Interview by Kimmo Tattari and Jari Asell
Hi Les, and welcome back to the Steel Mill! Last time we talked you mentioned a possibility to form a band of your own. This has now actualised, as you have a brand new lineup called Les Binks’ Priesthood. Tell us something about the band… how long have you been together, and who are the other guys in the band?
I’ve been working with these musicians individually in various settings over the past few years in live performances, and often had audiences ask for Priest songs because of my association with band. So I decided to put my own band together specifically to play the material from my era with Judas Priest and naturally I called upon their services to help me achieve that. I wanted to focus on the material from four albums beginning with “Sin After Sin” although I didn’t play on it I was recruited to tour and perform the songs live to promote the record in the UK, USA, and Japan. My first studio album “Stained Class” which saw me contribute to the writing with “Beyond The Realms Of Death”, my second studio album “Killing Machine” re-titled “Hell Bent For Leather” in the States and “Unleashed In The East” the live in Japan album.
Initially it was just for a one off gig at the “Legends Of Rock” event held in Great Yarmouth each March but we seemed to have created a lot of interest in the band and have been encouraged to play more dates, festivals etc.
I deliberately didn’t want to perform material I wasn’t involved with beyond my period in the band as there are many tribute bands doing that and I didn’t want to be labelled that way but of course Eddie who runs the LOR event specifically requested some later stuff so to keep the peace we threw in “Breaking The Law”, “Living After Midnight” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’”.
It was easy to choose the musicians for the Priesthood band as I knew these guys were more than capable of doing the songs justice. I have two incredibly talented guitarists, Simon J. Pinto and Gus Mark, Paul Smith on bass and Adam Shepherd on vocals. I am very lucky to have these guys onboard. They’re doing a fantastic job.
It’s still early days and things are still developing as we only got together as a unit within the last few months and everyone is involved in other projects too.
So, it’s almost 40 years since you last played Judas Priest songs, am I right?
You are right, it’s a long time since I last played this material, end of 79’, but last June in London I was invited on stage to play three Priest songs with Tim Ripper Owens. It was the first time I’d met Ripper and he had a great little band all from Derry in my homeland N. Ireland. We launched into “Hell Bent For Leather”, “Running Wild” and “The Green Manalishi” and my memory banks went into overdrive to recall the arrangements. That was the first time I’d played those songs for a hell of a long time.
Ripper and I have stayed in contact since then. I got a very warm response from the audience and I guess that had some influence in my decision to form Priesthood.
Before we got into rehearsals with Priesthood I had to sit down with all four albums, decide which songs to do and re-learn the drum parts all over again. Some of them have weird odd timings like the mid sections in “Sinner”, then there’s the epic “Genocide” and “Victim Of Changes” etc. Took a while but eventually it all came back and the show was ready to rock again.
How did you, or did you, notice how Judas Priest was evolving during your time in the band, from “Sin After Sin” to “British Steel”? Even the transition from “Stained Class” to “Killing Machine” (Hell bent For Leather) in such a short timespan was noticeable. Then “Unleashed in the East” really turned things to the 80s…
I think all musicians evolve constantly from the first time they decide to make a living in the music business to the later part of their career. When they get together as a band the chemistry has to work well. They have to bring out the best in each other’s talents. If you think about how the Beatles music evolved from the early days with the “Please Please Me” album to “Sgt. Pepper” and beyond it’s quite obvious how their songwriting had matured and their use of studio recording techniques even though it was still only four tracks in those days.
As far as my observation of how Judas Priest’s music evolved during my time in the band is concerned, I would say that the writing was developing in a stronger metal direction and with Rob’s unique and distinctive lyrics and vocals style, the unmistakable twin guitar work from K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton combined with Ian Hill’s solid bass and my drumming style and use of double bass drums, created a certain chemistry that defined the sound of Judas Priest as Britain’s premier metal band.
How about the setlist? Will there be room for more later-day Priest material than those three Dave Holland era ’big hits’ you mentioned earlier? Maybe some Scott Travis stuff too…
Like I said, the concept for Les Binks’ Priesthood, the clue is in the title, was to focus on the music I either co-wrote, recorded and performed live on tour with Judas Priest so the material is all taken from my era with the band. Think of the “Unleashed In The East” album and you’re not far off the mark.
I’m not entirely apposed to performing a few later songs if the fans ask for them, but I don’t want to stray too far from the original concept of the band.
How many gigs have you played so far, and are there any plans to gig outside UK?
As I said, it’s very early days for the band so we’ve only played a few gigs so far. To begin with it was supposed to be a one off for the Legends Of Rock a four day event organised by the wonderful Eddie Yates of Classic Rock Tours. It’s held in Gt. Yarmouth in March and in Cyprus later in the year. We did an impromptu warm up gig the week before at my good friend Noel Nevin’s Cavern. Always a great atmosphere there and Noel always hosts some great music. After playing those gigs we got such a great reaction that everyone wanted to play some more dates. The offers are coming in and festivals in the UK or abroad are all being considered.
