'Metal Together': Judas Priest Soldiers On With 'Firepower' World Tour

In Judas Priest’s world, there’s reason to rejoice and reason to lament.

The bad news: Guitarist Glenn Tipton, who’s been battling Parkinson’s disease for 10 years, won’t be joining his bandmates on the upcoming Firepower Tour, which reaches Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville on March 22.

“I’m sure that when we hit the stage on that first show … and everybody sees and hears the power of Priest, it’ll just make everybody feel great,” says vocalist Rob Halford. “I just know that’s going to be the response. We’re doing this for the band, we’re doing this for Glenn, we’re doing this for metal together.”

But Tipton’s handiwork (though former guitarist K.K. Downing disputes this) is all over “Firepower,” the metal juggernaut’s 18th studio album, which will be released on March 9. (Producer Andy Sneap will fill in for Tipton during live performances.)

Halford spoke about Tipton’s absence and how new fans make their way to Priest after all these years.

Q: The big news Priest fans are struggling to come to grips with is Glenn Tipton’s condition. Personally, I imagine you’re struggling with that, too.

A: Oh, absolutely. The emotions are still very raw for all of us. One can only imagine what Glenn is going through. As we said in the statement, Glenn was the first to say the show must go on, because we’re not the first band that has had to deal with these kinds of situations, and we won’t be the last band. I think the important thing is do whatever you need to do in life, like Glenn’s doing. He’s still going to be an active member of Judas Priest, it’s just that he’s approaching it from a slightly different way now.

But, you know, it’s rock ‘n’ roll, and the great spirit of rock ‘n’ roll is endurance and getting through whatever you need to get through together, and this is a great example of that: the band rallying together as brothers and all agreeing unconditionally that this whole experience that’s associated around the life of Judas Priest must go on.

Q: It’s probably easier for you, as you said, on stage. Once the music starts, everything else disappears.

A: Well, I think that’s when you get focused. You’ve got a job to do. You’ve got to make sure that you give every song, every performance, the care and detail of attention that we’ve been doing with Judas Priest from day one. And it’s true, you know, when these kinds of things come into your life, there’s a tremendous rocking of the boat. It just happens, and eventually things kind of settle down a little bit more, and you’re able to be probably a bit more rational in your emotions.

We watch the message boards, and I would say that 99.999% of people have been supportive. It’s been a beautiful thing to watch from the social platform side of things, and the outpouring of love and support for Glenn has been overwhelming for him. He can’t wait to have an opportunity. With Parkinson’s, you have good days and bad days. He’ll come out on stage and jam some songs that he’s capable of doing.

Q: So Glenn will join you on stage during this tour?

A: Yes, I think I can say that with confidence, because this is what Glenn himself expressed when we were in the studio. After 10 years of living his life with Parkinson’s, and just being so creative and achieving so much, touring and writing and recording and so forth, it’s been a tremendously heroic display. Many people with with Parkinson’s will show you: You don’t give in, you don’t give up. You fight it. So I’m pretty excited. I don’t know exactly when Glenn will come out on stage, but I’m pretty sure it will be in America. But that’s a good slice of hope there.

Q: On “Firepower,” you recorded primarily with everyone standing in the same room together. Is that a change from recent practice?

A: We’ve always been in the room together, but we might not be playing at the same time. In this instance, we were all there together. I was laying down rough vocals. We were all looking at each other, and we were connecting. That was what was really sought after by [producer/guitarist] Andy Sneap, because he’s a firm believer in that type of performance. It’s the little nuances that you feel when you’re playing live together that might make the whole vibe coming out of the speakers feel like your band is playing live in front of you. It was a great choice. Because we hadn’t done it for so long, we weren’t sure we could get that kind of connectivity.

Q: I’m a part of Generation X. I bought “Screaming for Vengeance” on vinyl in 1983. In my mind, Judas Priest belongs to my age group, but I’ll bet you hear that from several different generations by now.

A: This is the joy that we start to experience more and more frequently, each time we go out. Generally, in our kind of touring, we go out once every two or three years. When we come back, there are people in the crowd wearing those Screaming for Vengeance shirts. You can sense it. You can look and see the expressions. You can just feel that energy coming from that portion of our fan base. Music becomes the soundtrack of your life, to a certain extent. Touring is a reinforcement of all like-minded metalheads, as we call ourselves, coming together to celebrate not only the band and the music, but each other. It’s across the board, now.

There will be people coming to see Priest for the first time, particularly younger metalheads who, by their own searching on the Internet, have found, “Hey, there’s this band called Judas Priest. I love what they’re doing. I can’t wait to see them play live.” That’s a real joy.

In the old days, your music was served to you by the radio. Nowadays, music listeners find their own source of pleasure and enjoyment while searching through Internet services. It’s different in that respect. It’s a lot purer. It’s not forced upon you. It’s very much what makes it click internally with you. It’s everywhere. I can’t wait to experience that wherever we play in the world, because you can see the look. It’s generally the look of amazement. We still have the shock and awe effect.

JUDAS PRIEST plays Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville on March 22 at 7 p.m., with Saxon and Black Star Riders opening. Tickets are $43.75-$63.75. mohegansun.com

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