A few months ago, Judas Priest announced their last tour which provoked the usual reactions varying from disappointment to conspiracy theories such as “it’s for the money, they will get back together in another five years and fill up their pockets”. Of course it is absolutely horrible when a band reforms and completely immoral or even criminal when they change their minds. Either way, Ian Hill was clear as crystal about the whole thing dismembering any further accusations: this is only the end for long tours; there will be other tours and other albums. Above all, you must never say never: "A couple of months after this last tour, we’ll probably all be bored stiff and want to go out and do it again". With the bassist we discussed how the future of the band was perceived.
Of course, we also asked him about the situation with K.K. Downing who confusingly left the band the second the ultimate tour was announced. After forty years, why was he unable to attend the last series of concerts?
Ian Hill was kind enough to answer these questions and more with great honesty.
" We’re all getting old; and not just us, but the people around us as well. You have ailing parents and family members, and you never know what’s gonna happen with them. And of course, you’re missing your kids growing up in all this business, and you realize they’ve been waiting for you for the past forty years! (laughs)"
Radio Metal : The first question is completely cliché, and impossible to answer, but I could not resist: you’re the oldest member of Judas Priest, the last founding member. If you had to summarize your 40-year-long career in one word, what would it be?
Ian Hill (bass) : Enjoyable! (laughs)
And why’s that?
For the most part, I enjoyed it, and I still do. I enjoy the music, the playing; I enjoy travelling, the places we see, the people we meet, the fans. It’s just been a very, very enjoyable experience. Difficult, but enjoyable.
The reception of your latest album, Nostradamus, was lukewarm. Looking back, what do you think of this album?
Yes, it was a completely different direction for us. It was always going to be completely different, we knew that before we started. But it’s something that has been discussed many times over the years, a concept album. For one reason or another, we never had the time or the money to contemplate doing it! (laughs) But this time around, we did. The record company, the management, everyone was fully behind us, you know. We decided to give it a go. We’d just come back with a great album, Angel Of Retribution, Rob had rejoined the band, and we were discussing where to go after that. Like I said, the idea of a concept album came up. It went from there, really. It’s funny, because Nostradamus is a heavy metal album. All the songs on that album are all based around a heavy metal sound. It’s obviously orchestrated, but the phrasing, the music, the scales are all heavy metal, really. But then again, it was something we know was always going to be completely different. We were proved right! (laughs)
Will your next album be the last?
We don’t know at the moment. Possibly. But we’ll probably carry on. We’re back on track with the new album: it’s a typical, traditional Priest heavy metal album. We’re carrying on where Angel Of Retribution left off, we’ve come from there. It’s a long way to go. We’ve finished three tracks, near enough. We’re now of course going on tour, and we plan to finish the record in late winter, probably next year. It will probably be completed just before the summer.
When you decide to do a very last album, how do you think you will end your career? Do you think it will be a very classic album, or maybe one last experimentation?
If we ever do a last album! (laughs) We never know. We’ve just had eighteen months off, and after two months I was bored stiff, you know. (laughs) So you never know if it will be the last album. But if it is the last album, it’s going to be a classic Priest heavy metal album. You can’t do a concept album, really, or an experiment as a final farewell. It has to be something that people will recognize as something typical of what you’ve been about for the last forty years. If it is the last album, it’s already shaping up to a traditional Priest album.
Why did you decide to stop touring? Is your body starting to send you warning signals?
(laughs) You always feel fine until you get up in the morning and only get the two inches! (laughs) No, I think it’s just from a time point of view. We are getting old, and this tour is gonna take two years for the best part thereof. You’ve got to ask yourself how many more two years you have left. It’s probably going to be the last tour, but at the end of this tour, we are not going to hang up the instruments. I just don’t think we’re gonna be doing the great big tours that we’ve always done – like I said, two years. If somebody comes along and asks us to do a string of festivals in Europe, or a few gigs here and there, and that’s gonna take a few months, well yeah, OK, we’ll do that. But I don’t think we’ll be doing it all at the same time! (laughs)
So you don’t want to die on stage, like Lemmy?
