Latest release: Redeemer of Souls (Columbia/Sony)

It’s a rare thing for a musician to be hand-picked to join a great and influential band. It’s even rarer when that musician wasn’t even born when the band first began. Richie Faulkner was headhunted to replace KK Downing in Judas Priest on the recommendation of Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris. He was only four months old when British Steel, the band’s sixth album, was released in April 1980.

“That puts perspective on things,” he says in a heavy London accent. “To grow up with this band, and that type of band and the kind of mentality of doing what you do and doing what you believe in, when that opportunity came up, I was ready to take it on with both hands. I grabbed the bull by the horns, so to speak, and we’ve gone from strength to strength now.”

He mentions several times how honoured he feels to not only be sharing the stage with people who helped shape his style but to now actually being part of a band with them.

“My favourite guitar players, and the ones who changed the way I’ve done things, were Michael Schenker, Zakk Wylde, Dave Murray and Hendrix, really. But there were guys on the periphery, like Glenn [Tipton] and KK, Brian May, Randy Rhoads, all these guys. I was introduced to [Thin] Lizzy at an early age and they were the first heavy band to use that twin guitar thing,” he says. “Priest and Maiden were an extension of that dynamic. It’s a huge honour to be in a band with someone that you’ve looked up to like that, and be writing songs and solos and you just hope that they’ll be as popular in twenty years as all the others.”

Faulkner came to Priest as they were about to embark on what they had announced to be their final world tour, in mid-2012. Even before the jaunt kicked off, however, Judas Priest presaged one more album, Redeemer of Souls, that was finally issued last year. Consternation, cynicism and joy followed when the band revealed another tour in support of the release.

“People were complaining that it was going to be our last tour, and then they complained when we were going out again!” Faulkner says with a laugh. “I’m just happy that Priest are out again – with me or not! There was a lot of skepticism when I joined the band. People have a tendency to think negatively about things they don’t know. They tend to think the worst. I was the same with Deep Purple and Ritchie Blackmore leaving, UFO and Michael Schenker leaving… We’ve all got our opinions, and that’s a healthy thing. But once we got out there and started playing and people could see that the band was alive and well, and we could bring it on with a new guitar player, they would come down the front and check it out. They were real fans. Within thirty seconds, man, they had their hands in the air and singing the words… well, i hope they were singing the words! Maybe they were saying something else, I don’t know!”

The new tour brings Judas Priest to Australia again courtesy of the Soundwave Festival at the end of this month. It will be only the third time the band has visited the country, and the first time they’ve been involved in a festival tour here. Richie Faulkner has played Australia once before, when his former employer did the opening slot for her dad Steve’s band.

“I came down with Iron Maiden and Lauren Harris back in 2008,” he recalls, before going on to compare the experience of being a warm-up act to playing in the headliner. “It’s a different dynamic from when you’re opening up for the main act, and then you’re in the main act. It’s quite a different thing. But there’s always a point to prove. There’s always new fans out there, who haven’t seen the band before whether you’re opening up or you’ve been playing for forty years. Kids are still getting turned on, for the first time, to Judas Priest music. That’s a really positive thing.”

Faulkner’s contribution to Judas Priest was praised by several reviewers, who were mostly favourable to Redeemer of Souls, generally seen as a return to classic form following the turgid misfire of 2008’s Nostradamus. While deservedly proud of Redeemer, the guitarist is only too keen to pile the praise onto some of the band’s earlier efforts.

“The great thing about Priest is that they’re retained this unique character while pushing boundaries on where you could go musically,” he points out. “They were all by Judas Priest, but they were all different. Turbo is different to Point of Entry, Point of Entry is different to Defenders of the Faith, Defenders of the Faith is different to Painkiller. They were all different, but they all retained this quality and character. We’ve all got our favourites. I would say Defenders of the Faith and PainkillerPainkiller was when I was first introduced to Judas Priest. I was around 12, 13 years old when that album came out and a couple of years later I became aware of it. The impact that it had as a sound and an intensity made a real impression. Then I back into the catalogue, it was about 15 years or more long by then, and there was just such a wealth of classic metal there. Defenders of the Faith takes me to another place.”

Since their addition to the Soundwave card, there has been plenty of noise from older local fans about Judas Priest’s position on the bill. Early versions of the timetable put them on in the late afternoon, well before other relative newcomers, although they have been shown a good amount of respect by being afforded a full-length set. As long as they can play, Faulkner doesn’t care.

“Metal fans love to argue, don’t they? There’s always a lot of arguing going on, especially on the Internet. Everyone’s got an opinion, and that’s a great thing, isn’t it? But some people may not have been exposed to Priest, and we can’t take it for granted [that they have]. Wherever we are on the bill, we don’t care, man. We just wanna come down, have a great time… Priest metal maniacs are gonna be there whatever time we’re on, and if there’s bands on after us, that’s great too. We’ll just sit back and watch some great bands as well. As long as we’re out there flying the flag for Judas Priest and heavy metal, we don’t care what time we’re on. We’ll go on in the morning. It’s just going to be a great time.”

Catch Judas Priest at Soundwave:
21/2: RAS Melbourne Showgrounds, Melbourne VIC
22/2: Bonython Park, Adelaide SA
28/2: RNA Showgrounds, Brisbane QLD
1/3: Sydney Olympic Park, Sydney NSW

and with DragonForce:
24/2: Enmore Theatre, Sydney NSW
27/2: Eaton Hill Hotel, Brisbane QLD