I’ve read enough rock autobiographies over the years to know the score: boy from working class background, boy joins a band, struggles along for a few years, makes it big, fame, alcohol and/or drug addiction, groupies galore, several wives, numerous girlfriends, sobriety, reflection and, finally, publishing deal. Judas Priest lead singer Rob Halford’s ‘Confess’, however, is a rock confessional with a difference. The wives and girlfriends are notable by their absence and Halford tells his tale as an out and proud gay man.
As someone who became a Judas Priest fan not long after my dad brought home a newly-released copy of ‘British Steel’ back when I was a young teenager, and as someone who has known they were gay from around that same time I was particularly keen to read Halford’s memoir.
Halford’s down-to-earth-working class upbringing in Walsall is easy to identify with. Coincidentally, although the two have never met, he lived just a couple of streets away from Noddy Holder’s family home, another musical hero of mine. Indeed, many of the place names were already familiar to me from Holder’s own autobiography. (The pub that Halford mentions as the location of his local bus stop as a kid is the same pub where the classic Slade foursome held their first ever rehearsal – trivia fans).
As Halford starts to metamorphosis from council estate kid to heavy metal rock god I certainly felt a sense of exhilaration as his dreams are achieved – such as the era-defining success of that iconic British Steel album, for example.
For much of the book, though, I also felt a sense of immense sadness. This paragraph, where he reflects on the state of his life in 1980 – by which time he was in his late 20s – is a telling one:
“It was five years since I’d been seeing Jason. Apart from the odd snatched random fumble I had been alone ever since… not just alone but forced to supress my longings, my needs, myself.”
When I think back to my own life at that stage, I had already met my partner. We’d bought a flat and been living together for several years by then. I was born fifteen years after Halford and my modest brush with life in the public eye never obliged me to hide my own sexuality. However, it’s not difficult to really grasp the pain and evident loneliness that Halford was going through. He does eventually find personal as well as professional fulfilment albeit that there are dysfunctional relationships, tragedy addiction along the way.
There is also a fair bit of revelatory gossip and down to earth black country humour to keep the reader entertained. However, there are a many segments that are deeply, deeply moving, too: Halford’s obvious joy at the emotions he experiences performing sober for the first time, the palpable relief he feels when he first publicly comes out back in the late 90s and the excitement he feels reuniting with Priest in the early 00s.
‘Confess’ does not always make for easy reading. There is a real sadness to parts of it but Rob Halford’s warmth and humanity shine through. Absolutely one of the best rock biogs in ages.
Published: Headline Publishing 29th September 2020
Album review : Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls
Live review: Judas Priest at Brixton Academy 2015