Yeah, Lemmy just keeps going, I don’t think he’s had a day off for about 15 years! (laughs) He just keeps going. Good luck to him. But like I said, it’s early days. And a couple of months after this last tour, we’ll probably all be bored stiff and want to go out and do it again. But we’ll have to wait and see. You never know what lies in the future. You can make plans, but they don’t always come off.
Do you consider giving up the band for good in a few years?
I don’t think so, no. Like I said, I think Judas Priest will continue. There’s a lot of work to do when you’re not playing. There’s no reason why there shouldn’t be other records or other projects. There’s no reason why there shouldn’t be an unplugged. I don’t know, maybe something on my own, maybe somebody will do something else… You never know. It will depend on the time, on motivation, on money too, of course.
Rock musicians have an incomparable relationship to the stage. It’s hard to imagine a metal or hard rock band releasing albums without going on stage. Isn’t it going to be a little strange for you?
(laughs) Yes, you’re absolutely right. Yes, it would. And if we do another album, we’ll have to go out and play somewhere, or at least it support it one way or another. But it’s early days. We’re planning a farewell tour, but it might not happen and we’ll keep on going the same as Lemmy, you know! (laughs)
That kind of decision to stop one’s career, to go on a last tour, generates a lot of criticism from the general public, who just don’t believe those declarations anymore. Many bands decided to go back on their decision. Why would it be different for you?
I don’t know. It probably wouldn’t be, really. I’m sure people say in all earnesty: “This will be the last major tour that we do”. But as I’ve said before, if someone comes up and there’s something special we can do in the future, we will more than likely do it. We don’t really want to go away for two years at a stretch any more. We’re all getting old; and not just us, but the people around us as well. You have ailing parents and family members, and you never know what’s gonna happen with them. And of course, you’re missing your kids growing up in all this business, and you realize they’ve been waiting for you for the past forty years! (laughs) So we earnestly believe this will be our last mighty tour, but you can never say never. There’s many bands you could mention that have fallen for it, and I’m sure they all said it in earnest. They’re not trying to squeeze out an extra bit of attention, they’re just telling people: “This might be the last chance you get to come and see the band”.
Apparently you have planned to play a song from each album. Correct me if I’m wrong…
That’s right, yes.
Does that include the Rocka Rolla album or the albums with Tim Owens ?
Not the Tim Owens albums. It would be a fit unfair to ask Rob to sing on those records. But yeah, there’ll be something from Rocka Rolla, something from Sad Wings and onwards.
Have you invited some guests, like Al Atkins or Tim Owens, or do you plan to do it?
Not yet! (laughs) But good idea! I can’t see it happening, to be honest. Who knows? Al doesn’t do a great deal these days. Tim, you never know. He pops up from time to time. He might walk on stage and sing with Rob. You never know. Good idea! (laughs)
If you do it, I want the credit for the idea!
OK, no problem! (laughs)
You just said you can’t see it happening. Why?
(very long hesitation) It’s something that you can’t really… It’s difficult. You never know if people will do it, for a start. And if you do it once, if you arrange it once, you don’t know if it’s going to work. If it happens at all, it will have to be spontaneous. You can’t take people on tour with you just to do one or two songs, for example! (laughs) They’ll probably get bored very quickly, and they’ll probably want to be doing something on their own. If anything like that ever happened, it would have to be spontaneous. People have to be there at the right place at the right time, and everybody’ll have to be in the right mood. It might possibly happen, but other than that, it’s not going to be arranged.
"I think Ken’s genuinely not interested in touring. He was the one member of the band who wasn’t particularly enjoying the tours. [...] I think Ken was having a problem with it, probably on the last tour. I just don’t think he liked the idea of doing it again, you know? So he’s decided to retire."
Will KK Downing join you for some dates, despite his recent departure?
I doubt that as well. I think Ken’s genuinely not interested in touring. He was the one member of the band who wasn’t particularly enjoying the tours. The rest of us genuinely enjoy it; I enjoy the playing, I enjoy the people, I enjoy the travelling, the places you see… And of course the fans. I enjoy all of that. I think Ken was having a problem with it, probably on the last tour. I just don’t think he liked the idea of doing it again, you know? So he’s decided to retire.
