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British Steel Revisited: A Talk with Judas Priest's Glenn Tipton

By Shelly Harris, Chicago Contributor
Monday, July 13, 2009 @ 3:35 PM

"British Steel was probably responsible for inspiring quite a few musicians, and it opened the door - it paved the way, not just for other bands, but for ourselves as well..."

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Judas Priest, the path-finding "Metal Gods" of lore, were just getting the U.S. leg of the current British Steel 30th Anniversary Tour off to a rollicking start when KNAC sat down to talk to the band's highly influential co-guitarist, Glenn Tipton. (As KNACers should know, it was Tipton and his co-guitarist, KK Downing, who initially refined and elevated the dual guitar attack in the early development of the heavy metal genre.)

Ensconced in his St. Louis hotel room ("I can see the Arch!"), the down-to-earth and amiable fret ace was forthcoming about the current lowdown on Judas Priest's tour and other related miscellanea (well, to the extent that the strict 15 minute time allotment would allow). To wit:

KNAC.COM: According to your tour schedule, you've just got that initiation gig under your belt as we speak ... and how are things going well so far?

TIPTON: Yeah, it was great - the first shows are always a bit precarious, you know. You've got a new crew, and a new production and new songs - or new "old" songs. It was very nerve-wracking, but we got through it - there were a few mishaps, but I think overall it was great and the audience really liked it.

KNAC.COM: Well you did say "new old songs" which leads me directly into asking you about this particular tour, which commemorates the 30th anniversary of British Steel.

TIPTON: That's right!

KNAC.COM: Well, I am very familiar with that album; have been since it was first released - it was on high rotation in my car for a long time! (laughs) But tell me how and when the idea germinated to do this tour for it.

TIPTON: Well, we've never, ever played an album from start to finish before, and it's the 30th Anniversary of British Steel, and it just sort of all fell into place, you know, when the idea was suggested. We just thought it'd be a great thing to do. I had some songs, some retro songs, all from around the same era except for one or two off the new album, and it just seemed to NEED TO BE DONE. And so, we said yeah, this would be a great thing to do.

KNAC.COM: And it really was a watershed album for Judas Priest in many respects - it definitely seemed to make the band become more broadly accessible, but maybe that was because it was played on the radio here, even at the time.

TIPTON: Yeah, it was an album that was very naturally recorded and written, actually. We wrote 'alf of it while we were actually in the studio, and the things that come together very quickly are usually some of the most simple - and some of the best things you do - sometimes. It was just a great time in the studio. I've said this many times over the last few days, but we recorded it in a place called Tittenhurst Park, which was Ringo Starr's house - which used to belong to John Lennon. ... And it all jelled and it all clicked, and it was very natural album to write and record.

KNAC.COM: Obviously you didn't have the luxury of hindsight at the time, but when you were making it, did you have any feeling that it would wind up being so important, or that it had the potential to really open up some new avenues for the band and the genre?

TIPTON: I think that ... you're never really sure how an album's going to be received, but I do think, Yes, we thought it was a very special album - it was a big landmark in the career of Judas Priest. There were other albums as well, but I think more so British Steel. It was a time when we settled into leather and studs, we didn't contrive that - it just naturally evolved. Everything just came together at that point with British Steel, and it did make the band more of a household name - and that's always good in a sense. Yeah, I agree with you that we did attain a lot of success because of the British Steel album, because we did start to get more airplay, something the band had never really had an immense amount of; but British Steel helped it.

KNAC.COM: And at that time, I began to see so many other bands showing the influence of the sound - and the vibe - that had developed on that particular album. So, it was an important prototype at that point in time as well.

TIPTON: Yeah, I think British Steel was probably responsible for inspiring quite a few musicians, and it opened the door - it paved the way, not just for other bands, but for ourselves as well - and gave us far more room to maneuver musically, and it broadened the horizon. Much more became acceptable for metal. We never believed that metal should be "devil lyrics" and that everything should be thunderous. We've written tracks in the past like, "Beyond the Realms of Death," or "Last Rose of Summer,"' and they can blend in perfectly well with some very aggressive riffs, if you like. And that's what metal is all about: diversity. Rules are made to be broken as far as we're concerned, and we've always broken the rules of heavy metal in a sense in that we've always created more room for ourselves to maneuver and therefore created more room for other bands to maneuver as well.

KNAC.COM: Now, over the years you've played various cuts from British Steel live - and a few nearly every tour - but now that you are playing this album in its entirety, how does it feel to be doing that - does it feel fresh again?

TIPTON: Yeah, absolutely! As I said, we've never done it before, so it's a novelty in a sense for us, and a great thing to do. It's very symbolic in a way, and it just makes for a different concept for Priest, but a very enjoyable for the audience I think.

