Over 20 years since they first became eligible, Judas Priest are finally going into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. They’re getting the “Musical Excellence” award rather than a straight-up induction, but the fact remains one of metal’s most iconic groups are getting the dues they deserve. Hammer caught up with Priest bassist Ian Hill – the only member to consistently play with the band since their inception 53 years ago – to talk recognition, retirement and reconciling with co-founder KK Downing.
What’s it feel like to finally be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame 23 years after you first became eligible?
“Ha, took them a while, didn’t it? It does feel good being recognised by your peers though. We’re honoured to be part of it all, especially as there’s only a few heavy metal bands in there currently. Hopefully this opens the gates for bands like Iron Maiden or Def Leppard, bands who really should be in there already. But the most important accolade any band can get is a Gold or Platinum album – that’s when you know you’re getting things right and doing good by the fans.”
You’re being given the ‘Musical Excellence’ award. Does that mean you’re officially in the Hall Of Fame now, or would you still need to be nominated in future to properly get inclusion?
“You tell me! They’ve got all these categories now, so to us it doesn’t matter what door we used, we’re in and hopefully it’ll stay open for others to use too. It’s like when they came up with the heavy metal category at the Grammys – we thought ‘great, we’re in with a chance’ and then Jethro Tull got it! I don’t know who was more embarrassed ha ha.”
You spent years saying you weren’t bothered by it. What changed, or were you telling porkies before?
“Of course it’s nice to get recognised! We wouldn’t have lost any sleep if we hadn’t got it, but it is great to be honoured after all this time.”
Why do you think it is important that heavy metal gets recognised in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame?
“It’s a strange one, isn’t it. The ‘Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame’ and you get class acts like Dolly Parton who has now accepted it, but said she didn’t feel like she fit in as she was already part of the Country Music Hall Of Fame. It has broadened out into all kinds of music and some of the bands might not be considered rock’n’roll as such, but it’s a great institution.”
As one of the bands who helped shape heavy metal in the first place, does it frustrate you to see the genre sidelined so much?
“Even at the Grammys, heavy metal feels a bit subdued now. I don’t know why – a lot of it has working class roots, bands like ourselves who came up and give it a go because there’s no other route out of a council estate, so maybe it’s a snobbery thing. I think Black Sabbath were the first [metal] inductees for the Hall Of Fame and it took three nominations before they got inaugurated.”
How much discussion has there been about who exactly in Priest is being inducted?
“The rule as I understand it, is whoever has been with the band for 20 years. Richie [Faulkner] is sadly not being inducted, but really deserves to be as he’s been the driving force in the band for nearly 12 years now. Dave Holland [drummer 1979-1989] was in the band for a long time and obviously Ken [guitarist KK Dowling] will be there. Les Binks was with us all those years, as was Scott [Travis, drums] so he’ll be part of the induction too.”
That’s great news about KK being involved. Have you guys spoke directly to him since the nomination to clear the air at all?
“He’s spoken to management and said he will definitely be there. It should be good.”
Will you be jamming with Dolly Parton during the traditional get together at the end of the evening?
“That’d be a trip wouldn’t it? The lady who didn’t want to be inducted and the band who’ve been overlooked for 20 years!”
Who would you induct who isn't already in there?
“There’s a lot of metal bands, isn’t there? Slayer, Maiden, Leppard – all those great bands. A load of stuff from the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal; we say ‘new’ but that’s going right back to the late 70s! A lot of those bands are among the biggest bands around, and they’re still going too.”
You’ve recently wrapped up the long-awaited Judas Priest dates in the States – after all the drama are you relieved to see the back of them?
Ian: “After two years under duress because of the COVID crap, to be able to start again was great. We thought we’d got up and running last year, but then Richie had his heart troubles and we had to knock it on the head again. To get through it drama free this year felt like a real achievement.”
Could you tell something was wrong while you were playing that night, or was it only when you came off-stage the severity of it became apparent?
“If it was going to happen to anybody, we’d have expected it to be me or Rob [Halford]! We were very, very lucky that it was a festival and that paramedics were already there to help. It was like there was a little star shining down; Metallica were headlining, so we were on earlier anyway and it was a shorter set. If it had gone on longer, things could have worked out very differently. There was also a dedicated heart hospital four miles down the road, and the surgeon just happened to be there at the time; how often does that happen?”
How’s Rob been getting on – his announcement that he’d been treated for prostate cancer came totally out of the blue last year too.
“Dramas all around! There’s never good time to have heart trouble, unless you’re four miles away from a heart hospital, and there’s never a good time to have cancer treatments, unless you suddenly find out you’ve got an enforced two years off. But Rob’s fine, he’s back to his normal self. We’ve had worrying times over the past few years and we’re so gratified to still be able to do this.”
On that subject, how has it felt finally celebrating the 50th anniversary of Judas Priest on tour?
“It was great just to get back up there and have it running smoothly. We blew the cobwebs off last year when we played Bloodstock. That was the first time in a very long time I’d been nervous before we went on-stage, because it’d been so long since we’d done it.”
How’s it all looking for the new Priest album?
“It’s sounding great! We’ve got a lot of the parts recorded now, the plan was to get it finished in the seven weeks we’ve got off but time vanishes so fast I think will be with you next year now.”
How’s it sounding? Firepower felt like a real kick up the arse, so will the next album be continuing in that vein?
“I think it’s definitely drawing on the classic Priest aspects, which is only natural seeing as we’ve been doing these big setlists with lots of old songs. It’s a lot more technical too though.”
What do you see as being Priest’s proudest achievement?
“The fact we’ve lasted. Not just that, but we’ve stayed current and relevant – we might not have the great popularity of bands like Iron Maiden or Metallica, but we stayed up with the times for 53 years.”
There’s been talk about Priest retiring – do you really see a day where you’ll hang your bass up for good?
“We know there’s a finite limit to what we can do and I don’t particularly want to die on-stage if I can help it! The end game is in sight, but we’ve got another album coming so talk about that is still a way off yet and there’s no plan to stop at the moment. I think we’ll know about it when the time comes, but right now the focus is just putting on quality performances and so long as we can do that, we’re doing alright.”