Despite COVID derailing his band’s 50th anniversary tour last year, Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford remains optimistic that they will be back on the road by the end of 2021. In the meantime, he’s enjoyed traveling back through time with the publication of their first official book, Judas Priest: 50 Heavy Metal Years (opens in new tab). The heavweight 600+ page book contains literally hundreds of rare and previously-unreleased photos from the band’s earliest days to the present. We caught up with the Metal God to discuss the new book, the state of their next album and the timeless power of sea shanties.
Hello Rob. are you holding up these days?
You know, about the same place that everybody else is. It’s tough, isn’t it? At least we’ve got something to do to keep ourselves occupied. It’s especially exciting for us of course, with this incredible book that we’re getting ready to launch.
The sheer number of photos in the book is jaw-dropping.
I’ve got the deluxe version and it is spectacular, to say the least.. It’s remarkable. I think when you actually get a hold of a copy and get to physically look at it, it’s heavy, man! It’s a heavy metal book full of fifty years of photographs and other useful information on every album.
The band have been around now for 51 years. Do you ever think, “Where the hell did all the time go?”
What’s that expression? “Every picture tells a story?” That’s exactly what this book contains. It’s got hundreds and hundreds of stories attached to hundreds and hundreds of pictures. There’s a little bit of a disconnect because you’re looking at yourself and wondering, “Did that really happen? Were we really there? Did we really do that show at that place?” It’s a really important and valuable set of memories, that’s for sure.
There’s a photo of you and Ozzy backstage on the Firepower tour, giving the middle finger to the camera. Do you speak with him much?
We don’t talk that much, no, but I think we’re heavy metal mates. Priest and Sabbath launched pretty much around the same time, so we’ve been in each other’s lives for as long as we’ve been together. I’ll tell you what it is about that kind of friendship – even though you haven’t seen each other for a long time, when you do see each other again, it seems like you saw each other a week ago. Because the friendship bond is so strong and the musical bond is so strong and we’ve lived the same lives – we’ve done pretty much the same things, as far as making records and touring and all the other parts of being a musician. We’re absolutely connected and joined at the hip. It’s a very comforting feeling, more than anything else. And the guy’s a legend. He’s just a remarkable man.
You recently posted a photo of a 35-year sobriety token on Instagram. How does long-term sobriety feel?
The gift has been monumental, really. It’s having a better grasp on reality and being more open and honest and seeing things better in a musical sense. My judgement and my perception are less clouded and I can focus more clearly and get better results. Having said that, I’m also pleased with all those things that I put together prior to turning sober, in those days when it was kind of rough. But since I started that sober trip you’re able to put a better grasp on values and what’s important, what isn’t and what needs attention, as opposed to some stuff that’s not of great value. I think it’s different for different people, but God, it’s the best thing in the world, as far as waking up without a hangover and just feeling good about yourself.
Do you ever think, ‘I miss all that stuff’?
Oh yeah, of course I do, ha ha! I had some great, groovy times with my booze and drugs. I wasn’t aware of the damage that it was doing to me and my family, my friends and my bandmates, but I’d be a liar if I didn’t say that. Later on, you’re doing all of that crazy stuff because you’re addicted to it and that’s when the real trouble starts. But prior to that, it was an absolute blast! And I’d be a liar if I didn’t say “Man, I wish I could do that again,” because if I could, I would but I can’t, so I won’t.
You also shared a photo of you in black suit, cowboy hat and an absolutely fabulous pair of spiked high heels on Instagram recently. Is that a regular outfit Chez Halford these days?
I’ll give Metal Hammer an exclusive here. Those heels were given to me by the beautiful Lzzy Hale, from Halestorm. When Priest were on tour in New Zealand we worked with Halestorm and I was chatting to Lzzy backstage and she had those particular heels on her feet. I was going, “Oh my God, how do you even walk in them?” She said, “Oh, you know, it’s a girl thing...” But they looked so powerful and they scream “heavy metal!” So
And so I was at the Post Office about a week ago and there was something for me there in the locker. And it was from Lzzy. I hadn’t a clue what it was, so I opened it up and there were those spectacular heavy metal heels! She wrote me this really sweet note saying, “Hey Rob, hope you’re well, lots of love. We talked about these heels in New Zealand and I found a pair for you. Have fun! Love, Lzzy.” And I thought, “How sweet is that?”
If you’d have been in my house watching me do that photo, you’d have been roaring! It took me forever and I was blacking out in pain. Those heels fit me, but you’re being pitched at this extraordinarily abnormal angle and then you try to keep your balance. I took about five or six pictures and I threw myself on the couch and ripped those shoes off and was massaging my feet, sweating from head to toe. It was absolutely fucking hilarious!
What do you make of the whole Tik Tok sea shanty craze?
God knows, any kind of elevation or mood change that will put a smile on your face these days is epic. A few nights ago while I was having my nightly swim, I was listening to [former UK pirate radio station] Radio Caroline and they play a song by this band called Lindisfarne. They were a massive band with their kind of folklore, folk-rock kind of songs. One or two of them had that sea shanty element to them and it was great to hear Lindisfarne. One of their famous songs was Fog On The Tyne, about Newcastle, and it has a little bit of a shanty vibe to it. And I thought, “I wonder what Breaking The Law would sound like as a sea shanty...”
But it’s a beautiful way of singing, particularly the solo aspect of it. It’s got that ethereal Lord Of The Rings vibe to it. So I think it’s a lot of fun. And I think it’ll be short-lived, because everything is in that respect, but at the same time, I think it’s really going to re-energize a great source of music.
Where are things at with the next Priest album?
It’s been tough. The COVID has been raging and it’s really slowing things down. I’m old school – I need to be in the room with Glenn and Ritchie in front of me. That’s the way to get the best out of me, personally. But Ritchie’s still noodling away and Glenn’s noodling away. Ideas are being formed all the time and we’re stockpiling – collecting the metal ammunition.
Realistically, when do you think we’ll see Judas Priest back on the road?
Well, we’ve got the tour planned. It’s supposed to start in Finland in the summer. We’re aiming for that but of course we’re at the mercy of this pandemic. You have to listen to the scientists and use common sense. We want to stay safe and we want to live to get through this.
With all the great work that the incredible scientists and the beautiful health workers are doing, it looks like we should be in a great place by the summer. And if we’re not, hey, what’s a few more months? We’ve come this far together. We’re going to kill this COVID and we’re going to get back out on the road and have the best time of our lives.
Judas Priest: 50 Heavy Metal Years is out now, published by Rufus Stone (opens in new tab)