If big-time rock bands had a dime for every time one of them went on a “final” tour, maybe they could actually afford to stop going on tour.
This year, Judas Priest joined the ranks when the group announced that its Epitaph world tour would be its last. Sort of.
“This tour at the moment is open-ended, but it will be the last time some of our fans get to see us perform in their hometowns,” bassist Ian Hill said. “It won’t be the last time we go out, but it’ll be more concise, more compact.”
So take note, metalheads. Judas Priest’s lineup for the tour consists of lead singer Rob Halford, guitarists Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner, bassist Hill (the lone remaining group member who has been there since day one in 1970) and drummer Scott Travis.
In a telephone interview, Hill said fans can expect to hear something from each of the group’s albums.
The group’s discography includes 16 studio records, six live albums and a six compilations, including last month’s “The Chosen Few.” The greatest-hits collection features songs picked by famous fans of the band, including “Breaking the Law” (chosen by Lemmy of Motörhead), “Living After Midnight” (Alice Cooper) and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” (Klaus Meine of Scorpions and Corey Taylor of Slipknot).
In a recent telephone interview, Hill talked about the tour, the band’s music and what it was like to record in the studio that John Lennon built.
Q: How do you go about picking a set list for a tour?
A: It’s an absolute nightmare. It got to the point where we couldn’t drop any more — generally, you put a new song in and you have to drop somebody’s favorite. This time, we just could not do it. So we had to keep adding. The net result is that the set now is approaching 1 1/2 hours long. I think it’s more than we’ve ever played.
Q: Was there ever a tension in the band about the balance between doom-metal songs — “Island of Domination,” “Dissident Aggressor” — versus the more radio-friendly hits? Did you ever feel pressure to move more in one direction or the other?
A: We’ve been pretty lucky in that regard. From time to time, the record company would come along and suggest things. We’d always have a look at them — they’re not a successful record company for nothing.
We’ve always listened to what they’re saying, and they came up with some great ideas: Fleetwood Mac’s “The Green Manalishi” and (Joan Baez’s) “Diamonds & Rust” were both ideas from the record company. But, generally, they’re pretty hands-off, and they’ll just go along with what we do best.
Q: You and K.K. Downing were the founding members of the group — was it difficult when he announced his departure earlier this year?
A: Of course, yeah. Ken has obviously been a huge part of the band for the last 40-odd years. When he announced his retirement, it was a real body blow to all of us. We kept it quiet for a long time because we were convinced we could get him to change his mind.
Richie (Faulkner) knew for about a month that if Ken did leave, he was going to replace him. But we asked him not to say anything, because if we announce Ken’s retirement and then he comes back to the band, we’d look like a bunch of fools. But he kept quiet, bless him. He must have been bursting to tell someone.
Q: “British Steel” was produced in a time of social upheaval in the U.K., with clashes between the Thatcher government and unions, between coal miners and the police. Do hard times make for better music?
A: You’re probably influenced, even in a subconscious way, by what’s going on around you. We were from a very industrial area — it was all very smoky with soot everywhere — of course, you’re going to be influenced by that.
And during the late ’70s and early ’80s, there were miners’ strikes, steel strikes; everybody seemed to be on strike. Undoubtedly, some of that would have rubbed off.
Q: Does where a band record affect the way the music turns out — having nice surroundings versus working in a dingy studio earlier in one’s career?
A: The first album we did, we were on the graveyard shift. We booked it from dusk ’til dawn — it was the cheapest time. We were sleeping in a van outside. Of course, time’s short. You maybe rush things and let things go that you’re not particularly happy with.
When you’ve got great surroundings, your time’s your own, your schedule’s your own. Pressure is off to a certain degree, and you can concentrate on getting things absolutely perfect.
We’ve always been a band that liked to live somewhere in the complex of where we’re recording. Commuting to a central city studio is just a drag, really. Too much like a job.
Q: I understand that “British Steel” was created in a house that John Lennon once lived in.
A: That’s right. John Lennon bought it, Tittenhurst Park in Ascot. He sold it on to Ringo (Starr), but John was the one who put the studio there. Ringo was living in Switzerland, I believe, and the place was pretty much empty, so he had the idea of letting other bands in there as a commercial studio.
Brilliant, incredibly elegant surroundings — it was a big Georgian mansion with acres and acres of woodland and parkland. It was a really wonderful place to make music. The recording possibilities — there were different rooms you could try: stairwells and tunnels and cellars to put your amplifiers and microphones.
One of the spookier moments was — Lennon was murdered not long before we started recording there. Do you remember the “Imagine” video? Lennon is at a big white piano, and Yoko is opening these curtains in this room. This video came on and we were sitting in the room. There wasn’t one of us that didn’t turn around and expect to see Yoko opening the curtains.