fraternity.

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If you are not familiar with Trevor’s bass playing then I suggest that you stop reading now and go and listen to the driving ‘Watch That Man’ (Aladdin Sane – David Bowie), the fast rock’n’roll of ‘Hang On to Yourself’ (Ziggy Stardust – David Bowie) or the sublime, flowing lines in ‘Drive-In Saturday’ (also Aladdin Sane – David Bowie).

Tracks to listen to from his long career with Uriah Heep are really too numerous to list; but at least check these out –

‘The Wizard’ (the new version from Celebration)

‘Love In Silence’ (Sea of Light)

‘Shelter From The Rain’ (Sonic Origami)

‘Wise Man’ (Firefly)

‘Shadow’ (Wake The Sleeper)

A true Bass Great.

Early Years

Trevor Bolder was born on 9th June 1950 into a musical family. His father was a trumpet player, his brother was a guitarist and he was the nephew of an opera singer. Bolder said during an interview in 2003 that in his family “if you weren’t a musician, then you were a failure!” Bolder took up the cornet at the age of seven, and performed with local brass bands during his adolescence.

During his early teens Bolder saw the Beatles shoot to stardom so he and his brother bought two guitars. He later said “We needed a bass player, but he didn’t want to play bass, so it was down to me to learn and play it, and I bought me a bass”.

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Bolder began his professional musical career with the Rats along with Mick Ronson on lead guitar. He once bragged that he never played in a pop band, preferring the blues and rock instead. Bolder idolized the early blues players of the 1930s and 1940s such as Sonny Boy Williamson. Another influence on him was Jack Bruce who he had seen performing in Hull prior to the formation of Cream.

Trevor Bolder’s own musical style combined hard rock with harmony and melody. He played a heavier-style of bass, moving faster and harder than others of his era. Other critics described Bolder’s bass as unique, musical and showing shades of punk rock. The musical nature of his bass playing drove the great songs of Uriah Heep and the other bands he joined. Interestingly, Bolder could also play any brass instrument thanks to his early training on the trumpet and cornet. Bolder’s bass playing was marked by runs and flourishes, root notes and a lyrical yet driving thrust. He enjoyed making his bass playing have an edge with a melodic feel.

Guitar slinging also became a trademark of the Bolder style of bass playing. He claimed he did it all the time, and that it was not a planned event. Bolder said of the antics, “It’s just aggression, it’s just feel, it comes with the playing. It’s just part of it, part of the way I play.”

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Bolder joined the backup band for David Bowie in 1971, playing on four studio albums and appearing in the 1973 film and concert movie Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Multiple observers noted that Bolder never appeared comfortable in the latex and glitter rainbow-colored outfits and platform boots that were the standards for the Bowie “Ziggy Stardust” era. Bolder and the other Spiders were dismissed on stage by Bowie in 1973.

Uriah Heep claimed Bolder in 1976 when he replaced John Wetton. His first album was Firefly and he stayed with them for over three decades, apart from a brief interlude as bassist for the hard rock band Wishbone Ash. While with Heep, Bolder played bass and sang backup vocals along with songwriting and producing their 1991 album Different World.

When the Uriah Heep line up disbanded after the Conquest album, Bolder and Mick Box (the founder and guitarist) were all that remained. Attempts to form a new Heep line up were held up and Bolder decided to join Wishbone Ash in 1981 as their bass player. Coincidentally he replaced John Wetton once again. He stayed with them for two years before returning to a reconstituted Heep.

Bolder said in an interview in 2012 about his time in Uriah Heep “I have been friends with Mick Box for many years and we are just like brothers. We were born on the same day and seem to have a bond where we have the same thoughts. Uriah Heep is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. We have toured the world, playing at many different venues and achieved accolades that many big bands never achieve.”

Later, in addition to playing with Heep until shortly before his death, Bolder teamed up with Billy Rankin, Phil Lanzon, and Joe Elliott from Def Leppard as The Cybernauts. They performed as a tribute to Mick Ronson. The group staged five concerts in addition to the Ronson tribute shows while Heep was on hiatus.

Bolder always enjoyed writing rock songs as well as ballads. He stated, “I just sit down and plonk away on a guitar and see what comes out.” It was clear that ballads brought out the more romantic and lyrical person within Bolder.

After his death, tributes rolled in from Bowie, Heep and legions of fans and fellow musicians. Praise included a statement from David Bowie that Bolder was a “wonderful musician and a major inspiration for whatever band he was working with. But he was foremostly a tremendous guy, a great man.” Others noted that Bolder was “an all time great” and “one of the outstanding musicians of his generation.” One world-renowned producer raved that Bolder was “one of the finest and most influential bass players that Britain ever produced. His virtuosity and enthusiasm for the music made him a world-class bass player, singer and songwriter.”

Charles Shaar Murray, the renowned music journalist, said “Like all great musicians, he took the playing seriously and himself considerably less so”.

Mick Box said “Trevor was a ‘World Class’ bass player, singer & songwriter, and more importantly a World Class friend. He will be sadly missed by family, friends and rock fans all over the world” and Midge Ure stated that “Trevor was not only an incredibly tasteful and melodic bass player, as demonstrated on the Ziggy Stardust album but more importantly he was a great, down to earth man. He was ‘one of the good guys’ and that is an accolade only people who knew him could bestow”.

Fitting tributes indeed.

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3 thoughts on “Trevor Bolder – A Great British Bass Player

  1. Larry Leek

    Loved your article on Trevor Bolder & I agree w/ you, that Trevor was one of the Greatest bassist of our time & just like the band themselves, tragically under rated. His gifts to music & the band,over the years are priceless. Uriah Heep has always been MY favorite band, every since their debut album (Very Eavy…Very Umble), or the Dragon Album as I’ve always called it, because of the album cover that was released in the states. To me Trevor was the hero that stepped RIGHT IN & filled Gary Thain’s shoes after he was electrocuted on stage & unable to return. Trevor may well be the main reason why the band has endured & continued ROCKING for now over 40 years. Who knows how many bassist it would have taken to find one that could step right in & who would in the end, last WAY LONGER than most of the original members. To ME Trevor IS & always WILL be one of the original’s, After hearing him debut on the firefly album & again on Innocent Victim, I knew the band had found THEIR bass player, after John Wetton’s brief stint w/ UH. Now we fast forward to June 6th, 2014 &The band’s release of yet another studio album (their 24th) Dave Rimmer is now the new bassist (Thanks Dave). But had it not been for Trevor Dave may have never gotten the oppourtunity. To Me Trevor will always be remembered as the glue that stepped in & kept the band together, what seems so long ago now back in 1976, when @ that time it seemed the band may reaching the end of their journey, So in a sense Trevor’s spirit still lives on in the soon to be released Outsider….for had he not came along when he did who knows….RIP Trevor & from this old Heep fan, Thanks.

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  2. Peter Kenyon

    There was no other player like Trevor. He told me a few funnies over the years I knew him as friends. Like smacking himself in the nose, whilst throwing his bass during July Morning on stage. He carried on with a bloody nose!!

    Think the Cybernauts info is in- correct as the line up was Dick Decent, Woody Woodmansey, Phil Cohen, Joe Elliott and Trevor Bolder from Memory.. I have a feeling that others may have played (Phil) but not 100% sure. (sorry if spellings wrong)
    Anyway, great article

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