The most hotly anticipated hard-rock autobiography of the year, Rob Halford’s Confess (opens in new tab) is gossipy, good natured and hilarious, often unintentionally. It’s also gloriously and relentlessly filthy. “The cock has no conscience,” the Judas Priest singer quips. “Or at least mine has never had one.”
With a breezy, earthy, down-to-earth frankness that is pure West Midlands, 69-year-old Halford retraces his eventful journey from Walsall council-estate outsider to self-styled “metal god”. Along the way Confess covers the recording of classic albums like Judas Priest’s British Steel and Painkiller (opens in new tab), booze and drug addiction, rehab and recovery, the infamous Stained Class suicide lawsuit, Halford’s sabbatical from Priest in the 90s, and their subsequent ongoing reunion. The band should have been on their fiftieth anniversary tour right now, but covid-19 has put celebrations on hold.
Confess: The Autobiography – Rob Halford With Ian Gittins, was £20, now £14.25 (opens in new tab)
Surely the heavy metal biography of the year, Confess is "gossipy, good-natured and hilarious", although it's "not a book for anyone who's squeamish about heavy rock’s screamingly camp subtext".
Confess is much more personal story than music memoir. After decades in the closet, Halford finally outed himself as gay in 1998. Which surprised nobody who grew up watching him scream innuendo-laden songs like Hell Bent For Leather in full Village People gear, but he still feared his sexuality would alienate the band’s more conservative fan base. Thankfully his public confession did no discernible damage to Priest’s popularity.
With chapter titles such as The Shirley Bassey Leather Years and Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory Hole, this is not a book for anyone squeamish about heavy rock’s screamingly camp subtext. Halford claims he already knew he was homosexual as a 10-year-old schoolboy, but insists “me and my mates wanking each other off wasn’t a gay thing… we were just giving each other a hand.” But like many young gay men in the 60s and 70s, especially those growing up outside big cities, his tortuous early love life was full of loneliness, frustration and danger.
Even as Judas Priest achieved global fame, Halford’s anguished sex life mostly involved hit-and-miss cruising missions and anonymous toilet hook-ups. One resulted in an arrest that, to his relief, the LAPD agreed to keep quiet. In desperation, he began to signal his sexuality from the stage using the ‘hanky’ code, “telling the cognoscenti that I was bang-up for a bit of water sports or fisting”. He also took pride in “smuggling” graphic sex lyrics on to Priest records. Jawbreaker, for example, “was a song about a giant cock”. Alas it seems nobody picked up on these subtle Lick My Love Pump hints.
Halford finally met a serious boyfriend, Brad. “We were doing each other in the bog within ten minutes,” he reports. Ah, young love. Sadly their relationship descended into a violent cocaine and alcohol frenzy, culminating in Halford checking into rehab and Brad committing suicide. After further wrong turns, happily he settled down into domestic bliss with his current long-term partner, Thomas.
Confess is full of charmingly blatant fanboy name-dropping. Alongside the usual suspects like Ozzy (opens in new tab), Lemmy and Jimmy Page (opens in new tab), more exotic creatures including Quentin Crisp, Andy Warhol, Jack Nicholson and Lady Gaga also have colourful cameos. “Bloody hell, Rob!” Halford muses after one starry backstage encounter. “You only met Madonna two minutes ago, and you’ve already nearly got your cock in her gob!” At a Buckingham Palace party, he is equally awed by the Queen and Cilla Black – “one of life’s natural fag-hags”.
While in the book Halford is winningly unpretentious and self-deprecating, there’s little in the way of deep analysis or sharp-witted insight. Besides a few lyrical snippets there’s disappointingly little discussion of Priest’s music, the chemistry between band members or their wider place in rock history. His “retirement” from Priest in 1992 to work on various side projects is presented, somewhat disingenuously, as an innocent cluster-fuck of farcical misunderstandings. Guitarist KK Downing’s acrimonious departure in 2011 is also glossed over in a few opaque lines.
In its final stretches, Confess becomes a moving meditation on family, friendship, personal growth and social progress. LGBT rockers can be more honest about their sexuality nowadays, Halford concludes, sounding bittersweet but optimistic. He ends by paying fond tribute to working-class Walsall, where he still owns a house, and where he dreams one day of having his own statue erected – complete with dry ice and lasers.
“That doesn’t seem too much to ask,” he quips, camp showman to the end.