Metal is on the menu as the Priest Feast tour thunders into Birmingham. Andy Coleman speaks to Judas Priest guitarist Glenn Tipton.
A big year for the Midland metal gods
You don’t need to be Nostradamus to predict that heavy metal will continue to be a force to be reckoned with throughout 2009, thanks to tours by the likes of Metallica, AC/DC and the West Midlands' own Judas Priest.
Priest play Birmingham’s LG Arena at the National Exhibition Centre with Megadeth and Testament on February 14 under the banner of ‘Priest Feast’ and they will be performing tracks from their new double concept album, Nostradamus. It’s an ambitious project, running to over 100 minutes of music.
‘‘We’d talked about a concept album on many occasions and it was our manager who suggested Nostradamus,’’ reveals 61-year-old guitarist Glenn Tipton.
‘‘We looked into it and it wasn’t so much his predictions that interested us, it was this guy’s life.
‘‘It was full of tragedy: he lost his wife and daughters in the plague, the church came after him and exiled him from France. Then he built a new life and a new love.
‘‘That, combined with his alchemy and prophecies, just led to a great story. It inspired us and we started to write.’’
Blackheath-born Glenn adds that the actual composition came easily. ‘‘Before we knew it, we’d got enough for two albums and we felt we needed that to tell the story, chronologically, lyrically and musically,” he said.
‘‘The composition was fairly prolific because we were quite inspired by it. You’ve got the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, you’ve got famine, death, plague – they were dramatic sections and quite easy to write.
‘‘We composed quite a bit of it on keyboards, which is unusual for us, to give it a different slant, a different angle, then transposed it to guitar.
‘‘We just wrote and wrote and wrote and started to put the pieces together. It was that which took the time.
‘‘The ideas flooded out of us but to try to get it to run smoothly and flow into each other and tell the story from beginning to end, that’s what took the time. It was quite tricky to make it all work but it was enjoyable, as well.’’
The Birmingham gig will feature just a flavour of the album, says Glenn, who lives in Worcestershire.
‘‘The intro tape to the show will be from the album Dawn Of Creation then Prophecy and Death and our playout will be the title track.
‘‘Our ambition is for late this year or early next year to perform Nostradamus in its entirety, when everyone’s got used to it and they all know it.
‘‘Obviously, there will be quite a lot of production rehearsals as well and once we’ve done that, we’d love to go out and play it in its entirety. We’ll certainly pick some special venues. We’d like to make an event of it.’’
Judas Priest have been at the forefront of the metal scene for many years. They formed in 1969, with guitarist KK Downing and bass player Ian Hill, both from West Bromwich, in that original line-up. Walsall-based vocalist Rob Halford joined
in 1973, joined in the following year by Glenn Tipton. Current drummer Scott Travis joined in 1989.
Halford left the band in 1991 and was replaced by former tribute-act vocalist Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens. In 2003 Halford reunited with his former bandmates, releasing the studio album Angel of Retribution in 2005.
‘‘It’s great to be back with Rob,’’ Glenn admits. ‘‘I won’t take anything away from Tim, he’s a fantastic guy, a great friend and a great singer.
‘‘He came in and did a wonderful job, a job no-one else in the world could have done, but, of course, at the end of the day, everyone wants the original line-up back.
‘‘The thing with Rob is that we are a great writing team together – myself and Ken [Downing] and Rob.
‘‘We are fortunate that there’s a great formula there and the five individual members of Priest have great character. It’s something you should never underestimate.
‘‘If you’re in a band, you can get a bit blasé as the years go by if you’ve had a certain amount of success, but it’s all down to the formula and character in that band. We’ve got a formula that works on a writing basis and a performing basis. That’s something very valuable and we appreciate that it’s so good to be in Judas Priest.’’
After 40 years, is the appetite for touring and playing still there?
‘‘We’ve still got the energy and enthusiasm,’’ says Glenn.
‘‘Travelling can definitely get you down sometimes, as can the dead time spent in airports or stuck in hotel rooms but every night, when we eventually set foot on stage, it’s just as exciting as it ever was.’’
This year could see the group return to the United States where they are still considered to be one of the biggest bands on the planet.‘
‘We did some long stints in America in the early days, some really gruelling tours.
“On one tour, we were out in Texas for nearly two months. They weren’t all big venues. We did some big shows supporting some other bands but a lot of those dates were club dates which eventually takes its toll.
‘‘But it’s what made the band successful over there. We were fortunate in that we weren’t just an East Coast band or a West Coast band like some, we were successful all over America.’’
* Judas Priest/Megadeth/Testament, February 14: LG Arena, NEC, Birmingham: £37.50 plus booking fee from 0844 33 88 000 or www.theticketfactory.com.