SAXON frontman Biff Byford says that it was "strange" for JUDAS PRIEST to announce its plan to embark on the next leg of its 50th-anniversary tour as a quartet.
On January 10, JUDAS PRIEST revealed that it would perform as a four-piece when it returns to the road in early March. A few hours later, the band's touring guitarist Andy Sneap, who co-produced the group's 2018 album "Firepower" and has helmed several SAXON LPs in the past, released a statement to BLABBERMOUTH.NET in which he said that he was "incredibly disappointed" by PRIEST's decision to carry on as a quartet and thanked the Rob Halford-fronted outfit for the "mind-blowing" opportunity to share the stage with one of his favorite bands. Meanwhile, PRIEST fans were understandably upset about the band's decision to forgo its classic twin-guitar attack sound and made their feelings known on social media. Some even called for the return of guitarist K.K. Downing, who joined PRIEST in 1970 and remained in the group until 2011.
On January 15, JUDAS PRIEST released a statement announcing that it was reversing its decision to tour as a four-piece, explaining that the bandmembers "decided unanimously" to continue their live shows "unchanged" with Rob, Ian Hill (bass),Richie Faulkner (guitar),Scott Travis (drums) and Andy.
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".
Byford weighed in on PRIEST's four-piece plans in an interview with Meltdown of Detroit's WRIF radio station conducted before the band announced its change of heart. He said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "Yeah, it's a bit strange," he said. "I do know about it. I've talked to Andy about this. But, yeah, it's a bit strange that they decided to go out as a four-piece. It's a bit of a wacky decision. I don't really understand it; I don't really understand the motives behind it. Obviously, if you play loud enough, it can sound like a five-piece band. Richie is a great guitarist. Looking at the stage and not seeing two guitarists is a bit strange for me. I mean, we have done it. Back in the day, Paul [Quinn] has done gigs — not recently, but back in the '80s — without Graham [Oliver], the other guy. We have done it, but it's not really the same."
He continued: "Yeah, it's a bit of a wacky one, that. It's obviously their decision — it's their band — so you can't really question their motives behind it. But I think it's a bit odd. I didn't expect it — put it that way. It's a bit of a curveball. I mean, the time to have done it was when K.K. left; that would have been the best time to do it. And then Andy's been in the band now for four years, hasn't he? It's a bit wacky, I think."
When Meltdown suggested that PRIEST's decision could be down to some kind of a scheduling conflict, Byford said: "I don't think it's anything with Andy; I think Andy is [producing] the next [PRIEST] album. So I can't see that. I don't think it's a problem with Andy or anything like that. I just think it's a decision they've made. I don't know… Honestly, I don't have any inside track on it, really."
Hill is the sole remaining original member of PRIEST, which formed in 1969. 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. Downing parted ways with the band more than a decade ago and was replaced by Faulkner.
Last week, Downing said in an interview that it was "very, very strange" for PRIEST "to even think about" the possibility of going out as a quartet. "I'm like everybody else. I'm totally bemused," he told the "Rock Of Nations With Dave Kinchen" classic rock show. It was just so extreme and insulting in a way, I guess, and insulting to Glenn as well. It was kind of a slap in the face, saying, 'Okay, you two guys did it, but we think just one guy could do what…' It kind of made us and everything that we've done and created, saying it was all superfluous, really, and didn't really have the value that… I'm sure Glenn will agree with me that it does have a value."
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.