Interview: Rob Halford’s Best Childhood Christmas Memories
It's been a full decade since Judas Priest's Rob Halford stepped back from singing about demons, monsters, motorcycles and leather and turned his attention to holiday music on the Winter Songs album. Once again filled with Christmas cheer, the Metal God delved into the holiday's true meaning — friends and family — and enlisted those close to him to accompany him on his new record, Celestial, which is a mix of traditional and original winter-time songs.
Speaking to Halford over the phone in advance of the album's Oct. 18 release, we wanted to know what drove him back in this musical direction and just how involved his friends and family really were in the whole process (it turns out, quite a lot). Looking beyond the record and into the past (just look at that adorable photo up top!), we learned what made this special time of year such a favorite for a young Halford, whose working class upbringings enabled him to appreciate some of the simpler pleasantries of the Yuletide season — caroling, "selection box" candies and combing the skies for the glowing red nose of Rudolph guiding Santa's sleigh.
Still enamored with Christmas, Halford has racked up quite the collection of decorations (including "at least" six Christmas trees for one of his two homes), all of which, when displayed, makes his house look like WalMart during holiday season, in his estimation. Oh, and he has a niece who is going to get absolutely spoiled come December 25 this year.
Read the complete interview below.
You released the Winter Songs album in 2009. What made you want to revisit the idea of a holiday album?
When I did Winter Songs it was more of a personal intimate type of deal for me, not that that’s always been the case, but with the essence of Christmas time it was different. I’m aware that Christmas time is all about music and I wanted to express it in that particular way that I had never done before. You never know what the reaction from the fans is going to be and it did really well.
That’s always been in the back of my mind ever since and on numerous occasions around the world fans have asked if there would be another one, so it’s always been on the back burner.
I said to my brother Nigel a couple years ago around the holiday season, “What do you think about getting together and making a Christmas record?” My brother has been a drummer for a long, long time and I’ve watch him grow to be a very solid player. A lot of bands with longevity have family members in their own bands — it’s not an uncommon thing. I’ve always wanted to make a record with my brother and my nephew Alex (Ian Hill’s son) so it was all everything lining up at the right time.
How involved were the other members of the project in writing Celestial?
There’s never enough Christmas music from [the metal] side of things. Celestial is quite strong and heavy in certain areas and that side doesn’t come from me. I said to the guys once we got Robert Jones and John Blakey on board, who are friends of Alex and Nigel, that it was more about them than me. I love musical connection in it’s purest form. I said, "This is your record as far as I’m concerned. You go away and here’s a list of some song ideas, but go and arrange it — this is entirely up to you and I’ll just put my voice on it."
Going back to your childhood, did you have any favorite traditions or holiday meals?
There’s this thing in the U.K. called “selection boxes.” They’re full of all different kinds of candy and when you were a kid you always hoped for this selection box and as soon as you opened it first thing in the morning, your mom or dad would snatch it away from you [laughs], “No you can’t have any of that selection box until you’ve had your Christmas dinner!” Then you’d grumble and mumble and walk away and then 10 minutes later go, “Mom, can I just have one?” ‘You can only have one’ and then half an hour later, “Can I have another one?” [laughs] That’s a fun memory I always remember.
What was one gift you wanted the most as a child?
Well, you want everything when you’re a kid don’t you? [laughs] It was simpler times then as a kid compared to the billion choices you’ve got today. It was very basic as well because the Halford family wasn’t even middle class. My dad, God bless, he slaved away at his job and my mom had to take a second job to make ends meet at Christmas time. They worked really hard to save the pennies so they could get stuff for me and my sister [edit: Nigel was born when Halford was 16].
When you go with your family around the shops and the stores, it’s all Christmas glory. [Imitating parents,] “No, you can’t have an air rifle, you’ll shoot your eye out.” Kids want everything they see in the shop window and now it’s online.
Was there ever a point as a child where you looked up at the sky and swore you saw Rudolph on Christmas Eve?
You'd always put your nose up to the frosted window. In the house we lived in there was no central heating, just a coal fire in the central living room. This is all going to go in the book... I can remember lying in bed in the winter time and there was ice on the inside of the thin glass windows — sheets of frosted ice like Elsa in Frozen. [laughs] You could see your breath — you’d be bundled under the blankets and you’d stick your nose out and you could see your breath coming out in the room, it was so fucking cold.
But yeah, you’d stay awake practically all night waiting to hear something clattering on the roof with some jingle bells. It’s magical. It’s especially magical for kids and I still think for adults because we carry that with us through our lives and we pass it on.
We have a new addition to the Halford family. I’m now a great uncle and my niece turns one this year. She’s very aware of life now so she’s gonna be smothered in gifts — you won’t be able to see the tree with all the gifts in front of it.
Did you ever go Christmas caroling growing up?
Oh yeah, definitely! It was beautiful. Mostly we did it for the money. [laughs] Anything to get a penny here and a penny there, so me and three or four of the neighbor kids used to go up and down the street and knock on the door and sing a couple of songs and hope we’d get a penny or two to divvy up and share at the end.
What are your favorite Christmas decorations?
I go mad at Christmas. At my house in Phoenix there’s at least six Christmas trees. I just lose my mind, I just love it — I’m a big kid in that respect. When the Sony Legacy people came over to shoot a couple videos, they asked, "Can you put a few Christmas decorations out?” So they came through the door and it looked like WalMart at Christmas. They said, "This is too much, this is too much!" And I went, "Well you know me…"
I do have one very nice snow globe that Sharon and Ozzy sent me many, many years ago and I treasure that and put it up on the big tree in the house in Phoenix. I do need another one, Sharon, for the house in Walsall [laughs].
Many thanks to Rob Halford for the interview. Get your copy of 'Celestial' here and listen to the new song "Donner and Blitzen" below.
Rob Halford, "Donner and Blitzen"
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