Rob Halford of Judas Priest credit Chris Casey

That Time Rob Halford Stole An Ornament From John Lennon

Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford reflects on accidental Beatles theft and their first tour with Iron Maiden

Later this month, Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford will release his autobiography Confess. In it, The Metal God shares stories from a life like no other, spending over 50 years in the heavy metal bubble, facing adversity head-on but always with a wry smile and horns held firmly aloft.

In this exclusive extract, Rob remembers the time he borrowed’ some John Lennon memorabilia and his first encounter with Iron Maiden.

En route to a gig up north, I had glanced out of the car window and seen a huge sign outside a factory: BRITISH STEEL. It seemed to me to sum up our album in every way.

A Polish designer, Rozlaw Szaybo, who had already done the covers for Stained Class and Killing Machine, gave us the sleeve image of a hand holding a razor blade emblazoned with our name and the album title. His initial design had blood oozing from the fingers as the razor blade cut into them, but we thought the image looked tougher without blood: We’re a heavy metal band! We’re so tough that we don’t bleed!

We had written, recorded, produced, mixed and mastered British Steel inside thirty days! It was a stupendous performance and yet it never felt rushed. It took exactly as long as it needed to take.

As Priest left Tittenhurst Park, we could not have been more pleased with our new baby – and I couldn’t bear to leave without a souvenir of our time in John and Yoko’s love nest.

The closet where I had poured out my angst and laid down my vocals had all sorts of Beatles and Lennon paraphernalia stored in it. There were photos, gold discs, even master tapes – plus an object I had recognised immediately.

It was an ornament, a perspex obelisk about eighteen inches tall… and it had been in the Imagine video. As John played piano, it was on a plinth beside Yoko as she opened the shutters behind him.

Wow! And here it was!

I couldn’t quite believe what I was looking at. I picked it up, and felt as if perhaps: as if I was holding a piece of musical history in my hands. I have to admit that I snuck it out of the mansion to show it to a few of my mates, back in Walsall. Forty years on, I somehow appear to still have it.*

British Steel was to emerge into a changed media environment.

We had grown used to the wrist merchants of the music press routinely mocking and ridiculing heavy metal. Now, to our surprise, they had concocted a scene celebrating it.

Sounds newspaper were the main movers behind the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. The main bands that it looked to champion were Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Motörhead, Saxon, Samson… and Judas Priest.

Now, a lot of bands dislike being co-opted into music journalists’ manufactured movements and lazily pigeonholed, but I liked the idea of the New Wave. I figured, after years of being ignored, it was nice for metal to get a bit of attention for a change. It felt like validation.

Our support on the UK leg of the British Steel tour was to be Iron Maiden, one of the new bands being championed by the press. On the eve of the tour, they did a music-press interview in which their then-singer, Paul Di’Anno, said they would blow Judas Priest off stage every night.

I wasn’t remotely bothered by this, because a) they were wrong, and b) that was the kind of thing cocky young bands were supposed to say! We had tried to do it to every major band we had supported, so why shouldn’t they? I found it funny.

Ken didn’t agree. He was offended and outraged by the comment, and demanded that we kick Maiden off the tour. The rest of us said that would be a daft overreaction to a flippant remark, but he was absolutely livid. I love Ken to bits, but he will never let go of a grudge and he stewed about the Iron Maiden slight forever. When they sat and watched us soundcheck before an early gig on the tour, he took it as a personal affront, for reasons I didn’t begin to understand.

We didn’t really hang out and banter with Maiden much on that tour, but maybe I took Di’Anno’s comment that he would blow Priest off stage too literally… because the one night we got drunk together, I tried to seduce him! We went to my room to carry on drinking, but I was too pissed to try anything, and he was too pissed to even know what I wanted to try.

I think that was definitely for the best.

*I really must take it back some day.

Extracted from Confess: The Autobiography by Rob Halford, published by Headline on September 29

Posted on September 15th 2020, 10:30a.m.
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