KNAC.COM: I don't know if you want to give much away, but will you play the songs in a particular order?

TIPTON: Yeah, but, unfortunately, we didn't realize there were two different running orders! There's the European running order, which is the one we're performing, and then there's the American one. But, we are playing everything from start to finish, but it'll be the European running order, which is the one we'll be playing, which starts with "Rapid Fire" and ends with "Steeler," and I think the American one starts with "Breaking the Law" - so it'll be a little bit different.

KNAC.COM: Will the stage presentation include some of the things that people will be familiar with from that period, on some of the numbers? Some of the signature things that Rob (Halford) did and some of the props?

TIPTON: Everything will be there, we even brought lasers back, and we've got the incredible lighting rig, which all moves around. It's based upon lighting rigs of that era, but with all the modern technology, and it all moves around, and it's really intricate and really interesting. We've got motor bikes -- and everything really, it's all piled in there.

KNAC.COM: I suppose it's hard to choose between your "children" - but do you have any particular favorites on there that you really like performing yourself?

TIPTON: Yeah, I like the end track of "Steeler"; it just finishes with complete guitar mayhem, which is brilliant for myself and KK. I love "The Rage" and I love "Living After Midnight" - so every song on British Steel is a classic song, really. That's the beauty of it.

KNAC.COM: Definitely. Now you are on this tour with Whitesnake, so how did that come about? I'm thinking you probably know David (Coverdale) from way back ...?

TIPTON: Yeah; I actually supported Whitesnake when I was in a band I was in before Judas Priest [The Flying Hat Band]. David was actually singing with Deep Purple then - sorry! - it was Deep Purple, so we do go back a long way. But, yeah, we had Whitesnake on tour with us when we were in South America, and I love the guys; they're great musicians and they're a great band with great songs. And, it really works well for a bill with Priest. I think everyone's going to really enjoy it.

KNAC.COM: Well, I'm watching the clock, so I'll just shoot some miscellaneous questions at you: I did notice when I looked at your personal website that you recently had an auction for one of your "battle scarred" Gibson SGs, and that was for the benefit of a particular charity. Is that a pet charity of yours?

TIPTON: Yeah, that was for the Teenage Cancer Trust, and that's a great charity. I can't profess to have done a lot for it, but Priest did a concert at the Albert Hall in England for the same charity. Roger Daltry from The Who has a lot to do with it, and our manager, Bill Curbishley, have done a lot for it as well. It's a great charity because there's a lot of young kids, and they've got a serious illness, and they have to go do battle with it in wards full of old people, and, really, the atmosphere isn't positive in there for them, you know?

KNAC.COM: No, that would not help to engender the hope and optimism necessary for a young person fight a life-threatening illness.

TIPTON: No, whereas now the Teenage Cancer Trust builds wards for with facilities for younger children, and young kids, and teenagers. The internet's in there and they can share the same sorts of music, and it gives a really positive environment to do battle with it. And, in a lot of cases, it works, so it's just a great charity.

KNAC.COM: Well, glad to find out about that connection ... And, do you have any thoughts on the Guitar Hero phenomenon, since Priest is involved in that too?

TIPTON: Yeah! I think ... it's a great thing. In this day of downloading, as well, it's a way of getting kids interested in listening to your music in another way - in very positive way. I also think that it does encourage people to pick up the guitar as opposed to people picking up guns. It's a really sensible and positive way to go. It's all about music, really, and getting kids to get interested in music.

KNAC.COM: I'm sure you get asked this often enough, but I still want to know: You've been doing what you're doing for so long, I'm sure you do have to find new ways to motivate yourself, but I'm guessing you all still have that important feeling of always having "new lands to conquer" - but what is different now as opposed to say, 30 years ago?

TIPTON: You know, it doesn't change that much ... Obviously touring can be very grueling, and you now I love my home, and it's a wrench to come away from my loved ones, but ... every night you come onstage, it's just wonderful, really. When you hear the audience reaction, it makes up for it all. It makes up for the travel ... which can be very arduous, you know. But when you get up on that stage and your hear the roar of the audience, you forget everything else and all that matters is to go out there and have a great time with the audience.

KNAC.COM: One last thought: I know Michael Jackson was never really in the same genre as Priest, but since he was such an important figure in modern music and in the precise same era that Priest has existed in, I wonder what thoughts you have as a musician on his recent passing?

TIPTON: It's very sad ... you know. I think there's a lot of lessons to be learned from everything in Michael Jackson's life, really. It seems to have been inevitable that this would be the way that he would end. He's been a tragic figure for quite a few years. But, you know, no one can argue with importance of his music - and his music has done a lot of good for everybody ... So, it's just sad.

Judas Priest’s new CD A Touch of Evil – Live is on sale now in the KNAC.COM More Store Click here to buy yours.

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