You have also played in a Jimi Hendrix/Deep Purple tribute band, Purple Haze UK. Is this project still active?
Yes, Hendrix and Deep Purple were huge musical influences. I grew up listening to their music and Ian Paice and Mitch Mitchell were two of my favourite drummers so it’s great fun to play that stuff from time to time when the opportunity arises. Don’t forget that I’ve had the great honour and privilege to have worked with Roger Glover, Ian Gillan, David Coverdale, Glenn Hughes and also the late great legendary keyboard genius, Jon Lord in the past, so this is my salute to my friends in Purple.
The musicians in that band are of course also involved in other projects so we can only come together when we are all available at the same time.
After our first interview, you have also been in touch with K.K. Downing. How was it to meet after such a long time? As I understood it was the very first time you talked with anybody from the band, wasn’t it?
It was absolutely fantastic to meet up with K.K. again. He seemed so pleased to see me after all these years and we had a lovely evening chatting and looking through some old photos that I brought along of our time together in Priest while sipping a few pints of Guinness in one of his local pubs. He’s the only member of Priest that I’ve spoken to since I left the band. I guess I felt hurt at the circumstances by which I left the band so I wasn’t in a big hurry to speak to anyone back then, but in retrospect we were all a bit naive then and I don’t think the band realised what a dodgy manager they had in those days.
It was through doing the original interview for the Steel Mill and subsequent meeting with Jari (Editor-in-Chief) who put me on the phone to K.K. that eventually led to us meeting up again and I’m very glad we did, so thanks for that Jari.
Speaking about K.K., you two have recently recorded a new version of a classic Priest song of yours, Beyond The Realms Of Death. Are there any details you could tell us?
Amazing, yes! Three former members of Judas Priest together on the same record!!! How did that come about?
Earlier last year I was contacted by someone who has also been interviewed by Steel Mill recently, guitarist and producer Paul Crook from New Jersey USA. Paul is Meatloaf’s guitarist and producer, he’s also former guitarist with Anthrax. He asked me if I would take part in a recording project with him and bassist Joey Vera from Armored Saint and Fates Warning. I suggested doing a new version of “Beyond The Realms Of Death” and that was agreed. Paul has done a brilliant job on the middle guitar solo (Glenn would be proud of him) and on the production.
After meeting up with Tim Ripper Owens later in London I asked him if he would like to sing it and he agreed. From there on I thought we needed someone to play the K.K. Downing solo on the outro so who better to ask than the man himself and he agreed. Everyone has given an excellent performance on this record and I think that Judas Priest fans will love it. It also leads the way for more to come if everyone is up for it.
Final plans are being put in place for the promotion and release date soon. It’s all been a bit hush hush until now but watch this space and soon all will be revealed.
Time for the last one. We just talked about your meeting with Andy Warhol, and a certain picture you were looking for…
Yes, this was probably on the second Judas Priest tour of the States. We were in New York City for a concert at the Palladium. Some executives from CBS/Columbia desperately wanted to see the band perform but had other commitments on that night so couldn’t make it to the Palladium. We were asked if we would play an extra gig which wasn’t on our schedule at a place called “The Mudd Club” just so these guys could come and see the band in action. This was around ‘79 when New York had some very famous clubs like CBGB’s, Studio 54 and The Mudd Club was the latest to emerge from that scene.
We agreed and I’ve since learned that both those gigs were secretly recorded and bootlegged. Many famous celebrities used to frequent these clubs and on the night we performed at The Mudd Club, Andy Warhol turned up. He sent a message back stage asking to meet the band so at the end of our show he was ushered backstage to the dressing room and introduced to us. I can’t remember exactly what we talked about and the meeting was quite brief. Unsurprisingly, he just happened to have a photographer with him and some photos were taken of us together. I remember seeing a picture in some magazine of that encounter with Warhol but I didn’t manage to get a copy.
The Mudd Club was actually a converted warehouse and a lot smaller than all the other gigs on the tour but it was only added to please the guys from CBS/Columbia who couldn’t make it to the Palladium. Inside it was a bit like the original Marquee in Wardour St. in London’s Soho with a bar at one end. Some of the artists signed to Stiff Records, Joe Jackson and Rachel Sweet turned up that night. It was quite an intimate gig as your quite close to the audience but it had a great atmosphere and I enjoyed playing there. I’ve listened to the bootleg recording of that gig and it’s surprisingly good. The band was on top form but it’s Rob’s banter in between songs that cracked me up. I don’t know what planet he was on that night but he made me laugh. New York was buzzing in those days and Andy Warhol was at the height of his fame. An iconic figure who has become even more renowned since his passing.
I searched the internet looking for it but didn’t find it anywhere. I thought K.K. might have a copy as he has quite a collection of memorabilia so I asked him when we met up but he hasn’t got it either, so if anyone out there reading this has a photo of Judas Priest with Andy Warhol at The Mudd Club, please send it to The Steel Mill!
Big thanks again Les for your time – and interesting answers!
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