KK Downing was one of the oldest members of the band. He announced his departure just before this last tour. Downing said: “There has been an ongoing breakdown in working relationship between myself, elements of the band, and the band’s management for some time”. What is he talking about? Was there any tensions within the band?
(laughs) That happens all the time! I think it might have been the last thing that pushed him into retirement. We’ve always had disagreements in the band; everybody argues. Nobody agrees with everything all of the time. In times gone by, we’ve been able to sort it out. One way or another, we’ve carried on. I guess if Ken wasn’t feeling the way he was, we would have sorted this one out as well. I know that thought. We’ll carry on with that the best we can.
I mean, you’re not a young band that’s just started its career, you’ve known one another for forty years. How is that possible that, after those forty years, he did not want to do this one last tour with you? That’s weird! The fans were particularly puzzled that he did not want to conclude that long story with you.
Tell us about it! (laughs) We did everything and anything to try and get him to change his mind. And he was adamant. Whether there’s an underlying problem behind that, I doubt, though. But all the arguments you’ve come up with, we’ve gone through with him. We came up with them ourselves and put it to him. But he’s still adamant he’s had enough. We’ll respect that, and like I said, we’ll get on.
His decision was taken before Christmas, apparently. Why did he wait so long to announce it?
Again, we were convinced that we could change his mind. We couldn’t tell everybody he wasn’t going to do the tour! So we just left it as light as we could. We left him as much time as possible to change his mind, and he didn’t do it. So we went ahead and found a superb replacement in Richie Faulkner. There’ll be nothing missing from the shows whatsoever.
Can you tell us something about Richie Faulkner, the guitarist you hired to replace him?
He’s recently been playing with Lauren Harris, who is Steve Harris’s daughter. It’s the thing he’s most famous for, but obviously he’s been playing in other bands over the years. He was mentioned by a mutual friend, his name is Paul Forward. We listened to his new material that he had, and he sent us some additional material. He came over and met us. Of course, Glenn is the major person who will have to work with him, being the other guitarist in the band. He got the set nailed, probably better than we ever did ourselves! (laughs) So he just stepped straight in.
(NDLR: about Richie Faulkner)"we’re gonna have to try and keep up with him. I’m sure it’ll be a bit strange. I mean, my son is the same age as him! (laughs) But even if we are in our late fifties or early sixties, we don’t act like that. We act like a bunch of twenty-somethings all the time – which is probably why we’re still able to do what we do for a living! "
How does he live this situation? Doesn’t he fear to be judged severely by the band’s fans, since KK Downing was an emblematic member?
I’m sure he will. I’m sure he will be judged. But we have absolutely no worries whatsoever about what the outcome of the judging will be. Like I said, he can play, and he’s got his own techniques as well, which he will show off on tour. I don’t think the fans will be missing a great deal. Obviously, it won’t be Ken, but from a musical point of view, there’ll be nothing missing whatsoever. Maybe it will be even enhanced.
Won’t he feel out of step with the others, since he’s a young musician and you’re a forty-year-old emblematic band?
Tell us about it! (laughs) Yes, we’re gonna have to try and keep up with him. I’m sure it’ll be a bit strange. I mean, my son is the same age as him! (laughs) But even if we are in our late fifties or early sixties, we don’t act like that. We act like a bunch of twenty-somethings all the time – which is probably why we’re still able to do what we do for a living! We still have that youthful outlook and everything. He’s got nothing to worry about, he’s being made feel very welcome.
How will you close that tour? Do you have something planned for the very last gig?
Not yet, no. But there will be something. It’s a long way away, the very last show will be sometime next year. What it’s gonna be, we don’t know yet. We’re still planning the shows to come! But yeah, we’ll probably get something special together for everybody.
Interview conducted by phone in April (27), 2011.
Transcription : Saff
JUDAS PRIEST Website : www.judaspriest.com
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