We usually like to shun pompous epithets dominating the metal media, but K.K.’s emergence at this year’s Bloodstock Festival has been an artistic as well as a personal triumph. Having left JUDAS PRIEST in 2011 (but remaining legally a member), his involvement in playing music amid unresolved issues had been close to none.
It has been quite an ordeal for the passionate Judas Priest fan to follow them this past year-and-a-half. Of course, Judas Priest is an ordeal itself – full of agony as well as ecstasy, a birthplace of extreme emotion inhumanly executed, origin of extreme metal and dare we say heavy metal per se, while transcending boundaries and never being cliche. But much needed catharsis has seemed to elude as of late.
It all began with the unfortunate announcement of Glenn Tipton’s Parkinson’s diagnosis in February 2018 and him being forced to step down from being a full touring Judas Priest member.
It seemed then that K.K.Downing, the other half of the guitar duo which constituted the dual-lead attack and, alongside Rob Halford, the legend that became Priest, had assumed that the way was open for him to return to the band he formed and devoted his life to.
Little did he know that not only this wasn’t the case, but his expressed surprise would trigger undisguised hostility in the Priest camp. An innocuous statement of Downing’s, namely that Andy Sneap had probably a greater contribution to Priest’s Firepower album than that of just any producer – much like the late Chris Tsangarides had on Painkiller – spurred Rob Halford to insinuate that Downing had made an ill implication of Glenn Tipton not having played guitar on Priest’s last installment. Tipton in turn, who was said to have only decided not to tour three weeks prior to the tour itself, appointed Sneap as his replacement without room for negotiating alternatives.
Many hints on the part of the band, aimed at Downing, were thrown in the media in the following months, suggesting that he had departed on his own accord and shouldn’t expect to be asked back (despite that Rob Halford had also once left), with some of them targetting K.K.’s reputation while also implicating the fans, as in: “Fans won’t miss KK Downing, since we have Richie Faulkner who brought new energy”. To the latter, KK responded that he had been the one most energetic on the British Steel 30th Anniversary tour, where namely, in October 2009, he made his final appearance on stage. We’d like to add to that K.K.’s unique style and cordial personality which couldn’t be replaced and which makes an artist, rather than just meticulous technicality.
Furthermore, in his book “Heavy Duty: Days And Nights In Judas Priest” which came out in September 2018, K.K., while remaining gentlemanly, made it clear he had reasons to have departed, involving decrease in the quality of performance, questionable management, and not least the personality of Glenn Tipton who, through “subtle control” in the words of K.K., sidelined him creatively and in terms of decision-making for the band. K.K.’s protests were fully ignored, he said, and the band had been run as a dictatorship instead of democracy, thence leaving him no choice.
For the fans of Judas Priest, the 2018-19 Firepower tour has been excessively emotional primarily due to the partial involvement of Glenn Tipton who still played some encores on chosen shows. We were made witness to his passion and attachment to the stage. His last appearance was on the 3rd of May, when his efforts seemed poignant.
The next step for Priest was the announcement of a 50th-anniversary concert (respectively tour), which everyone would have assumed should involve Downing (and why not other past members, such as drummer Les Binks of Stained Class fame). To our dismay, however, it seems to have been suggested that Sneap would continue “flying the flag” as replacement in Judas Priest, while K.K. intimated Priest’s lawyers had been sending him letters, “trying to erradicate the last speck of me” – this all leaving us to anticipate a golden wedding with a new girlfriend, while trying to divorce one’s wife.
Whatever’s going on behind the scenes in Priest, seems to stem from the realms of the irrational. Some fans hold it against Downing that he made bad business decisions in his life (as if this has any relevance to pure artistry), while business-savvy Priest have it together – but what business plan involves the promotion of a 50th-anniversary tour with only two original members (Tipton still being featured on the poster without promise of participating), a third one eager to play?
Speaking of playing, K.K. was artistically unambiguous on the 11th of August at Bloodstock, where he joined Ross The Boss (Ross Friedman, formerly of Manowar) and his band – this peer of Downing’s had his heart in bringing disheartened K.K. back: “I don’t know anything about what went down between K.K. and the band and I hope one day it could be solved matter. Fact it’s my ulterior motive to bring K.K Downing out and get him playing again and maybe back to where he belongs in Judas Priest. (…) I would love to put some good vibes out there to him and so maybe there would be a chance that something could happen and I think the fans would love it.” (themetalvoice.com)
K.K. emerged to show us what it’s all about. Youthful and dynamic, an eternal kid at heart, he executed with his poise of a “precision musician” as he describes himself, with distinction and ease, but also barely concealing his excitement and vivaciousness.
However dysfunctional the characters in the band might have been, they seemed to work together splendidly in the name of rock’n’roll – anything can be forgiven but the loss of spark and an air of toxicity, detrimental to music itself.
Throughout the clashes with his band (of which we can’t bring ourselves to say “former”) and the negative portrayal in the media, Downing has remained positive and keeps extending his will for dialogue (unfortunally met with a brick wall so far). The result on stage is the ingredient essential to music – groove.
Priest have been ill-advised to try and divide their fans, claiming whatever part of their unfortunately dwindling audience. Isn’t this in stark contrast with one of their anthems, United?
K.K.Downing is improvisation and freedom, a gale cutting the air to not let it stale. We need that back in Judas Priest, where the star of Rob Halford shines ever brightly.
In his latest interview following the performance at Bloodstock, a cheerful Downing leaves us resolutely hopeful: “Maybe this would be the first of many things… when bands get together, perform together…”
But “it is what it is”, K.K. always concludes, and in whatever way, we hope he Heads Out To The Highway without looking back, granting us his consistent lively presence on stage.
The publication prepared by Beyond The Black