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Greg Interviews Ian Hill from Judas Priest (2021)

Not only will Bloodstock 2021 mark a return to the site of Judas Priest's triumphant 2018 headlining performance, it will be the band's first UK show since that day in 2018, and first appearance overall in more than two years. The band's artwork will also be featured extensively in the RAM Gallery. Bassist Ian Hill talks festivals, albums covers, and the excitement of returning to the stage.

Q. What were your first impressions of Bloodstock?

“It's a great festival and very well run. I actually went along when [Priest guitarist] Andy Sneap was playing there with Hell the previous year, as a guest of his. I was impressed then by the way it was run, and then likewise when we played. The people are great as well. I met Adam and Vicky. Really nice, down to earth, honest people, and it was a pleasure to work there, really. It's always great to play festivals. You play to so many people and not all of them have come to see you, so you get yourself across to other people who wouldn't necessarily get to see the band otherwise.”

Q. How did you keep yourself occupied during lockdown?

“I've exhausted all the jobs around the house ha ha! I've done the patio, extended the drive, built walls and gazebos, either doing it myself or supervising. You can also be very busy doing nothing and you look back and wonder where the time went. We couldn't even meet up. Rob lives in America, Scott is American, and Richie's living there now as well. So there's only myself and Glenn and Andy, and of course with Glenn's situation, it wasn't wise to go visit him because of COVID. I saw Andy a couple of times but he's been very busy producing anyway. We had a few Zoom meetings and phone calls but nothing substantial.”

Q. Is everything ready for the band's return to Bloodstock?

“The stage production was obviously ready for last year, so that's all in place and polished up now. We're in the middle of rehearsals now. When I hang up from you I'll be heading down to our rehearsal studios in Worcestershire. This is our second week now. We did need a bit of time obviously because we hadn't played together for two years. But it's all coming together and sounding great. Rob's singing good. All we've got to do now is finalise the set list which gets more difficult every year. We don't want to play the same songs over and over again if we can help it. So we're shaking the songs up now, keeping the fan favourites of course, but there are other ones that have to be decided upon. Apart from the fan favourites, there's very little that has survived from the last Bloodstock set. There'll be a couple we haven't played before, but I can't tell you what they are for obvious reasons ha ha!”

Q. It must be a tremendous relief to see live music finally beginning to open up again. 

“It's still very much on a knife edge. The next thing on our agenda is the American tour we should have done last year. That's in September, and we have to get special permission to get into the States. But even then if one of us comes down with COVID, that might all go pear-shaped, so we're going to have to be very, very careful over the next month.”

Q. Over the years, artwork has been vital to the success of so many albums, and the link between music and imagery is particularly important in heavy metal. In some ways looking at Judas Priest covers is witnessing the evolution of album art.  

“In years gone by, I've certainly bought albums just on the strength of the cover, in the days before the Internet, when you had to actually go and listen to something or browse through a record store. It's extremely important. There's no point in having a heavy metal album with a picture of a bunch of flowers on the cover ha ha! Our first album cover, 'Rocka Rolla', that was at the time of the Arts and Crafts thing, and everybody was looking for something different and abstract. Not that we were particularly happy with that cover at the time, but it actually won awards. But the second album's cover, 'Sad Wings of Destiny', was an all-time classic. It's a beautiful piece of artwork in itself. The condemned angel sitting in the flames with his cross on really summed up what you were going to get on the album. Then Rosław Szaybo did a tremendous job on 'Sin After Sin' and he was the one that came up with the tomb idea which again really complimented the record. He went on to do 'Stained Class' and 'Killing Machine' or 'Hell Bent For Leather' as it was in America. I think he was the one who came up with the logo which has lasted to this day.”

Q. Which are your favourite Priest album covers?

“'British Steel' has got to be one. It was a bit controversial for us at the time because it came out during the punk era and the razor blade was sort of a punk emblem. People were going around with razor blade earrings and razor blades around their necks. We were a bit concerned that we might be thought of as a punk band by those who didn't know who we were, but we went with it, and that's another all-time classic cover. In our historical t-shirt division that's one of the best sellers. The other one would be 'Screaming For Vengeance', which had an almost art deco-like cover. But it still portrayed the aggression, the movement, the action.”

Q. How does the creative process between band and cover artist usually work?

“Usually an artist will bring some initial ideas and we'll make suggestions, for better or worse ha ha! Mostly, we'll put the album title out to people, with a very rough running order, and see what they come back with. Then, if we like it, great, and if there are suggestions to be made, we do that too.”

Q. Mark Wilkinson, who created the covers for 'Ram it Down' and 'Painkiller' among others, is also exhibiting work in the RAM Gallery this year.

“He's a great artist in general even forgetting about album covers. The detail in some of his sketches and paintings is unbelievable, really, over and above what's expected of him.”

Q. What are some of your favourite album covers in general?

“I always liked Roger Dean's stuff with Yes, I thought that was excellent. It was completely new thinking, and I love the band as well. Then 'Disraeli Gears' by Cream. That was totally psychedelic ha ha! It summed up the late '60s perfectly and was a great album cover.”

Q. You must be looking forward to finally getting back on stage at Bloodstock?

“Absolutely, it's like freedom day, although that's been overused. Perhaps independence day ha ha! I can imagine people being released from prison getting the same feeling. You allowed to actually do something again rather than be told that you can't. And what a great place to start, at Bloodstock. I only live three miles away, so I can get changed at home if I like ha ha! We're all really, really looking forward to it. We've been caged long enough.”

Judas Priest's box set '50 Heavy Metal Years of Music' is now available to pre-order.


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