As Frank Sinatra proved, holding your ‘farewell’ tour need not be an impediment to the future of your musical career.
And this has been proved with no little style by heavy metal titans Judas Priest.
In 2010 they announced that the aptly-named Epitaph tour was to be their last and that they would be retiring.
Much to their millions of fans’ relief, this proved to be something of an overstatement.
Last year they returned to the fray with their 17th album, Redeemer Of Souls, which gave the band their highest-ever US chart debut when it hit number six, and their highest UK chart position in more than 30 years.
It also marks the recorded debut of new guitarist Richie Faulkner, who joined the band after co-founder Ken ‘KK’ Downing retired in 2011.
With every album we always try to take a step forward, we’ve not been afraid to try anything. It’s what’s kept us current over the years, and I think it’s what’s contributed to our longevityIan Hill of Judas Priest
And on Monday they play at Portsmouth Guildhall as part of the album’s UK tour.
WOW247 caught up with bassist Ian Hill, the last remaining original member from when the band began in 1970, during some downtime on the band’s US tour.
This was the band’s first ever album without KK, so what was that like for the band?
‘It was easier than it probably would have been if we hadn’t been on tour with Richie before that,’ says Ian.
‘Ken decided to retire about five years ago, when he dropped that one on us.
‘He was an immense part of the band, right from the very start of the band.
‘We’d already got a tour planned, so we had to decide whether to knock that on the head and annoy all our fans, or find a replacement for Ken, which put us on the hunt for another guitarist.
‘Along came Richie who filled the spot perfectly, he’s a great guitarist.’
Faulkner earned his chops with several bands, and was also the musical director on the late-great Christopher Lee’s fantastically OTT foray into heavy metal, 2013’s Charlemagne.
‘We embarked on the tour,’ continues Ian, ‘which took a year, and at the end of tour he wasn’t just a colleague, he was a great friend as well.
‘If it had been the other way around, the few awkward moments we had at the start of the tour might have happened at the start of the recording, and that might have rubbed off on the sound of the record.
‘Because we all knew each other and our quirks and foibles and whatever, it just flowed straight in and it was very beneficial.’
Given that you were thinking about knocking it all on the head with the Epitaph tour, has the band been surprised by the reception for Redeemer?
‘Yes, we were. The criteria has changed now for the charts. These days obviously it’s not just record sales, there’s downloads, airplay and everything else to take into account.
‘The whole idea of Epitaph was to slow down, but because it went so well, there was another album in the pipeline and it started up all over again.’
And it seems the band aren’t about to call it quits any time soon.
‘Three of us in the band are of an age,’ he laughs, ‘where the thought of not being able to do this is a frightening prospect really. We’re going to carry on.’
While Hill is the only original member now, both frontman Rob Halford and guitarist Glen Tipton have been in the band for more than four decades. Even Hill’s partner in rhythm, drummer Scott Travis, has been there since 1989.
Does it ever feel strange to Hill that he’s the only original member left?
‘Not really. Rob and Glen have both been with the band for over 40 years. Obviously the early years are very important, and without that none of us would be here, but all of the band’s successes have been as the trademark five-piece, and that’s been since Glen slotted in, which I think was back in ’74.
‘And that was it, that was when we took off.’
That classic line-up through the 1970s and ’80s saw the Midlands act come to be hailed as one of the progenitors of what came to be known as heavy metal.
‘It was something that evolved,’ explains Hill. ‘It didn’t start out as heavy metal, it started out as heavy blues rock in the beginning.
‘Over the years we looked at the harder side of things and the heaver side of things, and it kind of emerged.
‘There was a moment where everything gelled and came together, which was British Steel in 1980.’
The British Steel album went platinum in the US and yielded the future rock radio staples Living After Midnight and Breaking The Law.
‘The seven or eight years before that it was merging and melding into that.’
The band are often hailed as godfathers of the scene and have been given various lifetime or career awards.
‘When people give us those great accolades it’s very flattering. It was us and Black Sabbath and some say Led Zeppelin, but Robert (Plant) will dispute that,’ he chuckles.
While the band’s style has evolved, they haven’t overtly chased after then-current sounds and styles.
‘With every album we always try to take a step forward, we’ve not been afraid to try anything – we’ll throw it around and give it a go.
‘It’s what’s kept us current over the years, and I think it’s what contributed to our longevity.’
And seeing their first album, 1974’s Rocka Rolla in the shops, still remains a highpoint for the bassist.
‘There’s the big gigs, times you were on TV, but you can’t beat that feeling when you get your first record on the shelf.
‘Back in ’74, I can remember walking down to Turner’s Records in Paradise Street in West Bromwich, looking for it and it was up there alongside all your favourite bands, your own idols and influences – there’s no better feeling.
‘It took us a while to get that first record deal, so there was nothing better than that.’
It’s not all been plain sailing for the band though.
In 1991 Halford announced he was leaving the band to pursue other projects.
For a while it seemed like Priest might be finished, but in ’96 they returned with a new singer, Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens, who had previously been singing in a Priest tribute band call British Steel.
Ripper recorded two albums with the band, Jugulator and Demolition, before Halford rejoined the fold in 2003.
Looking back on that period, Hill says: ‘The material we did on Jugulator – there was some fine material on there and Ripper is an absolutely phenomenal singer, he’s got an incredible voice.
‘But when Rob decided he wanted to rejoin we started to realise that although it was darn good with Ripper, it still wasn’t really right.
‘Over a period of months we began talking, and when we announced Rob was back with the band Ripper was the first one to congratulate us because he was a fan at heart.’
So what’s next for the band after this run of dates?
‘We’re due a meeting in the next few days to find out what we’re going to do, whether we’re going to carry on touring, do a new record or take a breather for a bit, there’s a lot of things on the cards.
‘We’re one of those bands that likes to finish one project before we start another.
Fans don’t need to worry that the end of this tour is the end then? There’s more to come?
‘Oh yes, whether it’s a new album or live, there’ll be something.’
n Judas Priest play at Portsmouth Guildhall on Monday. Doors 7pm. Tickets cost £42.35. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk or call 0844 8472362.