JUDAS PRIEST will perform as a four-piece on its upcoming tour as the band's former touring guitarist Andy Sneap, who co-produced the British heavy metal legends' 2018 album "Firepower", plans to focus on production work.
Sneap, who is also known for his work in NWOBHM revivalists HELL and cult thrash outfit SABBAT, began touring with PRIEST four years ago after longtime guitarist Glenn Tipton — who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease eight years ago after being stricken by the condition at least half a decade earlier — announced in early 2018 he was going to sit out touring activities in support of "Firepower".
Earlier today, PRIEST issued the following statement: "Hello maniacs! We are chomping at the British Steel bit to return to world touring… celebrating 50 years of JUDAS PRIEST as an an even more powerful, relentless four piece heavy metal band - with Glenn coming out on stage with us here and there as before. Big thanks to Andy for all you’ve done and continuing to be in the production team for our new album… See you all soon headbangers!"
Bassist Ian Hill is the sole remaining original member of PRIEST, which formed in 1969. Singer Rob Halford joined the group in 1973 and Tipton signed on in 1974. Rob left PRIEST in the early 1990s to form his own band, then came back to PRIEST in 2003. Founding guitarist K.K. Downing parted ways with the band in 2011, and was replaced by Richie Faulkner.
Two and a half years ago, Sneap said that he would continue to play guitar for JUDAS PRIEST "as long as they want me to." During an appearance on the "Talking Bollocks" podcast, Sneap stated: "It'd be great if Glenn was up there doing it. That's the thing that really… it's always in the back of my mind; it really is. But it's just nice that he asked me to do it. As long as they want me to help out, I'll help 'em out. That's kind of the way I'm looking at it, really."
Last June, Halford told Metal Pilgrim that Sneap would likely continue being the second guitarist for PRIEST in a live situation. "Andy is still standing in that spot for Glenn with Glenn's blessing," he said. "It's pretty much a given [that Andy will be going out on tour with us again]. And my gratitude to Andy. It couldn't have happened in a better way, if you wanna try and make something good out of it. It was a really important day when Glenn said, 'I think it's probably best if I step to the side and maybe we should let Andy come in.' That was just a really beautiful act of selflessness. That's Glenn treasuring PRIEST and PRIEST's reputation, particularly in live concert more than anything else. So bless Glenn for that. And as a result, Andy stepped in and did amazing work on the 'Firepower' tour, and we're looking forward to doing the same thing with him on this 50th-anniversary [tour]. And don't discount the fact that Glenn can show up. He plays the guitar differently, but there's no reason why Glenn can't show up and do some work. I mean, I've said to Glenn, 'Just walk out on stage and do that to everybody [flashes devil horns], and the people will just go fucking crazy, 'cause you are loved so much.' But I've got a feeling that Glenn's gonna be making the occasional appearance on this 50th-anniversary [tour]."
In 2019, Hill said that it was up to Sneap to decide if he wanted to carry on playing guitar for JUDAS PRIEST after the completion of the "Firepower" tour. "It is something to be discussed, really," he told "Talking Metal". "I mean, Andy is now, these days, first and foremost a producer. Whether he wants to go back and do that full time or not, it'll be a mutual decision when the time comes. Andy will be more than welcome to stay. He's done a tremendous job over the last year or so, really. He's done a great job stepping in for Glenn. It would have been very difficult if he hadn't been there, on such short notice, because we didn't realize that Glenn couldn't handle the intensity of touring anymore until… We were only about three weeks away from starting the tour [laughs], and Andy stepped in and did a great job. He pulled a real rabbit out of the hat in learning a complete setlist of songs in such a short period of time. He pulled it off anyway. And as time's gone on, obviously, his stage presence, he got more comfortable with that, and he's performing great now. So when the time comes… We'll give it to the end of this run and then see what everybody wants to do. As I say, he'll be more than welcome to carry on with us if that's his plan."
In a recent interview with Metal Edge magazine's "Another FN Podcast With Izzy Presley", Downing spoke about the fact that PRIEST didn't approach him to rejoin the band when Tipton announced he was going to sit out touring activities in support of "Firepower". "I was shocked and stunned when they didn't give me a call, because I was sitting there waiting for an opportunity," K.K. said. "Okay, they got Richie in [to replace me in 2011] — they wanted him — but at some point, I felt that there would be an opportunity, whenever that may be. So when Glenn handed the guitar over to Andy, I was in disbelief. I consider Andy a friend — I'd been to his studio and worked up there, and we talk. And he will admit himself — even in his own band HELL, he wasn't a lead guitar in that band 'cause Kevin [Bower] was the lead guitar player. So I thought that was extremely odd because it has changed the course of history for the band, really. But I kept asking them, 'Are you sure the door [is closed]?' Because Andy always said that he would step down any time for me to [go] back [to the band], and he said in the press that he would do it as long as they asked him to do it. And they've since said that Andy is just their touring guitarist, so they only have one guitarist, it seems to me. But anyway, [it was] not to be. They set their lawyers on me and didn't want any part of me, so I just [decided to] move on."
Downing left PRIEST amid claims of band conflict, shoddy management and declining quality of performance.
In 2019, Downing said that he reached out to JUDAS PRIEST about taking part in the band's 50th-anniversary tour but that their response was that they were not interested in including him in the celebrations.
In 2018, Downing revealed that he sent two resignation letters to his bandmates when he decided to quit JUDAS PRIEST. The first was described as "a graceful exit note, implying a smooth retirement from music," while the second was "angrier, laying out all of his frustrations with specific parties."
Downing later said that he believed the second letter was "a key reason" he wasn't invited to rejoin PRIEST after Tipton's decision to retire from touring.
In his 2018 autobiography "Heavy Duty: Days And Nights In Judas Priest", Downing wrote that he told Tipton and PRIEST manager Jayne Andrews that he had "hated" them both "since 1985." Last year, he explained his outburst to Classic Rock magazine. "I was angry," he said. "Glenn had formed a relationship with Jayne from day one, and it felt a bit like a John-and-Yoko situation. I didn't like that."
Last summer, Downing spoke to Sonic Dorms how the two-guitarist formation in JUDAS PRIEST came about. "The two-guitar-player thing generally came across as quite kind of commercial and kind of a bit lightweight with the harmonies," Downing explained. "And I say that in the nicest possible way, because WISHBONE ASH was a great — not a favorite band of mine at the time. I was probably listening to the GRATEFUL DEAD and the JAMES GANG and different guys. [There were] lots of dual guitar players in the States, [but] not so much in the U.K. I always thought there was an option to do a heavy version of a two-guitar band, so I wanted to research that. And that's what we did, with myself and Glenn."
Last November, JUDAS PRIEST announced the rescheduled "50 Heavy Metal Years" North American tour dates for March-April 2022. Support on the trek will come from QUEENSRŸCHE.