Interview with bassist Ian Hill
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: June 19, 2018
People have been speculating for years when Judas Priest plans to retire as they have been going for so long, almost five full decades. The question is why retire if you can still deliver your goods? And Judas Priest do.
The band's 19th studio album, Firepower, speaks to no sign of retirement, fueled by an enormous amount of energy and a determination to show everyone the band still sounds relevant today. Judas Priest is like a rollin' stone (no pun intended) that just keeps on going, charmingly ageing year after year, but that doesn't seem to be stopping them.
The band started the European leg of their world tour in Norway's capital Oslo where they played at Spektrum Arena, on June 5th and a couple of days after that, the Priest caravan reached Finnish soil where they were one of the headliners of the 4-day festival named Rockfest, Hyvinkää (a small town located in the Uusimaa region, approximately 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of the capital Helsinki).
Just before Priest took their place on the main stage, The Metal Crypt had a very special opportunity to meet and chat with one of the founding members of the band, bassist Ian Hill. Mr. Hill kindly gave a brief update as to what's currently going on in the band, what he remembered from the band's very first visits to Finland (in 1976 and 1986), Andy Sneap taking Glenn Tipton's place in the band, plus cutting down all the rumours of Priest retiring any time soon.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome Ian Hill.
IN THE LAND OF A THOUSAND LAKES, IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE
Luxi: First off, I think it's appropriate to say welcome to Finland, Ian.
Ian: Thank you very much.
Luxi: You have been in Finland quite a few times during Judas Priest's history. The band's first live appearance in Finland was almost 42 years ago, on June 25, 1976, when you played at a festival in Saarijärvi. The festival was called Midsummer Special. Did playing there leave anything special in your memory bank?
Ian: I can remember some of it, yes. We flew in, did the gig, we flew out the next day. We didn't get a great deal of time. It was the first time any of us had experienced all night sunshine, you know. We had never seen that. I remember the flight as well, we rented an old piston engine cargo plane from the last war [*laughs*]. That was a bit of a trip as well. I think there was that, ourselves, Caravan and I think it was Climax Blues Band.
All of which were British bands. We were playing on the show. I think the promoters had rented the aircraft. I remember that very, very well. We were basically in the middle of nowhere. We landed in the middle of nowhere, went up to the stage and we played well, did a good gig. We didn't get any sleep, flew back the next morning. It really was a whirlwind. We enjoyed it a lot.
Luxi: What about the audience? I suppose those people weren't too familiar with the band in 1976?
Ian: Yes, we were just getting going as well. We were on our second album, I think. On a very small label so we weren't that well-known outside of Britain really. We were just making our way, not just here but in Europe as well. We'd been across a few times and we were building. That's what we did, we didn't happen overnight. We did it slowly and took it from there.
Luxi: My personal introduction to Judas Priest's live show happened 10 years later when you played at Helsinki Ice Hall on October 29, 1986 with Germany's Warlock supporting you. Back then you were on your "Fuel for Life" tour. Can you remember how you were welcomed to our country back then?
Ian: Yes, I'm trying to remember that. I do remember that, yes. It's a long time ago, though. But I remember we were having a very good time, actually. We stayed in Helsinki. My ex-wife came out with my son and we did a bit of sightseeing. Walked around Helsinki, did a bit of shopping. The usual tourist stuff, you know? Enjoyed it thoroughly.
I think we travelled everywhere by train and that was a great way to do it. Rob and myself, we just said, "Let's do it by train just for something different". That's what we did, and it was a great experience.
THE TURBO TIMES
Luxi: At that time, Judas Priest had opted a softer, more commercial sound and the band's image was closer to Mötley Crüe's than let's say, Black Sabbath's. What are your thoughts about this?
Ian: It was an experimental album. Let's just say the reception it got was divisive. Some people loved it, some people didn't. The older fans didn't like it, but it made us a whole lot of new ones who did like it. It was only ever going to be a dead end, I think. That sound, the synth guitars. We carried on some time afterwards when we played songs live from that album, we took the guitar synths with us. We went back on track and we ran it down. We went for a harder edge with that and that was a good bridge straight into Painkiller.
