Judas Priest's Ian Hill: 'I must be West Brom's only Fan!"

Breaking the what?!

It’s always nice when you interview a musician who you admire and they turn out not to be a total dick. Thankfully Ian Hill, bassist and one of the founding member of Judas Priest, is polite, charming and a delight to interview. He’s at home in Staffordshire, having a well-deserved Christmas break after Priest’s recent tour of the states while I’m just about ready to suffocate from the humidity and evil night-time temperatures of Brisbane.

We kick off our chat with their 17th album, Redeemer of Souls (2014), and Ian is, quite rightly, ecstatic about it. “It’s working out great. It’s been very well received by the fans and press alike and we’re very proud of it. It’s doing very well – we’ve been playing songs off of it on tour and they’re going down very well – which is always a good sign.” He mentions the recent American tour and also points out that “We’re starting up again in February and going to Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea.” So the Priest will be here for Soundwave 2015 (fuck, yer!) before a quick jaunt around Asia then they’ll be back touring all round Europe. It’s easy to see that Ian and the rest of the band are still mad for touring as he elaborates “It’s why we do it. We don’t have to do it anymore and we don’t have to prove ourselves so when we go out on tour, we do it because we enjoy it. Obviously you have to play the fans favourites and you only get an hour and half set so you can only do a few new songs, I think we’re doing four from the new record and they’re all going down really well – there isn't that pregnant silence after you finish a new song with everyone looking at each other thinking ‘What the hell was that?’ so the new songs are going down really well. I think the internet’s probably got a lot to do with that, even those people that can’t afford to buy it legitimately; they’ll get it from somewhere, so everyone’s familiar with it these days.”

I've seen the band several times and mention seeing Priest in Brisbane (when they were fronted by Ripper Owens) a few years ago and we’re both slightly horrified that it turns out that it was more like twelve years ago. Ian suggests that perhaps “the Big Bang Theory has finished; we’ve finished expanding now and now it’s all starting to contract!” and we’re all plummeting towards our graves. We laugh heartily at the idea.

So what were your previous impressions of Australia? “It was brilliant; I think we were last down there in 2008 with Nostradamus. We always have a blast in Australia and we had some time off and had about a week on the Gold Coast and we had a great time there; splashing about in the ocean and going to all the clubs and bars, and the shows; the Australian fans are absolutely superb. They’re just as mad as we are so that helps! We love the place – it’s just a pity it’s so bleedin’ far away!”

Getting back to Redeemer of Souls, it’s the first album with Richie Faulkner recording and composing; he’s hardly a newbie, having joined the band in 2011, but how did that work out for the band? Ian is suitably impressed. “Obviously on the last tour, he was playing Ken’s (KK Downing) parts so he had his hands tied pretty much; he could veer off the track a little bit but essentially the fans are expecting Ken’s lead breaks and he was tied by that. But now, with the new album, his true self and character as a musician comes out and it’s brilliant – he can let himself go and express himself on stage as well as on the record. It’s been a real bonus for him and for us. What a find!” Indeed, Richie is a damned sweet fit and will definitely ensure that Judas Priest continues long in to the future.

We talk about the band’s formation, over 45 years ago, and Ian is still suitably amazed at their longevity. “It feels like a miracle at the moment! I think it keeps us young. I think if I stopped working, I’d go downhill quite quickly! When you’ve got something that you love to do – and we love to do it – it just gives you that enthusiasm and incentive and the buzz and the thrill, and if someone took that away, I think it would be a really sad time. I think we’re all terrified of not being able to do it!” It’s probably difficult, if not impossible to pick a golden moment from those 45 years but can you give it a go? “There have been lots of proud moments over the years; we’ve won this and that and gold albums here and platinum albums there but there’s nothing like the feeling when you your see your first album on the shelf. Way back in 1974 the only way you could listen to music was if you listened to the radio or if you went out and bought a record so walking into your local record store – which was Turners in Paradise Street in West Bromwich (he has a huge laugh at this recollection) - and there’s your album, sitting there with all the people that you’ve loved over the years; Cream, Hendrix, the Stones and the Beatles; they’re all up there and there’s your album amongst them! And you think to yourself ‘Jeez! We’ve made it! Whatever happens now, that’s never going away!’ – and that’s probably my proudest moment.”

We touch on how Ian learnt the bass; initially he was taught the double-bass by his jazz musician father but “I discovered the bass guitar and I found it that it was ultimately easier to play and went from there.” And he taught himself, taking his influences from Cream, Hendrix and the like. As a bass fiend, I suggest that bass doesn’t often get the prominence it deserves, as it can do so much more than just keep time. Ian is in agreement. “It can but often it’s the supporting actor; it’s not a lead instrument in the same way as a guitar or a keyboard – though in the early days I used to do a ten minute bass solo! Then there was a drum solo and a guitar solo and a harmonica solo for the vocalist! It got a bit tedious after a while; with all the solos there wouldn’t be enough time to finish any of the songs!” He laughs as he adds “But you know the old saying that the bass player and the drummer are there to make the guitar player look good…”

My time with Ian is almost over so I throw in a quick taunt about his love of the West Bromwich Albion football team and he laughs, saying he’s probably their only fan (I find this hard to believe as they’re currently sitting around 14th place in the Premier League – that in itself is just as hard to believe). We then have a quick rumination on the fragmentation of metal into its current state of four billion genres; regardless, we both conclude that there are some pretty sweet musicians out there and metal is in still in pretty good shape before I finish up by advising him to bring his hat and sunscreen in February because it’s going to be freaking hot. He tells me he’s got a special floppy hat with corks on it. Oof!

The Priest at Soundwave 2015 – catch them or die.