Luxi: You were on CBS back then, so I was just wondering how much those people working at the label and your management had to do with trying to fit the band into a more commercial mold?
Ian: Well, we've actually been lucky with CBS. We're still with them now under the Sony name. It's still the same company. We were very fortunate with them. It was back in the day when they knew they'd make money out of you sooner or later. That was how they looked at it. They looked upon us as a long-term investment and pretty much left us alone. I don't think anybody at the label really understood Heavy Metal music, so they couldn't really tell us whether we were going wrong or not [*laughs*].
They stood with us. Whatever we wanted to do. After the first couple of albums, there were no time constraints. They weren't breathing down our necks, "Where's the next album?" and all that business. They just let us get on with it. Apart from when Rob did his own thing and we had Ripper (aka Tim Owens) in the band. We had a different record contract with a different company then. We've been with them all the time, since about 1976 when we signed to CBS.
ALL GOOD THINGS COME TO END... BUT NOT YET
Luxi: Let's talk about this ongoing tour. There's speculation this is supposed to be Priest's last extensive world tour. So, a straight question; is this Priest's last tour?
Ian: No. It was never intended to be the last tour. We are out supporting a new record.
We did try to slow down a couple of tours ago and that didn't happen. We just miss it too much. We enjoy doing it, as long as we are capable of doing it. I'm not talking about hobbling around in wheelchairs, I'm talking about putting on quality show. As long as we are still capable of doing that, there's no reason not to do it. We've got Richie now, who's young as well. He's got a great future beyond Judas Priest.
When the time does come, it will come inevitably. When that will be, perhaps, two years, three years, five years, who knows? We'll keep it going as long as we can because we love it so much.
Luxi: As for sadder things in life, Glenn Tipton was diagnosed with Parkinson's in February this year and he had to step down from the touring activities of Priest. Andy Sneap was chosen to take his role in the touring line-up as a second guitarist. Was Andy your obvious choice to tour with the band or did you also have some other guitar candidates in mind to fill Glenn's boots?
Ian: Andy was in a good place because we'd just spent months with him doing the new record. He was very familiar with the new material, with the structures of the songs and where that'd be going which is important when you're trying to learn anything. If you know the song before you try and learn it, it comes... Well, nothing's easy but it's not too difficult. On top of that, he's been a fan of the band as well, for years.
He's been listening to our material, so it came easier to him than it would probably have to somebody else who came in blind. They would have had a tougher time. He pulled a rabbit out of the hat really. Within two weeks, he got the set together. He's doing a tremendous job at the moment. Now, after the first couple of weeks of the American tour which started in February, March, he's now more comfortable on stage as well. He's got his own stage persona and what have you. We're working very well with Andy at the moment.
ANDY'S TRIAL BY FIRE
Luxi: How was it for Andy to learn all these songs? He had to learn like 20 songs, all in all, just to be able to perform with the band live. Did he feel the pressure?
Ian: I'm sure he was nervous. I'm sure he was. He's a professional man and he wouldn't do anything unless he did it properly. Like I said, he put his mind to it. He's a very talented bloke. Like I said, he got the set together within two weeks. We've been throwing curve balls at him ever since. We've been adding songs and dropping songs, new ones. It's been a bit of a learning curve for all of us in that respect. It's songs on a new record, and obviously, you're familiar with them but not played them live on stage. He's done well. He's done really, really well.
Luxi: I am glad to hear that. As for this new Priest album, Firepower, it is the band's 19th studio album and is all around an excellent Priest album in my opinion. It really brings out that classic Priest sound that so many of us love. When you started composing songs for this record, was one of your goals to make the kind of songs that were more straight-to-the-point, shorter and including the essence of that classic, old Priest sound that could make people to say, "Holy shit, this album sounds like the classic era of Priest", or something along those lines...
Ian: I don't think we started out different from the way we always do. Richie and Glenn got their guitar pieces together, record sequences and rifts and what have you. They get their heads together and pull their ideas and just go from there. I don't think there's any conscious effort to make retro or otherwise. We just went for it. After they've got their song structures together that's when I'll get a copy of it. Then Scott will get a copy to put our bass lines and drum patterns together, then we get in a studio. As soon as I heard it, I knew it was going to be a strong album. The material was extremely strong. We also had a great production team with Tom Allom and Andy Sneap and great engineering by Mike Exeter and it turned out really great. It's a phenomenal album even I say so myself.
Luxi: I have to agree the album's very strong. Even the album cover sort of reminds me of an updated, more modern version of the Screaming for Vengeance album. Did you want the album's cover to reflect the old times when you recorded Screaming or Defenders of the Faith?
Ian: Yes. (The artist is) a friend of Richie's actually. We've been using a guy called Tom Wilkinson. He's a very intricate artist, very detailed. His artwork is superb, it really is. But as soon as we saw this idea that (Ritchie's friend had) and it was just so raw, so straight in your face and comparatively simple, we thought that's just us. That's it. That's brilliant so we took it on.
Luxi: I was just wondering if you have some leftover stuff from the Firepower sessions that could be used for some future Priest release?
Ian: There's a few ideas leftover, yes. They'll come out sooner or later. I don't know when it'll be, and I don't know what shape it'll be but I'm sure they'll come out sooner or later, one way or another.
THE FUTURE IS STILL UNWRITTEN
Luxi: My time is pretty much up, but I still have a couple of quick questions for you. What about the future of Judas Priest? Do you see Judas Priest as more like a studio recording band in the future or a live band that goes out on tour every time you release a new album?
Ian: Yes. I think we all regard ourselves these days to be more of a touring band than an album band. There's no reason why there shouldn't be another album but there's no reason why there shouldn't be another tour either. There'll probably be another cycle come along in a few years' time. We'll see where we stand at that time then. We still have 18 months of this to go yet and we'll see where we stand after that.
Luxi: Priest were one of the first bands that really coined the whole New Wave of British Heavy Metal thing, the term describing a sort of new sound that was invented within Heavy Rock or Metal in those days. What does the concept NWoBHM mean to you?
Ian: [*chuckles*] I don't know.
Luxi: Do you think it's just a term that media came up with back in the day, just to find a new and fancy terminology for bands like Maiden, Priest, or Saxon for example?
Ian: It probably was. I think that Heavy Metal got popular, not just here, it got popular everywhere. A lot of bands started popping up in England and Britain, amongst a lot of other places. Somebody coined it the new wave of Heavy Metal, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and it stuck [*chuckles*]. But it was popping up in other places too, I could give you a whole lot of other places.
Luxi:OK. One more question and then we're done.
Ian: OK, just go ahead [*laughs*]
Luxi: Is there still something that you would like to achieve with Judas Priest in your life?
Ian: A Grammy would be nice. A Grammy for the album, that would go down a storm.
Luxi: Now that's a perfect answer to my last question.
Luxi: I will let you go now. Thank you very much for your time, Ian.
Ian: Thank you, too. It's been a pleasure.
|Other information about Judas Priest on this site|
|Review: Classic Albums: Judas Priest: British Steel|
|Review: Sin After Sin|
|Review: Screaming For Vengeance|
|Review: Defenders Of The Faith|
|Review: Live in London|
|Review: Live in London|
|Review: Ram It Down|
|Review: Electric Eye|
|Review: Sad Wings of Destiny|
|Review: Angel of Retribution|
|Review: Angel of Retribution|
|Review: Live Vengeance '82|
|Review: Rising in the East|
|Review: Stained Class|
|Review: Redeemer of Souls|
|Review: Redeemer of Souls Tour|
|Review: British Steel|
|Review: Hell Bent for Leather|
|Review: Screaming For Vengeance|
|Video: Breaking the Law|
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